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

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

Preach Jacobs - photo by Brodiemedia

Preach Jacobs - photo by Brodiemedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

REVIEW: Proof by the Newberry Community Players Makes the Drive Worthwhile

“If I go back to the beginning, I could start it over again. I could go line by line; try and find a shorter way. I could try to make it... better.” - David Auburn, Proof
 

proof.jpg

There are times when really fine art happens in an elegant theatre with velvet curtains, lush seats, champagne in the lobby, and thousands of people sharing the experience with you. And there are other times when the mustiness of an old theatre is almost overwhelming, your seat is tentative at best, you’re drinking a fuzzy navel wine cooler, and few more than two dozen people share the space. And I’m here to tell you that setting in no way lessens the art if the art is good. And the art was good last night at the Ritz Theatre in downtown Newberry where the Newberry Community Players presented Proof, a play by David Auburn.

Really good.

Directed by Courtney Cooper, a recent Pennsylvania transplant to Chapin, Proof is an older play – it premiered in 2000, winning the Pulitzer and multiple Tony Awards in 2001 – that still holds up well due to the tightness of the dialogue and the timelessness of issues it both touches on and full out embraces, including family dynamics, mental health, gender inequality, and more. In the less than two decades since the play came out our cultural acceptance of (and curiosity about) the vast spectrum of mental health, idiosyncrasies, and function has changed exponentially as we recognize a much broader spectrum of mental capabilities and nuance than ever before. The story of a family both dealing with the end game of mental health issues for Robert, the family’s patriarch, and possibly (fearfully) also looking at the beginning of the same issues for Catherine, the youngest daughter, Proof  is offered in two acts with the single simple set of a back porch and small yard. Additional characters are Claire, an older daughter/sister, and Hal, Robert’s graduate student. With the exception of Claire, all the characters are high level mathematicians and the primary conflict is the discovery (proof) of who wrote a ground breaking proof about prime numbers.

Having seen this story twice before – once on Broadway when the lead role of Catherine was played by Anne Heche and that of Hal was played by Neil Patrick Harris, aka Doogie Howser, and again on film when the respective roles were played by Gwyneth Paltrow and Jake Gyllenhaal – it was impossible not to compare the treatment of the characters by both the director and players. For my money, I’d readily toss both the brooding Paltrow and the manipulative Heche off the stage in exchange for the honesty and vulnerability Amy Brower brings to the part. Where both stars created a sense of annoyance in the viewers, probably due to the difficult personalities they created in the character of Catherine, Brower portrays a character with which one can identify and empathize. I felt the anxiety of her fear that she, too, may carry the same imperfections as her father. (With Heche and Paltrow, I almost wanted them to!) Her body language and costuming also helped move the story 18 years into the future.

Playing the role of Robert, Catherine and Claire’s mathematical genius of a father, Lee O. Smith took great pain, too, in making the character his own, offering theatrical skills one would never expect to find in a musty old theatre in Newberry. The scene in which Catherine ultimately reads from his notebook and the response Smith gives was nothing short of mesmerizing. In many ways Smith channels Kevin Pollock if Pollock were a better actor.

Tabitha Davis plays the role of Claire, the older sister you love to hate, with admirable smugness and condescension and Brava to her for that, while Sam Hetler in the part of Hal, is the man-boy you want to do the right thing by Catherine. We’ve seen Hetler’s work behind the scenes at several theatres in town and it was good to see him front and center where he belongs.

Proof runs through February 24th at the Ritz Theatre at 1511 Main Street in Newberry and tickets are only $12. For more information go to theritzonline.com or call 803-597-1636.

 

-Cindi Boiter

5 Questions for Thomas Crouch

He's Back...

Thomas Crouch octo.jpg

Artist Thomas Crouch is a native of Columbia, SC artist who has paintings in private collections on five continents. Having studied figurative oil painting, figurative drawing, and art theory at the Lorenzo De Medici School of Art in Florence, Italy, Thomas obtained a BA in Art Studio from the University of South Carolina in 1997. Jasper has had the honor of featuring Crouch’s work both on the cover of the magazine as well as in a number of articles. After having been MIA from the Columbia art scene for a bit, Crouch is back in town and we caught up with our friend to get the scoop on where’s he’s been and where he’s going. 

