Meet New Jasper Intern Christina Xan and Read About a Favorite Poet Cynthia Dewi Oka

"...language is not fixed and is always moving. We, as people, are continuously evolving, and our poetry does have to not stay stagnant." - Christina Xan

 Hi! I’m Christina Xan, and I’m a new intern here at Jasper for the 2018-2019 year. I’m currently a grad student at USC working on my MA in Lit. When I’m not busy taking and teaching classes, which is essentially never, I’m quickly grasping for time to scribble down plays and poetry or to make a ruckus banging on my keyboard in my apartment. My favorite activities include screaming over how perfect my cats are to the point of getting noise complaints, wearing the same pair of jeans to paint in because they were *so* expensive but got ruined on the first day, and eating so many cupcakes and tacos in one sitting that I slide into a comatose state for at least a week.

Hi! I’m Christina Xan, and I’m a new intern here at Jasper for the 2018-2019 year. I’m currently a grad student at USC working on my MA in Lit. When I’m not busy taking and teaching classes, which is essentially never, I’m quickly grasping for time to scribble down plays and poetry or to make a ruckus banging on my keyboard in my apartment. My favorite activities include screaming over how perfect my cats are to the point of getting noise complaints, wearing the same pair of jeans to paint in because they were *so* expensive but got ruined on the first day, and eating so many cupcakes and tacos in one sitting that I slide into a comatose state for at least a week.

Cynthia Dewi Oka

 

I’ve been reading and writing poetry since I was a little girl, and when I was in undergrad, I still had time to fit in reading poetry especially since I was a creative writing minor. However, once the first year of my MA rolled around, my time for any reading outside of class dwindled, and by the end of that first year, I realized I hadn’t read one new book of poetry in pretty much the entire time I’d been in grad school. So, I dedicated the beginning of this past summer to getting back to it. One of the first poets I stumbled across was Cynthia Dewi Oka when she was featured on Poets.org. I find poets through their site all the time, and I usually add them to my list of “Poets to Keep an Eye On,” but when I read Oka’s poem on that site (it kills me that I can’t remember which one), I became completely and wholly entranced. I basically flew to Amazon and bought both of her books of poetry, a decision I have not regretted once.

 

Oka’s work is far from unappreciated; she is a three time Pushcart Nominee who has two published books of poetry: Nomad of Salt and Hard Water and Salvage. Something that drew me to her right away was that her first work, Nomad of Salt and Hard Water, has come out in two editions, each of which are, to some degree, different from one another – I love this. While containing the same poems for the most part, Oka took the time between the publications of her first and second editions to reflect on what she felt the first publication lacked, editing poems for the second edition as well as adding new ones. While some people may criticize Oka for going back and changing her already published poems, for me this is just a demonstration that language is not fixed and is always moving. We, as people, are continuously evolving, and our poetry does have to not stay stagnant.

"Particularly, when Oka says at the end that “to wake will not mean betrayal, to be lost will not mean goodbye” I felt that she was speaking to all of us who have to lock part of ourselves away, that it is a call to all of us to not fear the light of our own suns."

Although Oka’s poems may be everchanging, for me, Oka’s poems pretty much boil down to one thing: identity. I suppose that if you break any piece of writing down to one thing you could say that it’s identity, that we’re always writing about ourselves in a way to understand ourselves. However, there’s something special about Oka, the way she writes about our struggle to take broken pieces of our identities to form something recognizable, something we can, as her aptly titled second book is called, salvage. What’s wonderful about Oka is that while her poems can be very specific in audience, I believe anyone can relate to them. Many times she writes to and about minorities, and her poems both speak to them and to others, partially by teaching those of us who are not minorities about their struggle. However, whether you’re a minority that has suffered a fracturing of your identity by a culture you’ve been unable to fight against or you’re just a human being whose biggest enemy against your identity is, well, you, there’s a poem for you in Oka’s work. One of my favorite poems from Nomad called “Soothsayer” is a perfect example of this. This poem is painfully relevant, a poem for those who look for refuge in a country that is not their own. However, even though I’m not an immigrant, this poem speaks to me in a personal way. Particularly, when Oka says at the end that “to wake will not mean betrayal, to be lost will not mean goodbye” I felt that she was speaking to all of us who have to lock part of ourselves away, that it is a call to all of us to not fear the light of our own suns.

 

While the content of the poem is obviously exceptionally important, the structure of a poem is equally so. I personally really appreciate people playing with form, trying something new, and speaking to an audience not just from the way a poem sounds but the way it looks. Oka has a perfect balance with form – she is able to break boundaries without alienating her reader. A poem in Salvage that I’ve particularly fallen in love with is “Winter Country,” and it’s mainly because of the form. Oka does something wonderfully unique with this poem. In her books, most of the poems are aligned to the left margin. “Winter Country” is split into two parts. One half contains the title and the poem, aligned to the right margin, while on the left margin appears a separate part of the poem in a different form, not under the title, and in different ink, only relating to the same subject. By putting half of the poem in a faded grey ink just behind the rest, Oka makes it appear almost as if the poem is haunting itself, something I personally haven’t seen done before.

 

In the end, I’ve fallen in love with Oka. She has a way of touching me with her words that I don’t find easily these days. On the cover of Salvage, Joy Harjo writes, “We are in the thick of the sludge of salvage, in an age of greedy locusts…when visionaries are bound to emerge. Cynthia Dewi Oka is one of these visionaries, a word prophet,” and I think if you take a few moments to read any one of her poems, you’ll agree.

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It's a great time to join or renew your membership in

The Jasper Guild!

We're raising money to pay for the publication of Jasper Magazine now!

Join today and get a free bottomless beer or wine cup at the Magazine Release Party on September 21st at Stormwater Studios!

And see your name in print in this issue of Jasper Magazine!

 

 

 

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Meet New Jasper Intern Hallie Hayes and Read her First Review of Foxing's New Album, Nearer My God

Hi! I'm Hallie Hayes, a new editorial intern for The Jasper Project. I am a Junior at The University of South Carolina majoring in Multimedia Journalism, where I hope to start a career in an entertainment editorial position post-graduation. Coming from the small town of Pamplico, South Carolina, I am proud to have found my way to the talented city of Columbia where local art is appreciated. My first true love is poetry, but my passion lies in the music, arts, and entertainment industries. You will be hearing a lot from me along these lines of subjects. I look forward to exploring the talent found in this city with The Jasper Project and sharing that with you!

 Hallie Hayes

Hallie Hayes

       

For those who have followed the band Foxing through their first two albums, the wait for the third record has been long and highly anticipated. The indie-rock band from St. Louis, Missouri has a fan base that has hung onto their moody melodies, in-your-thoughts lyrics and most importantly, their experimental bravery. As the third album has released, there is one thing that is known for certain: experiment they did.

 

Nearer My God was released on August 10, 2018, and it is a far fetch from the bands prior records, The Albatross and Dealer. Foxing’s prior two records gave fans the self-proclaimed emo hits that the band would become known for. The unique rasp of lead singer Conor Murphy’s voice mixed with soft indie rock tones delivered track after track. The band keeps the moody undertones that fans love, mixing in their own versions of R&B and electro-rock, giving the album a unique twist. Unafraid to mix two genres into one track, in songs like “Heartbeat,” the band begins with a classic instrumental style and transitions into an electro-rock ballad.

 

While Foxing’s first two albums gave us first tracks that are slowed down; almost acoustic, listeners receive a much different take with this album. Nearer My God gives us a first track, “Grand Paradise,” that unexpectedly jumps right into the newly experimental electro-rock instrumental style. It is a bit of an initial shock, but that’s fine. It shows the diversity of the band and their attempt to open new sounds for their fans, while keeping old habits.

 

With their second track, “Slapstick,” the band gives us a sound that combines upbeat electro instrumental music with a low indie-rock tones. They continue to transition their songs in this manner throughout the album. Moving from upbeat, to ballads, to a mixture of R&B with a touch of post-rock. At the same time, however, fans are still given the moody, intimate lyrics that were first brought by the band in tracks such as “Trapped in Dillard’s,” “Nearer My God” and “Crown Candy.”

 

The one consistency throughout the album is that everything is different. The ability to experiment with multiple different resonances is what makes this album a masterpiece. It is like nothing that has been heard from the indie-rock band.

 

Foxing took chances with this album, and it was a chance that truly worked for them and their sound. This is an album for those seeking something new, different, and truly innovative.

 

 

 

REVIEW: Jon Tuttle's Boy About Ten at Trustus Theatre

A talent for drama is not a talent for writing, but is an ability to articulate human relationships.” 

