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The Interview Issue: Randy Sharma, physician and rock & roll devotee

Philip Emilio Palma

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When Randhir (Randy) Sharma was a young kid, he was self-admittedly, a science geek. When he was in the second grade, he was fascinated by a story he saw on the news of a man who received an artificial heart transplant. But it was on a family trip to India when he was in the fourth grade that the emotional and humanitarian aspects of medicine coalesced with the clinical side of medicine. Walking through the streets of New Delhi with his mother, Sharma saw a young boy, with no legs who was pushing himself on a scooter, begging for change. His mother gave the boy some money, but the incident left Sharma in tears. He realized something at a young age that would resonate throughout his life:

“You have to help people out if you have the opportunity. You just have to.”

Sharma points to this encounter as a catalyst for why he wanted to pursue a career in medicine. “If you don’t do it for the right reasons, you’re not going to be happy, and your patients will not be happy either.”

Originally from the Cincinnati-Dayton suburb of Springboro, Sharma found himself immersed in the middle of a burgeoning alternative music scene the summer he graduated high school, thanks to the breakthrough success of now alt legends Guided By Voices, and The Breeders. Sharma would go to their shows, and subsequently, befriended members of the bands.

“The Breeders had blown up, and Guided By Voices were kinda starting to do some things. They were playing Canal Street Tavern in Dayton, and it was an 18 and up show. [Ed. note: sharma was 17 when he graduated high school.] I had to take my brother’s ID because he was older than me. I met Bob Pollard [vocalist and lyricist for GBV] after the show and he was like, ‘We play basketball at my house every weekend. You should come hang out!’ So I would go and hang out with Bob, and Kim Deal [bassist for the Pixies, and co-founder of the Breeders], and Jim Greer, who was the editor of spin Magazine, and Kim’s boyfriend at the time.”

As a result of early encounters and experiences like this, Sharma is immune to being starstruck. He also started an ongoing love affair with music, particularly going to see live shows. Sharma finished his undergrad at the University of Cincinnati, and attended Wright State University for medical school. After completing his three-year residency program at Riverside Methodist Hospital and then moving on to private practice, Sharma has been proud to call Columbus home for the last 15 years.

Through attending shows at local venues and getting to know people within the business, he was able to parlay his career in medicine into his love for music.

“Honestly, I think it’s going to enough shows—you just get to know people. I had become friends with several people at CD 101 who would call and say they had someone that needed taken care of…. I would get know them, their management, and the folks at Promowest, too.” Because of his demeanor, and his familiarity with celebrity, local venues have designated Sharma as a go-to physician, should a touring act need some sort of basic medical care, thus earning Sharma nickname “The Rock Doc.”

In what any fan of live music would call a stroke of brilliance, he plans his vacations around shows and festivals he wants to attend, such as Austin City Limits, and the Secret Solstice in Reykjavik, Iceland. The latter is where Sharma became a little part of history in 2017 when he was part of a select group that attended the first concert inside a volcano. What Sharma refers to as the best experience of his life was also quite harrowing. As a result of severe weather, the group that attended the performance was left stranded on the volcano and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard.

Whether it’s Sharma’s charity work with Columbus performer Nina West, and Steve Weaver from the Candle Lab (they co-founded a charity to help HIV patients who cannot afford the astronomical fees of their medication), or his relationship with CD 102.5, Sharma has quietly become an integral part of what makes Columbus such a unique, vibrant, and continually diverse city. That diversity runs deep for Sharma. The younger of two sons from immigrant parents, his father came to America looking for a better life for himself and eventually made his way to Ohio.

“My parents are from India. My dad moved here in 1970 with nothing really but his education. He’s a civil engineer. He went to England and got his master’s degree there. Around this time, some restrictions were being lifted immigration-wise, and they were looking for skilled people to come in. Someone he knew told him, ‘If you get the opportunity to go the United States, you should go.’ So he did.

Of course, he shows up in New York, with very little money, and somehow, somebody that he knew from home knew somebody that lived in Cleveland, and he moved there. They were great to him; they let him stay there. The guy actually might have been a stereotypical Quickie Mart owner, to be honest; and my dad was having a tough time finding a job, and told the guy he would just work at this store. The guy was like, ‘No you won’t, you’re gonna get a job. You have a degree, that’s why you’re here. So we’ll take care of you.’ ”

But Sharma’s father persevered. “Eventually, my dad worked his way into a job with ODOT [Ohio Department of Transportation] down in the Lebanon area, near Kings Island. At some point, my grandmother was diagnosed with liver cancer some time after my grandparents moved to England. So, he’s stuck here, and her dying wish was to see him get married. So, he went back to India when he got a little time off work and had an arranged marriage. And that was not too long after my dad first moved here because my brother popped out in ‘73, and then I came along in ’76.”

The fact that Sharma loves his work, and gets to marry it with his passion for music is envious as it is admirable. He not only gets to help people—which is why he choose a career in medicine—but he gets to develop relationships with some of the artists as result of his work and his passion for music.

