More “In The Press”
Blair Nye, the Social Guy?
By Charles Sutphin
Blair Karsch cares about kids. He wants to help them make good decisions by utilizing the media in a positive way. On his public-access television program On Your Level, Karsch raps with adolescents and inspires them to thing about the BIG issues of life: sex, race, crime, the media, education, family values. He believes that, if given the opportunity, he can make a significant difference in the lives of thousands of children. But therein lies the run – if given the opportunity.
Who out there in corporate America, or the dens of the philanthropically-inclined, will give Blair Karsch a chance to show the city how much he can do to improve the lives of its most precious resource? Who will invest in Blair’s cause and help the lad reach the pinnacle of his desires? After three years of knocking on more doors than Imeida has shoes, including Disney, MultiMedia and King World, after years of determined pestering of everyone he knows (and doesn’t know), the answer remains nada (as in nobody, no one, not on your life). Rightly or wrongly, for better or worse, Blair remains a hoarse voice in the wilderness who is, however so slightly, beginning to doubt the outcome of his own zealous efforts.
So who is this man named Blair, and why should I care? Karsch is a 39-year-old self-taught poet, one-time Hollywood star, former entrepreneur and current substitute teacher whose primary claim to fame is a television show that appears weekly on public-access channels of Comcast and American Cable (Carmel, Zionsville and Noblesville). On Your Level is an amateur production produced on less than a shoestring budget (more like a thread). What makes the show noteworthy is the honesty and spontaneity exhibited by the participating students. In a phrase, the kids dig Uncle Blair, who, in turn, is a passionate advocate of their needs in a world where their best interests are frequently overlooked.
“Why do we sell kids down the river when we could sell them up the river?” asks Karsch. “The answer is because it’s easier’ there’s more profit involved. Who do you thing is pushing Ricki Lake? It’s not the YMCA or Young Life; it’s a bunch of profit-driven people who have no regard for society. In capitalism, if you have a chance to make money and hurt society, most people are going to take the money and run.”
On Your Level attempts to bring teenagers of diverse backgrounds into a television studio, where Karsch primes them to express their feelings about a variety of controversial or troubling issues. With his hair pulled into a ponytail halfway down his back and his casual appearance, he has little difficulty connecting with the kids and stimulating them into expressing themselves.
“The premise of my show,” he says, “is to provide students with sound bytes, little wisps of information, that can subliminally, tactfully, and enthusiastically attach themselves to subsequent decisions.” In other words; a word here, a sentiment there, can have a profound, if not immediately noticeable, effect on the life of an adolescent in search of guidance.
Like the title of his self-published book of poetry, Karsch attempts to project an image of Bigger Than Cool. The extraordinary thing is the shtick seems to be effective. Explains Stephan Keith, the principal of Westlane Middle School: “The kids love Blair. He connects with them almost instantaneously.” This sentiment is echoed by the principal of Carmel Junior High School, who says, “Blair has the ability to relate to students and encourage positive behavior. His rapport with (them) is excellent.”
In addition to long hair and a “cool” look, Blair has a natural ability to relate to children, especially teenagers, about the issues of the day. “I listen to these kids innately and sincerely,” he says. “When someone is speaking to me from the heart, I listen. How often does a kid have a parent or teacher speak to them and listen in an environment (like my show) established just for sincere expression? And the kids really want answers to difficult questions, because they understand that the questions that evade them now are the ones that later lead to bad decisions.”
Karsch wants to be the Art Linkletter of the ’90s, a “good” Howard Stern, if such a thing is conceivable. And like Stern, he is the proverbial boy who never grows up, which does not mitigate from either the intensity or worthwhileness of his vision.
“I’m not a megalomaniac,” he says. “I haven’t sent out hundreds of media kits because I want to kill trees. I believe I was born to inspire, to put together all the weak links that are not available to the kids, which end up turning them into individuals making bad choices.”
Megalomania or not, the business world has been unimpressed with Karsch’s requests for assistance. The reason is obvious: Blair is a strange fellow who will be the first to admit his style and appearance is alienating to many adults. He considers himself to be an enigma: the kids love him for the very reasons adults find him alarming.
