Art from the Ashes Book Launch and Gallery Opening on February 1st at Tapp’s - A JASPER Project

art from the ashes jpeg  

Over the course of four evenings in the summer of 2014, more than two dozen literary, visual, and musical artists gathered in the Jasper Magazine office with experts on the February 17th, 1865 burning of Columbia. The artists immersed themselves in the events that took place the night of the burning as well as the days and nights leading to and immediately following it. Six months later, their inspirations have come to fruition in a multi-disciplinary series of arts events – Art from the Ashes.

Art from the Ashes cover

 

Art from the Ashes: Columbia Residents Respond to the Burning of Their City is a collection of poetry, prose, and even a screenplay by some of Columbia, SC’s most dynamic writers, including Ed Madden, Tara Powell, Ray McManus, Susan Levi Wallach, Tom Poland, Al Black, Jonathan Butler, Rachel Haynie, Debra Daniel, Will Garland, Betsy Breen, and Don McCallister. Edited by Jasper Magazine’s Cynthia Boiter, it is a publication of Muddy Ford Press and the first in the press’s new series, Muddy Ford Monographs.

 

In concert with the book launch, Art from the Ashes: The Gallery will open on the same evening, also at Tapp’s, and will run throughout the month of February. Participating visual artists include Susan Lenz, Kirkland Smith, Christian Thee, Michael Krajewski, Jarid Lyfe Brown, Whitney LeJeune, Mary Bentz Gilkerson, Cedric Umoja, Michaela Pilar Brown, Alejandro Garcia-Lemos, and Kara Gunter.

artist - Kirkland Smith

 

Join us as we celebrate the book launch and gallery opening from 5 – 7 pm. Visual artists will be on hand to answer questions about their work and literary artists will be signing and reading from their writings. Musician Jack McGregor, who created a three movement musical composition in response to the burning, will premiere his work as well.

artist - Jarid Lyfe Brown

artist - Kara Gunter

artist - Michael Krajewski

artist - Christian Thee

 

Additional events include a Visual Artists Panel Presentation on Thursday, February 5th at 7 pm and a Reading and Book Signing on February 17th at 7 pm, followed by a concert by Columbia-based musical artist, the Dubber.

 

All events take place at Tapp’s Arts Center on Main Street and are free and open to the public

 

"Clybourne Park" at Trustus Theatre - a review by August Krickel

Photo by Richard Arthur Király Photography Bruce Norris's Clybourne Park, currently running on the Thigpen Main Stage at Trustus Theatre, is by definition an important play; any winner of a Tony Award, an Olivier Award (England's Tony) and the Pulitzer Prize for Best Play, automatically commands and deserves attention. The show is also an unofficial (but direct) sequel to Lorraine Hansberry's groundbreaking A Raisin in the Sun, one of the earliest dramas to realistically address issues facing modern African-American families.  Raisin was nominated for multiple Tonys too, won the NY Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play in 1959, and ran for several years, appealing to both black and white audiences; its plot centered around a black family's plans to buy a house in a white Chicago neighborhood.

Clybourne Park's first act depicts the conflict that was meanwhile taking place in the sellers' living room, and its second act fast forwards to 2009, where the same actors play different characters engaged in similar wranglings over real estate that are really all about race and class. Well-written, well-crafted, and thought-provoking, Norris's script is also funny, disturbing, upsetting, provocative, and frustrating. Top-notch acting and direction ensure that the author's themes and issues are presented with clarity and eloquence, but the ultimate message may be that we have not progressed nearly as much as a society as we like to think.

