REVIEW: Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Frank Thompson

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There are good kids, there are bad kids…and then there are the Herdman kids. Between community theatre and school productions, most of us are at least passingly familiar with The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which has long been a holiday staple for young theatre-goers and their parents. It’s a simple tale about a church Christmas pageant which finds itself with a family of uncontrollable hellions in the cast, the less-than-enthusiastic reception they get from the parish, and the travails of a young boy named Charlie Bradley, who despairs at the invasion of the “horrible Herdman” kids into the one place he has always felt safe from them. Along the way, Charlie and his family deal with all the usual Yuletide hustle and bustle, exacerbated greatly by Charlie’s mother, Grace, being roped into directing the show when the original director suffers a broken leg. (I guess she took the traditional “good luck” wish for theatre people a bit too seriously.) It’s a charming little play, which Columbia Children’s Theatre has taken to a new level of engagement and fun by presenting the relatively-new musical version. Director Jerry Stevenson has assembled a tight, well-rehearsed production that retains the sweet simplicity of the original, while adding a glossy layer of professionalism and energy to what could have all too easily been simply another staging of a holiday chestnut. Having directed the non-musical version myself, I can say without hesitation that the revised musical version is livelier and the characters are more developed and three-dimensional. Stevenson and Musical Director Paul Lindley II have obviously cast thoughtfully, with an eye for acting and an ear for singing, complimented by Lisa Sendler’s energetic and creative choreography. Housed in their new location, (still at Richland Mall, but in a much bigger space downstairs, next door to Barnes & Noble) CCT has more room than before to create an impressive set, complete with hinged flats and moving pieces. Kudos to Scenic Artists Jim Litzinger (who serves double duty as Sound Technician,) Sallie Best, Dawn Cone, Gresham Poole, and Alex Walton, whose design combines a dollhouse’s functionality with a Transformers-style “coolness” factor. The perennial CCT duo of Litzinger and Stevenson both wear multiple hats, as Stevenson, along with Donna Harvey, have assembled a delightful costume plot in which a soupcon of each character is reflected in his or her clothing. The expression “a well-oiled machine” may be cliché, but it describes this production perfectly. From the seasoned pros in the cast to the first-timers, there is never a moment of hesitation or uncertainty, yet the audience is led quite successfully to believe that the events of the show are taking place for the first time, with believable moments of surprise and legitimate responses to the events surrounding them.

Much of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’s success can likely be attributed to CCT’s education program, which is quite clearly providing quality instruction to the next generation of stage performers. To put it simply, these guys (cast and production team) know what they’re doing, and do it well.

In what is pretty much an ensemble piece, it is difficult to single out specific actors and moments as standouts, but there are a few. Many of the roles are double-cast, but I strongly suspect the cast I enjoyed at last Saturday’s 2:00pm performance is indicative of the other cast’s aplomb. In both casts, the role of kindly but frazzled Reverend Hopkins is played by CCT regular, Lee O. Smith, who brings his customary goofy jollity to the role while managing to work in several moments of pastoral sincerity. Jordan Harper is hilariously shrill and shrewish as the injured Helen Armstrong, who manages to assert/insert herself into the proceedings, leaving gentle, non-confrontational Grace to try and direct around Helen’s many suggestions and unwanted “advice.” (I especially enjoyed Stage Manager Mary Miles’uncredited silent role as Helen’s nurse. Having seen Miles as the pretty young ingénue in multiple productions around town, it was a hoot to watch her channel One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’s scowling Nurse Ratchet.) Despite her character’s passive demeanor, Grace (Courtney Reasoner) gets the opportunity to show off not only her celebrated singing voice, but also a set of acting chops that one seldom finds in younger actors. Along with Henry Melkomian’s Charlie, Sara Jackson’s Beth, and (again, a double-duty pro) Paul Lindley II’s Bob, Grace helps to create a family unit quite reminiscent of the Parkers in A Christmas Story (minus the leg lamp and turkey-snatching Bumpus hounds.) This wink to the film is quite subtle, as are several other in-joke homages to other shows. (I couldn’t suppress a guffaw at Smith’s most frantic moment, when his voice rose two octaves while he ran and flailed his arms in what had to have been a tribute to Kermit the Frog.) Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol is referenced, and when all the kids join together to stop the Herdmans from stealing Charlie’s lunch, the steady echo of “take mine!” conjured images of The Hunger Games “I volunteer!” protectiveness. (BTW, the “This Is A Peanut-Free Zone” sign was a nice touch of verisimilitude which immediately established the grade-school lunchroom.)

