REVIEW: Columbia City Ballet's Cleopatra featuring Ballerina Regina Willoughby's Retirement Performance

by Susan Lenz

Regina Willoughby taking her final bow for her performance in Cleopatra on March 24, 2018 (photo courtesy of Julia Gulia)

Regina Willoughby taking her final bow for her performance in Cleopatra on March 24, 2018 (photo courtesy of Julia Gulia)

Last night, Ballerina Regina Willoughby couldn’t hold all the flowers presented at the conclusion of her farewell performance of Columbia City Ballet’s Cleopatra. She carefully laid those in her arms atop the mound of roses company dancers had placed at her feet. She gracefully stepped around the pile for one last bow. Artistic Director William Starrett addressed the standing ovation with words of praise for her long career and sparkling personality, and Mayor Stephen Benjamin presented the Key to the City. Many in the audience wiped away tears as the curtain was lowered. 

 

I hadn’t seen such an emotionally charged scene since Prima Ballerina Mariclare Miranda’s 2006 retirement performance of Giselle. Here in Columbia, the audience seems to know how to respond to the last show in a principal dancer’s life and to the talent they just witnessed. Regina Willoughby was certainly the star in the production. The title role was set on her in 2008 and reprised in 2010. I remember these evenings rather well.

 

Regina Willoughby was brilliant as Cleopatra in all three seasons, dancing as if she’d already found the Egyptian secrets of an ageless afterlife. Her blunt cropped coiffure by Brittany Mocase Luskin of Studio B at the Old Mill was again perfect. It is little wonder that Regina selected this production for her final appearance. Unfortunately, her Act I partner was not as convincing as past years when Robert Michalski (2008) and Peter Kozak (2010) danced the role of Julius Caesar. Also missing was the excitement and technical abilities seen when William Moore, Jr. danced the part of Ptolemy, Cleopatra’s scheming younger brother. Frankly, the male roles were lack luster until principal Bo Busby stepped onto the stage as Marc Antony. Then, the partnering seamlessly sizzled. Their pas de deux was the highlight of the evening and lived up to a performance worthy of the retirement hype.

 

Otherwise, much of the choreography was to be in unison or to feature corp de ballet dancers racing across the stage, one-after-the-other in a strong diagonal line. In these instances, it is too easy to see lack of synchronization. Much of the ballet appeared to need additional rehearsal time. The canned music was also problematic. It seemed to need a bit of professional mixing for smoother transitions from melody to melody.

 

Problems aside, the evening was a lovely way to celebrate a ballerina’s retirement. Columbia City Ballet and local audiences will undoubtedly miss Regina Willoughby but will happily welcome principal Claire Richards and newly appointed principal Bonnie Boiter-Jolley into leading ladies. As Cleopatra’s handmaidens, they complimented one another perfectly. I look forward to seeing them during the 2018-19 season’s productions of Dracula: Ballet with a Bite; The Nutcracker; Sleeping Beauty; and the world premier of Beatles: The Ballet.

 

My recent interview with Regina Willoughby included well wishes and fond memories from dancers who have moved away or retired. Since then, I’ve received a few more quotes.

 

Pat Miller Baker wrote: Only once in a blue moon does a ballerina like Regina come along. She made her mark in every role she danced and the memories of her portrayals along with her physicality and artistry shall remain in all of our minds and hearts forever. I have loved being her teacher, coach and friend.  (Pat Miller elegantly appeared in last night’s production as Calpurnia, Wife of Caesar, a character role demanding exquisite dramatic acting.)

 

Journy Wilkes-Davis wrote: Some of the first big roles in my career I danced with Regina and it was her confident experience that allowed me to grow as a partner. She is a daredevil in the studio and onstage and the intensity she brings to every role pushed me to take risks as a partner where I had previously would have played it safer. I have great memories of dancing Arthur opposite her Lucy in Dracula or Romeo to her Juliet where it was inspiring to match the commitment she brought to her character and build a believable story for the audience. She taught by example how to throw caution to the wind and live in the moment onstage, a gift I will carry with me the rest of my career.

 

William Moore, Jr. wrote: I will start off by saying that it was a pleasure sharing the stage with Regina for several years! Notably our performance of Cleopatra was an unforgettable process and I am honored that I had that awesome opportunity early in my career. Love Regina dearly and I wish her the best in her retirement!
Love, William Moore Jr, former dancer, current music producer

The Ballet Aladdin Returns to Columbia After 13 Years

aladdin

 

Conceptualized and choreographed by Artistic Director William Starrett in 1995, Columbia City Ballet presents the return of Aladdin for one weekend only, January 29th and 30th. Last performed 13 years ago to the musical score of composer Ludwig Minkus, Columbia City Ballet brings back this classic fairy tale based on Arabian Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian folktales. “Aladdin is a huge epic ballet, technically demanding for the dancers, visually thrilling for the audience and perfect for the entire family. It is such fun to see Aladdin and Jasmine flying on their magic carpet as the Genie grants Aladdin’s famous three wishes,” says Starrett.

 

But "the ballet Aladdin isn’t just for children," Starrett says, "because the choreographic foundation of the full length production is based on the 1877 ballet La Bayadere that was first choreographed by Marius Petipa." The ballet La Bayadere is a story of deceit and love, poisonous snakes, ghosts, and murder. The ballet "pre-dates the major romantic era by several years and it includes the famous scene from the ballet The Kingdom of the Shades, one of the most celebrated excerpts in all of classical ballet." The famous late critic Clive Barnes of the New York Times is well known for having said, 'If you don’t like the scene of The Kingdom of the Shades you don’t like classical ballet,'” Starrett says. "So even though the children are so familiar because of the Disney popularity adults will love it because it is rooted in such a strong classical foundation in ballet technique and tradition."

This three-act performance is developed from four of Minkus’ most memorable ballets including Paquita, and La Bayadere; excerpts are incorporated into the score of Aladdin.  The roles of Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, originated by Peter Kozak and City Ballet Prima Ballerina Mariclare Miranda, will be performed in this production by Ballerina Regina Willoughby and Principal Dancer Christopher Miro. Willoughby, who grew up in Texas, came to CCB in 1997 and has risen through the ranks of the company to the position of Ballerina. Reinaldo Soto will be featured as the Genie. Other favorites from Columbia City Ballet include Claire McCaa, Autumn Hill, Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, and Claire Richards.

 

Regina Willoughby - Ballerina for Columbia City Ballet

 

Christopher Miro will dance the role of Aladdin

Columbia City Ballet will give three performances of Aladdin at the Koger Center for the Arts Friday, January 29th at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, January 30th at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets, starting at $20, can be purchased at the box office, at www.kogercenterforthearts.com or by calling 803-251-2222. An Aladdin tea will be held prior to Saturday’s performance at 1:30 p.m. in the Koger Center ballroom. For tea tickets and information call 803-799-7605. Call today as seating is limited.

Misty Copeland Heading to Columbia to Benefit Columbia City and Classical Ballets - A Jasper Exclusive

When the 75 plus attendees at Columbia City Ballet's Uncorked Ballet Preview on Saturday night first arrived at the CCB Studios at Taylor and Main we knew we were in for a dance treat. Much of the choreography for the company's upcoming performance of Aladdin comes from challenging classical ballets with time-tested variations such as La Bayadere. Seeing the dancers perform the difficult movements on stage comes complete with a required finesse suggesting a certain ease of performance. But witnessing the dancers in the glaring lights of the studio gives no such illusion. The difficulty, and sometimes danger, of the choreography is plain to see as the dancers pant and grunt and sweat and almost fall then regain their footing, before collapsing at the sides of the studio, exhausted and exhilarated.

No make up, no costumes, no nets.

But before the backstage preview even got underway CCB executive director William Starrett shared an exciting announcement. In conjunction with Columbia Classical Ballet, who suffered tremendous studio losses last fall during the October floods, Columbia City Ballet will be bringing American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland,  to Columbia on March 15th for a luncheon to benefit both Columbia City and Classical Ballets.

"We are thrilled to make this announcement and looking forward to sharing more details as they become available," Starrett said.