-Gore Vidal

Boy about ten.jpg

John Tuttle is, by any standard, a man with a talent for writing, but after seeing the world premiere of his play, Boy About Ten, I can affirm that he is also quite adept at articulating human relationships. Indeed, the oft-troubled intertwining of Boy About Ten’s dysfunctional, but (somewhat) connected nuclear family of four, drives the plot of Tuttle’s work, taking a well-written piece to the level of a performance bristling with all the sharp edges relationships can provide. This is not to suggest that the production currently running at Trustus is without laughter or light-hearted moments. It may be a tragicomedy, but Boy About Ten doesn’t hesitate to let the tragic cede the stage to the comedic in a legitimate, story-faithful way. In his program notes, Trustus Artistic Director, Chad Henderson, comments that “this play has undergone a more involved development process than our previous Playwrights Festival winners or commissions,” which no doubt contributed to the feeling of polish and streamlining found in the script. I managed to make notes on some of the truly standout lines, but by no means is my list comprehensive.

 

The play opens with D’Loris (Lonetta Thompson), a kindhearted but world-weary social worker, dealing with what is clearly a family in distress. She is trying to prepare Todd (Tommy Wiggins), the elder son, to go to his mothers’ house for a week. Todd is obviously troubled in multiple ways, but is largely nonverbal, using a set of oversized headphones to drown out the conflict which surrounds him, while hiding his face behind his chin-length bangs.  As usual, Thompson creates a fully-realized, textured character, who has flaws as well as sincerely caring nature. I never tire of seeing Thompson onstage, as she is always completely immersed in and committed to her character and the moment. It would have been the easy way out to depict D’Loris as either a hyper-idealistic Wonder Woman, or as a “honey, I’ve seen it all,” world-weary cynic, but Thompson chose to create someone in-between, and in the process, gave the audience a layered, complex, and realistic performance. Kudos also to Wiggins, a former Trustus Apprentice Company member, making his mainstage debut. Though Todd doesn’t speak much, especially in the early scenes, his body language, movement style, and a sort of self-embrace clearly establish him as a damaged human being, doing his best to avoid his psychic pain. When it is revealed that he is a self-cutter/burner, it is a bit of a shock, but totally believable for the character he has, by that point, made three-dimensional. I suspect we’ll be seeing much more of Wiggins on the Trustus stage in seasons to come, and I look forward to watching his development as an actor.

 

The arrival of Tammy (Jennifer Hill), lightens the mood by, ironically, introducing the least likeable of the five characters. Hill’s Tammy is brash, flashy, loud, and obnoxious, fancying herself far above the rest of the family. She dresses herself in designer clothing, while a couple of mentions are made of the kids’ clothes coming from Goodwill, and she personifies the cliche of the “helicopter parent,” dispensing screechy advice and criticism thinly veiled as “encouragement.” Hill’s comedic timing is absolutely spot-on, and she brought Friday night’s house down with such well-penned verbal spewings as “I was once a Sweet Potato Queen, now I’m a Cyclops!” (It seems that Tammy has a glass eye, which is broken, requiring her to wear an eye patch.) Clearly proud of her somewhat meager accomplishments, she touts having played Yum-Yum in a community college production of The Mikado, along with a few other small successes, in an attempt to impress D’Loris, who is eventually prompted to ask “what the hell is wrong with you people?” The moments of conflict between Tammy and D’Loris establish a curious dynamic. Tammy, in her own twisted, control-freak way, wants the best for her children, while D’Loris tries to help establish exactly that, which eludes the self-centered Tammy.

One gathers fairly quickly that Tammy is at her ex-husband’s house to swap out the younger son, Timmy, (Daniel Rabinovich), who is a straight-A, rule-abiding, do-gooder, complete with Webelos Scout uniform, and practically a stranger to Todd, and the two react somewhat cautiously to each other. (I may have missed an important line or mention of the situation, but it is clear that the brothers have not spent much time together.) Rabinovich demonstrates an actor’s sensitivities quite impressively, especially for a young actor. His character arc may well be the most dramatic in terms of growth and change, and he handles it like a true pro. As with Wiggins, this is a young man to watch.

Once all is settled, Timmy is left alone with his father, Terry. Played by Trustus mainstay, Paul Kaufmann, Terry is an affable, childlike n’ere-do-well, whose love for his sons manifests in an “at my house, there are no rules” dynamic. (When asked by Timmy if they can attend an Imax film or visit the Planetarium, Terry immediately scoffs at the thought of an educational outing, at least in the traditional sense.) Kaufmann, without ever breaking the established reality of the play, or mugging to the audience, brought to life an enchanting man-child, reminiscent of Tom Hanks in Big, with a dash of Bertie Wooster and Falstaff tossed in. To Timmy’s growing amusement, the two of them chug Cheerwine (no sodas allowed at Tammy’s house), fight ludicrous pretend war games against “Vagicilla, Dark Queen of the Nether Regions” (inspired, no doubt, by Tammy), and Timmy frequently receives his father’s military decorations, which may or may not be legit. It was at this point that I began to wonder about the show’s eponymous title. Was Timmy the Boy About Ten, or was his father? Had the parent/child dynamic between them already shifted before the action of the play began? Kaufmann, incidentally, scores one of the biggest laughs in the show while telling Timmy about his days in an ersatz KISS cover band. “You can always tell when chicks dig you. They chew their gum at you…like meat!”

 

A brief in-one scene gives us our sole glimpse of life at Tammy’s house, when the focus is, both literally and figuratively, on Todd, who is passively receiving an unwanted haircut from his mother. A special tip of the hat to Lighting Designer Laura Anthony, for transforming a simple floor lamp into a “where were you on the night of the robbery?” beacon. This is an occasion upon which the lighting truly made the scene for me. We, the audience, are semi-blinded by the intensity of the same light shining into Todd’s eyes, and subject to the same jabber from Tammy. Like a police officer in a bad, made-for-TV crime drama, she prattles on and on about how Todd should want to be “normal” and make friends “like all the other boys,” painting a Leave It To Beaver lifestyle, which will supposedly emerge with a haircut and a suit from Goodwill. Interrogation/indoctrination and “tough love” establish an uneasy coexistence at Tammy’s house, and the two children she raised reflect that. Timmy’s unblinking obedience earns him praise, so he obeys. Todd, whom I assumed to be somewhere on the autism spectrum, is unable to deal with what his senses perceive as blinding light and a barrage of impossible commands. Though short, this scene impacted me. I began to wonder through whose eyes we were seeing any given situation, and then viewing each scene from each character’s angle. Thank you, Jon Tuttle, for this (I’m guessing) three-page scene, which widened the lens through which I saw the rest of the play. Though she was the antagonist of the scene, it allowed a glimpse into Tammy’s desperate desire for a “normal, happy, family,” and humanized her for me.

 

I won’t go into too much detail about the second act, as it is, essentially, a minefield of spoilers, and much of what happens requires the elements of shock and surprise to work. While not without laughs, the second act takes a somewhat darker turn, with a grim family story, involving animal abuse, being revealed. (*While no violence is depicted onstage, a gruesome monologue could be mildly to moderately triggering for some.*) Terry childishly endangers his and Timmy’s lives at the end of act one, the aftermath of which, we see in act two. Todd returns, neatly trimmed and besuited, but still distant, albeit with the occasional smile of hope. Toward the end of the play, we discover that Terry suffered physical wounds far worse than Timmy’s while saving the boy from the dangerous results of his (Terry’s) recklessness. Romantic impossibilities are pondered and argued, D’Loris loses another crumb of her idealism, but hangs on to hope, Timmy takes his first step toward adult cynicism, Tammy reveals some game-changing information, and the family is left as we found them; bruised and battered, but oddly okay. The playwright leaves us with the idea that life will simply go on, and with the insanity and bizarre love in this family, who can even speculate on the eventual outcome?

 

Director Patrick Michael Kelly has taken an artfully written play, refined by much workshopping, and brought to the stage a world of slightly-heightened reality, never losing sight of the connecting themes of family and what it truly means to care for someone.

 

So, who is the Boy About Ten? I have my suspicions that each character, with the exception of D’Loris (who serves as the impartial observer and voice of reason) is that boy. Perhaps that answers my earlier question, and tips us off that the show is seen from D’Loris’ perspective.

Boy About Ten is an engaging, thought-provoking, and most enjoyable play, and a worthy addition to the Tuttle ouvre. Only four performances remain, so get your tickets now!