As for the Herdman kids, (Sarah Krawczyk, Julian Deleon, Annie Varner, Baker Morrison, Cort Stevenson, and Will Varner) each has a spotlight moment or two, but function mostly as a group. At first, this bunch is more of a gang of scroungy street toughs than a set of siblings, yet by the end of the show they have become part of the church family, and seem destined for at least semi-respectability. This transformation always seemed a bit deus ex machina in the non-musical, but an added scene in this version shows us the Herdman home, which is a place of hunger and squalor, with a deceased father and an oft-absent mother who works multiple jobs to (barely) keep the family afloat. When the kids sing in awe over a charity basket of simple food, the audience gets not only an insight to their unhappy lives, but also an explanation for their bad behaviour. To use one of my favourite portmanteau words, the poor urchins are “hangry” most of the time, and have little adult attention or guidance. The gift of food touches their hearts while filling their tummies, which makes the motivation for their softening more understandable.

The score is eclectic and fun, and no matter what your musical tastes may be, you’ll love at least a couple of the songs, which vary in style throughout. (With numbers ranging from country to rock-n-roll to classic musical theatre, and beyond, there’s something for everyone, much in the style of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.) I particularly enjoyed the Doo-Wop 1950s-esque “Take The Job, Grace” and “The Telephone Call,” which could have easily been composed by Lerner and Loewe. Among the handful of adults in the cast are a trio of Church Ladies, who become a quartet when Harper gets the Christmas spirit and lends her outstanding voice to those of Carol Beis, Jill Peltzman, and Kristin Young for a spirited gospel number. Their harmonies are tight, and there’s clearly not a weak singer amongst them.

Stevenson has included several “total immersion” moments, with actors entering and exiting through the aisles, and at one point handing out mini candy canes to the real-life audience, which serves as the church’s congregation. (Having stopped for a coffee on my way to the show, I was especially pleased to receive a peppermint treat.)

With expanded chair-seating for grown-ups and a larger floor-seating area for the little ones, CCT has successfully grown without losing any of the informal warmth of the previous upstairs venue. Stevenson, as usual, greeted the audience with a warm welcoming speech before the show, which always kicks off CCT performances on a cheerful note and informs the audience of upcoming events. (If you have a school-aged daughter who would like to learn stage combat, a class called “Girls Fight” is being offered in the spring.)

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical may never sit alongside A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker as an immortal holiday classic, but if you’re looking for a fun, upbeat, joyful show for the whole family, head on down to Richland Mall for a sweet confection of a show put on by a dedicated and skilled group of artists. (Tell ‘em the Herdmans sent you.)

Frank Thompson is proud to serve as Theatre Editor for JASPER, and can be contacted at FLT31230@Yahoo.com

Highlighting the Jasper-Selected Artists Being Honored at Time for Art

When COR (Columbia Opportunity Resource) came to Jasper and asked us to help with their annual Time for Art project we were excited to say yes. Time for Art is a unique project in that bidders attending the swanky gala held this year on Saturday, December 8th at the Columbia Museum of Art bid for art not with dollars and cents, but with volunteer hours. Jasper likes the idea of valuing a person in terms of the time they have to offer over the money they have to spend. But we wanted to make sure that the artists whose work is being auctioned are not only paid a fair price for their art, but that the artists themselves are honored for the important contribution they make, not only to the Time for Art event, but also to the Midlands area everyday by practicing their art.

So Jasper agreed to select a panel of artists who we wanted to honor and introduce these artists to the folks at COR, who then purchased or will purchase their art to auction this weekend. In addition to choosing the artists, we also asked that COR treat the artists and their guests to free admission to the gala, that they recognize the artists at the gala and give them a round of applause, and that they allow judges for the Jasper Project to award a Jasper Project Best in Show award consisting of a feature article in the spring issue of Jasper Magazine.

