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Jon Niccum

Stories by Jon

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Manhattan Short Film Festival

Lawrence joins 98 other global venues for simultaneous 'cinematic Olympiad'

It started out small but potent. Nick Mason decided to set up a screening in New York's Union Square Park to showcase fledgling student filmmakers. "I had to go over to a friend's house to borrow a computer so I could make the press release, but the T button never worked right on it," Mason recalls.

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Singer heeds call of Prairie

If not for a city in Kansas, Pure Prairie League might never have existed. The members of the classic country-rock act, eventually known for the hit songs "Amie" and "Let Me Love You Tonight," were trying to come up with a name for the fledgling band in the late 1960s when the drummer happened across an airing of the 1939 film "Dodge City."

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Kansas vs. Darwin

Documentary examines local school board case that evolved into national controversy

In the beginning, God created controversy. And filmmaker Jeff Tamblyn was there to cover it. To clarify, this particular "beginning" took place in 2005 when three members of the Kansas State Board of Education - Steve Abrams, Kathy Martin and Connie Morris - conducted controversial hearings to debate where God belonged in the classroom.

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Homecoming Queen

Songwriter Sarah Buxton performs her first hometown show since leaving for Nashville nearly a decade ago

Much of what audiences need to know about Sarah Buxton she spells out in the first lyric on her latest album. "I left Lawrence, Kansas, at the age of 17 / To chase down my own version of the American dream."Ten years later, that dream has evolved into a daily reality for the Nashville-based country artist.

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'Indian' summer

Locally produced film explores hidden history of Haskell

The camera slowly dollies in on the stern face of actor Kevin Geer. About 30 cast and crew members crammed into the third floor of the Watkins Community Museum of History look on. "This is not a prison. There are no walls. No fences. But there is a clock," Geer scolds. "You will learn to respect time."

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Festival pits North vs. South in rock 'n' roll skirmish

In the early hours of Aug. 21, 1863, several hundred Confederate raiders led by William Quantrill rode into Lawrence while the town slept, gunning down its citizens and setting houses ablaze.

'Victor Continental' prepares to intoxicate Lawrence

The term "sketch comedy" doesn't quite encapsulate the event known as "The Victor Continental Show." Part choreographed musical, part topical commentary, part puppet show, part mammoth inside joke funny enough to pack Liberty Hall for two nights, "Victor Continental" has turned into one of Lawrence's most consistent live entertainment spectacles.

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Never break the chain

Move to Nashville allows Lawrence's Sarah Buxton to achieve her country singing and songwriting dreams

So much of what audiences need to know about Sarah Buxton she spells out in the first lyric on her latest album. She sings, "I left Lawrence, Kansas, at the age of 17 / To chase down my own version of the American dream." Ten years later, that dream has evolved into a daily reality for the Nashville-based country artist.

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Pop culture clash

Rival Kansas teams prepare for battle on VH1's trivia tournament

NRVOUS. That condensed word was the answer to the question that Robert Bishop kept running over in his mind.

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Glamour girls

Ideals of feminine beauty lampooned in KU's musical production of 'Pageant'

The dapper, tuxedo-clad emcee singles out the six beauties who stand behind him. "You've got charm / You've got grace," he serenades the contestants as their eyelashes flutter and smiles beam at the audience. "You've got that something extra." In this case that "something extra" refers to a Y chromosome ... among other things.

'The Felt Show' blends social satire, foam rubber

Paul Santos believes there is a substantial buffer a puppet provides that separates an entertainer from his audience. "People are a lot more critical when they look at a human doing something than as they would with a puppet," says Santos, producer-director-writer of "The Felt Show."

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Handsome prints

Spencer Museum of Art collection encompasses a true paper warehouse

Every Friday, the Spencer Museum of Art opens its Print Room to requests. Want to look at rock music posters by Rick Griffin, pinups by Alberto Vargas, woodcuts by Antonio Maria Zanetti or photographs by Diane Arbus? Anything is fair game. "I love how I'm spoiled by getting to be so close to the objects," says Kate Meyer, curatorial assistant of Kansas University's department of prints and drawings.

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Student filmmakers recruited to screen film at U.S. Capitol

When Lawrence High School teacher Jeffrey Kuhr and two of his film students were asked to screen their documentary at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., he began to realize what a groundswell of national support the project was receiving ... literally.

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Script frenzy

Kansas author launches 'seat-of-your-pants' competition for aspiring screenwriters

Watching the sights and sounds of thousands of deluded hopefuls audition for "American Idol" suggests that nearly everyone in the country believes they have the talent to become a pop star.Perhaps that goal is starting to shift to another medium.

Organizers call this year's Wakarusa Fest a 'harmonious' event

For as much effort as organizers of the Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival have put into distancing themselves from the "hippie music" label, it appears this year things turned out pretty groovy, man.

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Rookie director issues 'Hall Pass'

Eric Frodsham has indulged in many professional pursuits. He's been a minor league baseball pitcher, a lead singer of a rock band and is currently back in college studying to be a physicist. That's not stopping him from indulging in his newest occupation: filmmaker.