-- Frank Thompson

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Tickets can be purchased online at Trustus.org , or by calling the Trustus Theatre box office on 803.254.9732
 
Remaining performance dates are:
Wednesday, August 22 – 7:30pm
Thursday, August 23 – 7:30pm
Friday, August 24 – 8:00pm
Saturday, August 25 – 8:00pm
 
Frank Thompson is the theatre editor for Jasper Magazine - contact him at flt31230@yahoo.com
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JOIN THE JASPER GUILD TODAY AND SEE YOUR NAME IN THE NEXT ISSUE OF JASPER MAGAZINE

RELEASING FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 21 AT THE NEW STORMWATER STUDIOS

The Jasper Project is a non-profit all-volunteer organization that provides collaborative arts engineering for all disciplines of arts and artists in the South Carolina Midlands and throughout the state. Please help us continue to meet our mission of validating the cultural contributions of all artists and growing community within the arts by becoming a member of the Jasper Guild .  We'll print your name in the magazine, thank you on social media, and love you forever!

www.JasperProject.org

 

Something like a review - Cassie Premo Steele's Tongues in Trees, poems 1994 - 2017

"... Coin by coin, drop your worth into the jar of your heart and feel the equity begin. You are not a commodity...."

from Trust, by Cassie Premo Steele

 

cassie tongues in trees.jpg

I’ve been enjoying spending some time the past week or so with Cassie Premo Steele’s newest collection of poetry, Tongues in Trees, poems 1994 – 2017, published by Unbound Content in 2017. I nabbed a copy from Cassie on First Thursday when Cassie, along with Randy Spencer, so generously read for Kathryn Van Aernum’s opening of Common Ground at Anastasia & Friends. Kathryn’s show will be up for the rest of August, by the way, if you missed this lovely look at the places where we put our feet on a daily basis.

Cassie’s collection is divided into three sections—1994-2004, 2006-2016, and 2017. I met Cassie during the second section of this book when she taught me two classes in the women’s and gender studies graduate certificate program at USC – theory and methods. It was an interesting experience to learn theory and methods from an instructor who was not a social scientist. My first two degrees were in sociology and sociologists live and die by theory and methods. The scientific method validates our work when novices want to compare our work to the findings of Oprah. I was all about the N.

But one of the things Cassie taught me was that there are other important ways to validate reality in addition to statistical significance. And her point was well taken. Just because a person’s reality does not reside within the safe neighborhood of the majority does not negate their reality. Of course, I knew this already but her way of reminding me this, after the fully immersive experience of being a survey research wonk, changed my world. And I thank her for that.

 

 Cassie Premo Steele (photo by Suzanne Kappler)   

Cassie Premo Steele (photo by Suzanne Kappler)

 

In reading Cassie’s collection, I’ve become aware of how much the author’s world has also changed in the time I’ve known her. Without going into personal details, Cassie’s paradigm shifted in several ways over the course of our friendship. And it shifted beautifully to a place of fulfillment and authenticity. Her collection of poems and their shifting persuasions are elegantly emblematic of her growth as a scholar, an artist, and a human being. The nature of this book continues to teach me (remind me) about the importance of fluidity, of being in the moment, of keeping my feet close to the ground but still floating gently enough above it that I can still move easily and purposefully, exploring places and realities from many perspectives, even the most lonely and quiet.

I don’t know how to thank this poet, this friend, for such an important and powerful lesson.

But I can share with you my favorite poem from this lovely collection which is, probably not coincidentally, the next to last poem in the book. This poem tells me that patience should not be so exalted that it becomes a bog of our best intentions, and it reminds me once again that constructs, when they are first born, are made of wishes and fumes. We add the bricks and mortar. And we can tear them down. - CB

 

World

By Cassie Premo Steele

 

I see your boots by the bed and I shed years of straightening

up not sitting till it was right the spoon out of the sink the towel

on the rack the peanut butter capped the coat in the closet the plants

watered and animals fed but none of this straightened me so I threw

spoons until a visitor came and it was you and we threw towels

on the floor ate everything with our fingers took boxes from the

closet and let a spring come up to feed and water the world.

 

~~O~~

www.cassiepremosteele.com

 

Cindi Boiter is the founder and executive director of The Jasper Project and the editor of Jasper Magazine.

 

The Jasper Project is a non-profit all-volunteer organization that provides collaborative arts engineering for all disciplines of arts and artists in the South Carolina Midlands and throughout the state. Please help us continue to meet our mission of validating the cultural contributions of all artists and growing community within the arts by becoming a member of the Jasper Guild .  We'll print your name in the magazine, thank you on social media, and love you forever!

www.JasperProject.org

 

 

Laura Spong - A Remembrance

Laura Spong

1926 - 2018

 (photo courtesy of the family)

(photo courtesy of the family)

Laura Spong, the Columbia abstract painter who died August 13 at the age of 92, was a woman of convictions who had a great sense of humor and a difficult-to-match work ethic.

 

She was joking a few weeks ago during what turned out to be a late rally before her health took its last turn for the worst. She said she wanted to live long enough to vote for Democrat James Smith for governor. If she could just hang on until the absentee voting period opened, she could fill out a ballot and mail it in. Then, it wouldn’t matter when she died, she said. Her eyes twinkled at the thought of “voting after death” and the consternation that might bring to voter fraud conspiracists.

 

A few weeks ago was about the time Laura quit painting. My husband, Wim Roefs, and I have known Laura for about 20 years, and have always known that she could be found in her studio whenever she could possibly get there, even though she was in her 70s, 80s and 90s. Painting was a job to her – she woke up, drove to the studio and got to work. But painting was also a joy, the thing she wanted to do more than anything else on just about any given day. And she was good at it. Really good. She only got better with each passing year.

 

Yet she was self-effacing. She frequently had been honored for her talent, but she was kind and encouraging of every other artist who asked for her advice. She wanted everyone to do well, to be able to do what they wanted, whatever that might be.

 

Laura was a genteel Southern woman with a Tennessee accent whose “Coming Out” party as an artist was on her 80th birthday. She had been painting, although irregularly, for about 50 years, and began to work full-time as an artist in the late 1980s.

 

Her 80th birthday show, which she organized through Wim, was a smash hit. It introduced the greater world to the work she was making at Vista Studios in downtown Columbia. After that, she had multiple solo exhibitions throughout the state and beyond, including a retrospective at the University of South Carolina. She also was represented in group shows in the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee. Her work, that from early in her career as well as more recently, has been acquired in the past decade by the South Carolina State Art Collection, the South Carolina State Museum and the Greenville County (S.C.) Museum of Art.

We’ll miss her always. But her work will live on. And, for many of us, she’ll live on through it. Thank you, Laura.

-- Eileen Waddell, director, if ART Gallery, Columbia, S.C.

 

 Laura Spong,  It's Out There Somewhere , 2018, 24 x 30 in. (if ART Gallery)

Laura Spong, It's Out There Somewhere, 2018, 24 x 30 in. (if ART Gallery)

 Laura Spong,  I've Been Known To Float Upstream,  2013, oil on canvas, 48 x 60 in. (if ART Gallery)

Laura Spong, I've Been Known To Float Upstream, 2013, oil on canvas, 48 x 60 in. (if ART Gallery)

 Laura Spong,  Mostly It's a Journey,  2008, oil on canvas, 48 x 60 in. (if ART Gallery)

Laura Spong, Mostly It's a Journey, 2008, oil on canvas, 48 x 60 in. (if ART Gallery)

 Laura Spong,  Time Is Taking Its Time , 2008-17, oil on canvas, 24 x 24 in. (if ART Gallery)

Laura Spong, Time Is Taking Its Time, 2008-17, oil on canvas, 24 x 24 in. (if ART Gallery)

More New Art from Trustus - FEST 24

"We think it’s important for Trustus, a non-profit that is supported and funded by the community, to give back to the community."

- Chad Henderson

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Jasper loves art for art's sake and we love new art -- so you know we're going to be excited about what Trustus has cooked up for next weekend -- a FREE 24 hour theatre festival.

What a joy to see a non-profit arts organization that, like all of us, could really use a little more cash in their lives, say - hey - let's get a bunch of playwrights, directors, and actors together and throw a festival just for the hell of it and, just to spread the love around a bit more, let's open up the theatre and make it free to whoever can legally fit into the joint.

In other words, let's do what we love because we love it and that's it. No applications, no guidelines, no submission fees, no goddamned bureaucracy allowed. 

Thirty-five artists writing, directing, and performing because they just can't help themselves.

Here's what Trustus artistic director Chad Henderson had to say when we questioned him about the festival.

~~ 

Jasper: How did you choose the participating playwrights and directors?

Henderson: As we approached revisiting this fun event, we knew we wanted to engage playwrights from the community. Each of these writers is constantly writing and creating narratives. Folks in Columbia may know them in different ways, but it will be a great chance to introduce some new voices in local playwriting as well let folks learn something new about local theatre artists who are usually participating in the theatre in other ways.