Over the next few days leading up to the gala, Jasper will be highlighting the 14 artists we selected as Time for Art Honorees. Yesterday we highlighted Michael Krajewski, Olga Yukhno, Flavia Lovatelli, Sean Rayford — Here are today’s honorees:

Keith Tolen

Keith Tolen

Keith Tolen is a retired arts educator from Kershaw County who just closed a solo show at Harbison Theatre.

Lucas Sams

Lucas Sams

Lucas Sams studied art at Temple University, the University of SC, and the SC governor’s School for the Arts & Humanities, He lived for a while in Japan.

Kathryn Van Aernum

Kathryn Van Aernum

From Ann Arbor, Michigan, Kathryn Van Aernum is a photographer, painter, visual arts educator, and creativity coach.

Sharon Collings Licata

Sharon Collings Licata

Sharon Collings Licata is a Sculptor/Photographer & Instructor, Shamanic Practitioner, Sand a member of the faculty for SC Faculty for Foundation For Shamanic Studies.

When COR (Columbia Opportunity Resource) came to Jasper and asked us to help with their annual Time for Art project we were excited to say yes. Time for Art is a unique project in that bidders attending the swanky gala held this year on Saturday, December 8th at the Columbia Museum of Art bid for art not with dollars and cents, but with volunteer hours. Jasper likes the idea of valuing a person in terms of the time they have to offer over the money they have to spend. But we wanted to make sure that the artists whose work is being auctioned are not only paid a fair price for their art, but that the artists themselves are honored for the important contribution they make, not only to the Time for Art event, but also to the Midlands area everyday by practicing their art.

So Jasper agreed to select a panel of artists who we wanted to honor and introduce these artists to the folks at COR, who then purchased or will purchase their art to auction this weekend. In addition to choosing the artists, we also asked that COR treat the artists and their guests to free admission to the gala, that they recognize the artists at the gala and give them a round of applause, and that they allow judges for the Jasper Project to award a Jasper Project Best in Show award consisting of a feature article in the spring issue of Jasper Magazine.

Over the next few days leading up to the gala, Jasper will be highlighting the 14 artists we selected as Time for Art Honorees. Here are today’s honorees:

Michael Krajewski

Michael Krajewski

Michael Krajewski has been a part of the Columbia arts scene for almost a decade now, always advancing an avant garde aesthetic that keeps his patrons and fellow artists fascinated by his imaginative take on the world.

Flavia Lovatelli

Flavia Lovatelli

Flavia Lovatelli, originally from Northern Italy, is a sustainability artist and founder of the art Ecologie Group which brings us the annual EcoFab Trash Couture Fashion show. She is also a finalist for this year’s Jasper Artist of the Year in Visual Arts.

Sean Rayford

Sean Rayford

Sean is a photojournalist and art photographer who recently returned from Tijuana where he was covering the immigration clashes on the border. Sean is a former Jasper Artist of the Year in Visual Arts.

Olga Yukhno

Olga Yukhno

Olga Yukhno is a Russian transplant to Columbia where she practices ceramic arts. Olga is this month’s featured artist in Jasper’s Tiny Gallery Series and her work will be exhibited and for sale during First Thursday at Tapp’s Arts Center in Studio #7. She was also just named as the newest artist in residence at Tapp’s.

Chapin Theatre Company Scores Yuletide Points with "A Charlie Brown Christmas"

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“If I were given the opportunity to present a gift to the next generation, it would be the ability for each individual to learn to laugh at himself.”

-          Charles M. Schulz

 

Ah! The Christmas season! A time for frantically shopping, decorating the house, attending holiday pageants and concerts, and generally working one’s self into a frenzy over creating the “perfect” Christmas experience. In our quest to achieve these goals, we often lose sight of the joy, warmth, and simple times that can bring us the greatest satisfaction. PEANUTS  creator, Charles Schulz, understood that the foibles and absurdities of human behaviour are universal, and that laughing at one’s own folly is not only good for the psyche, but also for the soul.

