Announcing the 2017 Jasper Artists of the Year & Thanking Everyone Who Helped in Celebrating Them

Announcing the winners of the JAYs - and celebrating them - is such a joyous way to spend an evening. Sure, we could bump up the ticket price and ask people to worry about what they're going to wear. We could hold the celebration in some swanky hall with fancy food and funky drinks. Ice sculptures. We could do ice sculptures.

But Jasper decided a long time ago that our celebration of artists who have had a very good year would not fall into that trap of being a who's who and a see and be seen event. We have way too many of those things in town already! And the reality is that once you pay for those mixologists and finger foods -- not to mention the ice sculptures -- you've not only out-ticket priced the working artists in town who just barely get by financially off their art and their other jobs, and you've created an entirely uncomfortable event that people fret about going to and can't wait to leave so they can go home take their Spanx off.

Last night was another example of how we play at Jasper. We had some of the best people in town on our stage, serving us drinks and food, and doling out big authentic hugs to one another.

Those Lavender Whales, finalists for JAY in music, fully embraced our request that they lead us in Christmas Carols -- and Jessica even donned a Dolly wig and sang Hard Candy Christmas! All three JAY literary finalists - Nicola, Al, and Don - put together a sweet and silly Twelve Days of Christmas number involving all the finalists. Mandy, finalist in theatre, performed some beautiful songs accompanied by Chris, also a finalist in theatre, and Tyler, JAY finalist in music. Jay provided us with our sound system.

Off-stage. we had Phill and Matty pouring beer and wine and Joe and Candy serving up some delicious snacks. Ashley was capturing everyone on camera and Barry was popping those images up on screen as fast as he could. Bohumila, Diane, and Billy had coordinated the ornament auction in which more than two dozen ornaments, made especially for last night by artists like Stephen, Barbie, Matthew, and more, went home with folks as a remembrance of the evening. Kristian judged the living Christmas tree contest -- Bohumila won -- and offered up the prize of a dinner at Bourbon. Intern Jenna checked all the contestants in. And Thomas offered us four of his beautiful paintings for auction -- Barry and Chris each took one home. Kyle and Coralee ran the door, selling not only tickets but also the hand-made all-ages coloring books that Billy, Bob, and I had put together, with art in them from Cedric, Michael, Heidi, Laurie, Dogon, Thomas, Alexandra, and Sean.

At the end of the night we were tired, but sustained by our sense of community and that happiness that comes from having an authentically good time in the company of people we can be ourselves around. It was a joy.

So, without any more tap dancing and horn tooting, we are delighted to announce our winners of the 2017 Jasper Artists of the Year.

 

 

Fat Rat da Czar - 2017 Jasper Artist of the Year in Music

Fat Rat da Czar - 2017 Jasper Artist of the Year in Music

Al Black - 2017 Jasper Artist of the Year in Literary Arts

Al Black - 2017 Jasper Artist of the Year in Literary Arts

Bakari Lebby - 2017 Jasper Artist of the Year in Theatre

Bakari Lebby - 2017 Jasper Artist of the Year in Theatre

Sean Rayford - 2017 Jasper Artist of the Year in Visual Arts

Sean Rayford - 2017 Jasper Artist of the Year in Visual Arts

Congratulations once again to all the finalists - Nicola, Don, Tyler, Aaron and the gang, Nicole, Cedric, Mandy, and Chris. 

Thanks to everyone who voted (and sorry to have to clean out those multiple votes and keep it clean, but that's how Sara rolls!) And thanks to all who came out last night to support and celebrate with us.

Happy Holidays from all of us at The Jasper Project!

 

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About the 2017 JAY Finalists

2017 JAY Finalists in Visual Art

Nicole Kallenberg Heere * Sean Rayford * Cedric Umoja

Nicole Kallenberg Heere   Through December 2016, Nicole’s painting "Mommy's Little Helpers" was used by Theatre Lazina Nowa to advertise the play  All About My Mother  on billboards and posters in the city of Krakow, Poland. She continues to be an Artist in Residence at Tapp's Art Center in Columbia, South Carolina where her artwork was presented at "Figure Out" art exhibition in 2016. Her work was included in the Columbia Artists Guild inaugural show, "Our Art: A Celebration of Life and Creative Freedom," at City Art gallery in Columbia. In October 2016 she was selected as the cover artist for the fall issue of  Jasper Magazine  and was featured along with magazine editor Cindi Boiter on ArtsWACH for WACHFox news. From October 2016 - May 2017, Nicole showed with French Art Network at Galerie Rue Toulouse: New Orleans, LA and was honored at an artist meet and greet at Galerie Rue Toulouse in December. In January 2017, she enjoyed a solo show at Kershaw County Arts Center in Camden, SC and in February 2017 she was featured in  French Quarterly Magazine , New Orleans, LA. In April 2017, she had a solo show at Patriot's Hall Performing Arts Center (Formerly Jasper John's High School) in Sumter, SC, and from May 2017 – present she has been represented by Mitchell Hill Gallery in Charleston.   

Nicole Kallenberg Heere

Through December 2016, Nicole’s painting "Mommy's Little Helpers" was used by Theatre Lazina Nowa to advertise the play All About My Mother on billboards and posters in the city of Krakow, Poland. She continues to be an Artist in Residence at Tapp's Art Center in Columbia, South Carolina where her artwork was presented at "Figure Out" art exhibition in 2016. Her work was included in the Columbia Artists Guild inaugural show, "Our Art: A Celebration of Life and Creative Freedom," at City Art gallery in Columbia. In October 2016 she was selected as the cover artist for the fall issue of Jasper Magazine and was featured along with magazine editor Cindi Boiter on ArtsWACH for WACHFox news. From October 2016 - May 2017, Nicole showed with French Art Network at Galerie Rue Toulouse: New Orleans, LA and was honored at an artist meet and greet at Galerie Rue Toulouse in December. In January 2017, she enjoyed a solo show at Kershaw County Arts Center in Camden, SC and in February 2017 she was featured in French Quarterly Magazine, New Orleans, LA. In April 2017, she had a solo show at Patriot's Hall Performing Arts Center (Formerly Jasper John's High School) in Sumter, SC, and from May 2017 – present she has been represented by Mitchell Hill Gallery in Charleston.

 

Sean Rayford   Sean Rayford is a freelance photojournalist and commercial photographer working during the last year with  The New York Times, The Washington Post, Getty Images, the Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, the Associated Press  and more. His commercial clients include the ACLU, Chernoff Newman, and the Columbia Visitors Bureau. Sean produces  The Angry Whale , a photography webzine focusing primarily on local narratives with a heavy emphasis on the local music scene, along with national stories including a look at street protests in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention. He won the Best Photo Story from the South Carolina Press Association in 2016 and the Atlantic Institute Peace and Dialogue Award: Media and Communication in 2017. He enjoyed a Solo exhibition called “Documents” at Anastasia and Friends, a book release,  Inundated , and was named one of 51 Instagram Photographers to Follow in the US by Time Magazine, all in 2016. He won the  Free Times  Best of Instagram Honorable Mention, in 2017. In 2016 Rayford had extensive coverage of rioting in Charlotte, NC for Getty Images, and Hurricane Matthew in the Carolina’s for  The New York Times , Getty Images and The European Press Agency. After the election of Donald Trump Sean’s storylines have often intersected with the resulting protest movements including contentious congressional town hall meetings.

