Scene & Heard


Scene & Heard


Date: May 8, 2013
by: Mallory Gnaegy | A&E Editor




+ ‘Sybil’s’ art finds homes in Sarasota
Remember the 1976 film, “Sybil,” starring Sally Field? It was the movie based on Shirley Mason, a woman living with dissociative identity disorder (DID) — meaning she lived with 16 alter personalities. She taught art and was also a practicing artist. The pieces she remembered making herself she signed, “Mason,” but there were other pieces she didn’t remember making that one or more of her alter personalities made. For instance, a woodblock carving with the imprint “M” is believed to have been her male personality Mike, who was a carpenter.

Here’s where this story gets local. Jim Ballard was in the framing business living in Lexington, Ky., where Mason lived for many years until her death in 1998. He was at an auction that was selling artwork uncovered in Mason’s basement several years following her death. It was the first art purchase Ballard made.

Since he bought it, he’s lent the collection to museums and national conventions; authors and doctors have studied it; and it has been to both coasts and everywhere in between. After 15 years of picking it up and shipping it out, he has decided to sell it.

“When you get to be as old as I am, you don’t even buy green bananas,” the 83-year-old says of his decision. “People have been trying to buy it for 15 years!”

Ballard feels like he knows Mason, and he is an encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to each individual painting — he can tell you which personality painted each painting, and he knows the stories behind most pieces.

He’s in possession of 76 originals as well as prints, and they can be viewed and purchased at Commodity Exchange, 1918 Bay Road — Ballard is there often. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays. Call 954-1488 for more information.

+ High school students compete for most well versed
I was invited to judge the April 29 Speaking Volumes Poetry Slam — a spoken-word poetry competition between 18 students from Booker High School, Sarasota Military Academy and Sarasota High School and attended by a couple hundred of their peers at the new Gompertz Theatre, at Florida Studio Theatre.

Spoken word is a cross between poetry and performance art — it’s like reading the lyrics to a song. And it’s an outlet for these students to speak and share their feelings about life. Topics were deep and heartfelt — a few students spoke about modern racism, one about the death of his mother, another about abandonment, and another about a failed suicide attempt. There were some topics everyone could relate to — from young love to broken hearts. It was clear that poetry has worked like therapy for some of these students, which is what April 11 A&E cover profile Cedric Hameed had intended when he started this competition and educational program. Comcast aired the competition on local TV and provided cash prizes to the top-three winners.

Each student was given a 1 to 5 in each category of overall performance, creativity and stage presence — totaling a maximum of 15 points. The four judges were given an extremely challenging task — each teen was brave, passionate, intelligent and talented. I had a hard time giving anything below a 15.

+ Riggs takes designs to the silver screen
Bradenton resident Donna Riggs recently designed costumes for Dinesh D’Souza’s “America.” D’Souza is a conservative political voice who authored the documentary and novel “2016: Obama’s America.” The documentary was a box-office hit, and Riggs says D’Souza hopes “America” will share similar success. 

Riggs is not quick to comment on the political nature of the films, however, she says D’Souza is a “pretty nice guy.”

Riggs’ costume designs were utilized for a segment filmed at Regatta Point, in Palmetto, where Christopher Columbus ship replicas are docked, as well as Fort DeSoto Park, in Tierra Verde. Filming took four days. The film is based on Columbus landing in America.

Patron Saints
The Observer launched a web video series in March called “Patron Saints,” in which we recognize area performing-arts venues and the patrons who support them. It’s all in keeping with the idea that Sarasota is an arts city, and these individuals make it possible.

This week’s video showcases Mitchell McKnight, Circus Sarasota board chairman. After seeing a circus performance many years ago, he was inspired by the magic to get involved in a bigger way. But, it’s the programs that keep him donating every year. One such program, Sailor Circus, teaches kids circus arts and how to accomplish tasks they couldn’t have done before. It gives them confidence and self-esteem, and he thinks that’s worthwhile. You can learn more about this “patron saint” online at

Stay tuned for future episodes featuring Asolo Repertory Theatre, Florida Studio Theatre, PLATO and Venice Theatre.


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