Misty Copeland is known throughout the dance world for her athletic dance style as well as for being the first African American principal dancer in American Ballet Theatre's 75 year history.  She performed the lead role in Washington Ballet's Swan Lake last spring with Columbia native Brooklyn Mack who is in his fifth year as principal dancer with Washington Ballet.

ABT principal dancer Misty Copeland

Brooklyn Mack & Misty Copeland

Following the announcement, the dancers of Columbia City Ballet continued to take our collective breath away.

principal dancer Claire McCaa

Soloist Autumn Ingrassia

Soloists Bonnie Boiter-Jolley and Maurice Johnson

Soloist Claire Richards

 

 

The gentlemen of Aladdin for Columbia City Ballet

Announcing the 2015 Jasper Artists of the Year

It was a beautiful night of revisiting the best of the Italian Renaissance at the Big Apple last night when we announced and celebrated the 2015 Jasper Artists of the Year. Without further ado, the winners are: Martha Brim pictured with Jasper Contributing Dance Editor Bonnie Boiter-Jolley

MARTHA BRIM ~ 2015 JAY IN DANCE

Julia Elliott with Jasper Literary Arts Editor Ed Madden

JULIA ELLIOTT ~ 2015 JAY IN LITERARY ARTS

Craig Butterfield pictured with Jasper Music Editor Michael Spawn

CRAIG BUTTERFIELD ~ 2015 JAY IN MUSIC

Dewey Scott-Wiley pictured with Jasper Assistant Editor Kyle Petersen

DEWEY SCOTT-WILEY ~ 2015 JAY IN THEATRE

Kimi Maeda pictured with Jasper Editor Cindi Boiter

KIMI MAEDA ~ 2015 JAY IN VISUAL ARTS

 

Congratulations to all the JAY Winners and Finalists!

Thanks to Kristine Hartvigsen for photography, Mouse House for framing, Singing Fox for event planning, and Coal Powered Filmworks for Sponsorship. Special thanks to the shared talents of Duo Cortado, Cathering Hunsinger, the Trustus Apprentices, Chris Carney, and Jasper's Wet Ink spoken word poetry collective.

Blood spills and terror continues as Dracula returns to the stage at Columbia City Ballet -- by Alivia Seely

dracula

Dial up the babysitter and put on the Halloween costume, because this weekend is the 20th anniversary of the Columbia City Ballet’s production of Dracula and it is one that should not be missed.

Back in Columbia, South Carolina for three nights, this year’s production has even more to offer than in years past. With a new technical director, new costumes, a new Count Dracula dancer and even a new character, William Starrett, Executive and Artist Director for the Columbia City Ballet, has pulled “a lot more meat” out of the classic Bram Stoker novel for this year’s show.

“We have a very heavy blend of contemporary movement with classical ballet as a foundation. My goal always is to get the dancer to learn the steps quickly so I can coach them on the quality of the steps and what we bring to the steps and the complexity of the story telling,” said Starrett.

An entire new section was added with the addition of the new character named Renfield, who lives in the basement of Count Dracula and eats bugs and small animals. Along with Renfield, danced by Reinaldo Soto, company member of the Columbia City Ballet, came some new music and original choreography.

But the surprises do not stop there. The new costumes, that clothe 22 dancers, are composed of loose sleeves and large tulle skirts that add dimensions when paired with the movement.

“The costumes for the undead and Maidens have big full skirts, long flowing sleeves, and require the dancers to wear their hair down. As a maiden, I have a lot of tricky partnering to do as well, so the most challenging aspect for me is dealing with both of those things together,” said Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, soloist for the Columbia City Ballet.

This year Boiter-Jolley is playing the role of the Purple Maiden, one of Dracula’s three wives.  “I love getting to become someone, or in this case, something else. I get to be this vicious seductress who shows no mercy. It's a very physical role which I love,” said Boiter-Jolley.

As the tradition continues, everyone at the ballet, including Starrett, encourages the audience members to come dressed in their Halloween costume of choice.

“We have a huge audience in Columbia, which is why we continue to bring Dracula back,” said Starrett.

Tickets are still available through the Koger Center box office for all three performances on Thursday Oct. 29 at 7 p.m., Friday Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday Oct. 31 at 8:30 p.m. So grab a ticket and sink your teeth into the story of Dracula.

REVIEW: CCB's Body & Movement Explored by David Ligon

Philip Ingrassia and Autumn Hill - photo by Ashley Concannon The art scene has progressed immensely in Columbia, SC over the past decade, and while Columbia City Ballet may have previously seemed to lag behind, performing the same pool of two- and three-act story ballets since William Starrett took over, only creating new ones every few years, the company seems to be moving forward of late and progressing along with the city.

 

On Friday, February 20 at 7:30 PM Columbia City Ballet presented its third annual Body & Movement Explored series. This event is a departure from what the company typically performs. Starrett has said this is an experimental project for the dancers as well as emerging choreographer to see if it can bring in an audience, and one day be presented on a bigger stage.

 

It is always exciting to see dancers you have become familiar with onstage be able to share another part of themselves with the audience. Most of the choreography was by Columbia City Ballet dancers. This year marks the first time choreographers came from out of state and volunteered their time to create works, including Rachel Leonard, a freelance choreographer from Florida; Jenny Broe, Owner of StudioFX in Charleston; Kevin James of Smuin Ballet; and former CCB principal dancer, Wayland Anderson. The Columbia City Ballet choreographers included soloist Philip Ingrassia, and corps members Ashley Concannon, Amanda Summey, and Denis Vezetiu.

 

Mr. Vezetiu choreographed two pieces as well as co-choreographed one with Ms. Concannon. His most captivating was his pas de deux, "Walk," which showcased his incredible strength and control as he manipulated dancer Nadine Tetrick around his body. She never touched the floor, as he was always controlling her. Her port de bras reacted to him like movement through water. They were one body moving together creating something beautiful to Ludovico Einaudi's minimalist score.

 

Ludovico music was used in four different pieces, as well as other minimalist composers including Philip Glass and Zoe Keating. What is interesting is how these composers created an atmosphere and texture with their music, rather than becoming monotonous because of its repetitiveness, lack of dynamic contrast with only slight rhythmic and melodic variations.

 

Jenny Broe, one of the visiting choreographers, created an enthralling contemporary piece of work to an up-tempo, club remix version of Bryan Adams’ “Wicked Games.” The choreography was seamless throughout, creating a battle between the dancers as to who could out dance whom. There was no pause for the dancers who moved from one structure to the next in groups or in pairs. The dancers would enter or leave the arena by walking fiercely like runway models. The other stand out choreographer was Rachel Leonard, who choreographed the opening piece “Speak” as well as the finale “Garcons et das Filles et des Bancs”. The last piece was set to operatic music with four sets of couples divided by gender and sitting on benches. There were phallic movements and a titillating flirtation from the four girls and four boys making it humorous and engaging fun. The boys unfortunately, missed some of the musical cues that would've made her vision really come to life.

 

Starrett recently commented that this is an experimental show trying to find an audience and support. He choreographed a pas de deux, “All for You,” for real life married couple Ingrassia and Autumn Hill. It was a tongue and cheek country western, on the bayou piece with choreography familiar to anyone who has seen Starrett’s previous work. For the music he collaborated with Josh McCaa who is married to CCB principal, Claire McCaa. McCaa’s country western music and voice were great, but didn’t quite sync up to the choreography. Starrett’s work with CCB is typically classical story-line fairytale ballets, like CCB’s upcoming “Cinderella.” “All For You” gave Starrett a chance to try something on a smaller scale and in a less-serious mood. It might have seemed that Starrett was going for laughs at times rather than substance, but maybe the programming of a light piece provided a good contrast with the passionate and personal work of the other choreographers.

 

Amanda Summey's piece “Identity Crisis” was fresh and thought provoking. Hip-hop, with elements of contemporary ballet, the eight women were wearing red masks that covered the lower half of the face and wearing street clothes. With their faces covered, they had to rely completely on body movement for expression. The music used was just a rapper with no instruments, but the rap voices layered on top of each other, creating a vocalized rhythm. Summey is a poly-artist: a visual artist and sketcher, ballet dancer, choreographer, and theater graduate from Northwestern University, she brings graffiti street art and intellectualism to her work.