Sean Rayford

Sean Rayford is a freelance photojournalist and commercial photographer working during the last year with The New York Times, The Washington Post, Getty Images, the Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, the Associated Press and more. His commercial clients include the ACLU, Chernoff Newman, and the Columbia Visitors Bureau. Sean produces The Angry Whale, a photography webzine focusing primarily on local narratives with a heavy emphasis on the local music scene, along with national stories including a look at street protests in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention. He won the Best Photo Story from the South Carolina Press Association in 2016 and the Atlantic Institute Peace and Dialogue Award: Media and Communication in 2017. He enjoyed a Solo exhibition called “Documents” at Anastasia and Friends, a book release, Inundated, and was named one of 51 Instagram Photographers to Follow in the US by Time Magazine, all in 2016. He won the Free Times Best of Instagram Honorable Mention, in 2017. In 2016 Rayford had extensive coverage of rioting in Charlotte, NC for Getty Images, and Hurricane Matthew in the Carolina’s for The New York Times, Getty Images and The European Press Agency. After the election of Donald Trump Sean’s storylines have often intersected with the resulting protest movements including contentious congressional town hall meetings.

Cedric Umoja   Cedric Umoja has enjoyed the following exhibitions over the past year: Afrofuturism (a group exhibition) at 4th Wall Gallery in Charleston SC, as part of the Spoleto Arts Festival; "WE BLEED TOO!" a solo exhibition at the Goodall Gallery in Columbia; "Libation," a three person exhibition at Charleston City Gallery in Charleston SC; and, the MOJA African American / Caribbean Arts Festival. Cedric has completed a number of murals including "The space I'm in" in the Mission District of San Francisco, CA and "23 Million miles" on Millwood Avenue in Columbia. He has performed live art at MOCAD (Museum Of Contemporary Art Detroit) and performed in the film,  Bridge (Refrain)  as an actor/co-producer, and music supervisor, shot in Columbia. He has also completed commission work for Radio Krimi, Experience Columbia, LuLu Lemon, USC, and Coach Michael and Chantal Peterson.

Cedric Umoja

Cedric Umoja has enjoyed the following exhibitions over the past year: Afrofuturism (a group exhibition) at 4th Wall Gallery in Charleston SC, as part of the Spoleto Arts Festival; "WE BLEED TOO!" a solo exhibition at the Goodall Gallery in Columbia; "Libation," a three person exhibition at Charleston City Gallery in Charleston SC; and, the MOJA African American / Caribbean Arts Festival. Cedric has completed a number of murals including "The space I'm in" in the Mission District of San Francisco, CA and "23 Million miles" on Millwood Avenue in Columbia. He has performed live art at MOCAD (Museum Of Contemporary Art Detroit) and performed in the film, Bridge (Refrain) as an actor/co-producer, and music supervisor, shot in Columbia. He has also completed commission work for Radio Krimi, Experience Columbia, LuLu Lemon, USC, and Coach Michael and Chantal Peterson.

 

*****

 

2017 JAY Finalists in Theatre

Chris Cockrell * Mandy Applegate Bloom * Bakari Lebby

 

Christopher Cockrell   Christopher Cockrell is both a musician and actor, with most of his musical contributions being offered to the theatre. In July, 2016 Chris musically directed the Trustus season opener  American Idiot , nominated for the  Free Times  Best Theatrical Production award.  In October 2016, after 15 years of playing Riff Raff, Chris musically directed  The Rocky Horror Picture Show  which won the  Free Times  award. In December he was the sound guy for the  Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical . And in February 2017 he musically directed the  Love is Love  cabaret. During March 2017 he was the artist in residence at Hammond School and musically directed  Into the Woods .  In May he competed in the Vista Queen Pageant as Raven Black for which he won the Judge’s Choice award. He reprised his role in July for the Jasper Summer Lovin’ Lip Sync Battle and won.  June 2017 saw him musically directing  Rock of Ages .

Christopher Cockrell

Christopher Cockrell is both a musician and actor, with most of his musical contributions being offered to the theatre. In July, 2016 Chris musically directed the Trustus season opener American Idiot, nominated for the Free Times Best Theatrical Production award.  In October 2016, after 15 years of playing Riff Raff, Chris musically directed The Rocky Horror Picture Show which won the Free Times award. In December he was the sound guy for the Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical. And in February 2017 he musically directed the Love is Love cabaret. During March 2017 he was the artist in residence at Hammond School and musically directed Into the Woods.  In May he competed in the Vista Queen Pageant as Raven Black for which he won the Judge’s Choice award. He reprised his role in July for the Jasper Summer Lovin’ Lip Sync Battle and won.  June 2017 saw him musically directing Rock of Ages.

Mandy Applegate Bloom   Mandy offered a burlesque performance featuring a body positivity, sexuality, and autonomy talkback at Hoechella Music Festival in August 2016, and was presented in an article and podcast with Auntie Bellum on Burlesque in August 2016. She also taught the Burlesque Beginners Dance Class Series at Tapp’s Arts Center in October 2016. Mandy was a singer and performer in the PALSS Torch Cabaret Benefit at CMFA October 2016 and was choreographer/movement coach for  The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical  at Trustus Theatre in December 2016.  Her most outstanding performance though was the dual leading roles in (and choreographer for)  Grey Gardens  at Trustus, March 2017. Mandy also judged the annual Vista Queen Pageant at Trustus Theatre this year.

Mandy Applegate Bloom

Mandy offered a burlesque performance featuring a body positivity, sexuality, and autonomy talkback at Hoechella Music Festival in August 2016, and was presented in an article and podcast with Auntie Bellum on Burlesque in August 2016. She also taught the Burlesque Beginners Dance Class Series at Tapp’s Arts Center in October 2016. Mandy was a singer and performer in the PALSS Torch Cabaret Benefit at CMFA October 2016 and was choreographer/movement coach for The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical at Trustus Theatre in December 2016.  Her most outstanding performance though was the dual leading roles in (and choreographer for) Grey Gardens at Trustus, March 2017. Mandy also judged the annual Vista Queen Pageant at Trustus Theatre this year.

Bakari Lebby   In August 2016 Bakari was inducted as a Trustus Theatre Company Member where, the month before he had performed as Gerard in  American Idiot . He is an actor, sound designer, and writer for The Mothers Sketch Comedy troupe. He ran projection and did video design for  Hand to God  at Trustus Theatre, directed, did sound design, projection design, and graphic design for  some girl(s)  at Workshop Theatre, assisted with costume design for  Sex on Sunday  at Trustus Theatre. Bakari was also selected to direct  One Another  (Jon Tuttle) for Syzygy: Eclipse Plays.  His podcast,  Soda City Sessions , boasts more than 70 interviews online, and his band, Sandcastles, released the album,  Die Alone , in 2016.

Bakari Lebby

In August 2016 Bakari was inducted as a Trustus Theatre Company Member where, the month before he had performed as Gerard in American Idiot. He is an actor, sound designer, and writer for The Mothers Sketch Comedy troupe. He ran projection and did video design for Hand to God at Trustus Theatre, directed, did sound design, projection design, and graphic design for some girl(s) at Workshop Theatre, assisted with costume design for Sex on Sunday at Trustus Theatre. Bakari was also selected to direct One Another (Jon Tuttle) for Syzygy: Eclipse Plays.  His podcast, Soda City Sessions, boasts more than 70 interviews online, and his band, Sandcastles, released the album, Die Alone, in 2016.