For example, Paul Kaufmann is known around town as a wonderful actor, but he’s also a creative writer. Robbie Robertson is known for screenplays and commercials, but he’s also penned local comedies and wrote the book for a musical that’s been workshopped in NYC. Tangie Beaty is a prolific Columbia playwright who produces her work with her popular company – WOW productions. Trinessa Dubas is a passionate theatre artist who recently self-produced her script “The T—y Diaries.” Charlie Finesilver is constantly writing and in the past few years he’s been getting his work produced at Manhattan Repertory Theatre in NYC.

As for directors, we wanted a mix of directors who work at Trustus and who work elsewhere in the community. Our directors this year are Jonathan Monk (who will be directing our season opener, SILENCE!), Martha Kelly (who will be directing MOTHERHOOD OUT LOUD in the spring at Trustus), Robin Gottlieb (who’s directing a revival of 5 LESBIANS EATING A QUICHE this spring), Jocelyn Sanders (who’s directed a lot of work at Trustus and who’s been directing great productions at Workshop Theatre), and Ginny Ives (who’s studied under Dewey Scott-Wiley and is making her Trustus debut – she’s also currently in Memphis).

 

Jasper: Who are some of the actors we can look forward to seeing?

Henderson: We’ve got a great group of actors who are convening for FEST 24. They’re familiar faces from the Trustus Company as well as some folks who have been seen on other stages in Columbia. Among them are some of your favorites like Jennifer Hill, Krista Forster, Freddie Powers, Samuel Hetler, Amy Brower Lown, Christine Hellman, Jared Rogers-Martin, Mahogany Collins, Jon Whit McClinton, Mary Miles, Brittany Hammock, Russel Sanders, Trell Brennan, Kevin Bush, and the multi-talented Chris Cockrell.

 

Jasper: How does this project benefit the theatre community and theatre patrons?

Henderson: Creating theatre is a process that usually takes place over 2-3 months in markets our size. Production teams meticulously make creative decisions that are intended to tell the story with the utmost clarity. Actors have weeks to create their performances and find connections. And playwrights…? Well playwrights can often take as long as they want to get their story on paper.

So, with a 24-hour theatre project like this, the entire theatre-making process is crammed into 24 glorious hours of intense goal-setting. What’s great about events like these is that it is a moment of elevated trust and collaboration. Artists are often working with new co-collaborators, and it’s a rush to the finish line without having months to develop creative relationships.

Patrons who attend festivals like this are often sitting on pins and needles, just like the artists involved. They know that everything is completely new, under rehearsed, and that anything can happen during the performance. Everyone is gathered under the theatre’s roof for something new. If you ask me, the feeling is really special. 

 

Jasper: Why did you decide to make this a free event? 

Henderson: The major reason we wanted to make this a free event is because everyone who’s working on it is volunteering. This event is focused on community and creativity, so we didn’t want there to be a barrier to keep the community from experiencing it. We think it’s important for Trustus, a Non-profit that is supported and funded by the community, to give back to the community. While seating is limited, 45 people will have the chance to experience Fest 24. We suggest getting to the Side Door Theatre early. First come, first served.

We hope that we’ll have a packed theatre, and incentive to do the event annually.

 

Jasper: Will the bar be open?

Henderson: We will indeed have the Side Door bar selling beer, wine, and our regular concessions during the event!

 

 Paul Kaufmann

Paul Kaufmann

 Chris Cockrell

Chris Cockrell

 Robbie Robertson

Robbie Robertson

 Latrell Brennan

Latrell Brennan

 Robin Gottlieb

Robin Gottlieb

Jasper Takes a Turn at Anastasia & Friends with Kathryn Van Aernum

 Phoenix by Kathryn Van Aernum

Phoenix by Kathryn Van Aernum

One of Jasper’s most rewarding missions is supporting independent artists as they move through the various growths and stages of their careers. We have recently been afforded another opportunity to do so by guest curating one show a year at Anastasia & Friends gallery on Main Street.

Our first show opens this Thursday and features the photography of Kathryn Van Aernum.

We had a chance to visit with Kathryn recently and learned more about her history, process, and aesthetic. A graphic artist and photographer, Kathryn also serves as a creativity coach. Her joy, she says, is helping artists “find ways into their work.”

A graduate of Narope University in Boulder, a learning institution founded in the 1970s by Buddhist education Chogyam Trungpa that fosters not only personal and professional growth, but also intellectual development and contemplative practice, Kathryn carries much of what she learned there into her personal and professional lives today.

“I always take the scenic route,” Kathryn says, explaining that she originally went to school for theatre. Born in Ann Arbor, she grew up in the Detroit metropolitan area and spent 15 years living in Key West where she spent some time operating a B and B, then moved on to doing ad work for much of the gay hotel industry in the area. Throughout the time, however, Kathryn was also at work on her art giving solo and group shows and photography exhibitions. Kathryn has exhibited at Artfields twice and copies of one of her photos of the Congaree Fireflies will soon be offered at the Columbia Fireflies Baseball team gift shop thisyear.

Common Ground, the show Jasper is producing for Kathryn at Anastasia & Friends Art Gallery, opening August 2nd, is a photographic contemplation on the common pathways individuals and communities take. “Living in the city, I began to see patterns in the pavement itself and asking myself – how can I render this in a way that will make people take notice?”

Kathryn notes the double entendre of the show’s title as it focuses both on human mobility and common pavement and how we share it. “You can’t really separate humans from nature,” she says. “We erroneously feel like we aren’t really nature, but we can’t escape the natural elements that occur and connect us.”

The show will also feature a few images from a recent trip to Greece the artist enjoyed with her sister, Gail Van Aernum Barnes, who is director of the Strings Project at USC.

 

About the show:

 

Common Ground: Artist Statement

Common: belonging to or shared by two or more individuals or things or by all members of a group.

Common: widespread, general, ordinary

The photographs in Common Ground focus on man-made surfaces, such as pavement, asphalt, cobblestones, concrete etc., with attention paid specifically to the abstract “paintings” created on these ordinary surfaces by the interaction of time, weather and humans. All the artificial terrains portrayed have one thing in common: to facilitate human flow and interaction, with some reaching back as early as the 2nd millennium BC.

 

 

 

More about the artist:

Kathryn Van Aernum’s subjects range from the mundane to the sublime, and she continues to cultivate a sense of spaciousness in her photography. The elements of design: harmony, balance and rhythm present themselves to Kathryn almost subconsciously, allowing her to capture a moment that transports the viewer into their own minds, memories and dreams.        

Ms. Van Aernum holds a Bachelor of Arts degree with distinction in Visual Arts from Naropa University, the premier educational institution combining contemplative practice with academic rigor.

While photography is her main medium, she is also an accomplished watercolorist, mixed media and book artist. As a creativity coach she works with professionals who have buried their creative soul in the daily grind, helping them reclaim creative confidence so they can thrive at work and beyond.     

Her work has appeared in juried competitions, group and solo exhibits, in Key West, FL; Boulder, CO;  Fort Collins, CO; Ann Arbor, MI; and Columbia, Spartanburg and Lake City, SC. and is in many private collections throughout the US.

You can find her on the web at

Kvanastudios.com

Kathrynvanaernum.com

@kvanastudios on instagram, twitter and facebook

 The Artist - Kathryn Van Aernum

The Artist - Kathryn Van Aernum

Jasper Magazine Welcomes New Theatre Editor - Frank Thompson

Frank Thompson wine.jpg

The Jasper Project is delighted to announce the addition of Frank Thompson to the editorial staff of Jasper Magazine effective immediately. Frank will serve in the role of Theatre Editor. You can learn more about Frank below.

FRANK THOMPSON holds a BA from The University of Alabama, and a JD from Cumberland School of Law. Originally from Alabama, Frank's two great passions in life have always been writing and the theatre, and he is excited to embark on this new journey, combining the two.

Frank had an auspicious start to his writing career at age 8, with a story printed in an ARCHIE comic book, to the far loftier achievement of having his short story, 'Que, published in A SENSE OF THE MIDLANDS by Muddy Ford Press, Frank has never stopped scribbling down his thoughts and hoping someone will read them. Along the way, he has written several plays for children, produced by Tuscaloosa Children's Theatre, (more years ago than he cares to admit,) short essays and observations for his college newspaper, radio comedy and original sketches for Tuscaloosa's Z-102 and FOX96 radio stations, where he also worked as on-air talent, theatre reviews for the Birmingham theatre website, (ebhm.org), local spots for WBHM, (Birmingham's NPR affiliate), and is currently working on his first book, tentatively titled "A CANCER SPOUSE'S SURVIVAL GUIDE," chronicling his wife's successful battle with breast cancer, from a husband/caretaker's point of view.

In the Columbia blogosphere, Frank's writing can be found on "The Goodlife Blog" for Goodwill Industries "Broke In Columbia," and in JASPER.

