Rob Sivak | WYPR

Rob Sivak

Senior Producer, Midday

Rob Sivak is senior producer of Midday, with host Tom Hall.  Rob joined WYPR in 2015 as senior producer of Hall's previous show, Maryland Morning (which aired its final show on September 16th, 2016).  Before coming to the station, Rob enjoyed a 36-year career at the congressionally funded global broadcaster, Voice of America.  At VOA, he honed his skills as a news and feature reporter, producer, editor and program host.

After reporting stints at VOA's New York City, United Nations and Los Angeles bureaus, Rob spent two decades covering international food, farming and nutrition issues for VOA's 180-million worldwide listeners, and created and hosted several popular VOA science magazines.  At Midday, he continues to pursue his passion for radio and his abiding interests in science, health, technology and politics.

Rob grew up as an ex-pat "oil brat" on the Persian Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia, and studied and traveled widely in the Middle East, Europe and Africa.  He attended Hofstra University in New York and Boston University's School of Public Communications.  Rob and his wife, Caroline Barnes, live in Silver Spring, Maryland, where they've raised three daughters.

photo courtesy Pixabay

We’ve all heard of the campaigns in the US to legalize medical and recreational uses for marijuana -- the cannabis plant with potent therapeutic and hallucinogenic properties.  Less well-known is the campaign to legalize marijuana’s weaker cousin -- hemp -- an industrial crop that won’t get you high, but yields a high-quality fiber and oil that’s used to make thousands of products, from rope to soap. 

Hemp is grown commercially in about 40 countries around the world, including Canada, but not in the United States, where, since the 1970s, the federal government has classified hemp, like marijuana, as a dangerous drug.  But things are changing.  A resurgent interest in the economic potentials of this age-old crop has led the federal government and many states to take the first steps toward legalizing hemp production. Maryland has been slow to take those steps, but there are signs of change here , too, and we’re going to talk about that with three guests today who’ve taken a keen interest in hemp... 

Joining Tom in the studio is David Fraser-Hidalgo. He’s a Maryland State delegate - a Democrat who has represented District 15, including Montgomery County, since 2013.  He has also co-sponsored a series of hemp legalization bills over the past few years, including an unsuccessful measure introduced earlier this year during the 2017 General Assembly session. 

Also in the studio is Rona Kobell. She’s a writer for the Chesapeake Bay Journal, a former Baltimore Sun reporter, and the author of an Abell Foundation report published this past spring, called Hope for Hemp: A Misunderstood Plant Prepares for its Comeback.

And joining us on the line from public radio station WMRA in Harrisonburg, Virginia, is Glenn Rodes.  He’s a farmer from Rockingham County in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He is a partner in Riverhill Farms, and works with his parents, two brothers, and four nephews. The Mennonite family raises turkeys, operates a dairy, grows crops, feeds beef cattle, and does custom harvesting.  They also grow a bit of hemp.  Glenn Rodes is one of two farmers who’ve partnered with James Madison University on a hemp research project to explore ways to grow the industrial crop with existing farm equipment.

photo courtesy Red Branch Theatre Company

It's Thursday, and that means Midday's theater critic, J. Wynn Rousuck, once again joins Tom in the studio, this week with her review of a new musical production of The Bridges of Madison County, by the Red Branch Theatre Company in Columbia, Maryland.

Based on the best-selling 1992 novel by Robert James Waller (who died this past March at the age of 77), the musical adaptation describes a four-day romantic encounter between Francesca (played by Erin Granfield), a married but lonely Italian housewife in Iowa, and a traveling National Geographic photographer named Robert Kincaid (played by Ryan Burke). 

The sentimental storyline is enriched with a musical score by Tony Award®-winning composer Jason Robert Brown and book by Pulitzer Prize winning Marsha Norman.  The Red Branch Theatre Company production is directed by Clare Shaffer, with music direction by Paige Rammelkamp.

The Bridges of Madison County (which contains adult language and themes) continues at the Red Branch Theatre Company through Saturday, October 14.

photo courtesy HBO.com

It's Midday at the Movies, our monthly conversation about new flicks and new trends in the film industry. Tom's guests today are Maryland Film Festival founder and director Jed Dietz, and Baltimore Magazine's managing editor and film critic Max Weiss, who also writes about culture at Vulture.com, the entertainment website of New York Magazine.

The last four months of the year are typically when movie  studios give us their best shot, with an eye on the year-end deadline for the awards season.

So what happened this year?  This summer's movie season included more flops than an Olympic track meet.  Can the film industry bounce back from one of its worst summers in 25 years? 