 

The dancers who stood out were the constant duo, Bonnie Boiter-Jolley and Claire Richards. They were in the most pieces but were always paired together. Although these two compliment each other physically – they are tall, slender and blond – it would have been nice to see them dance separately, for each brings her own versatility to the stage.

 

In the future, CCB should model this show after other workshops around the country by auditioning choreographers to present full-length works (20-30 minutes) so the dancers can get fully invested in the work. There are theaters that can host such an event, other than the informal black box, that won’t run up the cost as much as putting it on at the Koger Center would. Having a professional event at such an informal space has its downsides: there isn’t enough lighting to explore the space, and the sound was a little low, which in turn meant we could hear every step and breath taken on stage. I believe the Columbia arts community will support a mixed-repertory series. Body & Movement Explored should be expanded and promoted bringing one-act ballets of various lengths with plot-less rather than story line structures. I think the series could be artistically and fiscally viable.

Drac is Back! At the Koger for the next three nights -- by Abby Davis

drac

 

The dark and delightful Dracula is back! Columbia City Ballet presents Dracula: Ballet With A Bite at the Koger Center Thursday, October 30th through Saturday, November 1st at 7:30 pm each night.

 

Columbia City Ballet’s Artistic and Executive Director William Starrett transformed Bram Stoker’s classic horror novel into a classic and captivating performance. Premiering in 1991, Dracula has since become both a Columbia favorite and a widespread phenomenon. As stated by Dance Magazine, “This entertaining extravaganza guarantees a good time.” The performance is sexy, spellbinding, and an incredibly fun experience for all, appealing to both ballet aficionados and newcomers simply seeking some Halloween fun and entertainment.

 

Dracula’s 19th year is sure to deliver just as much of a brilliant bite as in years past. The show features many returning cast members as well as some fresh new faces. Autumn Ingrassia, Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, and Claire Richards are this year’s beautiful maidens. Regina Willoughby, a company favorite, returns as Lucy Westenra, and Claire McCaa is back as Mina Hanker. While your eyes might be focused on the gorgeous and scantily clad dancers, the visuals and lighting are equally spectacular. The spooky visuals have been designed by Columbia City Ballet’s own Technical Director, Ryan Stender, and Lighting Designer Aaron Pelzek has also contributed his touch to Transylvania.

Regina Willougby as Lucy Westeren

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

T his haunting extravaganza is the perfect way to get into the Halloween spirit and kick off the holiday season. If you want to dive into the spirit of the season even more, be sure to participate in the annual costume contest during Saturday’s performance.

 

Tickets can be purchased at Capitol Tickets, online at www.capitoltickets.com, or by calling (803)-251-2222 and range from $15-$42. University students are encouraged to take advantage of special discount student pricing on Thursday, October 30th: all tickets are $10 with a valid student i.d.

 

- By Abby Davis

Preview - Strength and Beauty - at Indie Grits tonight!

strength and beauty In the 90-plus minute long film, Strength and Beauty:  Three Ballerinas. Three Voices, filmmaker Chelsea Wayant focuses on three different dancers from Charlotte's North Carolina Dance Theatre, each at a different stage of her career. After 17 years of dancing, Tracy finds herself unable to perform some of the more challenging roles in her repertoire with the ease she once did. Alessandra, on the other hand, is just now beginning to be cast in those difficult roles. And Melissa, a contemporary ballet transplant, has just joined the company for her first season. We follow the women across two seasons with NCDT as they discuss many of the topics found most commonly on the minds of professional dancers:  body image, relationships, physical challenges, life outside of ballet, and inevitably, transitions.

A beautifully constructed film experience, Strength and Beauty provides both ballet-lovers and ballet novices an intimate look at the intellectual and emotional machinations of professional ballet dancers. The story arcs are well developed and executed, and the subjects are lovely and engaging. Some innovative camera work and the clever use of Super8  film during which each dancer performs what are clearly improvisational pieces makes for some of the most tender moments in the film.

Jasper advises you to check Strength and Beauty out tonight at 7 pm at the Nick. Following the film Jasper dance editor (and CCB soloist) Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, CCB principal dancer Regina Willoughby, filmmaker John Kirkscey, dancer Dylan G - Bowley, and Columbia Classical Ballet dancer Madeline Foderaro will be discussing the film as part of a panel led by Jasper editor Cindi Boiter.

7 - 9:30 pm at The Nick  -- Check out the Facebook event for even more info.

 

In Jasper Vol. 3, No. 4: Ashley Concannon - Through The Dancer's Eyes

"Any given day finds 25-year-old Ashley Concannon crouching in the corner of the Columbia City Ballet studios between rehearsals. Usually she is sewing ribbons onto a pair of pointe shoes, taping her toes, stretching, exercising, or completing one of the many tasks demanded of her by her profession, but when she can find the time she sneaks behind the lens of her Canon Rebel T3i to capture a glimpse of life in the dance studio from another artistic perspective--that of a photographer. ..." - Bonnie Boiter-Jolley For the full article and photos, check out page 46 of the magazine below:

Ten Reasons to See the Columbia City Ballet's Giselle This Weekend

  Columbia City Ballet Principal Dancer Regina Willoughby as Giselle

 

 

  1. Giselle is not for children. This doesn’t mean that children won’t be mesmerized by the costumes, movement, and quasi-fairytale quality of the ballet, and there’s nothing adults-only about the ballet or the story. Giselle, however, is a more mature, sophisticated ballet. No little cutie-pies running across the stage. No magic tricks. No hoopla. Pure art.
  2. Dance programming in Columbia tends to respond to ticket sales. We will continue to see mostly narrative, family-friendly (read: little cutie pies running across the stage, magic tricks, and hoopla) if those are the performances that sell the most tickets. And, of course, the converse is true, as well; we will continue to see fewer serious ballets if we, as a dance audience, don’t support a more challenging type of programming—such as Giselle—with butts in seats.
  3. It is time for Columbia dance audiences to grow up. It is time to learn more about the art we support; to mature as audiences so that we expect more than fluff from our dance artists, and to be able to recognize and appreciate it when our dance artists give us something meaty, like Giselle, to chew on.
  4. Columbia’s dance artists are desperate to give you this kind of programming.  Most of the dancers you’ll see on Friday and Saturday nights have been training most of their lives to perform this kind of ballet. The parts are difficult. They are challenging both mentally and physically. What these dancers want more than anything is to offer this level of performance, do it well, and receive some small bit of validation (read: butts in seats and applause at the end of the night) demonstrating that we know they are capable of dancing at this level. This is what they live for.
  5. Giselle is a ballet that appeals to many different types of audiences. There is romance, of course—ballet is a romantic art—but Giselle is not your typical boy-meets-girl type of narrative. There’s not a whole helluva lot of living-happily-ever-after, and the characters of those that do so are profoundly changed by the events that happen in the story line.
  6. Giselle is one of the most sophisticated ghost stories you’ll ever see enacted. Who gives a rot about vampires and mummies—these ghosts are beautiful and massively athletic dead women with broken hearts and an unquenchable desire for VENGEANCE, baby.
  7. Classical art like this is an important part of an art lover’s cultural literacy (and trivia repertoire. The next time you’re at trivia night at the Whig you’ll be able to answer the question: What is a wili? Answer:  A wili is a supernatural being from Slavic folklore – in the case of the ballet Giselle, a wili is a broken-hearted dead woman who dances men to their deaths!)
  8. Craziness. Serious craziness.  Here’s a preview – at the end of the first act of the ballet, Giselle basically goes nuts. I mean, tearing her hair out, wild woman, Uzo Aduba – eyed, post-postal, Mama-say-if-I’ll-be-alright, crazy. Black Swan crazy. Principal ballerina Regina Willoughby will be performing that part. If Regina can pull off crazy as well as she does composed—and I have no doubt that she can—then we are all in for a momentous treat.
  9. Jasper dance editor (and this blog writer’s daughter) Bonnie Boiter-Jolley will be performing the role of Myrtha—Queen Bitch of the Wilis—on Saturday night. The beautiful and, I feel certain, equally ireful Claire Richards will be dancing the role on Friday night.  You have not seen mean until you see how mean this Myrtha character can be. Seriously cold. Myrtha has no problem sentencing boys to their rhythmic deaths with a single swoop of her lily white hand. Just don’t look her in the eyes.
  10. SAVE On TICKETS by subscribing to What Jasper Said (above right) then  entering the promotional code "jasper" to save $10 off price of $29 & $39 tickets at http://www.capitoltickets.com/   Giselle will be performed by the Columbia City Ballet Friday and Saturday, January 31st and February 1st at the Koger Center for the Arts.