*****

2017 JAY Finalists in Music

Those Lavender Whales * Fat Rat * Tyler Matthews

Those Lavender Whales   The group was mainly focused on releasing and supporting their second full length "My Bones Are Singing" (which came out in April) which garnered some national and international press, a  Free Times  cover story, and a good amount of touring up the east coast and around the southeast. Before the release of their album, they played an Arts & Draughts last fall, a special stripped down set with upright bass and electric guitar at the Nickelodeon for a Magic Hour in January with Valley Maker, and a songwriter event at Deckle Edge literary festival earlier this year.   

Those Lavender Whales

The group was mainly focused on releasing and supporting their second full length "My Bones Are Singing" (which came out in April) which garnered some national and international press, a Free Times cover story, and a good amount of touring up the east coast and around the southeast. Before the release of their album, they played an Arts & Draughts last fall, a special stripped down set with upright bass and electric guitar at the Nickelodeon for a Magic Hour in January with Valley Maker, and a songwriter event at Deckle Edge literary festival earlier this year.

 

Tyler Matthews   One of Tyler Matthews’ goals for the last 12 months was to gain music coverage beyond state lines. Producing his first full-length album in the form of the soundtrack for Exit 8 achieved just that — generating positive reviews, commentary, and interest from music blogs across the country. Along with scoring Exit 8, he served as the video editor for the film which gave him the opportunity to create a film trailer. This led to scoring and producing an additional composition which subsequently went on to receive a Gold Addy Award for Original Music at the Addy Awards. Tyler was one of 2 freelancers to win a gold award out of 250 professional entries. He was recognized by the American Advertising Federation of the Midlands as the member of the year for the video he volunteered to make promoting the Addy’s.  He was a selected filmmaker for the 2nd Act ( Mr. Wonderful ) Film Festival in October 2016, which involved creating original music for the film as well as tapping into music industry contacts Skylar Spence and Niilas who gave me the green light to use their music for  Mr. Wonderful . He ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to submit  Mr. Wonderful  to the short film festival circuit, and supported other musical artists and organizations around the community through video and audio production. He played shows around Columbia for Jasper, Scenario Collective, and miscellaneous house parties. However, the vast majority of his music work was done in the studio setting on a Macbook Pro - Writing, Recording, Engineering, Mixing, Mastering, etc.  He was the producer of Insanity Podcast and was selected “Who to Stream” by  Cola Daily , after being named New & Noteworthy on iTunes earlier in the year. He produces the music and all multimedia for the podcast.   

Tyler Matthews

One of Tyler Matthews’ goals for the last 12 months was to gain music coverage beyond state lines. Producing his first full-length album in the form of the soundtrack for Exit 8 achieved just that — generating positive reviews, commentary, and interest from music blogs across the country. Along with scoring Exit 8, he served as the video editor for the film which gave him the opportunity to create a film trailer. This led to scoring and producing an additional composition which subsequently went on to receive a Gold Addy Award for Original Music at the Addy Awards. Tyler was one of 2 freelancers to win a gold award out of 250 professional entries. He was recognized by the American Advertising Federation of the Midlands as the member of the year for the video he volunteered to make promoting the Addy’s.  He was a selected filmmaker for the 2nd Act (Mr. Wonderful) Film Festival in October 2016, which involved creating original music for the film as well as tapping into music industry contacts Skylar Spence and Niilas who gave me the green light to use their music for Mr. Wonderful. He ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to submit Mr. Wonderful to the short film festival circuit, and supported other musical artists and organizations around the community through video and audio production. He played shows around Columbia for Jasper, Scenario Collective, and miscellaneous house parties. However, the vast majority of his music work was done in the studio setting on a Macbook Pro - Writing, Recording, Engineering, Mixing, Mastering, etc.  He was the producer of Insanity Podcast and was selected “Who to Stream” by Cola Daily, after being named New & Noteworthy on iTunes earlier in the year. He produces the music and all multimedia for the podcast.

 

FatRat Da Czar   As South Carolina’s godfather of hip hop, Fat was the Invited speaker/panelist at 2017 Charleston Music Confab and a performer at Charleston Music Confab (Charleston Music Hall). He was named the  Free Times  Best Hip Hop Artist and the 2017 Free Times Writers Pick for Best Annual Event or Festival for Love, Peace & Hip-Hop Festival, which he previously founded. He established a hip-hop headquarters at Tapp’s Arts Center on Main Street, and was an invited participant in EdVenture’s 100 Men Who Cook for Kids fundraiser. He executive Produced hip-hop artist Cole Connor’s album: SODA (Sometimes Our Dreams Align) and was an invited speaker at Richland Library’s Music Entrepreneur Seminar: Find Your Voice. Fat released the album,  RailRoad , co-authored the book  Da Cold Warrior , released the Cold Warrior double CD, performed at Freeway Music Festival (at the Music Farm Columbia) and performed at the Indie Grits opening party.                                                      *****                              2017 JAY Finalists in Literary Arts                        Al Black * Nicola Waldron * Don McCallister

FatRat Da Czar

As South Carolina’s godfather of hip hop, Fat was the Invited speaker/panelist at 2017 Charleston Music Confab and a performer at Charleston Music Confab (Charleston Music Hall). He was named the Free Times Best Hip Hop Artist and the 2017 Free Times Writers Pick for Best Annual Event or Festival for Love, Peace & Hip-Hop Festival, which he previously founded. He established a hip-hop headquarters at Tapp’s Arts Center on Main Street, and was an invited participant in EdVenture’s 100 Men Who Cook for Kids fundraiser. He executive Produced hip-hop artist Cole Connor’s album: SODA (Sometimes Our Dreams Align) and was an invited speaker at Richland Library’s Music Entrepreneur Seminar: Find Your Voice. Fat released the album, RailRoad, co-authored the book Da Cold Warrior, released the Cold Warrior double CD, performed at Freeway Music Festival (at the Music Farm Columbia) and performed at the Indie Grits opening party.

 

                                                 *****

                           2017 JAY Finalists in Literary Arts

                    Al Black * Nicola Waldron * Don McCallister

Al Black   Al Black is a northern born Southern poet who is trying to make up for 50 years of hiding his poetic life beneath a layered costume of respectability. He publishes in journals, online blogs and anthologies, most recently in  Fall Lines  2017. He organizes and hosts a weekly poetry venue called Mind Gravy and three monthly poetry venues called Magnify Magnolias, Poems: Bones of the Spirit, and Blue Note Poetry as well as two monthly poetry workshops, in addition to organizing and hosting a monthly lyric singer/songwriter event called Songversation. Al co-founded the Poets Respond to Race Initiative with the poet, Len Lawson in May 2015 on which Len and Al continue to tour organizing and hosting readings and events connected with the initiative and, in February 2017, they co-edited,  Hand in Hand: Poets Respond to Race  published by Muddy Ford Press.   

Al Black

Al Black is a northern born Southern poet who is trying to make up for 50 years of hiding his poetic life beneath a layered costume of respectability. He publishes in journals, online blogs and anthologies, most recently in Fall Lines 2017. He organizes and hosts a weekly poetry venue called Mind Gravy and three monthly poetry venues called Magnify Magnolias, Poems: Bones of the Spirit, and Blue Note Poetry as well as two monthly poetry workshops, in addition to organizing and hosting a monthly lyric singer/songwriter event called Songversation. Al co-founded the Poets Respond to Race Initiative with the poet, Len Lawson in May 2015 on which Len and Al continue to tour organizing and hosting readings and events connected with the initiative and, in February 2017, they co-edited, Hand in Hand: Poets Respond to Race published by Muddy Ford Press.