On 9 December, 1965, television viewers were introduced to the first animated special featuring Charlie Brown and the gang. A Charlie Brown Christmas was an immediate hit, and the cartoon has become a staple of “gather-the-family” holiday viewing. Though most of us will watch the TV special at least once this year, I encourage anyone who loves it (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?) to check out Chapin Theatre Company’s live-action adaptation. The stage play is almost identical to the original, with maybe a few lines changed here and there, but very few. Purists will be pleased, and others (like yours truly) will feel the excitement of a scavenger hunt when catching the occasional rewrite or added dialogue.

The story is so well-known, it hardly bears repeating, but just in case, here’s the plot in a nutshell: Charlie Brown is depressed at his mid-December inability to find the Christmas spirit, so he turns to his friends, most of whom are caught up in the commercialism and benign greed that was, over 50 years ago, already beginning to overtake the holiday. After an unsuccessful visit with Lucy at her Psychiatric booth (“five cents, please,”) Charlie Brown finds hope when he is invited to direct the annual nativity play. Tasked with finding a tree, Charlie Brown and Linus set out for the market, where they come across a sad, droopy, little tree. Recognizing a fellow outcast, Charlie Brown brings his glorified pine branch back to rehearsal, where it is ridiculed by the rest of the cast. Linus speaks a few words from the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus, and then further lifts Charlie Brown’s spirits by bringing everyone together to decorate the tree, which miraculously becomes a vision of beauty. (And yes, they all sing “loo loo loo, loo loo loo loo loo” at the end.)

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Directors Meesh Hayes and Beth Strickland have created a beautiful homage to Schulz’s distinctive style, yet bring a few touches of their own to keep the story fresh. Kudos also to Costume Designer Tiffany Dinsmore for her nigh-upon-identical costumes that immediately evoke the cartoon, and Scenic Designer Bill Botts, who clearly went to great lengths to honour Schulz’s signature slightly wobbly line-drawing style, on everything from Snoopy’s doghouse to the 60’s “mod” holiday trees on display. This show and its spirit clearly aim to celebrate what inspired its creation.

An interesting side note: when auditions were held, all ages of children and adults were encouraged to audition, as Hayes and Strickland were open to a grown-up cast as well as a youthful one. In the end, the “teens and tweens” were chosen; a decision with which I heartily agree, having seen more than one fifty-something Linus dispensing wisdom to a Charlie Brown with slightly greying facial hair in various productions of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. This is not to suggest that adults can’t present an enjoyable evening with the PEANUTS kids, but seeing actors at or relatively near the characters’ ages added a specific twinkle of holiday cheer to the show.

The performances were uniformly solid, and I honestly bought into the show’s reality, essentially forgetting that these kids were born well after I graduated college. Audrey Thomas (Charlie Brown) and Michaela Grindstaff (Linus) make their trouser-role casting work beautifully, and while neither disguises the fact that they’re girls in real life, they embrace the characters with honesty and sincerity, making their actual genders immaterial. I saw Charlie Brown and Linus, period. They acted the roles as written, and succeeded. (I particularly loved the nod to the TV special, when Linus pronounces “…and they were so afraid” as “…and they were sore afraid.”) Lauren Bailey’s Lucy is just as cynical and hard-boiled as her comic strip counterpart, yet allows a touch of humanity to shine through. Juliana Mays (Sally) has only a few lines, but brings down the house when she asks Santa for money for Christmas, “preferably tens and twenties,” to be exact, and Skylar Raynor clearly has a blast in the role of Snoopy, with ever-faithful Woodstock (Ellee Burrows) in tow. The rest of the cast is talented, well-rehearsed, and maintain character(s) throughout.

By now you may be wondering “why go and see it if it’s the same as the cartoon?” To this I would answer that the stage play is professionally presented by an extremely talented group of young actors who deserve to be seen; a sentiment many seem to share, as a few upcoming performances have already sold out. It’s a bit of a drive out to the Firehouse Theatre (about half an hour from downtown Columbia,) but worth the trip.

On a personal note, I will add that the folks out at Chapin Community Theatre are welcoming, friendly, and proud of the work they’re doing. Before the show, I went to buy a hot chocolate, only to learn that credit/debit cards are not accepted. At the interval, a very kind lady asked if she could buy me a hot chocolate, apologizing for the lack of a credit card machine. That’s hospitality. That’s Christmas.