That 1 Guy concocts his own pipe dream

Because he performs under the stage name That 1 Guy, Mike Silverman is used to encountering misunderstandings while playing the festival circuit.

Surround sound

Lawrence man enjoys ringside seats to Wakarusa from comfort of own backyard

In many respects it's just a trailer. Cozy, clean and stationary. It's encircled by a charming yard, with statues, flowerpots, birdbaths, picnic tables and several American flags waving in the wind.

Band unites Mayan mysticism, loud guitars

Mel Gibson missed a golden opportunity to hire the perfect band to play the wrap party for his latest cinematic epic, "Apocalypto." If only he had stumbled upon Kan'Nal.

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Singer-free band says music 'speaks for itself'

When it comes to playing in bands, Eddie Roberts isn't averse to lead singers. He doesn't believe that they're all preening prima donnas. "I've just never found a singer who seemed to be on the same wavelength," says Roberts, guitarist, tambourine player and founder of The New Mastersounds. "Plus, it's kind of nice to be lyricless."

Cats take over stage in E.M.U. Theatre

Dean Bevan is a cat person. "My parents always had cats while I was growing up, so that seemed to me to be the state of nature," the playwright says. Recently, Bevan was reading a book written by a friend that featured a human-sized, talking white rat.

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Weight loss

Twin brother's death inspires sister to organize concert benefit to battle obesity

Twins Julie and Joe Welsh seemed like total opposites. Julie worked as a personal trainer and graduated Kansas University with an exercise science degree in 2003. She loved to run and bike. Joe hadn't been interested in sports much past childhood.

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Popular Web site showcases best, worst and quirkiest of musical obscurities

I've found that YouTube is the greatest source available for instantly locating the highlights, lowlights and most bizarre musical junctures in recorded history. That's largely because anybody can post anything - thus the "you" in YouTube - which often results in amateur moments of sheer audacity.

KU filmmaker just misses being invited 'on the lot'

It's hard enough to make a movie. It's that much more difficult knowing that millions of viewers are scrutinizing every decision along the way. That's the premise of "On the Lot," a new Fox reality show produced by Steven Spielberg and Mark Burnett.

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A farewell to art

Students, faculty saddened by fate of murals slated to join rubble pile at South Junior High

When Steve Bagwell was a student at South Junior High School in the late 1990s, he began to treat the distinctive murals that filled the halls as a kind of global positioning system.

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Replay respect

Esquire dubs Lawrence hot spot one of the best bars in America

A record store employee playing pinball, a grad student reading in the corner and a married couple smoking on the back patio may not be aware that they are perched within the best bar in Kansas.

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Tribal tradition

Haskell Cultural Center offers 'gateway' to student legacy

Passers-by may see the Haskell Cultural Center and Museum as simply a lone wooden building on campus, but to Lori Tapahonso it represents the "the gateway to Haskell." "One of the blessings of having a cultural center is our alumni have a place where they can come back to and reminisce in a way that helps strengthen our students," says Tapahonso, public information officer at Haskell Indian Nations University.

Midwest icon Bill Lynch discovers how to 'live the music'

Bill Lynch is a Midwest icon. And the musician is going to prove it this weekend. The singer-guitarist returns to his former hometown, toting his new backing band, the Midwest Icons. The quartet features legendary drummer James Gadson (Bill Withers, Paul McCartney, Beck), bassist Rick Moors (Bonedaddys) and multi-instrumentalist John Hoke (Rod Piazza) - all products of the Kansas City area.

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The beat goes on

Local music promoter adjusts to life after heart transplant

Eight months ago, Merle Zuel showed up to his job at Knuckleheads Saloon in Kansas City, Mo., where he splits time working the door and booking bands. "I got the money from the bartender, walked back across the room, started to feel weird, then I hit the ground," Zuel recalls. "I lost consciousness and went into a fatal heart rhythm. But my defibrillator brought me back around."

Hamburger: king of comedy

Cult performer extracts humor from being not very funny

Flanked by camera flashes and microphones wielded by the Hollywood media, Neil Hamburger found himself roving the red carpet usually reserved for the entertainment industry's glitterati.

Haskell film club showcases American Indian cinema

Actor Gary D. Farmer has never turned down a role because he objects to the way it portrays his heritage. He prefers a different strategy. "What I do is rewrite the script and fax it back to them," Farmer says.

Called to attention

High schoolers expose military's enlistment tactics in their film 'No Child Left Unrecruited'

It started as a class assignment. Lawrence High School students in a broadcast media class were asked to make a short clip of an advertisement. Simple enough. "Over the summer I had gotten a letter from an Army recruiter that offered me money to enlist with him. And we see recruiters at lunch all the time, so we thought they're like an advertisement in our school," says LHS senior Alexia Welch. "It was supposed to be a five-minute thing, but the more we found out about it, the more we realized it had to be a movie."

Stepping Stone

Renowned actor, former Jayhawk returns for Trailblazer honor

Dee Wallace Stone has been stalked by rabid dogs, cannibals and werewolves. She's been replaced by a look-alike robot. She's shared a house with a space alien. She's even been seduced by Dudley Moore. The Kansas native and Jayhawk alumna has been through it all in a film career that started with 1975's "The Stepford Wives" and is going strong with roles in five feature films slated to be released this year.