 

Nicola Waldron   Nicola Waldron has enjoyed a number of essays being accepted for publication or published in nationally-recognized magazines and websites this year, including "Ictus, or 1984 Redux" which was shortlisted for the Proximity personal essay prize in July 2017; “If Plan 'A' Don’t Work Out”: in  About Place ; and “Containing the Chaos: Spiral Form in Memoir” in  Assay . “Spill” which was published in  Marked by the Water  in October, 2016 was performed as a staged oration at Tapp’s Art Center as part of the Marked by the Water commemoration of the first anniversary of the 1000 year flood. An excerpt from her book,  River Running Backwards,  was published in  Fall Lines , summer 2017, and she was selected as a playwright for the Syzygy: Eclipse Plays project in spring 2017 for which she wrote the play  Visitation . Her poems “Dream” and “Birthday in October” were published in in  California Quarterly,  July 2017; “Walking the Sawmill” in  California Quarterly,  in fall 2016, and “Crawlspace” and “After a Flood” were published in  Marked By The Water , 2016. (“Crawlspace” was also published in  Jasper , October 2016.) Nicola also participated in Bones of the Spirit, Mind Gravy, and Magnify Magnolias.

Nicola Waldron

Nicola Waldron has enjoyed a number of essays being accepted for publication or published in nationally-recognized magazines and websites this year, including "Ictus, or 1984 Redux" which was shortlisted for the Proximity personal essay prize in July 2017; “If Plan 'A' Don’t Work Out”: in About Place; and “Containing the Chaos: Spiral Form in Memoir” in Assay. “Spill” which was published in Marked by the Water in October, 2016 was performed as a staged oration at Tapp’s Art Center as part of the Marked by the Water commemoration of the first anniversary of the 1000 year flood. An excerpt from her book, River Running Backwards, was published in Fall Lines, summer 2017, and she was selected as a playwright for the Syzygy: Eclipse Plays project in spring 2017 for which she wrote the play Visitation. Her poems “Dream” and “Birthday in October” were published in in California Quarterly, July 2017; “Walking the Sawmill” in California Quarterly, in fall 2016, and “Crawlspace” and “After a Flood” were published in Marked By The Water, 2016. (“Crawlspace” was also published in Jasper, October 2016.) Nicola also participated in Bones of the Spirit, Mind Gravy, and Magnify Magnolias.

Don McCallister   Over the past year, Don began his own indie publishing company, calling it Mind Harvest Press, to publish his own backlog of material including  Let the Glory Pass Away  which launched in February 2017. His short story, “Eye of the Vandal” received an Honorable Mention from the  Short Story America  Fiction Contest and his short story, “Ruby in the Dust,” was published in  Fall Lines 2017.  In addition, his papers from the publication of  Fellow Traveler  were selected for the Grateful Dead Archives at the University of California, Santa Cruz.   Don teaches creative writing at Midlands Technical College. 

Don McCallister

Over the past year, Don began his own indie publishing company, calling it Mind Harvest Press, to publish his own backlog of material including Let the Glory Pass Away which launched in February 2017. His short story, “Eye of the Vandal” received an Honorable Mention from the Short Story America Fiction Contest and his short story, “Ruby in the Dust,” was published in Fall Lines 2017. In addition, his papers from the publication of Fellow Traveler were selected for the Grateful Dead Archives at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Don teaches creative writing at Midlands Technical College. 

*****

Vote

Jasper Artists of the Year

2017

http://jasperproject.org/jays

 

Then join us on Tuesday, December 5th at 7 pm in the 701 Whaley Market Space for the

2017 JAY Awards & Retro Snow Ball

and

Caroling with Those Lavender Whales

Retro Family Photos

Pop UP Art Show & Silent Auction by Thomas Washington

Silent Auction of Original Christmas Ornaments Created and Donated by Columbia-based Fine Artists in Support of Jasper Magazine

Cash Bar by The Whig

and more ....

 

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Bakari Lebby Directs Jon Tuttle & Cindy Turner's SYZYGY Play, One Another

Bakari (Kari) Lebby - photo by Singing Fox Creatives

Bakari (Kari) Lebby - photo by Singing Fox Creatives

by Jenna Schiferl

 

In astronomy, syzygy is the alignment of three celestial objects.  The origins of the word date back to as early as Ancient Greece, where the word suzugos meant ‘yoked’ and ‘paired.’

 

As part of the upcoming total solar eclipse celebrations in Columbia, The Jasper Project is launching a three-part series featuring South Carolina’s top poets, playwrights, directors, and actors.  SYZYGY will kick off on Thursday, Aug. 17 with a poetry invitational and book release at the newly renovated Richland County Public Library Auditorium.  Later that day will begin the SYZYGY: THE PLAYS. Six local playwrights were asked to create a 10-minute piece with three actors or less.  The only other requirement was that each performance includes two and a half minutes of “darkness” to continue in the theme of the solar eclipse.  Finally, the project will conclude with SYZYGY: POSTMORTEM, a panel discussion and reflection led by playwright Jon Tuttle and Columbia Poet Laureate Ed Madden.  The discussion will delve into topics such as the processes of culture transitioning to art and its effectiveness.

 

University of South Carolina graduate Bakari Lebby will direct Jon Tuttle and Cindy Turner’s drama, One Another.

 

Jasper executive and editor-in-chief Cindi Boiter approached Lebby to direct the play, who was immediately on board.

 

According to Lebby, One Another is incredibly relevant to the current political climate.

 

One Another is about trust and privilege. I believe it is a very timely piece,” Lebby says.  “I'm excited for people to view this piece and contemplate its relevance to this country and them personally.”

 

Although the play is limited to 10 minutes, Lebby and his team are working to create a fully developed and cohesive storyline.

 

“We're working hard to flesh out a full true story,” Lebby says.

 

The three actors featured in the play are Akida Lebby, Jason Stokes, and Avery Bateman.  Lebby emphasized the impressive cast when asked why individuals should be interested in seeing the play.

 

“We have veteran Trustus Company members and my little brother, so I think it's worth seeing their artistic prowess,” he says.  “I'm very stoked and thankful for this opportunity, and I hope we keep pushing the boundaries of theatre, art, and the culture of Columbia.”

 

Ultimately, the night will be one with themes of alignment, synchronization, and of course – darkness.

 

SYZYGY: The Solar Eclipse Plays will be performed at 7 pm and 10 pm on Thursday, August 17th with a reception honoring the artists at 9 pm. Tickets are $10 and are available at https://www.tappsartscenter.com/

Playwright Jon Tuttle   

Playwright Jon Tuttle

 

REVIEW: The Brothers Size at Trustus Theatre – by Jennifer Hill

brotherssizewebFinal There’s something beautiful happening over in the Trustus Side Door Theater right now, and I’m afraid you’re going to miss it. Director Chad Henderson skillfully brings us The Brothers Size, part two in the Brother/Sister plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Part One, In The Red and Brown Water, was performed on the mainstage at Trustus last season and also directed by Henderson. Each play in the trilogy is linked, but can also easily stand on its own. This particular production is a gem, the kind of show that leaves you feeling like you’re a little bit better off for having seen it; your eyes now wider and your heart a little more open. It’s theater at its best and it’s happening in your city.

From the moment I walked into the intimate Side Door Theater, I felt like I was transported to the Louisiana Bayou. The sound of cicadas fill the air, and butterflies in illuminated jars (tap on one and you’ll get a surprise) rest on simple but effective stage pieces designed by Kimi Maeda (a JAY visual artist nominee for 2015). The lighting design by Chet Longley and the sound design by Baxter Engle effectively complete the scene.