In 1959, Bryan Bender, Lucas Bender, and  Erica Tobolski portray a wholesome middle-class family who could be Ward and June Cleaver's neighbors. Their banal and affected chatter hides a family tragedy, which makes them eager to sell their home to the first bidder. Neighbors (G. Scott Wild and Rachel Kuhnle) and the local minister (Bobby Bloom) break the news that the buyers are a "colored" family, and drag the housekeeper and her husband (Ericka Wright and Wela Mbusi) into an increasingly volatile argument over integration. 50 years later, the neighborhood is considered traditionally African-American, and at risk of losing much of its cultural heritage to gentrification. Wild and Kuhnle now play high-strung yuppies who imagine  themselves to be liberal and progressive, while Wright and Mbusi, representing the neighborhood association, are a seemingly pleasant, reasonable couple who discover how easily their buttons can be pushed when it comes to race. Norris seems to be saying that while these characters (and by implication, Americans) can co-exist peacefully in certain circumstances, at the same time there's much left unsaid, rather than ever honestly dealt with or resolved.

Norris's script makes good use of contemporary vernacular and modern speech patterns where people talk over one another and cut each other off mid-sentence.  Director Jim O'Connor keeps action and dialogue flowing at light speed, and his cast excels in making every word seem natural. Several actors adopt believable Northern accents, although to my ear some sounded more reminiscent of Minnesota, a la the film Fargo, than the Chicago natives I've known, but there are references to the characters' German and Scandinavian roots, and the effect works either way. Tobolski's suburban Suzie Homemaker in the first act, clad in a lovely dress and a frilly apron, is almost a comic stereotype, but there's a legitimate reason for her demeanor. Bryan Bender is a master of Midwestern reserve in the first act, then switches to broad comedy in the second act as a whimsical and quirky workman.  Kuhnle gets some of the sharpest barbs and meatiest character mannerisms to play with, while Wild's performance is the most believable and nuanced. His character is the only one in the second act to make some effort to address the real issues at hand, although he botches this attempt terribly. Still, his hapless frustration is likely to strike a familiar chord with many in the audience, as his attempts at political correctness reveal biases he never realized.  Christian Thee's set design of a typical 1950's living room seems simple, indeed minimalistic, yet its inventiveness becomes apparent in the second act. Panels and units within the set are quickly replaced during intermission to seamlessly depict a half century of urban decay. Also of note is Baxter Engle's sound design: assorted cell phones, radio broadcasts, and unseen construction equipment sound exactly as they should.

Photo by Richard Arthur Király Photography

While the script has many genuinely funny moments, it's ultimately a dark and wicked satire of society's attitudes and misconceptions about race, and a number of uncomfortable questions are raised, explored, yet never answered. Forcing an audience to think about, and sometimes laugh at, important topics that are more easily ignored is sufficient reason to admire and embrace Clybourne Park as a work of literature and social commentary. O'Connor and his cast add a necessary and welcome human touch, bringing difficult characters to believable life.

Clybourne Park runs on the Thigpen Main Stage at Trustus Theatre through Saturday, Feb. 8; contact the box office at 803-254-9732 for ticket information, or visit trustus.org/.

~ August Krickel

(This review also ran this week online at the Free Times.)

Trustus brings Pulitzer Prize and Olivier award-winning comedy “Clybourne Park” to Columbia with a talented ensemble cast under the direction of Guest Director Jim O’Connor.

  photo by Jonathan Sharpe

 

Trustus Theatre is bringing Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize, Tony, and Olivier Award-winning comedy Clybourne Park to the Thigpen Main Stage. This show, a response to Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, is a provocative and humorous look at racial relations and reactions in America. Clybourne Park is directed by award-winning guest director Jim O’Connor, and opens on the Thigpen Main Stage Friday January 24th at 8:00pm. The show runs through February 8th, 2014. Tickets may be purchased at www.trustus.org.

 

Clybourne Park explodes on to the Main Stage in two outrageous acts set fifty years apart. Act I takes place in 1959, as nervous community leaders anxiously try to stop the sale of a home to a black family. Act II is set in the same house in the present day, as the now predominantly African-American neighborhood battles to hold its ground in the face of gentrification. A wonderfully well-crafted script that received all of the top theatrical honors, Clybourne Park intriguingly explores conflicting aspects of the American experience.