Theatrically, Frank has performed professionally with THE LOST COLONY, Birmingham Childrens' Theatre, and was cast as General Glossop in the first non-Equity national tour of JEKYLL & HYDE, again, more years ago than he prefers to recall. Before moving to Columbia in 2010, Frank was active since childhood in the the Birmingham, AL, theatre community, serving seven years as Artistic Director for CenterStage, and three years in the same capacity with Theatre LJCC. As a performer, his favourite roles include Freddie in NOISES OFF, The Proprietor in ASSASSINS, Igor in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, Thurston Howell III in GILLIGAN"S ISLAND:THE MUSICAL, and Gomez Addams in THE ADDAMS FAMILY: THE MUSICAL.

Directorially, he is most proud of his work on THE KING AND I, and CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (Birmingham), and AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS, CHICAGO, Ho! Ho! Ho!, and PEOPLE ARE STRANGE, a cabaret which he produced and co-wrote (Columbia.)

Frank is proud to serve as Vice-President of Workshop Theatre's Board of Trustees, and has presented his one-week sketch comedy class, "Funny By Friday" at Trustus Theatre and Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County.

He is also a Certified Teaching Artist with South Carolina Arts Commission.

A Conversation with Heathcliff

Jasper noticed a new face on the performance art scene and thought we should remember our manners and give him a proper welcome and introduction. Here's a peek at a conversation we just had with this lovely older gentleman, Heathcliff.

jonathan Monk as Heathcliff.jpg

Hi Heathcliff! We understand that you’re having a show this weekend at Trustus Theatre and we thought you might want to introduce yourself to the Jasper readers. Would that be OK?

 

JASPER: Can you tell us how old you are, where you’re from, and how you ended up in Columbia, SC?

HEATHCLIFF: Absolutely. Now, Cindi, most of my pictures make me seem younger, but I am actually 78 years old and have the wig to prove it. I don’t want to give away the particulars of my birth as my show will elaborate on that topic via shadow puppetry. I try to explain everything with shadow puppetry if I can help it - you should see the first draft of my answers to these questions! As for how I ended up in Columbia, my accompanist Wanda has spoken of its smiling faces and beautiful places for quite some time. I had to come see what all the fuss is about!

 

JASPER:  What line of work are you in and what do you like most about it?

HEATHCLIFF:  I suppose it could be considered more of a square and less of a line, but I am in the storytelling and empathy business. I think we are all young at heart, and I love giving people permission to exist in a ridiculous world for a time. Right now more than ever, we need to be reminded of our unique capacity to enjoy each other’s company.

 

JASPER:  As a gentleman of advanced age you must have some great memories. Will you share a little something special with our readers?

HEATHCLIFF: Yes, there was this one time…(falls asleep)

 

JASPER:  You also must have met lots of famous people – do you know Diane Keaton perchance? What do you think about her?

HEATHCLIFF: Oh my goodness, yes. Diane is an old friend - we share a mutual love of clown paintings, and she is directly responsible for my leaving the business for a decade. I don’t hold it against her because she was trying to help - I will go into more direct detail in my show. Diane, if you’re reading this, no hard feelings.

 

JASPER:  Now, who is Wanda and why is she horning in on your show?

HEATHCLIFF: I actually play the horn in the show! Wanda is the lovable green squeak toy with a smile in the picture. She is my accompanist and soul mate, and she can play any instrument in the world. She is shy so she normally pre-records everything for our shows. She also was rumored to have had a secret affair with Tom Jones in the 70s, but I’ll let her tell you about that.

 

JASPER:  On a scale of 1 – 17, with 1 being boring and 17 being whoopee, how naughty will your show be this weekend?

HEATHCLIFF: I leave the math to my team of accountants, but I will say that I believe humor is the best medicine. If you weaponize humor or constantly go for the low hanging fruit, it turns into something that can actually make you unhealthy. But since I’m old, I have to occasionally reach for the apple that’s in front of me. Now I’m hungry. The short answer is, there are no swear words or “blue humor” as we used to call it. I’d rate it PG: Probably Good.

 

JASPER:  I think we may have some mutual acquaintances. Have you ever heard of a fellow who goes by the name of Jonathan Monk and a lady named Krista Forster? What do you know about these folks?

HEATHCLIFF: Oh my goodness! Jonathan Monk is my manager, though we never seem to be in the same place at the same time. Krista Forster looks shockingly similar to my distant relative Sheila Murphy of Janitorial Services. These two, I’m told, have been working to devise a new comedic piece in town - I can’t wait to see it.

 

JASPER: Anything else you’d like to tell our readers about your upcoming show?

HEATHCLIFF/JONATHAN MONK: Hi Cindi, this is Jonathan Monk. Heathcliff had to make an emergency trip to Zesto’s. Regarding the show, I’d like to say this is a fantastic opportunity for me to continue to explore a character I created in 2003 during my time as a Musical Theatre major at Carnegie Mellon. While Heathcliff the character is known for his embellishments regarding the truth, I have been fortunate enough to perform as Heathcliff in Pittsburgh at The Andy Warhol Museum, in NYC at Emerging Artists Theatre, Don’t Tell Mama and 54 Below, and in Martha’s Vineyard at the Grange Hall Theatre. What’s exciting to me about this new show is this is the first time Heathcliff has incorporated other human characters. Wanda (his accompanist) is a puppet, so it’s refreshing to be able to discover and interact with other characters in Heathcliff’s world: a mix of Mister Rogers, Pee Wee’s Playhouse and Andy Kaufman, with a dash of Red Skelton. I am thankful and excited to be able to premiere a new Heathcliff show here in my hometown!

 

Shows are this Friday at 11:15pm, Saturday at 3pm, and Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are $10 / each and will be sold at the door.
http://trustus.org/event/healthcliff/

 

Cindi Boiter is the executive director of the Jasper Project and a big fan of new performing arts. Reach her at Cindi@JasperColumbia.com

CALL for Poetry

News from the North Carolina Poetry Society


Submissions are now open (May 1 – July 31) for the Susan Laughter Meyers Poetry Fellowshipat Weymouth. North and South Carolina poets (age 18 and over) are eligible to apply. Check the NCPS website for details and the link to Submittable: http://www.ncpoetrysociety.org/meyers-fellowship/

The merit-based fellowship, co-sponsored by the NC Poetry Society (NCPS) and Weymouth Center honors the life and work of Susan Laughter Meyers (1945-2017). The recipient will be awarded a one-week stay at the Weymouth Center in Southern Pines, North Carolina, a $500.00 stipend, publication of a poem in Pinesong (NCPS’s annual anthology of award-winning poems), and an opportunity to read or present a program at an NCPS meeting at Weymouth.

CALL for Photography - Indie Grits Labs

Indie Grits Labs is seeking work from emerging Southern artists that addresses and challenges the social, cultural, and physical landscapes of the South through photographic media.

Submission Information

Submission Deadline: July 2, 2018
Entry fee: $5.00 – Purchase through our shop
Notification of Acceptance: July 12
Opening Reception: July 26 at Indie Grits Labs | 1013 Duke Ave.

All Images will be printed center weighted on a 13×19 sheet by Indie Grits Labs.

Prints will be available for sale through Indie Grits Labs. We are suggesting a 30% commision on all sales to be put towards future juried exhibitions and educational opportunities. Prices will be established upon acceptance into the exhibition.

You can submit anywhere from 1-5 photos for the $5.00 fee.

 

Submission Guidelines

All Submissions should be included in one email to exhibitions@indiegrits.org

Subject Line: “Submission: Southern Disposition”
In the body of the email:
Your Name
Titles of Pieces Submitted
1 to 2 sentences about your work if desired
Link to Website
Entry Fee Screenshot/Receipt

File Requirements

1 to 5 images: .jpgs, 1000px on the longest side, 72ppi, sRGB color space
File Name Format: lastname_disposition_1.jpg

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Conundrum and ifArt Host Concert

skot IM.jpg

Id M Theft Able & Reflex Arc @ ifArt on June 25

 

 

Conundrum Music Productions is pleased to announce a concert by the Portland Maine noise artist Id M Theft Able, at ifArt Gallery on Monday, June 25.   Sharing the bill will be Reflex Arc and bigSphinx.

 

Id M Theft Able performs within and without the realms of noise, avant improvisation, sound poetry, and performance using voice, found objects, electronics, and whatever else is available. He has given hundreds of performances across 4 continents in settings ranging from the humblest of squats to the fanciest of festivals.

 

Reflex Arc is a two-piece experimental & improvisational band from Raleigh, NC. Crowmeat Bob plays a variety of horns & sometimes electric guitar while Ginger Wagg plays a variety of body parts, spaces and emotional states.

 

bigSphinx is a solo project of local laptop improvisor Tom Law.