The seating is in the round and in this case that means you are part of the stage. There is something magical about being so close to the performers. The energy exchange between the actors and the audience takes things to another level, especially with actors as talented as these. The characters in the play are named after and based off of deities in the Yoruba religion, which originated primarily in southwestern Nigeria. Ogun Size (Jabar K. Hankins) is a hardworking mechanic who shows tough love to his troubled younger brother Oshooi Size (Christopher “Leven” Jackson) who has recently been released from prison.  Oshooi’s friend and ex-cellmate Elegba (Bakari Lebby) is the unknown quantity that sets the play in motion. All three actors are skilled, passionate, and do excellent work here. The raw emotion in Hankins' eyes broke my heart in such a beautiful way, another benefit of being in such an intimate space. The actors tell a highly relevant story to our contemporary moment, examining confinement, freedom, loss of innocence and family.  As I stood to leave I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Henderson has created a very physical, very alive piece of work. He has a unique perspective and a talent for creating moments where music and movement come together harmoniously. He and his cast create a story rich in rhythm and beauty.

I urge you to go see this show, not only because it is good but because if we support it then we can have more things like it. And I, for one, want more things like it. Get your tickets now; the show runs through October 31st.

Five Questions for Chad Henderson - Director of The Brothers Size Opening Friday Night at Trustus

 brothers size

From "The Brothers Size"

The Brother/Sister Plays

OSHOOSI SIZE:

            I know I am still on probation!

            I know Og.

            Damn!

            I know I was once in prison.

            I am out and I am on probation.

            Damnit man.

            I ain’t trying to drive to Fort Knox?

            I ain’t about to scale the capital…

            I want a ride.

            I want to drive out to the bayou…

            Maybe take a lady down there…

            And relax

There's a new play opening at Trustus Theatre on Friday that caught Jasper's attention for a handful of reasons. We know that it's part of the Brother/Sister trilogy written by Tarell Alvin McCraney and set in the Louisiana Bayou  exploring Yoruba mythology -- an African belief system, which some claim to be the oldest practiced religion. We saw In the Red and Brown Water last year and were pretty much overwhelmed by this playwright's ability to merge the worlds of the oldest of old Africa, probably what eventually became Nigeria, with something like a new world Louisiana. McCraney's career has been blowing up over the past 7 or 8 years and he is set to be one of the top playwrights around given that he's only 35 years old and everything he touches seems to turn to gold. We'd heard that The Brothers Size was another example of this phenomenon.

We also learned that this unique and promising play is being presented in Trustus Theatre's intimate Side Door Theatre, one of our favorite places to enjoy live theatre in the state. There is an intimacy that comes from being one member of a small audience in a relatively small theatre space with actors who are at full throttle sharing their art, whether the art is theatre, music, dance, whatever. Audiences always (hopefully) become another player in a live performance as they feed back and respond to the energy being offered on stage. (This is why people old and young continue to go to Phish concerts, I finally understand. Yes, there are drugs and herbal pleasures, but the energy itself acts as a drug, as well.) And being in such close communion with both the actors and the other audience members can be a rush and sometimes even a cathartic experience. To say the energy is palpable when you're locked (not really) in the room with a few dozen friends and three intense actors, as you will be in The Brothers Size, is an understatement. Opportunities like this are precious and yet another example of the quiet and unassuming way in which Columbia is an arts nerve center.

Finally, were also were excited to see what new magic Trustus Artistic Director and interim Managing Director Chad Henderson had up his sleeve. We really like Henderson for obvious reasons. (Full disclosure: Henderson is the son-in-law of this writer.) But long before the first flirtation, Henderson, as an artist, had the eye and growing respect of this writer, the Jasper Magazine staff, and pretty much anyone with a discerning eye in the area. In the past few years he has brought us such stellar theatre opportunities as Spring Awakening, Assassins, Next to Normal, Ragtime, and other shows of the kind of quality that make your Columbia, SC ticket price and not having to leave town a bargain. Henderson studied under Robert Richmond at USC, another Columbia treasure. (Richmond spent fourteen years as the Associate Artistic Director of the Aquila Theatre Company in New York and during his tenure there he directed over 50 productions that toured across the US, Off Broadway and Europe.) Richmond's influence on Henderon can be seen in a number of ways, but probably no greater way than in Henderson's confidence in his own ability to take his productions in innovative directions. Henderson looks only for exceptional scripts to which he knows he can add his own signature touches and, in doing so, improve upon an already excellent play. Given that, like McCraney, Henderson is also young, it's safe to say we haven't seen the best of him yet.

That's why we wanted to pin Henderson down on a few questions we had about this extraordinary theatre experience opening on Friday night at Trustus and running through Thursday, October 29th. Here's what we got.

Jasper:  This play is a little different from other performances at Trustus in that it is part of a series, right? Can you tell us how The Brothers Size fits in as the second in a three part series of plays?

Henderson:  The Brothers Size is the second part of a trilogy called The Brother/Sister Plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Trustus produced the first part (In the Red and Brown Water) last season, and because it was such a wonderful success we knew we wanted to commit to the whole trilogy. These shows introduce the audience to a pantheon of characters derived from the Orishas of the Yoruban cosmology that are living in the “distant present” and the fictional projects of San Pere, Louisana. The plays are a brilliant mix of poetry, prose, music and movement that explore the universal truths of modern life filtered through a very specific world that the playwright has gifted to the audience and artists who tell his stories. Truly, Mr. McCraney is a voice all his own in modern theatre – and that’s what Trustus is constantly celebrating: the new powerful voices of American Theatre. These scripts are singular due to Mr. McCraney’s writing style that has won many awards over the years. These plays are here and now. Columbia deserves to have this type of fresh and modern theatre at its doorstep, and Trustus is happy to oblige.

The Brothers Size examines the power of family, the fight for survival, the consequence of circumstance, the contradiction of incarceration and freedom, and the deep roots of brotherhood. This production explores human truths through an imaginative production that will leave audiences spellbound – perfect theatrical fare for the Fall.

There are a host of elements that make this production a continuation of this trilogy. The language play is still very present because of Mr. McCraney's style of writing with these plays. The playwright also continues to celebrate the ritual of theatre with his ceremonial proceedings that give The Brother/Sister Plays so much vigor.We get to tune back in with Ogun Size and Elegba, who were characters in the last production. We're introduced to Ogun's brother Oshoosi. Scenic designer Kimi Maeda is bringing the set of the last production into the intimate Trustus Side Door Theatre - audiences will feel like they're exploring the last set they saw as they sit among the houses of San Pere in this production.

But don't worry - if you didn't see In the Red and Brown Water, you can still enjoy The Brothers Size - the story stands on its own legs just fine.

Jasper:  You also have a smaller cast than typical and you’re performing in the smaller Side Door Theatre. It sounds like a very intimate experience. Is it, and how so?

Henderson:  While the scale of the show is much smaller than the last play, I actually feel like this production feels like a bigger show than the Side Door than our patrons are used to. We're utilizing more sound and lighting equipment than we ever have in the Side Door. There's a broader use of the space with plenty of exciting motion.We're also performing this show in the round. This is nothing new as far as theatre conventions go, but in this circle we're able to become part of the community of San Pere. Much like the traditions of West African dance and drum circles, this circle is a safe place for experience and exploration.

Jasper:  Tell us what special gifts or talents each of the three gentlemen in the play bring to this project.

