The death of Barry Arnold and “Roller Derby the Musical”


Over 30 years ago before I left the Bay Area to go to Los Angeles to take on the Vice Presidency of Ticketmaster I received a phone call from Barry Arnold.

I had been out of Roller Derby for at least 15 years, but I was who he was looking for.

Barry was a well-known Broadway lighting director and had worked on many successful shows, but he wanted to be a playwright and had written a treatise on Roller Derby, based on his boyhood memories of watching the game on television in New York.

He and composer John Braden were preparing to mount a two-week production for the Theatre of the New City at a 50-seat theater in New York.  He wondered if I would look at the script, which was about a Roller Derby team, its manager and star with the sport nearing its final days.  Of course he could send it to me.

I read it and found it entertaining, but not close to understanding the nature of the game and its people, and made a few suggestions.  Then I heard the songs that John had written and was blown away.  I became involved (so what else is new) and went to New York to see the production……with all of its faults and the fact there could be no skating, the staging was great and the audiences loved it, as did the critic from the Village Voice and other publications (“The last time I saw a production this good in a trial run it became Grease”).  The music really worked, and although the story was corny, it was very appealing.

so what to do next?  In 1982 I headed for LA and met with Lee Sankowitz ( a great director, friend of Judi) who mounted it at a small non-equity theater in Los Angeles….although the Times reviewer did not like it, all others did.  Lee wanted to take it and make a major show (he discovered and produced “One Flew over the cuckoo’s nest) but the boys, especially Barry, didn’t want to lose control so they didn’t want to do it.  Also (kicking myself years later) one of the most successful Broadway husband and wife producers wanted to take an option, mount it at Yale, and if ready, take it to Broadway.  Again, a strong no, as Barry did not want his words to be changed (as they really needed).

My partner Hal loved the show, so with some friends we raised money and took it to the Theatre on the Square in San Francisco.  Barry didn’t want to go because the book would be changed, but we did anyway with famed Broadway director Ron Fields…..And Buddy Atkinson, Jr, did a wondrous job of  teaching the cast to skate.  The continuing problem, the book, and too much use of cocaine by the people around the theater and those associated with the show.  semi-good reviews, show not together…..closed with loss for all (Huey Lewis liked it!).

John Braden died shortly afterwards of Aids.  Barry went to Hong Kong where he did some major musical productions for casinos and I would hear from him occasionally.  Judi ran into him in Hong Kong and they went to dinner, and she remarked how manic he was.

I would get phone calls from him from LA, and occasionally he would have someone get in touch with him, but Barry was so demanding, nothing could happen.  I would hear from him always on my birthday, and he would tell me how was becoming a successful promoter.

Then in 2006 he managed to get the show booked for two weeks at the prestigious festival for new musicals in New York.  Composer Harold Wheeler (Music director for Dancing with the Stars and tons of Broadway shows) worked on the music with him, and one of the most renowned musical directors agreed to direct the show, which was scheduled for 2007.

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Well, the worst of Barry showed up…..the rehearsals were a mess because he tried to control everything:  when the reps from the Schubert organization came to see the show at a run through, it was such a shambles that they walked out; he tore the director up and down, caused such dissension in the cast that the show manager black balled him from the theater….The show ran, got a decent response. but it was just sickening when you realize what it could have been.

On the final night Judi and I had dinner with our friends Frank and Carol Deford, and Barry showed up sheepishly at the restaurant and we all had dinner.  He was drawn and pale, and walked outside every few minutes to smoke.  That was actually the last time I saw him.

when he was back in LA he saw that I was getting on facebook, he decided to do it also.  He created SNN (the silly news network) and started to put humorous stuff out, and picked up several thousand followers of Roller Derby people.  i think he thought that way someone would want to produce the show.  The play was an obsession, and he wasn’t seeking any other work.  During one of our conversations I suggested he contact Keith Coppage (“Roller Derby to Rollerjam”, “Bay Area Roller Derby”) who ran one of the most acclaimed arts program at Mt Diablo High School, and his productions were amazing.  Of course Keith would like to mount a production, but after a few back and forths with Barry, realized it would be impossible.

On one of our conversations earlier this year I mentioned that he had put on his facebook page that Roller Derby the musical was dead.   No comment.  We never talked again.  It was brought to my attention the other day that Barry had died…..I went to his facebook page and saw his last comment was on June 3rd.  “Goodbye”.   that is my birthday.