 

Here are 5 questions for Thomas Crouch.

 

Jasper: So, you've been painting out west and up north for the past little bit -- tell us where you've been and what you were up to.

Crouch: Yes I had been looking in to residencies and other opportunities to further my painting for a couple years. In 2016 I was invited to participate in the first Sedona Summer Colony in Sedona Arizona, by Sedona Arts Council Director Eric Holowacz.  Eric was an old friend from High school days and invited lots of artists from around the world that he knew and I’d worked with over the years. So we were kind of the first test to see how it could work.

They are in their third year now. Many artists like Max Earnst, Georgia Okeefe, etc worked in the area and I believe had stayed at the same campus we used. So it was nice to be in such a beautiful historic and art centered place.

After a month I moved to the Hudson Valley area to Millerton NY to attend another residency. That residency moved to Hudson NY and was a bit far for me so I just got a job on a farm and rented a small house from my sister who lives in Brooklyn. My brother in law is a sculptor so we share a studio space there. I showed in some galleries in Massachusetts and NYC which are close to Millerton. I spent the first winter there and got a job at a nice restaurant that was co-owned by Jasper Johns when the farm closed. This past winter I was accepted to Con Artist Winter Residency in Lower East Side NYC so I’ve been living and working there since November.
 

Thomas Crouch bear.jpg

Jasper:  Can you talk about some of the ways you've grown or changed as an artist during this time

Crouch:  In Millerton there’s not much to do but it’s very beautiful so I don’t mind it all. I wanted to concentrate on my painting so it’s the perfect spot. Working at Con Artist in the city was great in a polar opposite way. Working with other artists forced me to explain my work more and having access to galleries and museums was very rewarding. The fast pace loosened my work up a bit I think. My work is becoming more mixed media based and drawing plays more of a role in making the image.

Meeting new artists has open up doors too. I’m still a member at Con Artist and can still show at their exhibits and use the space. Showing at Art Basel Miami at the Con Artist Booth is a good example of opportunities available. Also I did some pieces for Insta Fame Phantom Art which is sort of a guerrilla street art project in the subway trains. So I’ve definitely been exposed to new methods of showing art. 
 


Jasper:  What about some of the ways you've stayed the same?

Crouch:  Hmmm, I still like southern food. It’s nice being from SC and explaining it to people. Charleston cuisine is a big topic and is very popular now. I made a lot of barbeque at the restaurant I worked at. And explaining boiled peanuts is always fun. 
 


Jasper: What is the main lesson you've learned?

Crouch: If you go for it 100% success is easier to find. And to constantly look at other artist’s work and talk to them about it. 

 


Jasper: Now, what are you bringing back to Columbia?

Crouch: The work at Frame of Mind is all of the remaining work I did at Con Artist in Manhattan. Three pieces sold so the remaining 14 are on display plus three that I did in Millerton.  The opening is 6-9  at 140 State St. in West Columbia on Friday 2/16. (That’s tonight!) 


Caustic Bucolic –

These pieces are from my work at Con Artist Collective in Lower East Side Manhattan, NY from November 2017-January 2018. Working in a shared studio space, I expanded my use of blueprints, animals, and current events by working alongside other artists. This allowed my work to more succinctly articulate a metaphorical investigation of human nature.

 

People relate to animals in a variety of ways. With figures of speech, they use animals to explain mundane occurrences of everyday life. In instances of self-identification, people use animals as a source of spiritual power. The first civilizations depended on animals for agriculture, sustenance, and protection. In ancient mythologies animals are used to represent deities. In religious texts a God may take the form of an animal.

  

This work encapsulates this progression of thought. Caustic Bucolic invites the viewer to consider their natural world. 

 

A show at Loft At 115 (115 S. Palmer Street, Rideway, SC) is up through February and showcases work I did in Sedona as well as more ravens. Two pieces have sold and I’m excited to show that work as it has never been exhibited outside of Arizona. 