Tom and his guests discuss how a new crop of films, in theaters as well as on streaming Internet services, could help turn things around.  They'll  be talking about the new HBO series from director David Simon and George Pelacanos called "The Deuce",  which premiers Sunday September 10th,  and about the new movies coming to local theaters, including Ingrid Goes West, Logan Lucky, Okja, and Beach Rats, among others.

photo courtesy Hippodrome Theatre

It's Thursday, and that means our theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in the studio with her weekly report on the region's thespian landscape.  

This week, Judy looks ahead to the 2017-2018 season and spotlights some of the local and touring productions slated to grace the region's stages in the coming months, including two notable musicals coming to the Hippodrome:  Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's sequel to his Phantom of the Opera, called Love Never Dies, and The School of Rock.  

Courtesy Harper Collins Publisher

(This program was originally aired on June 5, 2017)

With more than 6,000 hours of shows logged during an influential career that spanned more than 30 years, David Letterman’s impact on the landscape of late-night is unquestioned.    On today's Midday, a closer look at the life and work of the trend-setting funny man, through the eyes of a writer-journalist who's spent the past three years sizing up the Letterman legacy.

Photo by George David Sanchez

(This program originally aired on April 25, 2017)  

Today, it’s Midday on Mid Life.  Mid Life can be a dizzying hash of juggling jobs, keeping a marriage vibrant, tending to children as they enter adulthood, and caring for parents as they enter their twilight years.  No wonder the term “midlife” so often has the word “crisis” attached to it like a tentacle.     

But our 40s, 50s and 60s can also be a time when we come into our own, forge new relationships, and discover fresh things about the world and ourselves. 

In her most recent book, Life Reimagined: The Science, Art and Opportunity of Midlifeformer NPR correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty takes a clear-eyed look at the challenges and joys of being old enough to know better, and young enough to enjoy the new things that life might have to offer. 

(Barbara Bradley Hagerty talked about her book April 26th at the Towson Unitarian Universalist Church on Dulaney Valley Road in Lutherville, Maryland.  Her talk was sponsored by Well for the Journey, a spiritual wellness center offering classes and workshops in Towson.)

Midday News Wrap 8.18.17

Aug 18, 2017
Photo courtesy Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun

It's the Midday News Wrap, our review of the week's top news stories, with a rotating panel of journalists and commentators.

Protesting the planned removal of a Confederate monument was the pretext for a Unite the Right rally by armed neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klansmen in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend.  Dozens were injured in the ensuing melee with counter protesters, and a young woman named Heather Heyer was killed when a white nationalist drove his car into the crowd.  

President Trump angered critics and supporters alike with his shifting analyses of the violence in Charlottesville, his refusal to unequivocally denounce the white supremacist groups by name, and his insistence that counter-protesters share equal blame for the weekend violence. 

In the days that followed, Confederate-themed monuments became rallying points for anti-racism protests and criticism in many US cities, resulting in the removal of monuments here in Baltimore and North Carolina, with other states, including Florida and Kentucky, pledging to remove their monuments as well.  

To help parse these and other news stories, Tom is joined by Dr. Ray Winbush, Research Professor and Director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University and Ayesha Rascoe, White House correspondent for the Reuters news agency.  

Photo courtesy National Radio Astronomy Observatory

Jim O'Leary, the lead space science and astronomy specialist at the Maryland Science Center, speaks with Tom about the partial solar eclipse that will be visible here in Maryland on Monday afternoon.  Although Maryland is not in the path of totality, if weather conditions are right, we will  experience a hearty partial solar eclipse -- a celestial phenomenon only slightly less remarkable than totality. 

Symphony Number One, Live in Studio

Aug 18, 2017
Photo courtesy Jordanrsmith.com

Conductor Jordan Randall Smith joins Tom in the Midday studio, along with two members of his 20-piece chamber orchestra,  Symphony Number One: clarinetist Scott Johnson and bassoonist Mateen Milan.  

Smith founded the classical ensemble two years ago and already they've released two albums and given world premiere performances of more thana dozen works.

The two SNO musicians perform live in the Midday studio and Smith, Johnson and Milan discuss the finer points of working in a small classical orchestra.

Playlist:

Beethoven, Duo No. 1 for Clarinet and Bassoon 

Scott Joplin, The Entertainer 

For more information on all upcoming concerts please visit symphonynumber.one/eve.  

Courtesy of Rollin Hu

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh moved quickly and quietly early Wednesday morning to have the city's four Confederate monuments removed from their pedestals, in response to the weekend violence in Charlottesville and concerns that conflicts over the statues could threaten public safety.  

