By Jacqueline Monahan
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Photos by Stephen Thorburn

"Monkey Biz" at Palace Station to Help Save Primates

You may have heard of monkey bread, monkey business, and monkeying around.  You may have heard of the game (Barrel o’ Monkeys) and the Peter Gabriel song (Shock the Monkey).  Now it’s time for the monkeys to shock you.

On Friday, September 25 2009, Palace Station hosted “Monkey Biz, - A Multimedia Event,” which showcased abstract artwork created by monkeys.  Proceeds from the event and sales of the artwork went to the Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, a non-profit organization accredited by the American Sanctuary Association and The Association of Sanctuaries.

Founded by former Las Vegas resident Kari Bagnall, Jungle Friends rescues monkeys from around the United States that have been retired from research labs, abused, confiscated by authorities, or that are ex-pets.

Kari Bagnall

Bagnall herself rescued her first monkey, Samantha, in 1992, when her ex-boyfriend was going to sell the pet.  Adding Samantha’s baby sister Charlotte to the family a short time later, Bagnall realized the tremendous responsibility attached to the care of these animals and worked to bring about the Florida-based organization that’s dedicated to their well-being.  It costs about $5,000 a month for food and medication for the monkeys, many of whom have diabetes, are paralyzed, or have lost their hearing or sight from research lab testing.

The dozens of monkey paintings on display at Palace Station were available for purchase.  A $50 donation for the event included drinks, dinner and a banana split after party for attendees.  A silent auction featured a free full-house carpet cleaning, pearl earrings, an animal massage DVD, a “Poochie” bag (pet carrier), and two tickets to the Barbra & Frank – The Concert that Never Happened.  Jungle Friends merchandise and gifts were available for purchase.

Entertainment was provided by the BLu7 jazz group; female impersonator Rudalenska, and song stylist LeNae Huff also performed. Singer Maggie Albisani entertained at the VIP reception and DJ Rick Dominguez manned the sound board for dancing at the after party.

Jungle Friends is a sanctuary home for over 100 monkeys.  It has an ever-growing waiting list, and the organization exists entirely on donations (tax deductible).  A donation to Jungle Friends goes directly to help the monkeys.  You may sponsor a monkey for $10 - $100 per month (you choose) and %100 of that money goes to the care of the Jungle Friends residents.

Of these residents there are between six to twelve monkeys that create abstract canvases with non-toxic paint.  Yes, they attempt to eat it, which leaves the little guys with lips and fingers covered in bright colors, as if they’re not cute enough already.

With names like Gizmo, Buddy, Jennifer, Don Knotts, and even a Charles Manson (don’t ask) the capuchins, marmosets, tamarinds, squirrel and spider monkeys aren’t present, but star in a multimedia presentation showing how they create their masterpieces.  No, their tails aren’t used for painting, but their hands are.

While a caretaker holds the stretch canvas, dotted with blobs of special paint, the monkeys tap, spread, swerve and scrape lines and shapes onto various backgrounds, from plain white to deep red.  Their fingers trace paths that look like brush strokes, and complementary colors are blended into layers.  Although monkey art is abstract (no landscapes here), random shapes will sometimes form themselves into recognizable objects, like a flock of birds.

Canvases vary in size from about 5”x7” to 5’x5’, big enough to cover the wall over a sofa with vibrant monkey art.  Prices range from $20 for a small piece to $1500 for one the size of an average area rug.

Your well-meaning humble correspondent asked Bagnall if chimps were involved in the process, remembering years of watching the dressed-up simians (suits, dresses, striped shirts, hats) on the television show Lancelot Link.  Bagnall explained that her sanctuary residents, including the featured artists were all monkeys (they have tails) and did not include the great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans).

Helping raise awareness for Jungle Friends, ARTV Founder and President Audrey Roberts will be producing “Monkey Biz” ; the event was filmed in HDTV.  Roberts is recognized as an art promoter responsible for helping to establish Las Vegas as a bona fide art center. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Nevada Arts Advocates.