 

I’m also working on a window at Tapps. My idea is to transform the window into an aquarium. I got the idea from the pieces I did for Insta Fame Phantom Art in NYC where I painted Octopus on the add inserts on the subway cars. 

 

Lindsay Rae Taylor Directs Futuristic SYZYGY Play VISITATION by Nicola Waldron

On Aug. 17, the Jasper Project will debut six plays in honor of the much-anticipated total solar eclipse that will grace Columbia skies. One play in particular, Visitation by Nicola Waldron, will transport the audience to future times and provide social commentary on the ongoing struggles of today and tomorrow.

 

The director of Visitation, Lindsay Rae Taylor, is a New York University alumna and current second-year MFA Directing Candidate in the Theatre Department at the University of South Carolina.

 

“I believe that Nicola has written an incredibly important and thought-provoking play. I am inspired with what she created from the idea of the eclipse—a happening that is rarely witnessed,” Taylor says. “I love how she uses the eclipse to note the passage of time and the change that is possible in our world before, after, and during such a unique event.”

 

Taylor describes Visitation as a timely piece that is set in South Carolina during May 2078. The play centers on the story of a mother fighting for a better life for her daughter—away from a misogynistic regime.

 

“The characters witness a solar eclipse and reveal to us what has happened in our world since our 2017 eclipse,” Taylor says. “It addresses the state of our nation and the possible repercussions should we continue on our current trajectory—specifically the effect it could have on women in our society.”

 

Visitation is set to feature some familiar faces from the pool of theatrical talent in SC. Marybeth Gorman Craig holds an MFA in Acting from the University of South Carolina and continues to act regionally while also teaching, directing, and performing at USC. She plays Mother in Visitation.

 

Kelsie Hensley recently graduated from USC’s Theatre Department where she was a featured actor in last year’s season. She plays Grace.

 

Dr. Andrea Coldwell is an Associate Professor of English from Coker College as well a veteran actor of Coker’s main stage productions. She plays The Custodian.

           

“We have a real powerhouse group of ladies in our rehearsal room, and it has been invigorating watching Nicola’s words come to life,” Taylor says. “When I had my initial meeting with Nicola, I felt we were kindred spirits, and I feel that energy among all of the women involved.”

 

Taylor says she loves that Syzygy marries art with science and encourages audience members to find perspective in thinking of one’s own place in the universe. Although she looks forward to the performance, Taylor anticipates speaking with individuals afterwards to learn how the play’s various messages and interpretations resonate.

 

“The piece has an ambiguity that I find thrilling. Nicola’s idea is frightening and relevant, and the poetry of her language is served from the extraordinary voices of this cast,” Taylor says. “It has been an enlightening journey and we are so excited to share this story with an audience.”

By Bria Barton

Tickets are at -- https://www.tappsartscenter.com/event/syzygy-the-solar-eclipse-plays/

Tickets are at -- https://www.tappsartscenter.com/event/syzygy-the-solar-eclipse-plays/

SYZYGY Director Paul Kaufmann Writes About Directing Terry Roueche's TWEETERS for The Jasper Project

Paul Kaufmann directs TWEETERS by Terry Roueche for SYZYGY: The Plays Thursday, August 17th at 7 and 10 PM   

Paul Kaufmann directs TWEETERS by Terry Roueche for SYZYGY: The Plays Thursday, August 17th at 7 and 10 PM

 

I got involved in Syzygy because Patrick Kelly emailed to ask me.  I immediately jumped on board.  I think the production of new plays is vital to making a more complete theater scene in Columbia.  Trustus's Playwrights Festival, which has been happening now for many years, has paved the way.  I have always believed that event should be expanded to include readings and stagings of other new works.   

 

Tweeters is, at least in part, about looking for something, someone, anyone to follow.  It's a short, funny take on the seriously disturbing use of social media by our country's leader. [Playwright] Terry Roueche has hidden some real commentary in what seems, on the surface, to be a short farce.  So I'd say it's a satire.