Tom speaks with filmmaker and arts curator Elissa Blount Moorhead about the mayor's decision. Moorhead is a filmmaker and partner at TNEG Films. She is also an Incubator Fellow at the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film & Media at Johns Hopkins.  She recently directed a short film for Jay Z called 4:44.

In September of 2015, then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake appointed Moorhead and several other people to a commission to make recommendations about what to do with the four monuments. In August 2016, the commission recommended the city remove two of Baltimore's confederate statues— the Roger B. Taney Monument on Mount Vernon Place and the Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson Monument in the Wyman Park Dell. The commission recommended the placement of contextual signage at the two other monuments: the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Mount Royal Avenue and the Confederate Women's Monument on West University Parkway.

Courtesy of Raqui Minwell

Welcome to another edition of What Ya Got Cookin? -- Midday's bi-monthly tribute to the wonders of good food, good cooks, and good eating.  Today the topic is soul food and southern cooking.  

As always, Tom is joined by Midday’s resident foodies, John Shields and Sascha Wolhandler

John is a chef, author and the owner of Gertrude’s Restaurant at the Baltimore Museum of Art. He’s also the host of Coastal Cooking and Chesapeake Bay Cooking on Maryland Public Television and PBS. Sascha and her husband Steve Susser recently retired from their long career running Sascha’s 527 Cafe in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood of Charm City

Our special guest today is Chef David Thomas, a career food professional with more than 25 years in the restaurant and food service trade. Previously the chef and owner of The Herb & Soul Café, Thomas has now partnered with the media company, Real News Network, on a new restaurant in downtown Baltimore called Ida B’s Table.

Courtesy of Joshua McKerrow

Today, Midday theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom with her review of  Alice and the Book of Wonderland, a new rendition of the classic being produced on stage by the Annapolis Shakespeare Company, in Annapolis, Maryland. Sally Boyett and Donald Hicken adapted Lewis Carroll's whimsical children's novel and gave it a modern twist. Boyett directs the action, which involves a series of absurd Carrollian vignettes that draws the curious young Alice deeper into Wonderland's surreal mysteries.

Photo courtesy CBS Sports

We begin with a conversation about the horrific events that took place in Charlottesville, Va.  over the weekend which resulted in the death of one woman and two VA state troopers.  Many were injured, and brazenness about racist and hateful rhetoric is alive and well.  White nationalists succeeded in shining a bright spotlight on themselves in Charlottesville.  The president of the United States has said little to dim that light, drawing severe criticism from, as he might say, many, many sides.  Dr. Nathan Connolly, a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University, joins Tom to reflect on Charlottesville and its aftermath.

Photo courtesy of Rev. Maria Swearingen

This is another edition of Living Questions, our monthly series on the role of religion in the public sphere, which we produce in collaboration with the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies.  

This past January, the leadership of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, DC, elected the Reverend Maria Swearingen and Reverend Sally Sarratt as their congregation’s co-pastors.

Calvary Baptist has a long, progressive history since its founding by anti-slavery abolitionists in 1862, but the selection of these two women to lead their congregation was nonetheless a bold move.

Maria Swearingen and Sally Sarratt are a married, lesbian couple.  They join Tom in the studio to talk about the journey that brought them to Calvary Baptist, what they are doing in their co-ministry, and what their election as co-pastors may say about the Baptist Church and about tolerance in established denominations across the broader religious landscape.

Rousuck's Review: "Love's Labour's Lost"

Aug 10, 2017
Photo by Will Kirk

Every Thursday, Midday theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck stops by with her review of one of this region's theater productions.

Today, it's the new production of Love's Labour's Lost by the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, which is being staged as part of their seasonal Shakespeare in the Meadow program.

The play -- one of the Bard's early comedies -- follows the attempt by Ferdinand, King of Navarre, and his three companions to forswear the company of women for three years. Their plan does not go particularly well.

Chris Cotterman, the associate artistic director of the BSF, directs the light-hearted production, which runs through Sunday, August 13, outdoors at the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory in Evergreen Meadow (located at the Johns Hopkins Evergreen Museum and Library). From August 18-20, the production moves indoors to the Great Hall Theater at St. Mary’s Community Center. Check the Baltimore Shakespeare factory website for details.

It’s another edition of the Midday Healthwatch, our monthly conversation with Baltimore City Health Commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen.    

According to the latest estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 142 Americans die every day from a drug overdose  -- more than 50,000 people every year. The majority of these deaths, now surging in more than 30 states, are being caused by powerful illicit opioid drugs like heroin and fentanyl, and widely-used prescription painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone, the active opioids in Percocet and Vicodin, respectively.