2nd Annual Artists for Africa benefit performance this weekend at Columbia Music Festival Association Artspace

artists for africa also  

This Saturday and Sunday, August 10th and 11th, Artists for Africa, a newly formed non-profit organization with goals to provide arts education to impoverished children in Africa, presents the 2nd annual benefit performance at the CMFA Artspace on Pulaski Street in the Vista.

Artists for Africa Founder, dancer and teacher Cooper Rust, has recently returned from her second stint in Nairobi, Kenya, teaching ballet to young children in the area. In 2012, Rust was able to coordinate an effort that raised nearly seven thousand dollars for the cause in one weekend of performances. Thanks to the work of Artists for Africa, an additional 300 underprivileged children in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya were able to enjoy after school arts classes, giving most of them their first opportunity of this kind.

Rust initially traveled to Kenya in 2012 to work with Anno’s Africa, an organization based out of the United Kingdom promoting education resources in Africa. Artists for Africa joins Anno’s Africa and One Fine Day, based out of Germany, in the global fight for arts exposure and education for these children. A year later, Rust has again just returned home from Kenya and says, “I have all the confidence in the world that Columbia will once again come together to support me and this beautiful cause.”

The concerts include performances by members of the Columbia City Ballet, Columbia Summer Repertory Company, Trustus Theatre’s upcoming production of “Ragtime,” and Milwaukee Ballet among others. Saturday evening’s show includes a silent auction and food and beverages donated by Villa Tronco, Rosso, Gervais and Vine, Tin Roof, Blue Marlin, and Cellar on Greene. Framing of the artwork donated by The Frame Shop, City Art, Haven's, Frames and Things, Framing Plus, House of Frames, Picture Perfect, and Just Susan's Framing.

The events, sponsored by Top Hat Sweepers and the Columbia Music Festival Association, begin at 7pm on the 10th and 3pm on the 11th. Tickets for the 10th are $25 in advance and $30 at the door, and for the 11th are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.

For more information, please visit www.artistsforafricausa.org or to purchase tickets, call (803) 467-9004.

-- Bonnie Boiter-Jolley

Welcome Wade Sellers -- Jasper's New Film Editor

jasper screens It was about this time two years ago when a small group of us gathered in my living room out at Muddy Ford and discussed what we wanted out of the new Columbia arts magazine we were building, Jasper. Having written for national magazines for years, I felt comfortable on the writing side of things. But having always been peevish about people talking -- or worse, writing -- about things they know little about, it was important from the start that we only bring in staff members who know a great deal about their subject matter. Experts in the field, if you will. Folks who have the vocabulary and are proficient in the theory and methods about which they would write.

It was a pretty small group of us at first. Ed Madden took on the literary arts and Kyle Petersen, music. Thankfully, Heyward Sims agreed to be our design editor -- a huge task and a huge load off of my mind to know that our words and photography would be handled by someone who would respect them, as well as enjoy and experiment with the process of putting them on paper. And Kristine Hartvigsen was and continues to be a great source of advice and encouragement.

It didn't take long for the magazine family to grow with long-time theatre aficionado August Krickel joining the staff as theatre editor,  Bonnie Boiter-Jolley as dance editor (it seemed only natural), and Forrest Clonts as photography editor -- another huge job given that Forrest is responsible for arranging for all the photographs to be taken, and then editing them and preparing them for publication. Last summer, Annie Boiter-Jolley signed on as our operations manager -- a tremendous underuse of her skill set, but we're thrilled to have her. Just before Christmas this year, Chris Robinson from USC joined us as our visual arts editor -- a position I had been wanting to fill with the right person since the inception of the magazine. And now, finally, local filmmaker and documentarian Wade Sellers has come on board as our film editor.

Jasper's new film editor Wade Sellers

 

Wade is the owner and executive director of Coal Powered Filmworks and, among many other things, the person who brings you the excellent SC ETV series on South Carolinians and their involvement in WWII. Wade is always hopping on a plan and heading for all points exciting so I'm practically over-the-moon that he has agreed to share his wisdom with us. And when I say that he has wisdom and experience, I'm not kidding -- in all aspects of filmmaking. He has served as the director of four films, cinematographer on seven, writer on three, and editor and producer on two, not to mention working as camera, gaffer or grip on nine more. And he's been nominated for two Emmys.

Wade came to work ready to make things happen in the Columbia film community. You'll see the product of his work in the next issue of Jasper coming out on Friday night, July 12th. And you'll also hear him announce some exciting news about an additional film festival in Columbia (organized with the blessing of our friends at the Nickelodeon.)

So please help us welcome Wade to the Jasper family. He fits in so well - it feels like he's been here forever.

The Next Big Thing - by Cindi Boiter

I feel a little guilty using What Jasper Said to post my answers to The Next Big Thing, the hot new meme going around our community in which writers tag one another and ask that they write about their newest projects. But given that my newest project was published by Muddy Ford Press and that MFP underwrites Jasper Magazine, there's a sweet symbiosis to it that I cannot deny. Here's how it works -- after having been tagged (my thanks to Cassie Premo Steele for tagging me), the newly tagged author is required to self-interview, answering 10 pre-determined questions. After having answered these questions, she tags another five writers to do the same.

Here goes.

What is the working title of your book?

The Limelight -- A Compendium of Contemporary Columbia Artists, volume 1

What is the genre of your book?

Essay collection

Where did the idea come from?

Columbia, SC is a city that is reeling with a multitude of artists from different genres, particularly the literary arts. We have an inordinate number of professional writers here, yet we don't really have a sense of ourselves as a writing community -- though we are. I'd love to play some part in helping us to form a more unified community of writers. I want Columbia to be known as a "writers' town." To that end, I invited 18 local writers to contribute first person narrative essays about another local artist -- writer, visual artist, musician, dancer, theatre artist, whatever -- who had influenced them in some way.  I had the pleasure of editing the essays.

Clearly, one volume is not enough to represent the artists and authors we have here, so I decided to serialize the compendium with the plan of publishing it on an annual basis.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Columbia, SC essayists sing the praises of Columbia, SC artists.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I issued the call for essays in the summer of 2012 with an autumn deadline. We went to press in February 2013.

Who or what inspired you to write it?

The community of Columbia artists.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

My book was published by Muddy Ford Press.

What other books would you compare this book to within your genre?

I don't really know of any other books with the same model.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Well, there are 36 "characters" if we include both the contributors and the subjects of their essays.

The essay I wrote was about the artist Blue Sky, so, naturally Clint Eastwood would play Blue. For me? Lisa Kudrow or Terri Garr.

Ed Madden would be played by Jon Cryer and James Dickey by Jon Voight.

Jeffrey Day? Woody Allen, of course. James Busby would be played by Channing Tatum (that's right, I said it.)

I'd like to cast Christopher Walken to play someone, but I'm not sure who ... a much older Chad Henderson, maybe? Just for kicks?

Patrick Wilson would play Kyle Petersen with Sheryl Crow playing Danielle Howle (though I like Danielle's voice far better).

Billy Murray would play the part of Stephen Chesley and the part of Susan Lenz would be played by Julia Louis Dreyfus.

Vicky Saye Henderson would play herself.

What else about your manuscript might pique the reader's interest?

Some of the first lines are spectacular. For example, poet Ray McManus opens his essay about Terrance Hayes with this, "When you're a boy growing up in rural South Carolina, and you want to be a poet, you should first learn to fight."

And ballet dancer Bonnie Boiter-Jolley's first line about her mentor Stacey Calvert is brutally honest when she says, "When I first met Stacey Calvert over a decade ago, she explained to me how being a dancer is a very selfish thing."

And there are 16 more.