Henderson:  Jabar Hankins is undeniably genuine - relatable. Bakari Lebby will charm the pants off of folks even though his character is full of mischief. Chris Jackson is effortless in his struggle. Together, they are a powerhouse ensemble that courageously battle each other every night to gain unity.

Jasper:  Do you have a favorite scene or line that we can look for?

Henderson:  I'm particularly fond of the 4th scene of Act II where the phrase "You f**ked up!" Is yelled repeatedly. However, each scene is well sculpted by our playwright -Tarell Alvin McCraney. There are surprises around every corner.

Jasper:  Without giving anything away, tell us what you think will be the most surprising aspect of The Brothers Size for the audience.

Henderson:  I expect the experience of seeing a show in the round in the Side Door will be surprising. This show also gives you plenty of opportunities to engage your imagination. We hope that audiences get a chance to play and use their own creativity as they discover the story of Oshoosi and Ogun. Its truly a rich theatrical experience, and audiences get to live inside of it.

Director Bakari Lebby and Workshop Theatre Tackle Race, Class, Gender & Privileged with Stick Fly

stickFly by: Haley Sprankle

“I originally pitched this show as The Cosby Show with a sex scandal.”

Bakari Lebby definitely adds his own quirky spin on Lydia R. Diamond’s Stick Fly, the fourth show he has directed this season at Workshop Theatre. No rookie to the stage, Lebby has been involved a myriad of productions for the theatre, but this is his debut as a main season director.

“It has been cool. It feels like home,” the young director says. “I brought over a show that I directed at Carolina for a two-night run about two years ago and that was my first time working behind the scenes there. I did two [productions] last year with two directors that I really respect, Chad Henderson and David Britt, so that was cool, but yeah, Workshop is home.”

While his theatrical home has changed a bit, Lebby adapts to working and staging in 701 Whaley’s Market Space where each of the previous shows this season were produced.

“Theatre can be done anywhere. The only thing is the time constraints,” Lebby elaborates. “We've already pretty much built everything, and it all has to go up in about a day which is totally cool because we have a great set designer, Billy Love. It's a cool space. It's pretty intimate, so I'm excited for close contact with the stage.”

The play itself revolves around the LeVays, a wealthy African-American family who come together for a weekend vacation. The conversations focus on the issues the family faces with race, gender, and privilege.

“They're like any other family,” Lebby explains. “Loving, protective. There are secrets. But they  are also extremely wealthy. Martha's Vineyard homeowners wealthy. Homes in Aspen and New York and Atlanta wealthy. On the surface, they could seem like the Huxtables [The Cosby Show] grown up.”

Lebby brings the audience into this world through his eccentric style in performance and design.

“Well, the play is set in Martha's Vineyard, so it will all be on the first floor of a beach house,” he says. “It will be like watching a Wes Anderson-type set (mostly thinking of in The Life Aquatic) where each room is very specifically different, but the actors very easily flit from one room to another while all still feeling like one all-encompassing space.”

“I wanted the set to be a bit sitcom-y. I've accelerated the dialogue a bit to match my style more. Actors are occasionally interrupting each other mid-conversation. That's also more my style. We've also taken the script and used it to make any character the protagonist or antagonist depending on the viewer's opinion or emotions.”

These opinions and emotions address very real controversy in what may be perceived as a surrealistic life.

“The play not only addresses race, but also class and gender roles. There are relationships where race is an issue more than class, race is an issue including class, class is an issue more than race, and so forth. Even within race, there are colorism issues which are still prevalent in current society,” Lebby points out. “It also brings up the whole point that racism is still alive, but no one wants to talk about it past pleasantries. Kimber [a character in Stick Fly] has a line that rings true, ‘They don't even want people to say that it still exists.’ It does, and I think this play brings up the point that the only way to make it better is to talk about it.”

Stick Fly opens March 27 and runs through April 4 and 701 Whaley’s Market Space. Call the box office at 803-799-6551, or order online at workshop.palmettoticketing.com for tickets.

“I wanted to take a play that could have been only entertainment and turn it into a piece that makes people think and consider their relationships with family, friends, lovers, and strangers,” Lebby eloquently adds. “Oh, and I want you to be able to laugh also. Gotta have some laughs. And there are definitely some laughs.”

Giulia's back, and Patrick's got her! Bakari Lebby brings "The Shape of Things" to Workshop!

It's no secret that I am a huge fan of, and cheerleader/advocate for the wealth of young talent that currently abounds in Columbia.  This weekend, audiences get chance to see some of the best and brightest, in Neil LaBute's  The Shape of Things, running for two nights only, Friday 6/28 and Saturday 6/29 at Workshop Theatre.

Recent USC grad and local musician Bakari Lebby first directed this play a couple of months ago in USC's intimate Benson Theatre.   He wrote one of the best guest blogs we've ever run, which you can see here, and my review (not technically a real review, as I saw a run-through rehearsal some days before the show opened) is here.  One excerpt:

For me, you could have successive nights of Hugh Jackman doing Les Mis live with a million-dollar stage set…. and I’d still rather see four dedicated kids on a bare stage doing something meaningful to them.  This show is sometimes described as a dark comedy, a serio-comedy, or a “dramedy.”  I’d describe it as a dark fable about contemporary relationships and society, set in the context of college dating, with some great moments of humor (in the vein of perhaps Sex and the City or Friends) as well as some chilling implications about the choices that people make for love.

cap

It was a great theatrical experience, and Lebby hit a home-run with his directorial debut, aided in large part by Patrick Dodds (who played Moritz in Spring Awakening at Trustus, then sang "Those Magic Changes" as Doody in Grease at Town) as the protagonist's jerk best friend, and Katie Foshee as the female lead Evelyn, a role played on Broadway by Rachel Weisz.  I first saw Foshee and Lebby in the ensemble of jocks and brainiacs in High School Musical at Workshop in 2008, in which a radiant Giulia Marie Dalbec played Sharpay.

Now Lebby is bringing his production to Workshop for a special limited run, with Dodds and Dalbec taking over the leads.  As he describes it, "Jeni (McCaughan) at Workshop asked me if we could bring the show back for two nights, and I said yeah!   We offered the last cast their roles back, but the timing didn't work out for anyone other than Patrick.  Patrick and I talked about the option of having him play (protagonist) Adam.  We were both intrigued by it, because it would be a good chance for him to play a role in unfamiliar territory, in a show that he already has a handle on. That's just a really cool opportunity I think. He's doing a great job at it, and he is a different Adam than the last one, which is cool."

"Giulia is also a different Evelyn. It makes this production a bit different, which is really cool to check out.  Giulia is (like) my big sister and we haven't worked on a show together since High School Musical when I was 17, so I'm really stoked to get to work with her talent, and we already have a type of comfort and knowledge of each other, so we play well together. If that makes sense. It's always fun for me to see her in straight plays since we don't get a lot of that out of her."

Dalbec was almost every play produced in the Midlands over the last 5 or 6 years, playing everyone from Gypsy to Elle in Legally Blonde to Honey in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and was profiled in the March 2013 Jasper as one of Columbia's "Leading Ladies."  Dodds was featured as one of "Columbia's Theatrical Brat Pack" in  the November 2012 issue.  Both have been absent from major Columbia stages for far too long (actually, just a matter of months, but that's too long for me!) and without giving away the show's plot, there are perfect, ideal parts for each to play.  LaBute is an eloquent poet of the stage,  whose dialogue is so natural and realistic that his way with words is sometimes overlooked, just as his themes, which center around familiar, commonplace scenarios of modern relationships, are sometimes dismissed as not being important.  I suggest that the way people treat each other in their one-on-one relationships might just be the most important theme for humanity.