“I’ve been advised by people in the business,” he says, “that when I pitch my show, I need to tell people right away that what makes me likable with the kids is something they might not understand and might resent. They might see me (as) unorganized and with the shittiest handwriting in the world, but that shouldn’t discount my message. I’ve spoken with a lot of people who’ve said, ‘Blair, you’re great, but something about you won’t get the decision-makers to take you seriously.'”
“It’s my belief that what I possess in terms of personality, charisma, sincerity and intellect is a lot more important than nice handwriting, a pretty haircut or a pair of socks.”
Another problem hindering On Your Level is the poor production quality of the shows. Though the potential of the project is evident, the current offerings are afflicted with poor camera work, lousy sound and patches of uninspired dislogue. In other words, the viewer gets bored, although the participants do not.
To the city’s credit or shame, Karsch, in the absence of a partnership, is contemplating taking his show on the road, perhaps to Seattle, Chicago, or Salt Lake City. The “charming motormouth in ponytail and denim,” as referenced by television writer Steve Hall, plans to travel to Seattle and meet with the PBS affiliate who produced Bill Nye the Science Guy.
Perhaps someday America will wake up to Blair Nye, the Social Guy – stranger things have happened.
For more information about On Your Level, including show times and station availability, call the program’s hotline at 971-2626. Karsch’s book of poetry, Bigger Than Cool (now in its second printing at $15) is available in 30 locations throughout the city, including Borders and the Broad Ripple Book Shop.
Former Actor Uses TV to Bridge Labels in High School
By Brad Kovach
Born and raised in Washington Township, Blair Karsch wants to give something back.
Karsh, 37, attended North Central High School where he was out going, involved and breaking the norms as a student. “I was pretty much like I am now.” Karsch said. “Labels were around then, but I crossed them. I hung out with the hippies, preppies and jocks.”
Always a “doer,” Karsch was involved in several after school activities, notably tennis and student council.
Karsch found inspiration in the alternative learning program and the career center at North Central.
“These were hands-on people, people who where real, people who were applying themselves to the outer world,” said Karsch.
Karsch decided he wanted to study “something relevant to the world.” With this in mind, he enrolled at Indiana University to study political science.
After graduating from Indiana University with a degree in political science, Karsch moved to Los Angeles to chase a new dream, acting.
“I was on ‘Dynasty,’ ‘Dallas,’ ‘The Love Boat.’ I was an extra and I had some speaking parts,” he said.
However, he soon grew dissatisfied with the actor’s lifestyle.
“I was getting up at six in the morning and playing cops and robbers or drinking fake beer and eating peanuts. It didn’t offer me the depth,” said Karsch. “My soul searchs for depth. This is what I wanted.”
Karsch wants his students to search for and find the depth within themselves.
“I don’t want to sound like a preacher, but I believe in 30 minutes I could casually share with these kids that there are other perspectives. I want to let them share with me what’s going on. I also want the kids to have the guts to tell me I’m wrong.
“I want resolution. I want conclusion. I don’t want to exploit kids; I want to be honest. That’s why I’ve worked for $45 a day for two years. I just want to share my struggle for honesty through writing, through television, through media. Get it to the people,” said Karsch.
“I don’t want to believe that kids are crying out for help. But, I do believe that there are ramifications to divorce, the media and fast-paced living. Someone has to replace these things. The media is such a cool movement and its so available. Somehow, some way, I’d like to be a part of the media opportunity,” he said.
“Sometimes, as young kids, their opinions are not so well grounded and founded. That’s all right. I just want them to understand that some of the choices they make now may effect the rest of their lives.”
Let’s Give ‘Em Something to Talk About
Blair Karsch, a substitute teacher, has created “On Your Level,” a television show that will be put on major cable networks soon at around 8 p.m. He has been taping Wednesdays after school in the carpeted cafeteria and about 20 people attend, but “they all seem to be white and regular… We need to mix it up,” said Karsch. He is sending the tapes to JEL to be edited and have graphics put in.