AP Photos

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury.  The Trump White House has called in the Marines, or at least one highly respected Marine General, to impose order in the West Wing, and to squash the constant barrage of leaks.  Those leaks, however, continue at an unprecedented pace.

A transcript of phone calls with the Presidents of Mexico and Australia were revelatory about the President’s negotiating style.  A transcript of a phone call with the head of the Boy Scouts will never be leaked, because the phone call was imagined by the President.  In West Virginia last night, he played hits from the campaign like “Lock her up!” and reveled in the defection of the state's Democratic governor to the Republican Party.  In Baltimore, the City Council and the Mayor wrestled over plans to stem the violence on city streets.  

A lot to parse in this week's News Wrap. Tom is joined today by Associated Press White House reporter Darlene Superville, on the line from Washington.  And joining us in the studio is Jean Marbella of the Baltimore Sun. She has been a writer and editor at the Sun for 30 years, currently serving on the Sun’s investigative and enterprise team.

Image courtesy Annapurna Pictures

This is another edition of Midday at the Movies.  Today, Tom is joined by  our favorite movie mavens, Jed Dietz of the Maryland Film Festival and Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post, for a look at the latest fare in movie theaters this summer. 

Detroit, the new Kathryn Bigelow movie about the Detroit riots in 1967 is at the Charles.  Dunkirk has landed at the Landmark, and Step, the documentary about triumph at a Baltimore high school, is kickin’ it at the Senator.  Jed and Ann talk with Tom about these and more of your Charm City cinematic choices this weekend, and take your questions and comments.  

Photo by Tom Lauer

Midday Theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in the studio every Thursday to review one of our region's current theater productions.

Today, she spotlights Sister Act, a musical based on the 1992 film comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg as a lounge singer who is forced to hide out in a convent, disguised as a nun.  Sister Act is directed by Tom Wyatt at Cockpit in Court on the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County. It will run through Sunday, August 6.

photo courtesy Comstock-Fasano

A little touch of Broadway comes to Baltimore tonight when the acclaimed New York cabaret team, Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano, return to Germano’s Piattini in Little Italy.  They’ll present a show called Downton Abbey Road: The Best of Britain  

Known for their imaginative interpretations of the American Songbook as well as more contemporary fare, Comstock and Fasano are award-winning artists who are regulars on the New York circuit, as well as in venues around the country.  Today, they join Tom in Studio A. We'll hear some recent recordings, and talk about their new show and their storied career as married musical partners.

Photo by A. Mains

Midday theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom for her weekly review of one of the region's thespian offerings.  

Today, she spotlights Fallout, the play by Laura King that's being staged by Baltimore's Vagabond Players as part of the Baltimore Playwrights Festival.  It's directed by Audra Mains Mullen, and stars Gareth Kelly as David and Ryan Gunning as Anna, two strangers with issues, who seek refuge from an unknown menace in a fallout shelter, a relic of the nuclear holocaust paranoia that raged during the Cold War.  In the tight confines of the shelter, Anna and David wrestle with their inner demons, even as they deal with their terror of what lurks outside.

The Vagabond Players' production of Fallout -- one of just two plays to be fully-staged in this year's Baltimore Playwrights Festival -- runs through Sunday, July 30.  Special Thursday show July 27, 8 pm; Friday and Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm.

The Vagabond Players is located at 806 South Broadway, Baltimore, MD 21231.
Tickets can be purchased here.

Macmillan Publishers

Today, a conversation about criminal profiling and how it came to be standard procedure in police investigations.  Today, we take it for granted that when crimes occur, particularly serial crimes - think Ted Kaczyinski or David Berkowitz or Jeffrey Dahmer - that police will consult with experts who are able to provide a likely profile of these perpetrators so police can figure out who and where they are.

Photo courtesy WBUR

It's the Midday News Wrap, with guest host Nathan Sterner sitting in for Tom Hall.  Among the stories Nathan spotlights in this week's review: the drama of competing healthcare bills, the wrangling and chaos within the Republican Party, and the still-unfolding puzzle of possible Russian ties to President Trump's inner circle.

 Early in the week, Senate Republicans lacked the votes for their latest proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act.  By Tuesday, President Trump announced, “We’ll let Obamacare fail.”  The confusion deepened later in the week with proposals to Repeal without Replace and Repeal with Delayed Replace.

Also this week, there was the drip, drip of revelations about exactly who else was in the room in June of 2016 when Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chief at the time, attended a meeting where they were promised Russian government help for their campaign and some dirt about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.  Then on Thursday came the announcement that Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort have all agreed to appear before Senate committees next week to discuss Russia and the 2016 election.