When asked if he would be able to do this in New York or Los Angeles (where the bulk of these artists reside and frequent), he was adamant that it would be impossible. He points to an accessibility in Columbus, and his relationships with CD 102.5 and the venues.

“The greatest thing about Columbus, to me, is the sense of community. When something happens, if there’s some sort of tragedy, people pull together. Whether it’s the arts community or the music community, it’s everybody coming together. Whether they are donating their time, or money; it makes it really easy to stay in an area when you can say, ‘Hey, you know what? I’m worried about this issue,’ and I can reach out to people that actually want to help. During our entire conversation, the example that best illustrates his credo of, “You have got to take care of people,” as well as being the Rock Doc, is when he arranged for his sister-in-law to meet her favorite musician, Jason Mraz. His sister- in-law is battling cancer and was unable to attend her favorite musician’s concert as a result.

“I don’t call in favors for myself, but I do like to do it for other people. She was going through this very rough spell, and I just reached out to a friend of mine, who happens to work with him. I didn’t even know she was such a huge fan, but somehow it came up, and I was like, ‘Hey, listen, my sister in law, she’s really sick, she’s a big Jason Mraz fan, I saw he’s coming here in December… Is there anything you can do?’ His friend arranged for tickets to the concert as well as a private meet and greet with the artist.”

There’s that credo again.

You have got to help people.

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Scream Team: Behind-the-scenes look at local haunting industry

Mike Thomas

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Like many a fiend of silver screen fame, the origins of Kelly Collins’ career in terror involve some teens, a campground, and a fateful ride into the deep, dark woods.

Thirty-eight years ago, Collins was general manager at a campground. Every Saturday at noon, he’d hook up a wagon to a tractor and treat the young campers to a hayride through the woods. The route Collins followed circled around an old oak tree, before turning around and coming back to the start. One Saturday, some mischievous teens sprang out from behind the tree, giving quite a scare to the unsuspecting wagoneers. All of the children screamed in surprise—then they laughed.

Kelly Collins (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

This gave Collins an idea. To spice up his little hayride, he would arrange for the teens to act out the same routine the next Saturday— but this time, he’d up the ante by giving them rubber masks to wear. His plan was set in motion, and this time, the startled youngsters on the wagon cried all the way back to the campground.

“That was a bad idea, but it got me thinking...Why don’t we have a hayride at night and call it the ‘Spooky Hayride?’ ” Collins recalls. By fine-tuning the balance between fear and fun, Collins’ new enterprise was a success, and would set him on the path to a lifelong career in the haunted house business, or “haunting” as it’s known to its practitioners.

Early in his career, Collins became a key figure in the Central Ohio scream scene. After his haunted hayride, he spent a couple of seasons overseeing the Hallowscream event at the now- defunct Wyandot Lake. It was there that he was approached by Ken Schnacke, General Manager and President of the Columbus Clippers baseball team, who tapped Collins to create and lead the “Terror Park” event that was held at Cooper Stadium for a decade.

When the Clippers made the move to Huntington Park, the Terror Park event was shelved. Collins set out again on his own, founding the Scareatorium: a haunted house attraction occupying a 40,000-square-foot space in a northeast Columbus strip mall.

Over the next decade, the Scareatorium would serve as a hub for haunters, attracting and nurturing some of the city’s top talents in the field. From actors, makeup artists, set designers and people who just appreciate a good scare, the group that grew from Collins’ enterprise came together over buckets of blood and latex viscera, but now enjoy the valuable connection of a genuine community.

A longtime compatriot of Collins, Keith Newsome was one of the creative minds behind Terror Park and the Scareatorium. Though he specializes in visual effects design and fabrication, Newsome’s talents in haunting are wide-ranging. Since retiring from 13th Floor, Newsome has remained a vital member of the community, teaching classes on topics ranging from makeup application to mask making and performance.

Keith Newsome (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

This season, he’s lending his skills to an attraction in Lancaster, Ohio titled “A True American Haunt: Birth of a Nightmare.” The house is set up in the Miller Building, a “poor house” originally built in 1828, which event promoters suggest may in fact be haunted. According to Newsome, the building is classified as one of the top-10 haunted houses in the United States, and was recently filmed for an upcoming episode of The Travel Channel show Destination Fear.

“It’s actually a haunted place. I don’t believe in that crap...I do now,” says Newsome. “There’s something in that place. I don’t go on the third or fourth floor anymore.”

Keith Newsome (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

Whether patrons can expect to encounter bona fide spirits along with latex-clad actors in this haunt remains to be seen, but whatever the case, the event serves an important purpose. All proceeds from this haunt will benefit Habitat for Humanity’s plan to revitalize the historic Miller Building, and to help build housing for local veterans.

The charitable angle for this event comes as no surprise in an industry that at times seems like an extended family. People attracted to haunting come from every imaginable background, but are united by a common passion.

