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Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Emmy-winning writer Adam Yenser a 'stand-out' comic back home in Macungie

You can't talk TV talk shows without mentioning one of the hottest hosts around, Daytime Emmy Award-winning Ellen DeGeneres. And you can't call her one of the hottest hosts around unless you acknowledge those who work behind-the-scenes, her staff writers. This past June, those writers were recognized for their outstanding work in the Special Class Writing category for 2011 at the 39th annual Daytime Entertainment Creative Arts Emmy Awards held in Los Angeles. Among those proud writers taking the stage was Macungie's own, Adam Yenser.

"It was an amazing experience," said Yenser, 29, in a phone interview from the West Coast. The 2001 graduate of Emmaus High School is one of eight writers for the syndicated, Emmy Award-winning "Ellen DeGeneres Show," which began its 10th season this past Monday. The show is aired weekdays at 3 p.m. on the NBC network.

Earlier this month, the entertainment industry honored DeGeneres with her own star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Starting as a stand-up comic in her hometown of New Orleans, DeGeneres' climb to fame has garnered her some solid credits, including host of the Academy Awards, Primetime Emmy Awards and Grammy Awards. She's also a best-selling author and known for her humanitarian efforts.

In a highly competitive market this season, where new names will be cutting into the pie and vying for younger audiences and strong ratings in the daytime TV talk-show scene, instability continues to rock the late-night, in particular with Jay Leno and "The Tonight Show." Recent headlines reveal a decline in ratings and layoffs for Leno's show, and even a reduction in salary taken by Leno, himself, in order to survive.

For Yenser, he experienced a similar scene when he wrote for TV talk-show host Conan O'Brien, who relocated from New York City to Hollywood in 2009, when he took over "The Tonight Show" slot. Then, too, ratings dipped. Yenser, who relocated to the West Coast with the show, also was an assistant to segment producers for "Late Night with Conan" and "Conan." Back in New York, Yenser also was a past contributor to the Weekend Update segment of "Saturday Night Live."

"Working for Conan was great," Yenser said. "I really learned a lot. He had a cool, cohesive staff. It was like family."

Yenser hooked up with Conan's staff as an intern during his junior year at Penn State University.

"I wanted sketch comedy, like you see on 'Saturday Night Live' but, of course, there was no such major so I concentrated on film and video and philosophy," Yenser explained. "I was doing lots of script writing and decided to send resumes to 'Saturday Night Live,' and shows with Conan, [David] Letterman and [Jon] Stewart."

Persistence paid off for the Emmy-winning Yenser who, along with his fellow writers, now keeps abreast of reality TV shows and pop culture in writing monologues and comedy sketches for DeGeneres. He also finds inspiration in "observances of daily life."

Aside from his professional writing, Yenser said he's grateful to be performing what he loves most -- stand-up comedy. In earlier years, he honed his sketch writing and stand-up routine at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City. He's since performed his one-liners around the country at such venues as the Gotham Comedy Club, The Hollywood Improv, and the Laugh Factory.

Locally, he appeared at "Tickle Me Tuesday," Lehigh Valley's stand-up comedy showcase held at the Allentown and Bethlehem Brew Works. This past June and July, he appeared at "Two Laugh Minimum" at SteelStacks at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem.

Yenser said he was never a "class-clown type" while growing up, but rather quiet and always writing down ideas and doing sketches for the camcorder. He grew up watching TV shows like "Comedy Central" and "Saturday Night Live" and was a fan of late-night TV talk shows hosted by his heroes including Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Conan O'Brien. Among his favorite stand-up comedians today are Louis C.K. and Jim Gaffigan, and of yesteryear, the late Henny Youngman and Phyllis Diller.

When asked if he ever gets nervous on stage, he answered, "Occasionally, if it's a small crowd." He explained how a stand-up comic has a great advantage when he has a large audience "laughing together and on different levels." He said a more intimate audience might make people more self-conscious in "being the first to laugh out loud."

Yenser said he gets back to Pennsylvania about twice a year to visit with family and friends. He also manages to fit in his stand-up comedy. He said his family, including parents Lee and Loretta Yenser, and brothers, Dustin and Eric, and friends are his greatest supporters. He said he also likes to stop in and catch up with his former co-workers at Yocco's Hot Dog King in Emmaus, where he admits he likes to indulge in his 'valley favorite.'

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Arts Roundup

Salisbury Township resident Marilyn Hazelton has edited and published the latest issue of "red lights," an international tanka poetry journal that carries on a 1,300-year-old tradition in a new way.

Tanka, which means "short song," is a lyrical, five-line form of Japanese poetry that is the parent of haiku. Generally written in fewer than 31 syllables, the form can express a variety of experiences, from sorrow to despair, from irony to joy.

Hazelton has been editor of "red lights" since January 2009. The journal was founded in 2005, by Pamela Miller Ness, a pioneer writer and editor of tanka in English. Hazelton met Miller Ness during a panel discussion on tanka at a Haiku Society of America meeting in Manhattan. Several years later, she was asked if she would like to take over editing the journal. Hazelton has steadily expanded the size and reach of the journal, which is published annually in January and June and available by subscription.

The current issue contains contributed work from writers in Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand, England, Ethiopia, Canada, and the United States.

The title of the journal is taken from a series of autobiographical tanka written in 1913, by Japanese poet Mokichi Saito, whose work was translated in English in 1989. In Saito's tanka, the color red appears again and again – as a sunset, the red vests of Salvation Army workers, a lion mask, or in other surprising ways, Hazelton explained. The journal contains an interactive feature each month, where contributors are invited to be inspired by one of Saito's tanka offerings. For the January 2013 issue, contributors are asked to respond to the following by Saito:

the red cigarette glow
in the ice-cutter's
and I ran on

'I love how reading and writing tanka reveals the inner life of day-to-day experience," Hazelton said. "This small poetic form can remove an emotional thorn through a new understanding of grief, anger or fear, or by embodying joy, love or hope. There is a rhythm within the song of our lives. With the help of this poetic form, we can hear that rhythm and know the song."

The poems are like scenes from short stories, she added, where generally there is a situation, then a response. Occasionally, the response might be a declaration, as Hazelton illustrates:

how our lives
shift and change –
the years
when I was speechless
are done

Hazelton has taught tanka and other forms of poetry in elementary, middle and high schools throughout the state. She is a teaching artist with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and has facilitated classes for college students, mentally ill men and women, women transitioning from prison, adjudicated youth, and senior citizens. Her work includes residencies in France, Japan and Morocco. She is a regular presenter at Haiku Society of America meetings in Manhattan and is Poet-in-Residence at The Swain School in Allentown. She received an Arts Ovation Award from the Allentown Arts Commission in 2006, in the category of Literary Arts, for her work in the community.

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Things will get mighty 'wicked' at Allentown Symphony Hall on Saturday, Sept. 15, at 8 p.m., when Broadway's Alli Mauzey and Dee Roscioli, stars of the musical, "Wicked," join the Allentown Symphony Orchestra. Show tunes will be from "Wicked," "Chicago," "Phantom of the Opera," plus more.

Mauzey also starred in Broadway's "Hairspray." Back in June, Easton native Roscioli returned to the Lehigh Valley as Mrs. Lovett in the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival's production of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

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