~~

That's the end of the interview and I have to admit that it was fun. In an effort to share the fun and keep this meme going I'm tagging Aida Rogers, Don McCallister, Debbie Daniel, Kristine Hartvigsen, and Susan Levi Wallach. And I'm inviting them all to post their answers to me so I can share them with our readers. I think there's something about Wednesdays and deadlines also as I was tagged on a Wednesday and told to blog on the next Wednesday. So, by next Wednesday, I hope to have even more Next Big Things to share.

Thanks for reading,

Cindi

 

 

 

First Lines -- an invitation from Jasper

"As she sat stunned in her car on Charleston's rickety old John P. Grace Memorial Bridge, trapped precariously 150 feet above the swift-moving waters of the Cooper River, ..."

~

"When you're a boy growing up in rural South Carolina, and you want to be a poet, you should first learn to fight."

~

"It was a Tuesday night in the spring of 1988 and I decided to head down to Pug's in Five Points for the weekly jam session."

~

"This essay is not an act of revenge."

~

"Bastille Day 2001, personal date of independence."

~

"It's a particularly hot summer day, even for Columbia, when I parallel park my car on Washington Street and notice a tall, lanky gentleman as he moves stiffly to reposition an over-sized canvas by the curb."

~

"It began with a gift."

 Ahh, first lines.

Every literary adventure you've ever been on began with one.

Please join the Jasper and Muddy Ford Press family today as we celebrate the first lines above and more than a dozen more when we launch our newest book,

The Limelight – A Compendium of Contemporary Columbia Artists,

volume 1,

with a launch party from 5 – 8 pm at Tapp’s Arts Center on Main Street in Columbia.

The $15 admission to the event includes a copy of The Limelight ($18 after 2/24/13), music, food, and the opportunity to gather signatures from authors and artists in attendance at the launch. For couples wishing to share a book, admission is $25.

There will be a cash bar.

The Limelight, published by Muddy Ford Press, LLC, is the first volume in a serialized collection of 18 first-person, narrative essays written by professional Columbia authors and artists about professional Columbia authors and artists. It is the sixth book to be published by Muddy Ford Press since February 2012.

Edited by Jasper Magazine founder and editor Cynthia Boiter, The Limelight – A Compendium of Contemporary Columbia Artists, Volume 1 is a serialized collection of first person narrative essays written by Columbia, SC writers and artists about Columbia, SC writers and artists. As the Southeast’s newest arts destination, Columbia is bursting with visual, literary, and performing artists whose work has caught the attention of the greater arts world at large, and these essays tell the stories of how the influence of these artists has spread. New York Times best-selling author Janna McMahan, for example, writes about spending a day touring Beaufort, SC, the hometown of literary giant Pat Conroy, with the writer himself. Poet Ed Madden writes about the disconcerting words of advice he received from dying poet and professor James Dickey when Madden took over teaching the last academic course of Dickey’s career. Music writers Michael Miller and Kyle Petersen share insights on saxophone great Chris Potter and contemporary singer-songwriter Danielle Howle, respectively, and poet Cassie Premo Steele writes about the inspiration stemming from her friendship with nationally-known visual artist Philip Mullen.

These 18 essays include works by and about poets Nikky Finney, Terrance Hayes, Marjory Wentworth, Ray McManus, Cassie Premo Steele, Kristine Hartvigsen, Colena Corbett, and Ed Madden; visual artists Philip Mullen, Gilmer Petroff, Blue Sky, James Busby, Stephen Chesley, and Susan Lenz; musicians Chris Potter and Danielle Howle; dancers Stacey Calvert and Bonnie Boiter-Jolley; actors and directors Robert Richmond, Greg Leevy, Chad Henderson, Vicky Saye Henderson, Jim and Kay Thigpen, and Alex Smith; and writers and editors James Dickey, Pat Conroy, Janna McMahan, Aida Rogers, Michael Miller, Jeffrey Day, Kyle Petersen, Robbie Robertson, Don McCallister, Robert Lamb, August Krickel, and Cynthia Boiter.

For more information or to order online please go to

MuddyFordPress.com.

 

 

White Christmas Drinking Game -- Our Gift to You

 

The annual viewing of Irving Berlin's classic holiday film  White Christmas has been a part of our family Christmas traditions since before our kids were born. Now that our girls have grown up and found the loves of their lives, we still enjoy watching the film with the whole crew, but this year we added a twist that makes adult viewing oh so much more fun -- booze.

Annie, Bonnie, Kyle, and Chad, along with me and Bob, the love of my life (and founder of the feast), sat down last night with the film, a notebook and pencil, and a variety of boozes that ranged from Bob's amazing Dark Cherry Stout, Chad's key lime pie cocktails (my favorite), and Kyle's delicious classic Rye Manhattans, and we created The White Christmas Libation Extravaganza -- or, how to How to drink a blue Christmas white, and we knew immediately that we wanted to share the product of our labors with you. (What's that saying? It's a tough job but...)

It's pretty simple, actually. Load up the film (which can be streamed from Netflix  or from Amazon for 5 bucks), gather your beverages of choice* and get ready to imbibe. (*You might also want to gather a glass of water for each participant to sip on when the going gets tough.)

Here are your drinking cues -- and remember a sip counts, you don't have to guzzle.   Drink whenever anyone says the following words:

white

Christmas

snow

sisters

when anyone salutes

when Danny Kaye touches his arm

when Danny Kaye's voice cracks

when anyone notices an inconsistency in the film (check out when Vera Allen is pouring coffee in the dressing room she shares with her sister (drink!) Rosemary Clooney)

We've designed the game so that there are moments of hilarity, (particularly during a couple of Berlin's great songs like "Sisters" and "Snow") but there are plenty of lull times so you can enjoy the great classic film that White Christmas is.

In an effort to expedite this blog and get back to celebrating the holidays with my beloved (the girls have traveled to the homes of their sweeties for the holidays this year, hence the early celebration of Boiter-Jolley Christmas), I've lifted the following info directly from Wikipedia, but it gives you some background on the production of the film.

White Christmas was intended to reunite Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire for their third Irving Berlin showcase musical. Crosby and Astaire had previously co-starred in Holiday Inn (1942) – where the song 'White Christmas' first appeared – and Blue Skies (1946). Astaire declined the project after reading the script and asked to be released from his contract with Paramount. Crosby also left the project shortly thereafter, to spend more time with his son after the death of his wife, Dixie Lee. Near the end of January 1953, Crosby returned to the project, and Donald O'Connor was signed to replace Astaire. Just before shooting was to begin, O'Connor had to drop out due to illness and was replaced by Danny Kaye, who asked for and received a salary of $200,000 and 10% of the gross. Financially, the film was a partnership between Crosby and Irving Berlin, who shared half the profits, and Paramount, who got the other half.  Within the film, a number of soon-to-be famous performers appear. Dancer Barrie Chase appears unbilled, as the character Doris Lenz ("Mutual, I'm sure!"). Future Academy Award winner George Chakiris also appears as one of the stone-faced black-clad dancers surrounding Rosemary Clooney in "Love, You Didn't Do Right by Me". John Brascia leads the dance troupe and appears opposite Vera-Ellen throughout much of the movie, particularly in the "Mandy", "Choreography" and "Abraham" numbers. The photo Vera-Ellen shows of her brother Benny (the one Phil refers to as "Freckle-faced Haynes, the dog-faced boy") is actually a photo of Carl Switzer, who played Alfalfa in The Little Rascals, in an army field jacket and helmet liner. Robert Alton is credited as the film's dance director, although some choreography was created by Bob Fosse, who was not credited.

White Christmas ends up starring Bing Crosby and the beautiful Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and the anorexic Vera Allen (who was a phenomenal dancer, but so thin she could be painful to watch), and premiered in 1954. You know the name of the director Michael Curtiz from Casablanca, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and Mildred Pierce. (Curtiz was often criticized for lacking in character development -- which I think he addresses in this film, albeit rather simplistically -- and playing on emotions rather than intellect -- which, in White Christmas, is as true as can possibly be.)

But, we don't watch a movie at Christmas to analyze it -- we watch it to celebrate! And, this year, we invite you to watch White Christmas to drink!

Merry Christmas on behalf of the staff of Jasper Magazine and the crew at Muddy Ford! Thank you for all the love and support you've thrown our way this year. And may all your Christmases be white.