Joining this new cast are Kayla Cahill and Jeremiah Redmond.  Lebby says "Kayla Cahill is originally from New Jersey, and has a BA in Theatre from USC. She graduated in 2012. We were good friends in school. She was in Romeo & Juliet directed by Robert Richmond as the Nurse, and (played) Queen Elizabeth in The History of Queen Elizabeth I.   Jeremiah Redmond is from Lexington, SC and has most recently been seen in High Voltage's Reservoir Dogs and in Trustus's production of Kitty Kitty Kitty directed by Daniel Bumgardner."

The Facebook "event" page for the production is here.  An interview with Lebby can be found online at the Free Times.  For more information, visit http://www.workshoptheatre.com/ or call 803-799-4876.

~ August Krickel

"The Shape of Things" at USC's Benson Theatre - a must-see this weekend!

This is not a theatre review.  Not exactly anyway.  This is more of a stream of consciousness reflection on a show that opens tonight (Friday April 11) - The Shape of Things by Neil LaBute, featuring some very talented young actors, most undergrads at USC.  I was fortunate enough to see a rehearsal earlier this week. The show only runs for two performances, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 PM, at the Benson Theatre on the USC campus.  Benson was once the old elementary school for the Wheeler Hill neighborhood, right around the corner from Bates, just off Pickens Street at the top of the hill.  (Or "near where the old Purple Onion used to be," in Columbia-speak.) The Facebook "event" page is here.

shape of things 5LaBute is known for small-cast, ultra-realistic plays that tackle issues of relationships and ethics in contemporary society. Two similar works, Fat Pig and reasons to be pretty, were produced at Trustus in 2009 and 2010 respectively.  All three feature a likeable, ordinary schlub as protagonist, here a mild-mannered English major (Adam, played by Dillon Ingram) on the 6-year plan, juggling jobs as museum gallery guard and video store clerk.  All feature a cocky, misogynistic best friend who's a bit of a tool, but whose natural, believable dialogue with the lead reveals the way "normal guys" interact and look at life these days. (If I were LaBute's real-life buddy, I'd be saying "Hey wait a sec - you tryin' to say something here?")  All feature one or more attractive women, at least one of whom is scorned or betrayed, and one who causes the lead to re-examine fundamental values and aspects of his life. All explore themes about how physical appearance relates to self-image, self-worth, and relationships.

(L-R) Dillon Ingram, Katie Foshee, Patrick Dodds, Catherine Davenport

Here the playwright raises some really important, really uncomfortable, and ultimately unanswerable questions:  what if your girlfriend inspires you to be a more confident and assertive person?  What if she encourages you to work out, eat better, and get in shape?  Sounds pretty sweet, especially if she is a fabulous artsy babe, a little older, worldlier, and more passionate about life. But at what stage does "you make me want to be a better man" become "you don't love the man I am?"  And what if the gender roles are reversed?  What if an ordinary young woman is ready to marry a boyfriend who is only 5 or 6 personality traits/flaws away from being perfect?  Is she tolerant, loving and accepting... or settling for a guy who doesn't deserve her?  What if she becomes attracted to a more compatible male friend...but only after he loses weight and becomes more confident?  Does that make her suddenly insightful?  Or awfully superficial?

As the "manic pixie dream girl" (described by director Bakari Lebby in his guest blog a few days ago) determined to remake her man in her chosen image, Katie Foshee starts the show as a defiant, Nirvana T-shirt-clad rebel, preparing to deface a statue as an artistic statement against censorship. We expect the plot to center around the nature of "What Is Art?" subjective vs. objective, but soon we're into the deeper, darker territory of intimacy and betrayal.  Or are we?  Elegant, icy, calmly assertive in 5-inch heels and a mini-skirt as she presents her MFA project towards the end, Foshee gives a very subtle, under-stated performance.    Is Evelyn - yes, the main couple are Adam and Eve(lyn), if there's any question as to the universality LaBute is channeling - a free spirit, an extremely experimental artist, a manipulative and bitchy girlfriend, or a sociopath?  Possibly all of the above, but nothing is as it seems, and a plot twist that was foreshadowed extensively and repeatedly caught me totally by surprise, thanks to Foshee’s commitment to and underplayed portrayal of her character.  Dillon Ingram starts out resembling a cross between Patrick Wilson in Watchmen and Johnny Galecki in Big Bang Theory, which is appropriate, given the Leonard-Penny vibe that Adam and Evelyn have. Indeed, the wacky beauty and the uptight establishment type turn up everywhere in pop culture, from Hepburn and Grant in Bringing Up Baby, to Dharma and Greg.  Yet as above, things are not as they seem, and plentiful references to literary predecessors like Pygmalion and Frankenstein that explore the relationship of the creator to his creation  only hint at some of the complex turns the plot takes. In retrospect, even random references to films like Blade Runner, a movie in which some creations seek out their creator looking for answers, while others are oblivious to their real nature, seem unlikely to have been coincidental.

Katie Foshee as Evelyn, the "manic pixie dream girl"

Patrick Dodds, the only non-USC student involved, first blew me away a year and a half ago in Spring Awakening, with his heart-breaking portrayal of Moritz, a boy unraveling before our eyes.  Just a few months later he was rocking out as a smooth T-Bird singing "Magic Changes" in Grease, and a few months beyond that he was singing Andrew Lloyd Weber songs in Dreamcoat.  Here Dodds successfully creates yet another entirely different persona, ostensibly a stereotypical chauvinist college dude, yet still a real human being with genuine feelings. I once wrote that as Moritz, he reminded me of the angsty young Pete Townshend; here, with a cocky attitude and his long jaw, sharp nose and dark wavy hair, Dodds bears more than a little resemblance to the young Bruce Campbell. If they ever film Campbell's best-selling autobiography, Dodds needs to play the lead. Catherine Davenport likewise takes a stock role (the wholesome college girl ready for marriage) and creates a sympathetic and three-dimensional character.

rehearsing "The Shape of Things"

The great work by the young cast and first-time director Bakari Lebby points to the importance of arts education in our schools, as well as charting a sort of Six Degrees of Local Theatre Separation.  Dodds, Davenport and Ingram were all theatre students of Jeannette Arvay Beck at Dreher, while Foshee studied with Monica Wyche at Blythewood, and Lebby studied with E. G. Heard at Heathwood. Heard played a LaBute heroine herself a couple years ago at Trustus (indeed, a sociopathic one, according to one review) and directed Lebby, Davenport and Foshee in last summer's Camp Rock at Workshop; her assistant director for that show, Samantha Elkins, alternated with Heard as Maggie the Cat last year, and played Davenport's mother in Brighton Beach Memoirs in January. Both Heard and Elkins stopped by the rehearsal I attended to offer some tips and notes for their young protégés.

shape of things 4

Director Lebby is of course limited by the intimate space and shoestring budget of an all-student production in Benson, but at this tech rehearsal he was experimenting with creative lighting and tone-complementing musical effects. The play is almost all dialogue, in generic apartments, galleries and campus locales, and LaBute's ultra-realistic script forces the characters into certain directions and choices no matter what. Still, we see Lebby's artistic vision so clearly and beautifully in the show's final moments, as a sole figure is left to reflect on what has just transpired, and Lebby allows the moment to play out naturally, with perfect music and lighting enhancing the mood.  Lebby just finished a successful run in The Color Purple, and one would have to be insane to simultaneously be rehearsing a lesser-known, quirky show in a bare, alternative space after success in a name-brand play... yet I did the same damn thing in my senior year in college, so I have to give him a huge shout-out.  Foshee and Dodds are both performers whose work I have admired for a while now, and it's so nice to see them get the chance to delve into meaty character roles.  Foshee and Ingram will be heading off to seek their fortunes on the west coast after graduation, so now may be your last chance to see them; Dodds, on the other hand, needs to enroll his ass in USC's drama program right now, and any parental/authority figures reading this may quote me, because he has mad potential.