A Charlie Brown Christmas runs through this weekend, but you’d better hurry if you want tickets, as they’re going fast. Perhaps that’s because it’s not only a good production, but one that allows adults (and even some kids) to laugh at the qualities they share with Charlie Brown and the rest of Schulz’s assemblage of mini-adults. Merry Christmas, Mr. Schulz. You got your wish.

To reserve tickets, you can ring CCT on 803. 240. 8544, or email ChapinTheatre@att.net. . I saw “Cast Snoopy,” which features a few double-cast roles with “Cast Woodstock,” so if you’re going to see a specific actor, you may want to double-check the schedule.

 

Frank Thompson is proud to serve as Theatre Editor for JASPER, and can be reached at FLT31230@yahoo.com

Olga Yukhno Featured in December's Tiny Gallery Series

Thursday Night December 6th

6 - 9 pm

Jasper Studio #7 at Tapp’s Arts Center

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The Jasper Project’s Tiny Gallery Series returns this Thursday night —always for First Thursdays — with an installation of 3D art from Olga Yukhno, who Hallie Hayes profiled earlier this fall. Yukhno is bringing a collection of both jewelry and objet d’art purposefully selected for exhibition based on their unique and innovative designs but also on the exciting holiday presents they will make for those on the discerning givers’ lists.

We caught up with Olga and asked her a few questions about this upcoming show.

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Jasper: From an earlier conversation with you we know that you are from Russia and have been in the states about 10 years. Can you specifically reflect on your time in Columbia and tell us how you've grown as an artist and who has influenced you the most in terms of your growth?

 

Olga: My time in Columbia has been challenging at times- it’s very hard to change countries, cultures and even art media. However, I’m tremendously grateful that I faced and was able to overcome such challenges as this process made me a better artist and, I hope, a better human being.

 

In the 10 years since I moved to Columbia, it has changed a lot. I feel that the last few years especially have been particularly good for the local art scene. I’m excited to not only witness this change but be an active part of it developing my work, helping other artists, connecting people and creating new opportunities!

 

I’ve been lucky to have quite a few people in my life who have influenced and supported me. Until this year I did all my work in community studios. Over the years I received so much encouragement from fellow artists who were working next to me! It has been a very humbling experience and I’m very grateful for all the friendships I made along the way.

 

Sheri Hood, the former owner of Our Hands Together Studio, has been one of the biggest supporters I’ve ever had and a wonderful friend through many trying and happy moments in my life. Her incredible kindness and wisdom have changed my life in many ways and served as a personal example for me.

 

My first Solo Exhibition and consequent gallery representation also happened in Columbia. Donna Green of Southern Pottery believed in me and gave me this opportunity that served as a powerful push in the development of my work. Since then I have been working with many other galleries throughout the Southeast but the first person who took a chance with my work will always have a special place in my heart.

 

I’ve been working at USC as the Gallery Director of McMaster Gallery since this summer and it has been an absolutely amazing experience of professional and personal growth. It’s been such a joy working alongside so many talented and dedicated people and being able to bring incredible art to Columbia.

 

And, of course, probably the most wonderful thing that I owe Columbia for is meeting my wonderful husband who is my biggest fan and supporter.

 

Jasper: What have you been up to since we last spoke earlier this year?

 

Olga: Life is getting more exciting every day! As I mentioned above, I’ve been enjoying curating exhibitions at McMaster Gallery. But I also work with other groups in Columbia to bring more opportunities to our city.

I have been working with Flavia Lovatelli to organize a series of EcoFab art exhibitions and fashion shows in Columbia and other parts of South Carolina. Just last week we celebrated the closing of EcoFab 2.0 at Anderson Arts Center and now we are getting ready for our biggest event yet - Charleston Fashion Week.

I also serve as a Gallery Coordinator for the Crooked Creek Art League and a Workshop Coordinator for Midlands Clay Arts Society. I’m a big believer in promoting and connecting people and creating new opportunities for artists. So I try to find ways to express this passion! My dream is for a bigger, more vibrant art community working together to help all the local talent really flourish!