Cheers,

Cindi

 

Preview: Pilobolus at the Harbison Theatre by Bonnie Boiter-Jolley

Next weekend, October 12th and 13th, Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College welcomes world-renowned dance company Pilobolus Seven to the Midlands. Founded in 1971 at Dartmouth College, Pilobolus incorporates a uniquely collaborative creative process that defies the typical director, choreographer, dancer hierarchy at their current home in Connecticut.

According to Communications Liaison Jun Kuribayashi, former Dance Captain and eight season veteran of the company, this collaborative process has a great deal to do with the eclectic and continually evolving nature of the company’s repertoire. Kuribayashi has what would be considered in many companies to be atypical training for a professional dancer, but with an athletic background in swimming, soccer, and gymnastics and a BFA in Dance from the University of Kansas, he is in good company. Pilobolus Seven seeks out well-educated and open-minded intellectuals with some life experience to join their ranks, explains Kuribayashi, who was 25 when he joined the company. The company is currently made up of seven dancers; Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Benjamin Coalter, Matt Del Rosario, Eriko Jimbo, Jordan Kriston, Jun Kuribayashi, and Nile Russell.

What keeps dancers like ninth season member Kuribayashi interested? As the people in the company evolve, the aesthetic of the movement and choreography evolves as well.  While the choreographer dictates the skeleton of a piece, the physical abilities of the individual dancers determine the meat of the movement and the artistic directors mold the shape and add texture. When asked about the aesthetic of the company, Kuribayashi explains that Pilobolus Seven follows no specific genre or style, but creates around what is amusing and entertaining at the time. “There is no right or wrong, just not right now,” Kuribayashi quips when asked about the creative process. He speaks about the “culture” of each piece and says, “it’s not just about dance…the people are amazing.”

What can we expect to see from a company like this? According to Kuribayashi, the program Pilobolus will perform at Midlands Technical College’s new 400 seat state of the art theatre next weekend will take the audience on a two-hour rollercoaster of two years’ worth of emotions. The five piece bill promises to be eclectic and moving, offering something for everyone.  First on the bill is “Rushes.” Choreographed in 2007, the piece is the first of Pilobolus’ International Collaborators Project, with creators Inbal Pinto, Avshalom Pollak and Pilobolus’ own Co-Artistic Director Robby Barnett.  Following this is “All Is Not Lost,” the live performance component of a 2011 video collaboration with the band OK Go. “Gnomen,” a quartet for men choreographed in 1997 is dedicated to the memory of friend of the company, Jim Blanc, who passed away from AIDS. “Duet,” a dance for two women choreographed in 1992 and revived for the company’s 40th Anniversary is making a rare appearance and deals with themes of love, power, and domination. Closing the program is full-company piece “Megawatt.” Choreographed in 2004 to music by Primus, Radiohead, and Squarepusher, “Megawatt” is a high-intensity piece that displays the full range of physical capabilities of the company.

Pilobolus is named after a phototropic fungus often found on farms, and like the fungus, the company is constantly growing and expanding in new directions. Columbia is extremely fortunate to have Emmy Award, Dance Magazine Award, and Brandeis Award winning company Pilobolus Seven in our midst and I highly encourage anyone, dancer, dance appreciator, or dance novice, to take advantage of the opportunity to see national caliber dance here at home.

~ Bonnie Boiter-Jolley

Showtimes are at 7:30 pm Oct. 12 and 13 at Harbison Theatre at Midland’s Technical College. Ticket prices range from $25-$30 and can be purchased at www.Harbisontheatre.org.

Columbia artists in the Conch Republic -- A Guest Blog by Chad Henderson

Note: This story goes best with Jimmy Buffet on the radio, a Hemingway novel on your nightstand, and a Key Lime specialty drink made with generous pours…

 

During the week of July 4th, four Columbia artists traveled down I-95 heading for the Southernmost point in the United States – Key West. Our Columbia collective consisted of myself (a local theatrical director), local dancer (turned stage manager for this trip) Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, and local actors Paul Kaufmann and Eric Bultman. Of course, some much-anticipated vacationing was expected – but our reason for traveling to the Conch Republic derived from an invitation from The Studios of Key West to be part of “One Night Stand” – a highly popular 24-hour theatre project that was celebrating its fifth incarnation.

 

The Studios of Key West (or TSKW) describes itself “as a place that provides a truly collaborative and supportive environment for creative experiences.” They offer studio space, lectures, workshops, residencies, partnership projects and nurture the creation of work. Their publicized mission is to “build audiences and support the advancement of established and emerging creative people in the Florida Keys.” TSKW is driven by a distinct cultural and educational mission to support creative community development, nurture artists and the artistic process, while forging collaborations that celebrate and advance Key West’s unique sense of place. And let me assure you – I have yet to experience any place in this country which offers such an inspiring array of opportunities with distinct cultural individuality.

 

Paul Kaufmann and I first went to TSKW in 2009 when we were part of their first theatre troupe residency. We stayed in The Mango Tree House - one of the studios’ residencies where the oldest mango tree on the island actually drops fresh delicious mangoes into your backyard. Our residency lasted two weeks, and we workshopped a new script called “Homo Apocalyptus” written by playwright Dean Poynor and featuring local actors Monica Wyche and Sydney Mitchell. TSKW provided us the time and space to explore and shape this story daily. This script went on to have productions mounted at Piccolo Spoleto in Charleston, and at an arts festival in Cairns, Australia.

 

While we were in Key West in 2009, we were also asked to participate in “One Night Stand” during that residency. So, imagine our excitement when we were invited to participate again in 2012! Bags were packed and loaded, and four travelers from Columbi-Yeah took their talents south for a week-long stay, and 24 hours of theatrical creation.

 

Our group was split between two residencies –Bonnie and I inhabited a lovely studio-style apartment with a private court-yard complete with a pool. Paul and Eric stayed in the newly renovated Ashe Street cottages just behind “The Armory” – the building that TSKW uses as their business headquarters. Paul and Eric had the pleasure of sharing the cottages with Danish artists-in-residency Lise Kjar (Installation/Sculptor/Video Artist), Gina Hedegaard Nielsen (Installation Artist/Sculptor), and Grette Balle (Textile Designer/Painter). Trust me folks, look these women up – they’re amazing and their work is just as awe-inspiring.

 

 

The week ensued with your local heroes partaking in some of the expected touristy fare: Sloppy Joe’s visits, sunset celebrations, sunning on gorgeous beaches with blue water, drinks up and down Duval Street bars (think the Bourbon Street of Key West), lunches at Fish Shacks where your meal was caught that day, drinking water from coconuts, and petting polydactyl cats at the Hemingway house. However, we were able to enjoy the colloquial treats of the island with our new Danish friends, and New York filmmaker and painter Christopher Bennett (also a TSKW artist-in-residency).

 

The time flew by, as it does when you’re having fun in paradise; and soon the weekend was upon us. On Friday, all of the “One Night Stand” participants gathered at the afore-mentioned Armory at 7pm. TSKW Deputy Director Elena Devers took the stage in the main gallery space, which was borrowed and transported from the beautiful St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Duval Street. She started by welcoming everyone to the Fifth “One Night Stand” – which was met with thunderous applause from all those involved. In the room at that moment were four writers, four directors, twelve actors, four stage managers, a collection of visual artists and their assistants who would serve as scenic designers, and four teams of costume and props designers.

 

The goal was seemingly simple – write and produce four new shows in the span of 24 hours. After names were drawn from baskets to team up writers, directors, actor groups, and designers – the project had begun.

 

As a director I was asked up to the stage to draw a writer out of the basket. I drew and opened the paper to reveal I’d be directing a show written by locals Mike Marerro and Chris Shultz, co-author of local publication “Quit Your Job and Move to Key West: The Complete Guide.” I had worked with Schultz during my last visit when he was an actor in the play I directed for “One Night Stand” in 2009. Drawings concluded and our team was assembled, with Bonnie Boiter-Jolley stage managing my show and Paul Kaufmann and Eric Bultman acting with another team.

 

Besides the teams being assembled, there were a few extra guidelines for the shows. The plays had to be no longer than 10 minutes, there was a hand-mirror that had to be used as a prop, and each script had to include the iconic line “Powerful you’ve become, the dark side I sense in you.” Each writer also had a draw a specific location – we drew “Outer Space,” appropriate considering the required line of dialogue.