 

Much of director Jim O’Connor’s theatrical career and life has been spent addressing social issues ranging from Apartheid, sexual equality and harassment, social order and responsibility, and American values. “I was elated when Trustus offered me this script,” said O’Connor. “This script is such a direct, powerful, and humorous chance to direct another piece dealing with the world of prejudice and racial relationships. Clybourne Park furnishes a delightful and meaningful evening in the theatre, but also offers the audience something to think about later as well. It can be used as a guide in our everyday lives.”

 

O’Connor has assembled a strong ensemble cast for this daring production. Trustus Company members G. Scott Wild (Ragtime), Rachel Kuhnle (Pine), and Venus in Fur’s Bobby Bloom (2013 Jasper Artist of the Year in Theatre Finalist) are returning to the Thigpen Main Stage. Joining them are USC theatre professor Erica Tobolski (Good People) and A Christmas Carol’s Wela Mbusi, who has performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the U.K. Making their Trustus debuts and rounding out the cast are Erika Wright, Bryan Bender, and Lucas Bender.

 

Popular local artist Christian Thee is designing the scenic elements of Clybourne Park, where the house on stage must magically transform and age 50 years over the course of intermission. Thee is bringing his mastery of trompe l'oeil (“fool the eye”) art and design to the set in order to make the illusion of age and transformation come to life for the audience.

 

“Beyond its well deserved pedigree with a Pulitzer Prize and an Olivier Award, this script demands attention because of its subject matter,” said Director Jim O’Connor. “This script is unique because of the wonderfully creative form and ability to make its point through laugh out loud characters, situations and lines. All one has to do is read a daily newspaper to find the relevance of racial harmony or disharmony in 2014. There continue to be cases in the Supreme Court, battles in Congress and, conflicts in daily life based on when and how different races will ever manage to get together and shed traces of prejudices.”

 

There will be a talk-back following the show on February 2nd. The panel will consist of, photographer Vennie Deas Moore who is currently documenting growth in downtown Columbia from 1920 to 1950, Tige Watts who is currently President of the National Council of Neighborhoods, Julia Prater who is deputy director of the Columbia Housing Authority, the cast, and the director Jim O’Connor.

 

Trustus Theatre’s Clybourne Park opens on the Trustus Main Stage on Friday, January 24th at 8:00pm and runs through February 8th, 2014. Thigpen Main Stage shows start at 8:00pm Thursdays through Saturdays, Saturday matinees are at 2pm, and Sunday matinees are at 3:00pm. There will not be a matinee performance on January 26.  Tickets are $22.00 for adults, $20.00 for military and seniors, and $15.00 for students. Half-price Student Rush-Tickets are available 15 minutes prior to curtain.

 

Trustus Theatre is located at 520 Lady Street, behind the Gervais St. Publix. Parking is available on Lady St. and on Pulaski St. The Main Stage entrance is located on the Publix side of the building.

 

For more information or reservations call the box office Tuesdays through Saturdays 1-6 pm at 803-254-9732. Visit www.trustus.org for all show information and season information.

   

Columbia Open Studios -- A Very Special Opportunity

Artist - Christian Thee There’s something about seeing art in the making that allows for an intimacy between artist and art lover that can’t be matched. Seeing the places where artists work, the tools that they use; experiencing the various sights and sounds that influence a favorite artist as she or he creates the works we love … It’s a special treat. A gift.

This weekend, Columbia arts lovers have the opportunity to pull back the curtains on our beloved community of visual artists and see some of the magic behind the mystery of creation via Columbia Open Studios.

Artist - Jeff Donovan

Included among the artists participating are:  Heidi Darr-Hope, Jeff Donovan, Clark Ellefson, Diane Gilbert, Mary Gilkerson, Mary Ann Haven, Howard Hunt, Judy Bolton Jarrett, Amanda Ladymon, Alicia Leeke, Whitney LeJeune, Michel McNinch, K. Page Morris, Blue Sky, Laura Spong, Christian Thee, and Ellen Emerson Yaghjian, for a total of 58 artists in 43 different locations.