 

The door will open at 8:00pm, and a $7 admission fee will be collected at that door.  The music will commence at 8:30pm.  ifArt Gallery is situated at 1223 Lincoln Street, Columbia, South Carolina 29201.   Further information can be obtained on the World Wide Web at conundrum.us, or by using a telephone to dial (803) 250-1295. 

 

 

Id M Theft Able: https://idmtheftable.bandcamp.com/

Reflex Arc: http://www.gingerwagg.com/reflex-arc

bigSphinx: http://bigsphinx.com/tomlaw.html

News from the Rosewood Art & Music Festival -- OPEN CALL to Artists & Poets

rosewood arts and musci festival.jpg

Calling all painters, sculptures, photographers, upcycled artists, potters and more for the 8th annual Rosewood Art and Music Festival

Applications open June 1, 2018.

Professional, amateur & emerging creators may complete the free application online at RosewoodFestival.com June 1st to August 1st.  

Artists may apply to participate in multiple activities; Exhibitor, Pop-up Gallery/Juried Show and/or Poetry contest. Application, Categories and Guidelines are found online at RosewoodFestival.com

 

On the application Exhibitors will select either individual booth or communal visual arts tent. The communal visual arts tent is a shared space for artists who may be new to the festival scene, have a smaller body of work, or may prefer to live paint.

The Pop-up/Juried Tent is for two-dimensional and three-dimensional visual artists ready to compete for over $2000 in prizes.

The Poetry contest is for writers and poets seeking to be published and more.

On Saturday September 29, 2018, from 11am-7pm, thousands will descend into the Rosewood Neighborhood of Columbia, SC for the 8th Rosewood Art & Music Festival. Multiple stages with live music throughout the day provides a pleasant festival experience. Sit and listen, grab your dance shoes, or simply enjoy the sounds as you take in the visual arts and celebrate Southern arts and culture.

REVIEW: Hir at Trustus Theatre is an exceptional study in cultural constructs

By Cindi Boiter

 Libby Campbell stars in Hir

Libby Campbell stars in Hir

Taylor Mac’s dark comedy Hir, playing at Trustus Theatre’s Richard and Debbie Cohn Side Door Theatre, is a play not everyone in Columbia is going to be ready for. And that’s a shame. Because mixed into the comedy and irony and more than a few truly exquisite lines of dialogue may be some answers to the questions so many of us keep raising our fists to the sky and shouting. Questions like How, as in How did our culture get into the mess we’re in? And What, as in What are we going to do fix it?

But playwright Taylor Mac, also an author, actor, singer-songwriter, director, drag artist, Pulitzer Prize finalist, MacArthur fellow, and recipient of a slew of additional accolades, knows something not all of us want to admit, and something some of us aren’t even capable of understanding – that the culture we have constructed isn’t working, it hasn’t worked for a long time, and it may have never worked very well to begin with.

We enter into the world of Hir after the protagonist Paige, played brilliantly by Libby Campbell-Turner, has already made this realization. Having bought into the American dream of a house in the suburbs, a cookie-cutter marriage, and two darling boys supposedly guaranteeing a happily-ever-after, Paige has already found the folly in her actions given that her husband has inflicted pretty much every kind of abuse at his disposal on her, one of her sons is an arrogant young transsexual, the other a washed up military man with a penchant for doing drugs in all the wrong places (you’ll get this later), and home-sweet-home is built on a landfill, complete with clandestine pipes emitting dangerous gases. But rather than fight the reality as it presents itself to her, as so many Americans are wont to do, Paige has not only accepted, but embraced her new reality and at times appears to celebrate it.  

When her oldest son Isaac, played by Tristan Pack, returns from war to find the family unit he left behind in a state of comfortable chaos, (Dad had a stroke and appears on stage at curtain wearing clown make-up and a lady’s housecoat, his sister is now his brother, and all housekeeping has been abandoned), Paige and Isaac clash over her newly open-minded life philosophy. In trying to reassert the patriarchal structure that governed the family prior to his leaving he enlists the aid of his brother Max, played by Sebastian Liafsha, who had previously rejected all gender roles prescriptions but suddenly declares himself trans-masculine. Isaac relies on the tried and true performative guideposts of masculinity—rhetoric, denigration, intimidation, confederation, and, ultimately, violence—in his attempts to restore what he considers order to the household. But in a jaw-dropping final scene Mac exposes patriarchy for the paper tiger anyone who has ever studied the social sciences knows it to be. A simple human construct and nothing more.

Directed by Lindsay Rae Taylor, a third-year MFA Directing Candidate at USC with a pedigree that belies her academic status, (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and Tisch), there is great nuance in Campbell’s treatment of Paige and it’s easy to see these two powerhouse theatrical artists working well together. Campbell brings the personal insight of having grown to maturity enduring the silliness of performative masculinity her whole damn life and applies that experience to her interpretation of Paige. While her performance teeters toward madcap at times, and the character could have been played closer to unhinged, Campbell keeps her version of Paige grounded, self-aware. In many ways Paige is a feminist prophet and Campbell plays the prophet comfortably.

Cleverly enough, it is Max’s story (previously Maxine’s) that provides the foundation on which the larger story is built. Liafsha, a student at White Knoll High School, is a charismatic young actor who plays Max as youthfully arrogant about hir enlightenment. It is from Max that Paige learns key terms that help her navigate the “paradigm shifts” of her new world. In fact, it is the adaptation of the newly created pronoun hir, a combination of him and her, which gives the play its title.

Ripley Thames convincingly plays the role of stroke victim Arnold, Paige’s husband, with generosity and humility. Costume designer Jessica Bornick effectively dresses Thames’ character in just about as unflattering a costume as any man could manage wearing and Thames does it with ease. The chaos of the setting is created by Sam Hetler who keeps the audience on edge wondering if the players might fall into the dishevelment of the set or be squashed by a falling mattress.  Patrick Michael Kelly, Tyler Omundsen, and Logan Davies provide sound, lighting, and scenic design, and Barbara Smith is the stage manager.

It should also be said that this writer had the pleasure of seeing Taylor Mac perform three years ago at Spoleto Festival in Charleston and judy’s one-person cabaret show at the Woolfe Street Theatre was profoundly transgressive then. (Mac uses the pronoun judy rather than him/her.) The fact that Mac’s Hir is playing in Columbia at all is a telling tribute to Trustus Theatre and proof, once again, that Trustus is the shiny glint on the steel blade that keeps the Columbia performing arts scene in the 21st century.

See this play and talk about it when it’s over. Let yourself question the efficacy or futility of the constructs Hir draws into question—masculinity, homemaking, institutionalized education, college, and more, but mostly patriarchy and how “the whole alphabet of gender” undermines it so damningly.

Hir runs through June 9th and tickets are available at Trustus.org

 

Cindi Boiter is the executive director of The Jasper Project and editor of Jasper Magazine

PREVIEW: Together We Are Making a Poem in Honor of Life - Opening at Piccolo Spoleto Tonight

Together.jpg

Columbia natives Dean Poynor and Monica Wyche are returning to South Carolina this month, bringing a new play to 2018 Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, with their theatre collective, The Salvage Company.

 

Poynor and Wyche met years ago while both were company members at Trustus Theatre, where they performed together in BUG, THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, and WONDER OF THE WORLD, as well as with the We’re Not Your Mother’s Players improv comedy group.  Since then, Poynor has become an award-winning playwright with his plays produced in New York, Nashville, Minneapolis, and more. Wyche has worked steadily in film and TV, landing roles on shows including Law and Order:SVU, Blindspot, The Defenders, The Looming Tower, and a recurring role as ‘Rita Laslen’ on Hulu’s The Path.

 

The Salvage Company has performed in Australia, Key West, New York, and now returns to the Piccolo Spoleto Festival for the second time with Poynor’s staggering play, TOGETHER WE ARE MAKING A POEM IN HONOR OF LIFE.  The play follows a mother and father as they navigate a series of support group meetings after losing their child in a school shooting. Told in a fragmented storytelling style, this play follows them – both individually and together – as they struggle to remember what they’ve lost. But as they come closer to comprehending the tragic event that took their child, they find it more and more difficult to connect with each other. This intimate two-person drama explores what it means to be a parent in the face of unimaginable loss.

 

This play is Poynor’s personal response to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and other acts of violence against children. Poynor says, “As a father, I am affected by these events in unexpected ways. I am especially interested in the idea of potential, and the grammatical construction ‘would have been.’  I recognize the hope and hopelessness buried in these words, and I believe the stories we tell become vital touchstones in answering the question of ‘How do we keep on going?’”