 

We left The Armory around 8pm, and the writers took off into the night to spend the next eleven hours drinking coffee (or beer) while constructing a 10-minute play that would be performed at a 7pm and 9pm showing the following night. I have no idea how the other teams spent the rest of their night, but we decided to do what we did best – be care-free and have some dinner and drinks with our Danish friends and Chris, the filmmaker.

 

My alarm went off at 6:30am the next morning, and Bonnie and I headed to the Armory. We arrived at 7:15am, met with a table covered in tasty morning treats and the most important element: a warm urn of coffee. I sat down at a table with writers Chris and Mike, and they looked on as I and the designers read the script. The actors were returning to the Armory at 8am, so there was little time to assess the story and decide what was needed from the designers.

 

The title at the top of the page read “Frank Hates China” – which instantly warranted a chuckle from this director. The story was simple: a group of tourists are visiting a viewing platform on the moon where they can get the best view of a soon-to-pass meteor. However, when the meteor goes off its expected path and crashes into the earth, the group loses their cool and struggles to pull it back together. The tour group was led by a just-doing-her-job guide played by theatre newcomer Ashley Kamen. The tourists consisted of a over-the-top Star Trek fan played by Brandon Beach – a popular leading-man in the Key West theatre-scene, a Star Wars nerd dressed as Yoda (remember the required dialogue) played by Mike Mongo – a entrepreneur who lives in Key West, goes to church in Jamaica, and has a web design business in Miami, and finally a widow who has brought the ashes of her husband Frank along for the visit played by Key West theatre critic Connie Gilbert.

 

After the first pass on the script, I asked our scenic designer Corynn Young to explore a Jetsons inspired moonscape with a dash of Metropolis. She alerted me she was a painter and not a scenic designer, to which I replied, “Just do whatever comes to you. There’s no way to go wrong - just have fun.” I then went down the props and costume list with our designer Kelly Duford – who does some work with Key West Burlesque. Kelly and her mother took off to scrounge through costume shops at the local theatres and use the $150 budget to get any other necessary materials.

 

Once the actors showed up at 8am, we immediately headed to a convention center near Mallory Square Dock where the famous sunset celebrations take place. We made a conference room our rehearsal space, and began blocking immediately following a quick read-thru. Bonnie, who was just planning on stage managing, became a performer in the show out of necessity. She walked the ill-fated meteor across the stage and then made a quick change of direction towards earth – which we were hoping would incite some laughter that night at the performance (it did, by the way).

 

Lunch was served at noon, and we had some visits from our tired writers just to make sure everything was working out. After a few more runs, I asked the actors to depart and learn lines for two hours. After that break, we reconvened at the Armory to continue rehearsing in an art studio upstairs.

 

There were varying degrees of success with the line-learning. Brandon Beach, who was quite experienced, was having the most difficulty. Whether it was the strange vernacular of his Captain Kirk inspired lines or the pressure of the situation – I don’t know. However, I had faith it would all come together. The others were off-book, and sometimes having the support of your cast can make all the difference.

 

We made our way downstairs to the main gallery for the one-and-only technical rehearsal at 5:00pm. The cast had one chance to run the show on the stage, and we were able to set levels for the three sound cues we had for the show. The cast was having intense problems remembering their lines at that moment – but still; optimism was the name of the game.

 

We left the technical rehearsal, and had a pizza dinner that was served in the court-yard behind the Armory. As I dined on delicious local slices with Bonnie, Paul, and Eric – I noticed members of my cast pacing around trying to recite their lines as they chewed cheese and drank a relaxing beer. Brandon Beach was sitting at a table under the aforementioned mango tree with his head in his script, when a mango almost fell directly on him – barely missing his head and landing behind him in his chair. He quickly moved to a more secure area to continue studying.

 

With the show an hour away, I asked Paul and Eric how their show was going. They seemed optimistic and devoid of anxiety. Minutes later I saw both of them exit their cottage with leather cowboy-wear featuring tassels…Bonnie and I could only smile as we tried to imagine what we were about to see our travel-partners perform.

 

At 6:30pm my cast convened in the makeshift backstage area in the main gallery. They put on costumes, make-up, and prepared to perform this show that had been written less than 24 hours earlier.

The first show at 7pm was sold out and had a very supportive audience. Two of the shows preceded ours, and then it was our turn. The audience clapped and laughed as our outer-space moonscape backdrop was revealed. Then I hit play on Bonnie’s iPhone that was plugged into the sound board. My cast came bounding down the aisles in the audience making their way to the stage by way of space-walking leaps as “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (The 2001 Space Odyssey Theme, or Gamecock Football intro music) blared through the speakers. As the final climax of the song hit, the cast was on stage and met with applause. So far so good…

 

The show commenced with very few mistakes. A few lines were dropped or changed, but it still looked very competent. There was a prompter off-stage to help in some of those situations – and the audience expected there to be some difficulty. However, when the show was drawing to a close, Brandon Beach – our struggling experienced actor – drew a complete blank on his final monologue. With complete confidence, he crossed the stage and took the script from the prompter inciting the loudest laugh all night. He then recited his last monologue, then threw the script down on the stage calling out, “who writes this shit?” More laughter. He then crossed to his last mark, and said the last line leading the cast off-stage. The audience cheered like they were having the best time of their lives.

 

As soon as they were off-stage I told Brandon, “Well, that certainly worked. Keep it for the 9pm – we’ll pretend we planned it the whole time.” He laughed and agreed.

 

Paul and Eric’s show followed, and it was the final one of the evening. The show titled “An Incident Proposal” was story about Eric’s character and his prostitute friend in 1950’s Key West. When Paul’s character entered the story he proposes $10,000 for a night with Eric’s “wife”. Well, the deal goes down, and Paul and Eric’s excellent performances brought a lot of comedy and presence to the show. The audience was enjoying it immensely, and by the end of the show we realize that Paul’s character is a wheeler-and-dealer who’s had a history of abandoned wives and crooked financial deals.

 

The first audience was escorted out after the show, making way for the almost-sold-out 9pm audience. The emcee told the new audience that “the 7pm show was more of a dress rehearsal and that they were about to get the ‘real’ show.” So the show commenced, and yet again – the shows got great laughs and response from a lively crowd.

 

At the end of both shows, the audiences were asked to pick a “crowd favorite” by round of applause. Both times, the emcee awarded the title to “Frank Hates China” – which meant absolutely nothing, but it did add a sweet cherry to the top of this already rewarding sundae of collaborative arts.

 

Paul, Eric, Bonnie, and I were humbled by an embarrassment of riches while in residency at TSKW. We dined and conversed with international and national visual artists, collaborated with local theatre artists, and were able exercise our craft for audiences in the Conch Republic. A truly unique experience that is just as amazing as the memories it creates.

 

As we began our 13+ hour-long trek back to Cola on Monday, I was thinking about how the locals of Key West were so supportive of “One Night Stand”. We actually produced a 24 hour theatre project at Trustus years ago. While the actual event was a testament to the talents we have in this city, we had a hard time selling 134 seats to our local audiences. TSKW filled hundreds of seats two shows in a row … that fact alone started an itch that I feel needs scratching.

 

Maybe its time for another 24 hour theatre project here in Columbia! We’ve certainly got directors, writers, and actors who could pull it off. We’ve even got an excellent group of visual artists in this city who could bring the scenic design to life in a big way. We don’t suffer from a lack of venues either. I also think, with the right press, we could generate a lot of excitement for this unique type of project.  Plus – we’re all enjoying multi-disciplinary collaborations these days – so why not? What do you say Columbi-yeah? Is it time for another go at it? Do you want to see what can happen when theatrical creations come to life in 24 hours? Let’s make it happen!

 

Note:

Artists interested in residencies should check out www.tskw.org for information.

Avenue Q at Trustus Theatre - A Review

Avenue Q, the new summer show now running at Trustus Theatre, is a lively, witty, naughty musical romp through the challenges of young adulthood in the big city, told via catchy, silly, bouncy songs, performed by puppets. Well, by live actors, four of whom give voice and life to a number of Muppet-style hand puppets.  For sheer escapism and entertainment, you absolutely will not be disappointed by this triple Tony winner that ran for over six years in New York, and still thrives and prospers off-Broadway today.