Barry was really a good guy, unbelievably talented, bright, and had so much to offer…..I guess I am just angry at him for the route he chose; of course he was entitled.

I have talked to Keith…..if we can round-up the music and book (slightly re-written by Keith), we would love to see a memorial production at Mt Diablo, maybe for a Barry Arnold room or chair or something.  And just leave that for Barry.

I don’t know if I will every get over it.

Photo: To all FaceBook friends: Help celebrate Barry Arnold's life, and all the joy he has brought to us through his SNN posts. This Saturday, June 15, 2013, we are having a cyber memorial service for Barry Arnold. It will be held at noon, Pacific, 1 p.m. Mountain, 2 p.m. Central, and 3 p.m. Eastern. Apologies to those who are not in our time zones. We know Barry had international friends and we hope you join us regardless of your time zone. At that time, all of Barry's friends and Silly News Network fans, are invited to raise a glass, set off a sparkler, release a balloon, skip a rock, or anything else you feel would be appropriate, in his honor. We also ask that all you sillies post a joke on the SNN wall in tribute. Please, pass this information to any other friends, you may know, who enjoyed Barry's and the SNN pages. I hope you join us.http://www.derbyspotlight.com/blog_QnA_RollerDerbyMusical-03-16-11.html

ok, just my opinion


This will be my last post before Rollercon, and certainly my last comments on the state of Derby today.

First what I find frustrating:  in so many of the games I watch on DNN or WFTDA.tv I find more and more teams utilizing the slow down strategy to try and equalize the match.  By virtually stopping the pack several things are happening:  often a relative inaction by both teams in starting the jam, and when it does start because the pack is “locked”, the jammer catches them in 25 or so seconds, making a 2-minute jam ridiculously long.

You, the skaters, control the game and the rules.  Just a few changes would help and maybe even check the off-balancing effect of the power jam.  The officials should signal the pack to keep moving or a penalty would be given; the jam time shortened to one minute; and if a jammer is sent to the box in a jam, the team is allowed to field a jammer on the subsequent jam, with a blocker position serving the remainder of the penalty.

Roller Derby is about action, speed, and the chase.  I personally don’t think any jam should start without a jammer on each team.  Don’t allow this game to become one of inaction.  There is far too much intrinsic excitement.

I know I am talking about the WFTDA game; USARS has made some significant changes, and MADE with 40 leagues and OSDA are skating basically the original rules, but I really hope that the different games could be brought closer together…..I have heard complaints that WFTDA teams are discouraged from participating in other skating leagues and often great animosity is shown between the different leagues under different rules.  This certainly will not help the sport move forward, and it seems crazy to me that different leagues in the same areas do not compete against each other.

But that is just my opinion.

Now for the positive.  As time goes by, many of the original skaters are still going strong, bringing their basic knowledge of how the game should be strategized and played to others.  I see less and less of players not understanding what their function is.  The fan base in many areas has grown significantly, and you see so much acceptance and pride in so many communities of what their league means to them.

A recent list in Buzz-feed had Roller Derby listed among the 10 most difficult sports requiring the most skill to play.  You have really established a foothold and admiration for what you are doing and have accomplished.  And remember, when you are compared to other sports they are mostly professional or very well funded.  I am amazed that the growth continues, and as you know, I am just blown away by the love of the game and each other you portray, often with hardships that few outside the game realize.

As I head for my fifth Rollercon, I am more excited than at the first.  I am participating in so many different things:  my seminar on 4 PM on Saturday;  my announcing of the over 40s game at 2 PM on Saturday with Derby wife Val Capone; my Derby wedding with the wonderful Lori Milkers (“I like women” post on this blog), and for the first time, a booth.

Come visit us in the GoMerch/Seltzer brand booth with Judi Flowers and Jim Weymouth of www.seltzerbrand.com, Dan Cooper of GoMerch, and Lori Milkeris who will be selling her end violence bracelets for her continuing medical expenses.  And I just might autograph a “Roller Derby to Rollerjam” book for you.  and the blessed  Laura Blastfemi Kelly has sent some of her delilghtful “Kiss” stickers.

And of course, being a promoter, one more thing:  a free raffle to win books, bag tags, rock and roll shirts from Go Merch, autographed “Roller Derby to Rollerjam” books, and an original Midwest Pioneer jersey (like the one I wear on my facebook page), from 40 years ago.  Priceless.

