Tag Archives: art

Virtuous Virtuoso


Ethan Bortnick has traveled the world. He will be at the Gordon Center next month.

Ethan Bortnick is short in stature, but tall on talent. The 12-year-old musician will wow audiences at the Gordon Center For Performing Arts, when he opens the venue’s fall 2013 season — its 19th — on Oct. 12. Although his father and manager, Gene Bortnick, said the family doesn’t think of Ethan as a prodigy, he admits that he and his wife, Hannah Bortnick, both Ukrainian immigrants, are “beyond overwhelmed” by what their son can do.

“When I was 3 years old,” Ethan said, “I asked my parents for piano lessons.” Since he was still a preschooler, the Bortnicks didn’t arrange for lessons, but instead purchased a toy piano for Ethan. They soon realized that when it came to the piano, Ethan was no ordinary 3-year-old, as he was able to reproduce every melody he heard. His first piano teacher declared after only two months that Ethan needed a more advanced instructor. By the time he was 6, he was performing on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno.

“When the producer from Jay Leno called, my father hung up on her, because he thought it was his sister pranking him,” said Ethan. “Then she called back and said, ‘It’s really us.’”

Since then, Ethan has traveled the world, sharing stages, recording studios and television production sets with celebrities such as Barbra Streisand, the Black Eyed Peas, Justin Bieber, Tony Bennett, Beyoncé and Elton John. He even composed and performed a song for Muhammad Ali.  In 2010, Ethan became the youngest musician to create and host his own award-winning, nationally televised concert special on PBS. Ethan holds a Guinness World Record for being the youngest musician to host a solo concert tour. He twice has appeared on “Oprah,” where he was named one of Oprah’s All-Time Smartest, Most Talented Kids, and he recently completed shooting of a full-length film, “Anything is Possible.” Not only does Ethan headline the movie, which costars Lacey Chabert and Jonathan Bennett, he also co-wrote all the songs and scored the background music. A holiday-themed story, “Anything is Possible,” is scheduled for release in December.

When Ethan and his family aren’t traveling, they make their home in Hollywood, Fla. There, Ethan attends seventh grade and plays sports with his brother and friends.

“I’m just a regular kid,” he insisted. “Even seconds before I go on stage I’m playing with my father’s [Nintendo] DSi.”

While on the road, Ethan attends classes virtually by skyping into his classrooms.

Although he hobnobs will all sorts of celebrities — even interviewing the notoriously interview-shy Celine Dion on his PBS show — Ethan denies having a favorite A-lister.

“They are all very nice people,” he said.

Ethan is equally diplomatic when it comes to music genres and academic subjects.

“I like them all,” he said.

Ethan is not only a remarkable talent, he is also a true mensch. When he was 5, Ethan’s younger brother, Nathan, was born with a serious heart defect.  His brother’s medical challenges have inspired Ethan to help others in difficult circumstances.

“I remember he [Nathan] was sent by helicopter to a hospital, and when I visited him, I saw other kids suffering and it made me feel bad,” he recalled. “Based on my experiences traveling, I see how a lot of people aren’t as fortunate as others. It’s really important to help as many as we can.”

So far, the young artist has helped to raise more than $30 million for a variety of organizations including Miami Children’s Hospital, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the Starkey Hearing Foundation, ONEXONE and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

For tickets to see Ethan Bortnick in concert on Saturday, Oct. 12, at 8:30 p.m., visit gordoncenter.com or call 1-800-518-2819.


More Music at the Gordon Center

This fall, the Gordon Center also will present bluegrass group Seldom Scene on Nov. 2 and Israeli recording star David Broza on Nov. 21. On Oct. 20, award-winning performer and music educator ShirLaLa will play rock and roll for Baltimore’s youngest music fans, and just in time for Chanukah on Dec. 1, children can rock out to The Mama Doni Band.

Get tickets to the Gordon Center>>


Play With Your Food



With a name like “Planet Egg,” it has got to be wacky and wonderful. The outlandish, other-worldly production from PuppetCinema, a company founded by Israeli puppeteer, actor and filmmaker Zvi Sahar, is headed for Baltimore’s Theatre Project from July 25 to 28.

“I like to say that ‘Planet Egg’ is an amalgam of live puppetry, theater, video and live sound. Many of the puppets are made from found and mechanical objects and organic vegetables,” said Theatre Project Producing Director, Chris Pfingsten, with a laugh. “The audience can watch the puppets and puppeteers but also watch a film of the puppet show projected on a screen across the top of the stage.”

Pfingsten said he had hoped to bring “Planet Egg” to Theatre Project last year, but was unable to schedule it. He is extremely pleased to be presenting the production this year, as it fits in well with the 43-year-old organization’s mission.

“We are in business to support artists creating new, original work. We want to bring local artists and artists from around the world,” said Pfingsten.

He explained that while Theatre Project occasionally produces its own shows, the organization mainly showcases the work of other companies. Theatre Project provides companies with performance space, box office services and technical and marketing assistance.

Sahar, PuppetCinema’s founder, and the creator and director of “Planet Egg,” said the idea for the show was inspired by a family dinner.

“My dad was fixing a phone while we were eating sunny-side-up eggs. The eggs looked like the surface of a planet or a moon. The electronic parts my dad was playing with looked like creatures to me at that moment,” recalled Sahar, 35. “The story is also partially inspired by contemporary politics, colonialism and a specific flock of tropical parrots that escaped from the Tel Aviv Zoo and found a new home by the Yarkon River in the wild. These newcomers thrived, but in doing so, damaged the Israeli ecosystem. Of course they did it without malice — just hunger.”

Sahar, who studied acting at SELA, a performing arts studio in Tel Aviv, and theater at Haifa University, said he became an actor in order to tell stories.

“I realized the more mediums I worked with, the better storyteller I could become,” he said. “My interests in puppetry, theater, cinema and live music merged together along with a search for new forms of performance and storytelling to create Puppet-Cinema.”

Although “Planet Egg” isn’t specifically about his Israeli roots, Sahar expects that those viewing the show through that lens will see allusions to his Israeli heritage.

“Looking back, all of my shows have involved at some point war, politics and survival. Certainly my new show, ‘Salt of the Earth’ (based on Amos Kenan’s political thriller ‘The Road to Ein Harod’), is more blatantly about those heated topics, but not with a hammer by any means. I guess it’s in my nature to connect to these kinds of stories,” he said.

Audiences for “Planet Egg” can expect to see … “everything,” said Sahar. “No fooling! There is no ‘backstage’ in our shows. All ‘behind-the-scenes’ activities are exposed — the puppeteers, video cameras, wires, the sound designer scoring the movie live with old ‘timey’ radio sound effects. They will see it all. Hopefully, they will see things they haven’t seen before.”

While in Baltimore, Sahar and cast members of PuppetCinema will present a workshop for aspiring multimedia artists, too.

“We will be teaching Puppet-Cinema’s signature techniques, such as how to build puppets out of ordinary vegetables (even the yucky ones) and how to use film to create and capture an original story. I’m really looking forward to the workshop since every time we lead one, we go back home full of inspiration and with at least one new vegetable-based puppet we’d never thought of!”

Productions of “Planet Egg” will take place on July 25, 26 and 27 at 8 p.m., on July 27 at 2 p.m., and on July 28 at 5 p.m.

PuppetCinema will present a workshop on July 28 at 11 a.m.

For more information, to purchase tickets or register for the workshop, visit theatreproject.org or call 410-752-8558.

Theatre Project is located at 45 W. Preston St., Baltimore.

Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter sellin@jewishtimes.com