Karsch said, “I want to try to find corporate sponsorship and especially find a director that makes us look super polished and hopefully pick me or the concept up.”
The problem of not having a diverse enough audience he tried to fix by meeting in Kathleen White’s study hall two weeks ago; ten kids agreed to be in it, while many watched. He talked with the kids and had those who wanted to be in move to the front where the camera could see them. Karsch then started discussion to start a topic, in this case, it was gangs and drugs. The general idea was the kids are growing up too quick and Karsch tries to provide answers and insights. The song “Cop Killer” by Ice T was brought up, and Karsch explained how they have the right to publish the song under the First Amendment and the students tried to think of ways to see how these “bad images” are publicized in songs and the media.
Karsch has filmed shows at various other places also such as Borders bookstore. He concentrates on all teens, not just North Central students. For one show he had five students from Washington Township, five from IPS and five from Carmel. During the shows he tells the students not to mention North Central because he doesn’t want to let the audience know where it is; he wants the audience to think these are just regular teenage kids.
The shows are being filmed because Karsch, “see(s) the kids crying out for more; so I have to use the current media to take advantage of these kids and how they are feeling. I want to be the Ricki Lake for teens except with a positive images.” He has contacted Comcast, American, Jones and several other cable companies. The shows will be airing on their private channels soon according to Karsch.
Poetry Book Aimed at High School Students
From television to poetry – a local author/speaker releases a new motivational poetry book.
North Central substitute teacher and after-school television talk show host Blair Karsch has published the book, Bigger Than Cool: Motivational and Inspirational Thought Provoking Poetry.”
“Kids need a connection to why they’re in school,” said Karsch. “Hopefully, this book will give them some sort of connection.” The 236-page book contains more than 500 poems ranging from learning to family to race relations.
Karsch thinks kids need a tie to the real world.
“I think I speak in the kid’s language,” he said.
Karsch hopes to reach kids through the rhythm and beat of his poetry and to put a “positive perspective on the issues to facilitate a positive outcome.”
Although he has sent copies of his book to publishers, Karsch is currently publishing and marketing the book himself.
The book is now available for $15 at Chapters, Borders, Barnes & Nobles and Treehouse bookstores, as well as Grateful Threads and PAK Mail stores. The book can also be purchased by mail by sending a check to 9425 N. Meridian, Suite 152, Indianapolis, IN 46260 or calling 971-2626.
‘Shameless Promo’ for poet, TV aspirant
By Ed Stattmann
Indiana Jewish Post & Opinion
One of the other weeklies in town has a classified ad category labeled “Shameless Promos.”
The P-O has no such heading, but if we had, it might be appropriate for mention of Blair Karsch. He has pounded on our door, so to speak, for many weeks, seeking some publicity. We surrender.
Karsch is telling anyone who’ll listen that he deserves a chance at becoming a national television personality, because he’d be a lot better for child viewers than some of the trash talk shows now available. Being right and being marketable are two different things, he concedes, but he says he’s even willing to cut his ponytail and dress conservatively if he can hold onto his show.
Karsch, 37, has a cable show in which he gets youngsters to express themselves about how school, adults, and life in general are treating them.
This writer has no pretensions to being a critic of television or any art form. The Indianapolis Star & News TV critic, Steve Hall, recently gave a dollop of praise and a few verbal bruises having mostly to do with technical flaws. He granted that Karsch seems to get kids to say on camera what’s on their minds.
Karsch is a graduate of North Central High School and Indiana University. He has done professional TV acting in Los Angeles. Now he’s a substitute teacher in Zionsville, Carmel, and Pike and Washington townships. A self-published rap-style poet, Karsch sometimes wins children over by plugging their names and their interests into instant verse. If Hall is correct, there’s some truth to Karsch’s boast that he’s a magnet for at least some kids. Some kids in North Central High who stayed after school to be on his cable show; some African-American kids in Tarkington Park, for example.
He’d like to find some backup help that would lead to taking his concept national with good production equipment.