Artist - Russell Jeffcoat

Visiting artists in their natural habitats is fun, informative, and inspiring. Kicking off the weekend of visits and activities is the Opening Night Preview Party Thursday night from 7 - 9 pm at 701 Whaley - a treat in itself! Complimentary hors d’oeuvres by Linda Phillips Catering; cash bar with liquor, wine & beer; DJ Irv Thompson; party photos by Jasper's own photo editor, the talented Forrest Clonts! Fabulously reasonable tickets are available here.

Artist - Whitney LeJeune

Don't miss this opportunity to become a more intimate, more engaged supporter of your local arts scene. Have a wonderful weekend.

Artist - Ellen Emerson Yaghjian

 

Trustus's Off-Off Lady Series presents Red - a review

Trustus launched the first play in its Off-Off Lady Series on Wednesday night with a production of John Logan's Red at the Columbia Museum of Art, coinciding with the Mark Rothko exhibit now on view.

It was just plain fun to arrive at the art museum and be directed around back and up a ramp to get to the captured theatre space where the play would be presented. Once in the bowels of the art museum -- in rooms and hallways few of us ever enter -- we were then directed to board a monstrous freight elevator where we were transported to an even more massive warehouse/storage area resembling an empty parking garage. There to the left was an elongated theatre space created via pipe and draping with a single row of chairs lining the drapery walls. Center stage, on the same level as the chairs, was created by renown design artist Christian Thee, and it, in almost every way, did an excellent job of replicating Mark Rothko's Bowery art studio at the end of the 1950s. Barry Sparks' lighting design, which had to have been challenging given the unusual theatre setting, lent a desired sense of staleness to the milieu indicative of Rothko's disdain for natural light.

Red is about the period in Rothko's life during which he was commissioned to create art for the Seagram Company's new, and now famous, Four Seasons Restaurant. An abstract impressionist, Rothko was offered a hefty sum of money for the time, and through dialogue with his assistant, a fictional character named Ken, he addresses issues of compromise, the value of art -- particularly postmodern art -- and the value of intellect. The questions are provocative in the kind of way that makes the audience want to hit "pause" on the play so you can talk with one another about the merits of possible answers before continuing on with the plot.

Unfortunately, Harrison Saunders, the actor playing Rothko, made some of us want to hit "pause" on occasion to turn down the rage. It wasn't that Saunders was unable to summon Rothko's anger and seeming disgust at the state of arts affairs in a postmodern world -- he did so well and convincingly; it was his lack of ability to modulate the irateness of the artist that felt grinding as the play wore on. While it would be unfair to compare Saunders' performance to that of Alfred Molina who played Rothko in the Broadway play, what we do know of Molina's performance is that it gave the character the opportunity to build from a simmering peevishness to the kind of tremoring rage required of the final scene when the artist decides against selling his art to the Four Seasons. Saunders, on the other hand, went from zero to sixty in the first act and stayed there all night.

Luckily Bobby Bloom, who played the role of Rothko's assistant Ken, responded appropriately to the building conflict, doing a fine job of being at once Rothko's sounding board and his punching bag, while at the same time maintaining his own agency as an artist.

Red was written by John Logan, who we know most recently from the screenplay for Hugo. Included among his earlier award-winning works are The Aviator, the Last Samurai, the Gladiator and a dozen more screenplays of note. Despite its limited run on Broadway -- it opened in London in 2009 -- Red won six Tonys in 2010.

Inconsistencies aside, the experience of seeing Red at the Columbia Museum of Art is something that should not be missed. Kudos to managing Director Larry Hembree, who directed this show, and artistic director Dewey Scott-Wiley for conceptualizing this experience. We'll go see Trustus performances no matter how far off-off Lady Street we have to travel.

Red continues through October 14th at the Columbia Museum of Art/ For tickets call Trustus at 803-254-9732