 

I have three extraordinary actors in my show.  Hunter Boyle plays Murdock, Eric Bultman is Fisher, and Tristan Pack plays Jones. This cast of three boast two actors who have earned MFA degrees (Boyle and Bultman). Pack is an excellent young actor who grew up performing in Sumter and who has done several plays in Columbia and at USC.  He's also a contractor to my company and has worked as an actor for me in Montana and elsewhere. Their chemistry as a trio is exciting.

 

We've had such a fun time exploring the levels and depths of this short piece. The brevity of the play has allowed us to run it more times than usual in each rehearsal, which really helps develop rhythm, comedy, and pace. I'm very happy with the work the actors have put into it.  We still have a few more rehearsals scheduled before Thursday.

 

I'm most eager to see how these actors will respond to having an audience and to see the audience's reaction to this Absurdist comedy. This type of play really speaks to the difficulty of finding the appropriate way to react to the political and social craziness of these times -- what other real choice to we have except to acknowledge the breakdown of dialogue, the lack of clear and controlled communication and the fear that permeates our current culture?  Yes, all that in ten minutes!

 

I want people to come so they can see local teams of theater people creating new work.  In and of itself, that's reason enough to attend The Syzygy Plays.  And no matter what one's taste in entertainment may be, I think these ten minute plays are a great way to see and sample work by dedicated artists.  I've not seen or read any of the other pieces, but I'm sure it will be an evening of varied and stimulating shows.

 

 

Paul Kaufmann is a Columbia-based stage and film actor, writer, voiceover artist, acting coach, visual artist and director. Directing credits include The Magical Medical Radio Hour, which he also wrote, funded in part by the Duke Endowment and Ho for the Holidays (also written by Kaufmann), The Testament of Mary and Season’s Greetings for Trustus Theatre. Most recently, he appeared in Trustus Theatre’s production of Hand to God as Pastor Greg.  In November/December 2016, he played The Actor in FUSIONS by Nic Ularu at LaMaMa Experimental Theater Club in New York, his fourth role there after The Cherry Orchard Sequel (NY Times Critics’ Pick), The System and Hieronymus (title role), all for Mr. Ularu’s UniArt Productions. Internationally, he’s performed in Wales and Romania with UniArt, in Australia with The Salvage Company and in Sicily with Florida State University. Recent Trustus credits include dialect coaching Grey Gardens and acting in Peter and the Starcatcher (Black Stache), Marie Antoinette (Revolutionary) and The Restoration’s Constance (Reverend Harper.) Other favorite shows there include: Assassins, Next to Normal, Dirty Blonde, I Am My Own Wife, August: Osage County, Side Man, Spinning Into Butter, Touch, Gross Indecency, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, Santaland Diaries, When Pigs Fly and The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. Theatre South Carolina: King Lear, The Real Thing, The Illusion and The Country Wife. Pacific Performance Project/East: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mizu No Eki. Co-founder of HIT SEND Studio Theater with Marybeth Gorman. A founding company member of SC Shakespeare Company, he’s proud to have played Iago opposite his late best friend Greg Leevy’s Othello among other roles. He’s proud to have provided voiceovers for several productions at Columbia Marionette Theatre, including Snow White and The Wizard of Oz, in which he plays Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and the Flying Monkeys.  He also does voiceover work for radio stations across the US. Film/television/web series: Preacher Feature, The Girl from Carolina, Season 2: God Bless New Dixie, Third Reel, Junk Palace and Campfire Tales. Paul is founder of a company that contracts actors utilized in scenario-based training for the FBI and other federal and state agencies across the country. He is a proud former student of Jim Thigpen, his life-changing high school theater teacher.

Tickets are available at Tapp's Arts Center   https://www.tappsartscenter.com/event/syzygy-the-solar-eclipse-plays/

Tickets are available at Tapp's Arts Center

https://www.tappsartscenter.com/event/syzygy-the-solar-eclipse-plays/

REVIEW: Rock of Ages at Trustus Theatre

Rock of Ages is a musical devoted to the idea of Rock Music as a distinctive character, or caricature, in the popular imagination. And while the actual story of rock ‘n’ roll may be a complicated, complex, and contradictory one, our idea of it is not—it’s sleazy, loud, showy, and, above all, gloriously debauched. It’s about Sunset Strip sleaze, leather-clad excesses, and arena rock choruses that thud through your head no matter how much beer, booze, or other substances threaten to overwhelm. It might occasionally be dumb, but it’s often with a knowing wink and rarely without a double dose of fun.