“I’m an optimist. I believe the world can be a better place,” he says. “I believe TV can do as much to correct everything as they’ve done wrong.”
Karsch says he’d like to combine TV talk with help for kids who need it – with toll-free telephone lines manned by professionals who can lend a caring ear to the callers.
Karsch has been an entrepreneur, an insurance sales man and an actor. He says he’d rather make a living helping children. He has nothing against fellow Jews who take a more traditional philanthropy, but it’s not his way. Many kids especially see a male who cares about their emotional world and is not just out to sell them beer and sneakers, he says.
He’s a big fellow who looks fit, dresses casual, wears a ponytail and drives a Mercedes left over from pursuits more prosperous than substitute teaching.
If persistence can make you a star, he’ll be one.
TV Show Allows Students to Discuss Issues WHich Affect Their Lives
By Brad Kovach
Every Wednesday at North Central High School, students have a chance to speak out in their own teen talk show.
Blair Karsch, a substitute teacher and motivational speaker has created “On Your Level,” a show dealing with issues, challenges and thoughts from today’s generation.
“It’s a medium to just talk about and express yourself,” Karsch said during a short introduction before taping a segment in the school cafeteria.
Karsch has taped the half-hour segments Wednesdays after school for four months.
Past segments have featured discussions on time management, crime and the media, racism, rap music, family values, talk shows, drugs and exercise and diet.
In a recent meeting, students tackled the issue of expression. Nose rings, oranger hair and grunge clothing – why do kids make these choices and how will they affect their future, Karsch asked.
About 20 students sat in a loose circle around Karsch as the taping began. Although Karsch’s short, prodding leads were answered slowly at first, the students perked up after a few rounds of questioning.
“Youth has always been youth,” said a girl wearing overalls and a colorful, shiny satin shirt.
“Kids try hard, sometimes too hard, to express themselves,” said a black-clad girl.
The one black boy participating expressed that he was just trying to be himself. “I don’t act black. I don’t act white. I just act like me,” he said running his hands through his dreadlocks.
“It’s all right if you keep your priorities straight,” Karsch said reassuringly.
Before the end, the show has moved from expression, to after-school activities, to music and even to drugs and smoking.
Karsch wants the show to be intimate, inspiring and relevant.
Each show, he said, must finish on an upbeat note. Superintendent Eugene White advised Karsch when he presented his proposal for the talk show.
“He said each show has to end with success and perspective,” Karsch said.
“It has to relate to issues that reach to the mainstream. I want to deal with emotions, perspective and choices. I’d like to see a fight for five minutes, a conversation for 20, and a resolution for five. I want to hear someone say, ‘Maybe it does effect me,'” he said.
Karsch believes both students and staff benefit from his show, in the form of boosted grades, increased attention and attendance and a more enthusiastic learning environment.
“Habits you pick up in high school can stick with you the rest of your life,” said Karsch.
C.E. Quandt, principal of North Central, sees promise in the program.
“It gives kids a chance to talk to other kids and find out that they’re not alone. It helps kids to see that school is more than a classroom. The more kids connect to school, the stronger school becomes,” Quandt said.
Freshmen Rebecca Arnoff and Kara Glennon have both benefited from taking part in the talk show.
“It keeps me out of trouble after school,” said Arnoff.
“It helped me to find out what my peers think. It really opened my eyes,” said Glennon.
Karsch would like to see more interest and more student turn-out for the taping sessions.
“Sometimes five kids show up, sometimes 20 kids show up,” Karsch said. “These kids should be commended for showing up.”
Right now its mostly white girls who participate, he said.
“On Your Level” will receive cable access in the next few weeks. Jones Intercable, Comcast and American have expressed interest, he said
Karsch also plans on sending highlight tapes to the Kellogg, Marsh and Ford companies to solicit sponsorship and grants.
“The question now is can anyone take advantage of the availability I provide to these kids? Corporations are tight, school boards are political, budgets are thin,” said Karsch. “I’m looking for a company that will say ‘This is just real life. This is ’90s. Let these kids talk.’ I don’t have any agenda other than that.”