As charming as the monkeys are, Bagnall cautions against trying to domesticate them.  In attempting to make them pets, misguided “owners” extract teeth, castrate, or force shock collars around their necks.

So, what do monkeys have in common with a Peter Fonda/Dennis Hopper/Jack Nicholson film?

Like the Steppenwolf song (and title), they were “born to be wild.”

Thanks to Bagnall’s efforts, more of them can enjoy that right.

For further information:

Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary
13915 North State Road 121
Gainesville, FL  32653
(386) 462-7779


Phantom Fan Week Part 2:  A Conversation with Hal Prince

Hal Prince, the legendary theater producer/director, has a fitting surname.  He’s one of the closest things we’ve got to theater royalty.  The 81-year old dynamo took a seat on the stage of the Phantom Theater for a conversation with the audience that included the show’s production history, anecdotes and a question and answer segment.

Hal Prince

Aside from Phantom, Prince has had a hand in producing or directing Broadway hits such as Evita, Sweeney Todd, West Side Story, Company, and Fiddler on the Roof, among many others.  He’s been involved in more than 50 productions during his career.

After receiving a standing ovation from an extremely enthusiastic crowd, Prince seated himself in a chair in front of the ornate red velvet curtain.  “Well, I knew the boxes would be full, anyway,” he remarked, getting a laugh.  Theater boxes are always full at a Phantom show.  The figures are colorful props, a kind of built-in audience.

Starting with a bit of the production’s history, Prince told the crowd how the space they were sitting in was once the Guggenheim Museum of Art before it was converted to accommodate the Phantom’s intricate, technologically complex production requirements.

He said that he would try to answer questions “honestly or creatively, one or the other.”  The director then admitted that he thought Phantom was the most romantic story since South Pacific, with All I Ask of You being his favorite song.  A brief history of his visit to the Paris Opera House followed, with Prince describing its many stories (some below ground) and hidden lake.  A room behind the rear wall of the stage was used to entertain royalty during productions.

Prince even donned a hardhat and climbed onto the roof of the opera house, noting the placement of a golden angel on each corner.  He likens the Phantom to the Elephant Man, and initially wanted Mandy Patinkin for the role.  Michael Crawford was introduced to him through composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose wife Sarah Brightman became the female lead of the show.  Prince insisted she audition, which ruffled Lloyd Webber’s feathers a bit; the rest, as they say is history, and Prince was there for all of it.

Rehearsing sequentially from 10-1 pm, Prince would then “wander London”.  Phantom has been playing there for 23 years and on Broadway for 22.  The Vegas version is the only one that differs (it’s shorter and tighter, with some scenes cut).  When asked
If there’s anything he missed from the original, Prince replied adamantly, “Not a damn thing,” to thunderous applause.

The director developed a love of the theater during childhood, when he would attend Saturday (live) matinees with his parents.  He set up his own stage, complete with toy soldiers that he would direct as he listened to a radio production.  He had friends, but says he “preferred my own company” much of the time.

Signing autographs

Prince initially did not like musicals because he found that they were great tunes surrounded by stupid, incidental plots.  He now says he likes to do serious musicals with songs to match.  “I think from project to project, “he says, always concentrating on the one at hand until it’s a viable entity before moving on.

“I’ve never been one to cast stars,” he asserts, noting that there were times when they could come in handy.  Aside from Patinkin, another of his favorites is Angela Lansbury.  He cites Ethel Merman and Mary Martin as being “dynamite” in their day because they “had respect for consonants – the ends of words.”  Diction cannot be underestimated in his book.

He won a 2006 Tony (Lifetime Achievement Award) which he accepted from a remote location – the very stage upon which he now sat.  Prince admitted to being bewildered during the presentation.  Isn’t this what they gave to old guys for long gone productions?
Just as when he declared his age to a smattering of applause and said, “Please don’t clap for 81,” Prince stated adamantly for the camera that captured his acceptance speech why the Lifetime Achievement Award puzzled him.

“I’m still working,” he said, and the audience, then and now, let him know just how much they appreciated that fact.

For further information:

Phantom Box Office
The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino
3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 414-9000

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