That, in a nutshell, is what the musical, which was a massive success during its lengthy run on Broadway, and the particular version of it that Trustus is offering, is all about. Artistic director Chad Henderson, who also plays the grizzled club owner Dennis Dupree, points this out explicitly in his program notes, that the troupe’s primary endeavor here is to offer “Nothing but a Good Time,” and they are hell-bent on delivering. How much they succeed though depends, to a certain extent, on how much you are willing to revel in the poppy glam metal songs that are the bulk of this jukebox-style musical. The narrative is more than a bit thin, to the point where the comedic meta-narrative commentary is the only thing that can save it, and it never rises above a sort of rote sense of genre. But that’s not the point—it’s the nostalgic power of these songs, their sound, and their mythos, all of which is difficult to deny.

Luckily, the usually capable casts of Trustus have always boasted standout singers (and crack stage bands), and Rock of Ages is no exception. Songs like “Don’t Stop Believin,’” “Here I Go Again,” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” prove they were almost built to double as great musical numbers, and when the full cast launches into one of these familiar choruses it’s hard not to feel like things are right with the world. Individual performers may shine or falter at certain moments, but Trustus company standouts like Katie Lietner as the female lead Sherrie or Michael Hazin as the bar manager/ostentatious narrator, make it abundantly clear why they are familiar sights on the Thigpen stage.

But while Leitner is great in her role and the kind of powerhouse singer the part needs, she and the male protagonist Drew (played by Rory Gilbert) end up a little sidelined despite being ostensible leads. The weakness of their romantic plot line—she arriving in L.A. to be an actress but ending up as a stripper, he as an inspiring rock star-turned-fledgling boy band hopeful—makes them a little less memorable compared to the purely humor-driven B and C plots. It’s in those where the real chemistry and spark of the show happens. Henderson and Hazin obviously have some stage chemistry and comedy chops in their bromance friendship and constant fourth-wall-breaking commentary that the fact that they are trying to save Dennis’ rock club almost gets lost in the mix. Similarly, Kayla Cahill’s performance as the protest-leading Regina and Cody Lovell’s German businessman-turned-candy-purveyor sparkle in their own budding romance and brief stage time. Too, Jason Stokes’ turn as the spoiled rock star gone to seed, Stacee, is also quite winning.

But again, focusing on individual performances is a bit of misdirection here, for any lengthy attention to the plot detracts from the blown-own spectacle of the music itself. Director Dewey Scott-Wiley wisely puts the band in serious costumes and places them prominently right up front on stage, so even when not performing the need to keep the music central was apparent. Music Director Chris Cockrell brings plenty of the necessary glam and pizazz to fit the part, and his crew cranks through these tunes with glee. The scenic design itself was also quite clever, utilizing some scaffolding, and a few stairs, doors, and curtains to conjure up a number of different settings in a blink of an eye. So while not strictly necessary, the production notes here rang gracefully.

In the end, though, this is about as critic-proof a play as you can get, with the pure, unfettered (guilty?) pleasure of the songs themselves in the driver’s seat. Henderson notes that there are some parallels to a seedy rock club being challenged by a more bland business takeover has some interesting parallels to the history of Trustus in the now-sleek Vista neighborhood, and it’s tough not to draw some connections between our current growth-hungry (although also arts-supporting) mayor and the one in the play, but leading you down that road won’t be particularly fruitful. Spray that hair up, throw some glitter in the air and, uh, “come on feel the noise?” – Kyle Petersen

Disclaimer: Chad Henderson is married to the reviewer’s sister-in-law. This made his depiction of Dennis no more nor less ridiculous, although it’s not clear whether the same can be said of his ultimate fate.

Rock of Ages runs through July 1—for times and ticket information head to trustus.org.