Andy Green, Editorial Page editor of the Baltimore Sun, and Richard Cross, a longtime Republican communications staffer in both Annapolis and Capitol Hill, are here with background and analysis on the week's developments.

But first, Julie Rovner is on the line from DC to help us make sense of the week’s healthcare news.  Rovner is chief Washington correspondent for Kaiser Health News, where she is the Robin Toner Distinguished Fellow.  If her voice is familiar to you, that’s because Rovner was a health policy reporter for NPR for 16 years before joining KHN.  She is the author of the book “Health Care Politics and Policy A-Z,” now in its third edition.  

Public Domain

Roughly a fifth of the US population – and a third of the under-30 crowd – say they have become disaffected with traditional religious institutions and they’re telling pollsters that they don’t identify with any particular church or religious faith.

They‘re called "nones" -- as in "none of the above," but most say they still believe in God. So why are growing numbers of Americans turning away from the traditional church, synagogue, and mosque? And what are they looking for? Senior Producer Rob Sivak sits in for Tom Hall as host of today's edition of Living Questions, our monthly series examining the role of religion in the public sphere, produced in collaboration with The Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies.

Joining Rob in Studio A are the Reverend Joseph Wood, assistant rector at Baltimore's Emmanuel Episcopal Church;  Joshua Sherman, program associate at Repair the World at Jewish Volunteer Connection;  and Terrell Williams, associate organizer for Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD).  Alan Cooperman, Director of Religion Research at the Pew Research Center and the author of its 2012 report, Nones on the Rise, joins us on the line from Pew headquarters in Washington D.C.

Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography

Midday theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Senior Producer Rob Sivak in the studio today with her review of the musical Spring Awakening, produced by the Spotlighters Theatre.   It tells the story of a group of 19th century German teenagers trying to discover more about one another and themselves, under the intense scrutiny and repressive control of the adults in their lives.

Seth Freeman

Midday theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in Studio A with her review of the six plays being presented this year at the annual Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF), now underway on the campus of Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  The plays' settings range widely - from Amish Country to Nazi Germany - but their stories share common and emotionally  powerful  themes.

The Hill

This is a special edition of Midday as NPR prepares to air live coverage of the news conference in Paris with President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron. 

Trump is sure to face questions about Russia and its meddling in the 2016 Presidential election. He has been largely out of the public eye since the release of his eldest son’s now famous emails. The scope of Russia investigations in the House, the Senate, and with the special counsel continues to expand.

courtesy Keith Allison via Creative Commons

Cal Ripken and Lou Gehrig are forever linked in history as the two great “iron men” of baseball.  For decades, Gehrig’s record of 2,130 consecutive games-played seemed an insurmountable mark until Cal Ripken met it, and surpassed it by more than 500 games. 

By the time Ripken retired in 2001 the age of 40, he and Gehrig were the only two of 17,000 players in the major leagues who had played more than 2,000 games in a row. 

The history of their amazing achievement is chronicled in a new book The Streak: Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken, and Baseball's Most Historic Record by Baltimore sportswriter John Eisenberg, who fills his account with stories not only of Ripken and Gehrig, but of the other ironmen who endured injuries and the vagaries of managers to make their marks as tenacious, every-day players. 

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Today, all eyes are on Hamburg Germany, the site of the G-20 summit, where about three hours ago, Donald Trump met Vladimir Putin for the first time as President. The meeting takes place as North Korea continues its sword rattling, the Syrian conflict continues to displace and kill thousands, big policy differences between the US and other G-20 members in areas like climate change are once again laid bare, and new economic agreements that exclude the US are taking shape.

Photo by Jamyla Krempel

We welcome to Studio A the legendary blues musician and storyteller, Guy Davis.  He’s in town to headline the Common Ground on the Hill Roots Music and Arts Festival, which takes place tomorrow at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster.  Guy is no stranger to the festival.  He’s been teaching and performing at Common Ground for 23 years.  He is also this year’s recipient of the Robert H. Chambers Award for Excellence in the Traditional Arts, an award he shares with some pretty bold-face company:  people like Jose Feliciano, Pete Seeger, Richie Havens, and Odetta are past recipients…

Also joining us in the studio today is Walt Michael.  He’s a hammered dulcimer virtuoso, and an internationally acclaimed expert in the traditional arts…He’s also the founder and executive director of Common Ground on the Hill; a two-week series of classes focusing on arts, music and culture, held each July on the campus of McDaniel College.  Founded in 1994, Common Ground on the Hill, discovers and teaches the common ground found in the traditional arts, and celebrates it each year with two Summer Festivals at the Carroll County Farm Museum, and a monthly concert series at the Carroll Arts Center.

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