 

TOGETHER WE ARE MAKING A POEM IN HONOR OF LIFE is an immersive (but not interactive) theatrical experience, with the audience actually joining the actors in the circle of support group chairs. Because of this intimate staging, seating is limited to fifty people per performance.  Already, the Charleston City Paper has named the show one of the top three theatre performances to see at the festival. (https://m.charlestoncitypaper.com/CultureShock/archives/2018/05/01/piccolo-tickets-on-sale-now-heres-what-you-should-see)

 

A special invited preview for members of the Charleston chapter of Moms Demand Action will take place on Friday, May 25th, with a talkback after the show. Public performances will take place Saturday, May 26th at 2:00 and 7:00, Sunday, May 27th at 4:00, and Monday, May 28th at 7:00. Tickets are $21, and are available at www.piccolospoleto.com or at www.thesalvagecompany.com.

 

 

Review: Workshop Theatre's String of Pearls

Frank Thompson is a frequent theatre critic for JASPER, who is reviewing for his "home theatre.” Mr. Thompson wishes to freely disclose that he is employed as Box Office Manager for Workshop, is a frequent director with the company, and serves as Vice-President of the Board of Trustees. He has put on his blinders for what he thinks is a fair and unbiased review, and will do his best to deliver.

string of pearls.jpg

 

STRING OF PEARLS

 Presented by Workshop Theatre at Columbia College’s Cottingham Theatre, runs this Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets can be purchased by calling (803) 799.6551

 

****

 

   A “McGuffin” is a term used mostly in film, to describe a single object or event around which a story revolves. The titular jewels in Workshop Theatre’s String Of Pearls serve just such a purpose, as a bevy of female characters find their disparate lives impacted by the temporary stewardship of a string of perfect pearls. Through the passing of several decades, we see the pearls elicit joy, sorrow, confusion, and hope, along with a multitude of different emotions and reactions from twenty-seven women, played by an ensemble of six actresses. Ellen Rodillo-Fowler, Cathy Carter Scott, Christine Hellman, Krista Forster, Sandra Suzette Hamlin-Rivers, and Alyssa Velazquez, each at the top of her game, manage to create believable, three-dimensional characters, some of whom we get to know quite well, and others we glimpse for only a moment or two. Each, however, helps to move along the plot, and there is scarcely a wasted word in the script, which makes for a streamlined, well-paced production.

  Director Zsuzsa Manna has obviously put a great deal of thought and research into bringing each character, no matter how minor, into her overall vision. Watching the chameleon-like changes each actress made physically, vocally, and stylistically, truly created the illusion of a much larger cast. (Having known, and/or worked with most of the cast, even I had to occasionally squint and ask myself “now which one is that?”) Special commendation to Costume Designer Alexis Docktor, who created multiple eras and class levels, each of which were appealing and period-appropriate. Helping her create the magic is Wig Designer, Christine Hellman, whose skills clearly are not limited to performing. At one point, Velasquez, a natural brunette, sported thick, flowing, blonde locks that could have easily passed for a 1970s’ Farrah Fawcett hairdo, and Rodillo-Fowler’s scruffy pink punk ‘do is a true work of retro art.

   The set is simple, but effective. Two small platforms, a handful of moderately-sized props, and two elegant sheer curtains provide the representation for dozens of locales. Minimalism works well with this script, allowing the acting to shine as the central focus. Scenic and Sound Designers, Zsuzsa Manna and Dean McCaughan, respectively), have taken a subtle and most effective approach, with minor changes of lighting and/or the tiny ding of a single bell completely transforming the scene.

   Lest I seem completely biased, I will say that String Of Pearls is not flawless. At Sunday’s matinee, a line or two got dropped, but quickly corrected, and the occasional entrance seemed a bit late, most likely due to costume change issues, which tend to smooth out by any show’s second weekend.

   A word to parents, the extremely conservative, and the easily-offended. String Of Pearls contains a fair amount of grown-up dialogue, some of it extremely straightforward, and several adult situations. And yes, the pun you’re probably chuckling about right now is, indeed, mentioned in detail. (You may want to leave the pre-teens at home for this one, and let them enjoy Workshop’s June production of Shrek, Jr. )

   Columbia College’s Cottingham Theatre is a comfortable, easily-located facility (just GPS 1301 Columbia College Drive, and you’ll be able to drive straight to the door), and the acoustics are top-notch. Even stage whispers could be easily heard. The sight lines are clear, and the seats a bit small, but comfy. That said, it’s an older building without all the fancy bells and whistles that have now become industry standard, and has a slightly-frayed-at-the-edges feel, though I personally find that to be a charming asset to any theatre.

   String Of Pearls is a perfect show for those seeking an intelligent, funny, grown-up look at life. It made me think of the internet meme with words for familiar, but difficult-to-describe, feelings, specifically sonder, which is "the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own." Originally from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, sonder has now entered the vernacular, and it was sonder that I felt while watching the show. One object, twenty-seven complex individuals, and one hilarious, poignant, thought-provoking trip through a cornucopia of human experiences.

-FLT3

21 May, 2018

Black AF - And Why Columbia Deserves More New Performance Art And Why That Art Must Come from Everyone

"Nothing is more empowering than being able to speak your truth."

 Preach Jacobs - photo by Brodiemedia

Preach Jacobs - photo by Brodiemedia

One of the most telling signs of a healthy arts scene in a city is when performing artists and arts organizations no longer rely solely on art being fed to them from the outside or from a canon of tried and true productions, and instead look within themselves and to their own resources to create new art and make unique contributions to culture. While we rarely see performances of new works from our more heavily funded Columbia arts organizations who seem to be more incentivized to put butts in the seats of the expensive Koger Center than to challenge, stimulate, and yes, grow their audiences, it is the smaller venues and organizations – think Tapp’s Arts Center, Harbison Theatre’s Performance Incubator, and local bars – where we most often find new work being created and performed.

Thankfully, Trustus Theatre has a history of encouraging new performing arts via their Playwright’s Festival and sketch comedy programs and, this season, they brought it all home by presenting Constance, a new musical theatre production composed by Daniel Machado, Adam Corbett, and the Restoration and written by Chad Henderson, all Columbia-based artists. Interestingly enough, Constance sold out and came close to selling out on most nights, challenging the assumption that Columbia audiences are content with the same plays, compositions, and ballets their parents grew tired of decades ago.

Now, just one week later Trustus Theatre offers a brand new one-night-only original production written and performed by Preach Jacobs and directed by Kari LebbyBlack AF.

Black AF originated with Preach Jacobs who, at 34 is a well-known member of Columbia’s local music scene. “My grandmother passed away last year and it took a toll on me,” Jacobs says. “She came from a generation where black folks … didn’t talk about their lives. …But there would be moments where she would begin to talk and those were jewels for me. Her stories were fascinating and she gave me the understanding that everyone deserves to tell their story. Black AF is paying homage to my granny and ancestors because by telling my story I’m telling their story. Unapologetically black. Black as fuck.”

Jacobs enlisted the help of Columbia native actor/director/musician Bakari Lebby, 27, whose previous directing work has included Sunset Baby at Trustus and Some Girls at Workshop, who readily jumped on board. “We had talked about how we wanted to work together on something,” Lebby says, "and Preach said he had this theatre project that he wanted to do that was ‘part TED talk, part stand up, and part hip hop show.’ That sounded dope and innovative to me, and then he told me he wanted to call it Black as Fuck, which also appealed to my interests. Then we started really fleshing out the concept and content together.”

Both artists identify the importance of supporting black art and new art from traditionally marginalized voices as being integral to their decisions to go forward with this project. “Life is scary. Shit is cray. We need art to be able to confront, explore, and express our feelings as well as the feelings of others,” Lebby says. “Any art that is not ‘mainstream’ is critically important right now. Representation. Real representation.”

“It’s important as black people in America to not just have our stories told, but in fact we be in charge of telling our stories,” Jacobs adds. “It may seem like a simple idea but it’s something that we’ve been deprived of. In this current climate it trickles to other groups of people that haven’t had their voices heard. The Me Too movement is proof of generations of women that are finally being heard and able to tell their stories. Nothing is more empowering than being able to speak your truth.”

With any new performance art audiences may be uncertain of what to expect and whether to invest in the not-inexpensive ticket price of $25, but Lebby has faith in the format and the gifts Jacobs brings to the stage. “This show is not the average ‘one-man show.’ Yes, Preach will be occupying the stage the whole time, but there is a DJ. There will be some visual supplements. There will be musical performances and dialogues. The show is funny. The show is darkly funny. It’s also a bummer at times. It is also ceaselessly honest and in Preach Jacobs’s voice. He carries the show confidently.”

Jacobs emphasizes the role of “raw honesty” in the performance, adding that the show is “a love letter to my ancestors.”

With the title of the show being Black AF (Black as Fuck) it’s reasonable to question the audiences to whom the show might most appeal, so we asked both gentlemen why both black people and white people should show up, or even if both black people and white people should show up.