I normally try to avoid talking too much about the type of shows I enjoy, or specific performers whose work I admire, but see above - this isn't a real review, so, like, dig it.  For me, you could have successive nights of Hugh Jackman doing Les Mis live with a million-dollar stage set.... and I'd still rather see four dedicated kids on a bare stage doing something meaningful to them.  This show is sometimes described as a dark comedy, a serio-comedy, or a "dramedy."  I'd describe it as a dark fable about contemporary relationships and society, set in the context of college dating, with some great moments of humor (in the vein of perhaps Sex and the City or Friends) as well as some chilling implications about the choices that people make for love.

As above, The Shape of Things only runs for two performances, tonight and tomorrow at 8 PM, at the Benson Theatre on the USC campus. The Facebook "event" page is here.

~ August Krickel

Making “the shape of things” happen: confessions of a twenty-two-year-old first-time director - a guest blog by Bakari Lebby

Hi!   I’m Bakari!   I hope you’re having a great day so far.   Me?    I’m pretty good, I suppose.   Jasper told me that I can be as informal as I would like to with this, so here goes. Here’s a synopsis that I wrote for my upcoming production of the shape of things, by Neil LaBute:

When Evelyn, a quirky art student, and Adam start dating, Adam’s friends notice that his appearance begins changing rapidly. Adam is transforming into a more attractive person and as time moves on, his attitude also begins to change. His friends take notice and respond in conflicting manners.

Pretty good, right? That took me about 30 minutes to write.

I’m going to try and explain the production process a bit, and just ramble in text;  I hope this makes sense, but I make no promises.

This show came together through Green Room Productions, a student-run organization at the University of South Carolina.  Back in November, I got it in my head that I wanted to direct this play in Benson Theatre, so I wrote a proposal and sent it to Green Room.  They got back to me in late January, I held auditions, pulled a cast together, blah blah blah, and now we have a show!  A lot of people ask me:  “Is this for you to graduate or something?” Which really sounds like “Why the hell did you go this out of your way for no payment or credit hours?”

shape of tuings

I have a couple reasons. I realize that we as undergraduates at the University of South Carolina don’t get as many opportunities for leading roles in demanding material.  Dillon Ingram (Adam), for instance, is a great actor whom I’ve seen on the mainstage at Carolina, but I felt that he would kill in a leading role.   Also, I really wanted to direct something that people aren’t getting at Carolina.   I felt that the shape of things was just the thing I was looking for.   I’ve always been a LaBute fan, and even though he had many other works to choose from, I knew this was the one, the one for me.   It’s funny, it’s unsettling, it’s vulgar, and most of all it’s real.  The dialogue is very real.  The plot is very real.  Even though there is a bit of hyperbole, this play talks about things that happen that we may choose to ignore when it becomes too personal.  Things like art and the concept of being cultured, being attractive and how far being attractive will get you, and infidelity. Especially infidelity.  No one ever wants to talk about it, and I don’t think that’s fair, because it happens.  I guess where I’m going with this is that I think people will see parts of themselves all over the show.  Hopefully audiences will question themselves later that evening or the next day.  So, that’s kind of a roundabout way of me explaining why I chose this play.

Still with me?

I have a super cool cast.  They are all amazing actors, but I don’t think that’s the only reason they’re so super cool.   It’s also because none of them are playing roles that they are used to playing.   For an actor, or one who is at all ambitious, that’s the dream. This is like anti-typecasting.   Patrick Dodds (Phillip) actually told me a few days ago that this is so cool to him, because he’s “never really played a dick onstage before”.  That’s a very basic illustration of the character, but I know what he meant, which is why I cast the kids that way.  It’s also intriguing for audiences to see actors trying new stuff. I acted in Camp Rock last summer at Workshop Theatre with Katie Foshee (Evelyn) and Catherine Davenport (Jenny).   The difference in roles between these two shows could not be more extreme.   I feel like I should have a poster that says “Come see Doody from Grease and Mitchie from Camp Rock say a bunch of bad words on stage!”   Or not.   That looks so much crazier written down than it did in my head.   Speaking of things that look less crazy in my head, directing anything of this length is new for me.   I’ve done things like music videos and small sketches, but never a full-length play.   I’m sure the cast can agree, sometimes things make more sense in my head than they do out loud.   But give me a break, I’m learning.

shape of things

 

shape of things 5

Directing is weird.  It’s cool, but it’s weird.  Mostly because it’s so interesting to see things come together and watch characters grow, but also because it’s so time consuming.  We’ve been doing a lot of stuff when not rehearsing, like discovering props and set pieces and painting and building and designing sound and finding set and lighting designers and SCHEDULING ANYTHING.   It’s so worth it though.   Also, the team I’m working with is awesome.   The stage manager, Lauren Pace, who was assistant stage manager for  Legally Blonde at Workshop this season, keeps me in line and sane. Samantha Elkins has been coming through in the clutch, helping me as an assistant director.   She rocks, because I love having a second eye, and especially a trained second eye.   I also like having an untrained second eye, which is why I brought in my boy Chris Pickering. He’s a theatre virgin, and my assistant stage manager.   I asked him if he wanted to be Prop Master General, and he responded “I have no idea how to do any of this, but yeah!”   He really put the team on his back.   He also helps a ton, because he can be a “normal person” when I need that viewpoint.   If that makes any sense.   So, I feel that the team is pretty clutch.   And I’m extremely grateful that they’re all on top of it.   Especially considering that I do a million things at once.   I’m currently a full-time theatre major at the University of South Carolina), a part-time employee at Sid & Nancy, a local musician, and an actor.   I actually just finished performing in Workshop Theatre’s production of The Color Purple on Saturday. Directing a show while being in a show makes for very little sleep and a lot of forgetting to eat dinner. Supposedly that’s unhealthy or something.

shape of things 3

This production is totally worth seeing, because you’ll see a boy-meets-girl story that isn’t at all what you’ll think it will be.   You will see the pains of being an artist in a small town, or the confusion of art and wondering where it crosses the line.   You’ll hear a soundtrack that only uses local and regional music.   It tackles the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, or MPDG, trope, because I think it’s nice to see a side of American storytelling where the depressed boy realizes that MPDG's aren’t real,  AND where the female lead who seems to be the MPDG is more than just a cutesy shell of a human.   She’s an actual person with plans and thoughts. If you have no idea what a MPDG is, I believe this article should help, but think Natalie Portman in Garden State, Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown, or Zooey Deschanel in anything she is ever in ever. Actually, for all of the characters. This production takes notice that even though the world around us may be black and white, no human being is two dimensional. People are still people.

So, please come see it, Soda City. I think you’ll like it.

~ Bakari Lebby

the shape of things, a stageplay by Neil LaBute, will be performed at Benson Theatre (301 Pickens Street) on April 12 and 13 at 8 PM. Tickets will be $5 at the door.