“I’ve had people who are financial managers of huge companies, down to people who are almost homeless,” says Newsome. “The cool part about it is that we treat everybody equally. When you walk in, you’re automatically family.”

One member of Newsome’s haunt family is Bobbi Jo Gonzalez, an artist who has turned a passion for body art and makeup into a year-round career.

Bobbi Jo Gonzalez (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

Gonzalez’s first foray into the industry came while volunteering with her eldest daughters at a home haunt. Stepping up to fill the need for a makeup artist, Gonzalez gleaned what she could from YouTube videos. Her tool kit at that time consisted of, as she calls it, “that really crappy makeup you get at Kroger around Halloween.”

After encouragement from her peers at smaller attractions, Gonzalez eventually made her way to the Scareatorium, where she met Newsome. Newsome introduced her to higher-quality, water-based makeup, and she went on to mentor under the more experienced effects artist for two years.

Photo: Brian Kaiser

Today, Gonzalez is the owner of Aftershock Art, a thriving face painting and body art company that operates year-round. She’s also found a healthy sideline doing moulage—the art of creating realistic, simulated injuries on actors during training exercises for the military and first responders.

Like her mentor, Gonzalez sees the past support and encouragement from members of the haunt community as a foundation of the success she now enjoys.

“It’s something that we’re all passionate about, so once you find your niche in that community, it doesn’t matter what your background is, what your religion is, what your sexual orientation is—you have that weird background, and you have a family for life,” Gonzalez explains.

While basking in the warm embrace of your fellow ghoul is reason enough to keep some hooked on this line of work, there’s another essential element that unifies all haunters: the love of the scare.

“I fell in love. I didn’t know you could have so much fun scaring people,” says Ashley Shilling, another former employee of Collins from the Sacreatorium days who today serves as general manager of the 13th Floor Haunt.

Ashley Shilling (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

“Being an actor is a huge stress relief,” Shilling explains. “Getting to scare people kicks in your endorphins, especially if you can make a big man that looks very intimidating scream like a little girl—that’s a lot of fun. At the end of the night, you’re just relaxed.”

Whether drawn to a sense of community that can sometimes be hard to find in the world at large, or simply in it for the thrill of scaring people, the haunting industry has an undeniable pull for those that find their way into its spooky ranks. Even retired industry veteran Collins is unable to fully step away from the work, and is gearing up for his first season as manager of a Spirit Halloween supply store in Newark, Ohio.

“When you scare people, and they scream and run away from you, it’s a great way to let out pent-up frustration,” Collins says. “You could have the worst day in the world, and within a few minutes of working at the haunted house, you feel so much better. It’s a great tension reliever.”

In professional haunting, one person’s fear is another’s bliss.

For more information on the 13th Floor Haunt and other haunted houses happening in October, click here.

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Photo Gallery: HighBall Halloween

614now Staff

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HighBall Halloween is the nation’s most elaborate costume party. Staged in the Art & Soul of Columbus, the annual event bridges runway style with the culture of the Short North Arts District.

Much like in years past, the city turned out in full force and full costume to celebrate fashion, fall, and fun with host Nina West.

Here's a look at some of the best looks of HighBall 2019:

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I Love My Job: CBJ national anthem singer Leo Welsh

Regina Fox

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Every day, people all around Columbus drive/ride/walk to their jobs, eager to contribute their passion and talent to the city. This series aims to highlight those people and give them a platform to spread their love for their careers. Welcome to I Love My Job.

You may not know his face (depending on your seats), but you definitely know his name: LEO! Longtime Columbus Blue Jackets national anthem singer Leo Welsh has been stealing the hearts of hockey-goers at Nationwide Arena with his impressive pipes and passion for the game since 2003.

Here is why he loves his job so much:

614: What do you love most about your job? 

LW: The thing I love most about my position with the CBJ is being such a fan and being part of the game experience. It is a total thrill every single time. 

614: What parts of your job do you find most challenging?

LW: The most challenging part would have to be maintaining my health during the winter. Hard to sing well when you aren’t feeling your best. 

614: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

LW: The most rewarding aspect is when I am singing and I can see young people singing along to our National Anthem.

614: What’s the best story you have from your time with the Columbus Blue Jackets?

LW: So many great stories and interactions with fans and our military honorees. Most recently the playoffs from last year strand out. The CBJ had a World War II veteran on the ice with me every night. These men were all special and excited the crowd and made it very easy for me to be focused on honoring our country. Several were arm in arm with me and singing along to our National Anthem, very special moments. 

614: Who has been the most influential mentor in your career so far?

LW: I have had many great teachers and mentors. Maestro William Boggs stands out. He is one of the reasons I moved to Columbus following graduation from Ohio University. He offered me a job with Opera Columbus. He was critical when he needed to be, demanded preparation from his singers and was supportive by offering examples and best practices at all times. Truly a great mentor.

Leo will be leading players and fans in the national anthem this Friday as the Blue Jackets open their season against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Nationwide Arena. Puck drops at 7pm.

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