According to Lebby, black people should attend “because supporting black art is lit. It’ll be a good time. The more that we show up, the more opportunities that we can get and give to more artists of color. … These are conversations we need to be having with each other.”

Jacobs says, “Hopefully the black folks that show up can relate to what I’m saying. Having a shared experience is a type of emotional bonding that I look for with my art. Watching Black Panther resonated so much because of that fact. Black folks could relate.”

As for white folks, Jacobs hopes they will “come with an open mind and really hear what I believe are things that could help with dialogue about race relations. There’s not much in the show about black and whites dealing with each other per se, as much as it is embracing and loving myself. To learn that being black isn’t a curse is life changing but also a process. Some of these things might surprise them.”

Lebby adds, “I think checking out perspectives that you haven’t seen on stage before is cool. If you’re a white theatre person, yes, come see this show. It’s important. You don’t get to ‘support black art and then not actually support it.”

 

Black AF is a one-night-only event coming up Sunday, May 27th at 8 pm at Trustus Theatre and tickets are available at http://trustus.org/event/black-af/.
A free accompanying art show will also be held May 26th at Frame of Mind (142 State St., West Columbia, SC).
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- Cindi Boiter is the executive director of The Jasper Project and the founder and editor of Jasper Magazine

REVIEW: The Restoration's Constance - An Original Musical

by Jon Tuttle

Constance for Trustus.jpg

Eight years and several iterations after its 2010 debut, the Restoration’s Constance is finally and fully on its feet at Trustus, and it is a monolith.  

 

A fictional musical saga set in Reconstruction-era Lexington, the play defies summation except to say they’re all there, all those primal southern tropes, like bigotry, miscegenation, old money, zealotry, revenge, hypocrisy, and violence.   It’s unwieldy and exhausting and overwhelming and an excellent example of what theatre is for. 

 

It’s elemental, is what it is.   It begins with fire—the actual fire set by Sherman’s troops in 1865 at St. Stephen’s Church—and ends in flood, the drowning of an entire town by an embittered native son.   It is earth, in its emphasis on home and land and the genius of place.    And it is air, or rather ayre, an aural palette of (how to describe it?) Americana/heartland/folk balladry. 

 

That Constance is a protracted labor of love between two old friends--Trustus Artistic Director Chad Henderson and The Restoration founder Daniel Machado--becomes obvious in its attention to detail and commitment of resources.   Henderson wrote the book, quilting together Machado’s songs with dialogue so assured you can’t hear the writing.  In directing it, he deployed many of the theatrical gadgets in his Swiss Army knife.  And he hired Tom Beard, always a pro, as musical director, and Jessica Bornick, whose costumes are terrific.  The result is a multi-media, multi-modal theatrical tsunami, more akin to Bernstein’s Mass than to the last musical you saw.

 

The flood scene, for instance, is magnificently effectuated by the “floating” of church pews by members of the ensemble.   The fire is a combination of lighting mayhem, percussive stomping, urgent strings and

choreography.   Virtually every scene introduces a fresh visual element--Brechtian projections, newsreel footage, scrim silhouettes, a cascade of flying paper, and (this was brilliant) an unruly mob armed with creepy flashlights marauding the auditorium.  Meanwhile, hanging ominously on the back wall: heavy ropes, impossible to ignore in a play about race.

 

And there are unmistakable references to Our Town, appropriate in such a panoramic homage to our town, such as the adult Constance’s observation of herself at different ages, or the funeral scene, or in Paul Kaufman’s (riveting) Reverend Harper, at first a unifying and benevolent consciousness presiding over these affairs like Wilder’s Stage Manager,  later reduced by time and tribulation to a ragged, wild-haired, raging alcoholic howling about the “Werewolf of Ballentine” and looking as horrifically grizzled as Steve Bannon on a good day.   

 

The cast itself is colossal, consisting of twenty-five actors led by Trustus veterans Kaufman and, in the role of the adult Constance Owen, Vicky Saye Henderson, whom I cannot review fairly because her singing beguiles me.   I think, however, she might be magnificent because what I wanted most was more of her.  

 

And here begin my apprehensions.  

 

The play is actually two, each its own act.  In the first, we meet teenage Constance (played by Brittany Hammock) and her love interest, the mixed-race Aaron Vale (Mario McClean).  So convincing is their chemistry, so harmonious their voices, so solid their performances, that the play is never better than when they are on stage.  Indeed, their scenes together provide the evening’s best moments and melodies (like “I Can’t Stop Wanting You”).  If such actors are the inheritors of Trustus’ reputation, then the theatre is in excellent hands. 

 

But the first act is so long as to test the limits of the even the most heroic middle-aged prostate.   This being a work-still-in-progress, further pruning is likely to be done.  A good place to start, so say I, would be the subplot involving a local troupe’s production of Othello, which seems to ape Waiting for Guffman and features the embarrassing caricature of a flaming primo uomo.  Or perhaps the glimpses we are given into the troubled marriage of Col. and Mrs. Palmer, he a pompous developer with an eye for the colored help, she a pious shrew competing for his attention.   To be fair, their story is actually quite compelling, particularly as it is embodied by Stan Gwynn and Len Marini, but it tries to compete with the real story here, that being Constance and Aaron’s, whose secret wedding in a short, lovely benedictory would have made an excellent act-closer.  And should have.  

 

Better there, so say I, than much later, at Aaron’s death scene, and for two reasons.  One is that it’s odd.  No sooner has he suffered an infarction than he calls for his guitar, sits up, and begs Constance, through song, not to “let my music die with me.  Don’t let it go into the ground with me.  Write it down, write it down, write it down for me.”   It’s a fine piece of music, but it would have made more sense had it been sung a capella, since he’s, you know, dying.  And until that point he hadn’t really identified so strongly with his music.  He took more pride, or so I thought, in his skills as a builder.   

 

At any rate, I was sorry to see him go, partly because I really liked him, but mostly because I knew the play had just created for itself a considerable structural challenge.  Conventional Dramatic Wisdom dictates that a second act must trump the first; it must quicken the themes and conflicts already established and more deeply develop its characters.   But now a romantic lead was dead, so that story was over.  Where to now? 

 

Conventional Dramatic Wisdom can be wrong, of course. Witness Robert Schenkkan’s 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning The Kentucky Cycle, a play very similar in texture and scope.  It’s actually nine different, barely-connected plays spanning two-hundred years and running six hours.  It shouldn’t work, but it does, and Constance shares its DNA.   And it attempts the same sort of narrative teleportation:  in Act II we are introduced to Thomas Vale, Constance and Aaron’s quadroon son, who now becomes our protagonist because Constance is glimpsed only rarely.

 

In an opening duet, ten-year-old Thomas (Henry Melkomian) and his friend Henry (Christopher Hionis) sing (quite well) that “I don’t understand” why race would separate people, and that refrain interweaves gracefully through the rest of the play, which is essentially a catalogue of young Thomas’ frustrations. These are (a) the death, in war, of Henry; (b) unrequited affection for Willodean, on account of the one-drop rule; (c) the foreclosure on the family home, and (d) there’s this hooker.   And so the stage is set for the violent climax, and when it comes, it’s a cathartic sensory spectacle played out before Constance’s eyes so that the full measure of her loss can be realized.   The whole act has the shape of a perfectly plausible plotline, the closing of a long and vicious circle, really the story of the South itself.

 

And yet….

 

Perhaps there are again too many distractions.   At one point, for instance, two of Colonel Parker’s mill hands interrupt a New Year’s Eve party bearing a bag of bloody cotton testifying to the death of Flora, the object of his unreconstructed lust.   But because the contents of the bag better resemble the offal of a difficult liposuction, his grief seems comical.  And then, for instance, there’s a song about Little Round Shoes, which “I don’t understand.”    And the cast turns over almost completely, as generations do, and I get that, but I kept wondering where Constance went.   When in the coda she is discovered, years later, recounting her story to a stranger on a train, she feels like a stranger on a train. 

 

And yet, and yet.

 

“Constance” means fidelity, commitment, perseverance, which perhaps explains the sensation of comfort attendant to our last encounter with her.   It is comforting, at play’s end, to look back upon her life and see so many familiar stories there, and so much sorrow, and more than that, so much goodness. 

 

The theatre’s purpose is tell stories of other people so that we can find designs for living our own real stories—which are unwieldy and exhausting and overwhelming.  They are epic poems, is what they are, and one ought to appreciate a piece of art that sings one.   

 

Constance may become a permanent part of Trustus’ repertoire, a play it can return to in years to come, and it ought to, because it’s uniquely theirs, and it’s ours, and it’s really quite extraordinary. 

 

Jon Tuttle is Professor of English and Director of University Honors at Francis Marion University and former Literary Manager at Trustus Theatre, where his play BOY ABOUT TEN will premier in August.