And Judi has candy for you.

What is a friend?


I had to move the other day, and although to explain it to you would be ridiculous, it turned out to be quite complicated.  It involved heavy duty cleaning, painting, sorting, disposing, and more, all things I am not good at.

But Judi Flowers and Jim Weymouth and Jerry Nicol showed up and with three days of intensive and grueling work, I am in my new location…..not enough of the work was mine.

And these are really friends I love.

So let’s think about friends for a moment.  Facebook has redefined the meaning for many people.  If you don’t even know someone, or are merely an aquaintence, you can be someone’s friend and drop information or trivia or pictures of turtles on each other’s doorstep.

Photo by lusi from stock.xchng.com.

But I find a very different situation with my 5000 friends.  So many are from the  Roller Derby connection that there is already the true meaning (to me) of friendship, when we first lock into each other.  Many people think of Roller Derby mainly as the game but are not aware of the inclusive world and sister/brotherhood that exists within it.  If you look on facebook at my wordpress breakdown for 2011, I think you (as I was) will be amazed at the continents and countries that are tuned in.

It is the culture, not just the game, that joins us.  If someone is in trouble in Manchester, we all respond.  Look at how Lori Milkeris is recovering from her terrible experience, and how literally tens of thousands of you responded with donations, positive messages, advice and more.  And the effort of Derby to help stop domestic violence was accelerated by her experiences.

And when Pandora thought she was abandoned in Colorado, how PJ Shields and all people who didn’t even know her changed her life to a more positive experience.

And I don’t just mean that everyone has to respond to these extreme situations, but we know we all will.

Derby today is so much more than skating …….it is an absolute positive way of life that the World could learn from.

Happy New Year to my family  (be good, don’t fight……and by the way, we have to get Lori to Rollercon so among other things she can get a wonderful Derby husbitch).

Rollercon


RollerCon 2011

This still will not be a long post, but it is something I want to write before the feeling drifts off.

Judi Flowers was at her first Rollercon.  And I know that it changed her life.  I did not know Judi when I was promoting the game, and she has kind of picked it up by osmosis.  And she has seen some of the games in this area.  But at Rollercon the aura just overwhelmed her as it does everyone who attends…..and now she is busy starting to design and participate in the culture.  On the drive home she told me that she is just trying to digest this “invasion of her senses.”

Ivanna and her crew have created what to me is something that grabs the whole essence of Roller Derby:  I don’t care  what league or ruling body you belong to, we are packing into a very few days something that will stay with you, whether you skate, referee, or participate in any way in the game we all love.  You will get instructions, guidance, seminars, and dance your ass off partying.

I feel a sense of redundancy when I say I love you all, I love what Roller Derby has become to you and what you have brought to it, and the way you honor me and my family.

What has truly bothered me is the different ruling bodies who have brought sense and order to the crazy way this has all evolved since 2002 have probably unwittingly created restrictions that keep you all from participating and competing with each other the way you do at Rollercon.

As Reagan said to Gorbachov, “tear down the wall”.  goddamnit, it is Roller Derby.  Leagues or teams of equal ability should play others of the same level without worrying about if it is sanctioned or not.  The more you play those closest to you geographically and skill level, the  more you will improve.  And  you might learn something about the others’ rules that you feel should be incorporated in your game.

California has more leagues than anyone.  There should be a California championship tourney, and the teams do not have to be of the present makeup, but maybe by county or city.  I know that this is a concept that Donna Hot Flash is working on, and it could certainly apply to other states and regions.

Why do you all get to skate with and against each other at Rollercon but not elsewhere.

If you really want to honor me, Loretta, Frankie, Ann, Joan,Judy Sowinsky, and all of the great skaters of the past, figure out a way to make this happen without damaging your present alliance.

Keep watching here for more of Rollercon from the Commissioner’s point of view.

And Ivanna and crew, you are amazing…..thanks to all the wonderful volunteers it went off without a hitch; it was the most complex, complete “convention” I have ever attended.  If you did not learn to skate better, ref better, learn at seminars, become a better announcer or any other category that is necessary for your league, it certainly wasn’t Rollercon’s fault…..the parties and functions were amazing.

If I can, I will be back next year.  And please post those photos.