Like mother, like son

Exhibit showcases link between art, parenting

Pablo Picasso said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." Lora Jost has found a way to sidestep that problem - at least when it comes to the link between child and adult artists.

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Behind the wheels

Lawrence members of the KC Roller Warriors gear up for a new season of roller derby

Hannah Hurst is busy pushing a stroller occupied by her 2-year-old daughter. But come Saturday, the stay-at-home mom will be maneuvering a different set of wheels.

Sister city's Guitar Orchestra of Eutin pays first visit

The young German students who comprise the Guitar Orchestra of Eutin are on the road enjoying their first trip across the United States. Having just performed in Los Angeles, they are heading to Las Vegas for a concert and then making a brief excursion to marvel at the Grand Canyon.

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The art of improv

Lawrence comedians return for festival of spontaneous humor

Der Monkenpickel. It's not a real term ... in any language. It was concocted one day when fellow Lawrence residents Corey Rittmaster and Ed Goodman were discussing how the two funniest words in the English language were monkey and pickle. "Then we thought we'd class it up a little by giving it a German bastardization," Rittmaster recalls.

Southern audiences react to KU filmmaker's 'Fall from Grace'

K. Ryan Jones was watching at a sports bar in Austin, Texas, when his Jayhawks conquered the hometown Longhorns in the Big 12 Tournament championship game. "I had three pieces of KU apparel with me, and I've been wearing them every day in some fashion," Jones says.

'Hawk horde

University Archives preserves KU's extensive legacy

Rebecca Schulte leads the way through a maze of artifacts. She arrives at a secluded room - formerly a projection booth - and unlocks the door. Behind it, bird-shaped heads, feet and bodies are strewn about like some kind of poultry processing plant.

Smothers Brothers recall TV censorship battles

When they first appeared on "The Tonight Show," host Jack Paar told the Smothers Brothers, "I don't know what you two guys have, but no one's going to steal it." True enough. Despite being hailed as inspirations to an entire generation of Vietnam-era comedians, no one has ever tried to adopt the same mix of sibling rivalry, social commentary and folk music balladry as Dick and Tommy Smothers.

Jazz banned

Thirty-year anniversary of KU Jazz Festival reunites alumni once forbidden from performing the style

Lawrence has earned a reputation as a haven for underground music. That same attribute hasn't always applied to Kansas University, however. Prior to 1972, jazz was all but forbidden within the music department. Students from the era recall former fine arts dean Thomas Gorton threatening those he heard playing jazz in the practice rooms to stop or he'd yank their scholarships.

Pushing the envelope

Oscar offers global invitations to Hollywood's biggest night

It started out in 1929 as a private party thrown at a Hollywood hotel. Since then, the Academy Awards has turned into one of the largest media happenings in the world. And for the 2007 ceremony, the event has expanded its global scope to an unprecedented level.

Folk hero pianist takes inspiration from natural world

George Winston has been dubbed the "father of new age music." For years he has done everything in his power to downplay the title. "I've actually got a vasectomy. So I'm the father of nothing," Winston says, laughing.

Comedic cocktail

Theatre on the Rocks showcases untapped potential of bar-based sketch humor

Drinking and driving don't mix. But what about drinking and live sketch comedy? So far, the blend seems to be working for Theatre on the Rocks. The Lawrence troupe concocts a fresh show each month, presenting short plays and skits from its home base at Fatso's, 1016 Mass.

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Teen act takes mature approach to music

The soundtrack to the cable-TV movie "High School Musical" was the biggest-selling album of 2006.

The lure of Lincoln

As bicentennial of his birth approaches, 16th president enjoys pop iconic status

Most Americans think of the stovepipe hat, the famous penny profile and a booming voice intoning, "Four score and seven years ago ..." But beyond these iconic impressions, Abraham Lincoln remains among the most complicated and important figures in American history.

Two for the show

Lawrence musicians savor Grammy Award nominations

Pianist Robert Koenig was between lessons during a day of teaching at Kansas University when he decided to go online to peruse that morning's Grammy nominations.

'Idol' worship

Lawrence hopefuls find their way onto TV's biggest stage

'"Dare to dream." That's the motto of the country's most popular television show. And for some Lawrence hopefuls, the dream to appear on "American Idol" has been realized.

Review: Dreamgirls

Based on the 1981 hit Broadway play, Dreamgirls has been hyped all year as a frontrunner for Best Picture, and now that it has finally arrived, it turns out to be as phony as Pat Boone covering a Little Richard tune. It is big and showy and loud, but director Bill Condon's attempts to make the movie more socially relevant than the theatrical production just serve to highlight what little soul was there in the first place.

Review: The Hitcher

"The Hitcher" is the latest bland attempt to scare teens of today by updating a movie their parents probably watched a generation ago. And it's no more -- or less -- successful than recent spins on "When a Stranger Calls," "The Amityville Horror" or "Black Christmas."