With music and lyrics by creators Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and book by Jeff Whitty, Avenue Q  follows the adventures of recent college grad Princeton, an archetypal naïf looking for his meaning in life... or perhaps just a job, and a cheap place to live, which he finds in the low-rent zone of Avenue Q.  Princeton is Everyman (or Everypuppet) at 22, and this theme has been explored countless times over the years, in films like How to Marry a Millionaire, musicals like How to Succeed in Business, and even the current HBO series Girls.  The show's brilliance lies in its reinvention of the coming-of-age genre, using multi-colored felt and cloth puppets, especially since the impression conveyed is that we are seeing the familiar Sesame Street characters all grown up, and having to confront the realities and responsibilities of maturity.  A disclaimer in the program makes it clear that there is no actual connection to any Jim Henson creations or properties; one imagines that at this stage, Elmo, Kermit and friends are such cultural icons that they classify as public figures, and therefore fair game for parody and satire.  Unlike the Muppets, however, the audience actually sees each performer skillfully manipulating his or her diminutive alter-ego, and so the relevant expressions and emotions are visible on the live actor's face as well.  All are attractive and talented, causing one to want to follow them on stage, but just as much attention needs to be paid to the puppets, who are the actual characters.

Performing Princeton, Kevin Bush finds just the right tone to seem sympathetic, yet still a bit of an immature tool.  A subplot revolving around an ambiguous pair of roommates (think Bert and Ernie) features Bush as Rod, an uptight and closeted yuppie banker whose nose and eye design are as phallic as his name.  Rod's denial of his sexuality and feelings for his best friend become increasingly ludicrous, culminating in a stream-of-consciousness musical fabrication about an imaginary girlfriend, from Canada, named Alberta, who lives in... ummm... Vancouver.  The ever-youthful Bush could really have played either of these roles quite believably in a "normal" play; I do wish there were a bit more distinction in their voices, especially since between the two characters, he has at least 50% of the dialogue in the show.  Still, he's a great singer and a delight to see.

Katie Leitner as Princeton's love interest, Kate Monster, is equally appealing.  Looking back over my notes, I see at least half a dozen times where she duets with Bush or joins in a group number, and I have jotted down "beautiful harmony" or "incredible voice."  Her solo "Fine Fine Line" (a melancholy reflection on the difference between lovers and friends) could easily have been part of a "serious" musical, whereas most of the other songs replicate the sing-song style of a children's show.  With no way to really change the facial expression of the hand puppets, emotions must be conveyed by adjusting their posture or position; somehow Leitner expertly manages to depict Kate Monster as a sloppy drunk, with her hair falling into her face, and the moment is one of many comic highlights.  She also gets to create Lucy the Slut, who oozes mint-julep sultriness and temptation, with a rich deep voice an octave or so lower than Kate's.  Brien Hollingsworth also displays amazing diversity in his voice characterizations as four different characters, including Trekkie Monster (addicted to porn in lieu of cookies) and Nicky, who accepts BFF Rod's sexuality long before Rod acknowledges it.  Hollingsworth and Elisabeth Smith Baker perform Nicky together, and also appear as the Bad Idea Bears, Care Bear-like apparitions who suggest things like chugging Long Island Teas the night before an important day at work, or using funds sent from the 'rents to buy some beer, and it might as well be a case, since those are better bargains.  Baker probably does the best at recreating the perky, cartoonish voices one expects, and also helps to manipulate most of the other puppet characters when their principal portrayers are busy, e.g. she performs Lucy's movements when Leitner is performing Kate. Through some skillful choreography and misdirection, rarely can one ever tell that the principal actor is doing both voices, and this also means that Baker has to know not only her own characters' lines, but most of the rest of the script too, in order to move the puppet's mouth at the right moment, in synch with the right dialogue. The other three performers accomplish this as well, but Baker is perhaps the best at turning invisible on stage, this being that rarest of times when that's a good thing.  And did I mention that Princeton and Kate engage in some graphic puppet sex?  Well, as graphic as hand puppets who only exist from the waist up can get, but that's incredibly, and hilariously, graphic.

Just like Sesame Street, there are human characters too, similarly disillusioned 20-somethings, played by G. Scott Wild, Annie Kim, and Devin Anderson.  While these characters are never fully developed, the performers are excellent, and their voices blend beautifully with the rest of the cast.  Director Chad Henderson brings the customary style that I have come to expect from his shows:  everyone is completely believable in their characters, everything moves at a lively pace, and there's never a dull moment on stage, even in transitional moments and bridging scenes.  Musical Director Randy Moore capably leads four other musicians and never once drowns out the singers.  Danny Harrington's set is ostensibly a simplistic, child-like facade of an apartment row, but utilizes striking colors and odd angles (much like his recent set for Grease at Town Theatre) to make an attractive visual statement.  Performers frequently have to make rapid exits in time to appear as another character in an upstairs window, and I'm guessing the true extent of Harrington's design can only be appreciated from backstage, as everything seems to flow quite smoothly.   There's also a multi-media component, incorporating a tv-like screen that projects video clips (created by Aaron Johnson) and little visual lessons, in that same Sesame Street style.  The excellent puppet creations are by Lyon Hill (profiled in the cover story of the current issue of Jasper - The Word on Columbia Arts) and Karri Scollon, the result of a collaboration between Trustus and the Columbia Marionette Theatre.

Trustus of course is at a crossroads, with new leadership coming in, and the ever-present challenge to stay true to their mission (edgy shows from NY that might not be done elsewhere locally) while giving the audiences what they want (which by and large is light, frothy, silly musical comedies.)  Through some happy harmonic convergence, Avenue Q  manages to do both simultaneously.  The only caveats might be:  a) however adorable the puppets may be, and however appealing the performers, the humor and language is decidedly R-rated, so consider yourself forewarned, or titillated in advance, as the case may be; and  b) the score is quite catchy and eminently hummable, but no moreso (and no less) than any good Muppet Show song.  As above, coming-of-age stories are nothing new, and have been depicted musically as recently as March's Passing Strange, which was wildly popular among most artists, musicians and theatre folks I know. For me, however, Avenue Q  is the most entertaining production I've seen at Trustus in years, and certainly the best show I've seen locally since Victor/Victoria  at Workshop some 15 months ago.  Retelling  fundamental and timeless themes using a new, unexpected, yet also familiar story-telling technique is simply a stroke of genius, and you owe it to yourself to take a trip down to Avenue Q.

Avenue Q runs through Sat. July 21st; contact the Trustus box office at 803-254-9732 for ticket information.

~ August Krickel

(Photo credit - Bonnie Boiter-Jolley)

Columbia City Ballet takes on Romeo and Juliet this weekend

"If you think Regina Willoughby made you cry in Cleopatra when she killed herself, wait till you see her as Juliet." -- Lauren Michalski, Columbia City Ballet

On Friday and Saturday nights, Columbia dance audiences have the opportunity to see one of the most beautifully choreographed and scored ballets of all time -- Romeo and Juliet, performed by Columbia City Ballet.

Set to the music of Prokofiev, and first performed in the former Czechoslovakia in 1938, Romeo and Juliet offers everything for which dance aficionados attend ballet performances -- romance, beauty, challenging choreography, engaging epaulement, and more.

Rarely performed in its entirety in Columbia -- it has been performed no more than three times by Columbia City Ballet, the last time being eight years ago -- this presentation, with Prima Ballerina Regina Willoughby dancing the role of Juliet, is sure to delight audiences of all ages -- but especially audiences who love ballet in its purest and most exquisite form.

For an added bonus, Columbia City Ballet is sponsoring a post-performance soiree following the show on Saturday night at the Main street Pub at the Sheraton on Main Street.

 

Friday, February 3 and Saturday, the 4th at 7:30pm at the Koger Center.

For ticket information, visit  www.columbiacityballet.com.

(Full disclosure -- Jasper staff writer Bonnie Boiter-Jolley  is a company member in Columbia City Ballet.)

 

 

The Free Dictionary: perform definition: to adhere to the terms of.