 

Jasper: We're looking forward to hosting you as the third artist in our Tiny Gallery Series on Thursday, December 6th at the Jasper Studio (#7) in Tapp's Arts center. Can you talk a bit about what you'll be showing at this event? (would love to have some photos -- for the blog so no worries about hi res or anything)

 

Olga: First of all, I would like to thank the Jasper Project for this opportunity! I’m honored to have been selected and I know I’m in great company.

 

I will be showing some of my pieces from the Meditations Series. They are ceramic and mixed media Mandalas that symbolize peace, happiness and balance. They have brought a lot of joy and mindfulness in my life and I think these are the things we can all benefit from in the Holiday Season and the New Year. I will also have some jewelry. Personally, I love all jewelry related things- wearing, making, collecting- and I’m excited to share some of my favorite designs with the Jasper patrons!

 

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Jasper: How does the Tiny Gallery Series work for you as an artist -- is it beneficial to you at all, and how so?

 

Olga: The Tiny Gallery Series is a wonderful idea! I love the opportunity to have a mini Solo Show as a part of a larger event. What I’m mostly excited about is meeting new people who have never seen my work. I think Jasper is a perfect “cultural bridge” to connect supporters of visual art, literary work and a richer cultural life in Columbia. I’m very glad this project has been started and look forward to many more successful events!

 

Jasper: After the Tiny Gallery Series, what's next for you and your art?

 

Olga: My 2019 is shaping up to be very exciting! The Tiny Gallery Series is a perfect introduction for me into the TAPP’S community as I will be a Resident Artist there for 5 months with a Solo Show in May.

I’m also working on a collaborative project with the amazing Columbia based artists Susan Lenz and Flavia Lovatelli to create a joint exhibition in conjunction with the Deckle Edge Literary Festival. Our show Alternative Storytellers will focus on literary stories with unexpected, thought-provoking new endings.

I’m very honored to have been selected as a featured artist for the Southern Exposure Series in March. This will be a very unique experience for me of creating a body of work based on the music performed at the closing concert of the Series.

In addition to Columbia based events, I will have a Solo Show Beneath the Surface at the Francis Marion Gallery in Florence, SC from February 18 till March 18.

 

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REVIEW: Toro y Moi @ The Senate, 11/17/2018

By: Kyle Petersen; Photos by: Bree Burchfield

Toro y Moi performing at The Senate, November 2018. PC: Bree Burchfield

Toro y Moi performing at The Senate, November 2018. PC: Bree Burchfield

More than most, Toro y Moi is a musical act that reinvents itself with every album cycle. Since the pre-Causers of This days when Chaz Bundick (Chaz Bear?) played shows half behind a DIY laptop and keyboard combination as a chillwave progenitor to the almost-jammy guitar pop of 2015’s What For?,  the Toro y Moi project has constantly tested its own boundaries, trying on various permutations of dance-centric indie rock, funk and pop as if flipping through an exceptionally-curated record collection.

Bundick, a Columbia native who led the sharp indie rock quartet The Heist & the Accomplice in his college days at USC, adapted his live band to each of the singular aesthetic visions of his recordings each time he flipped the dial, adding drummer Andy Woodward and bassist Patrick Jeffords and then, later on, guitarist Jordan Blackmon and then keyboardist Anthony Ferraro to the proceedings. That core nucleus carried him far, even through the beats-oriented pop of 2013’s Anything in Return, but at a certain point it felt like the touring version of the band stood resolutely apart from the studio creations, and that Bundick was pretty fine with that.

Then came last year’s Boo Boo, a moody pop affair that showed traces of The Weeknd-style R&B and the grimy grandeur of some of Toro’s hip-hop production on the side. As ambient and inscrutable as that album could get, it was among the most consciously pop the project had yet leaned. Too, it was difficult to imagine the live band translating many of these songs to the stage. That Bundick didn’t tour on the effort seemed right and would ultimately prove prescient.

This Columbia show was the final date on the first string of non-DJ sets Toro y Moi had played since Boo Boo and comes in conjunction with the release of an advance single, “Freelance,” ahead of a full-length in early 2019. And it’s clear we’re getting a very different Toro experience going forward. Now performing without Blackmon and with Jeffords on synths as much as bass, Bundick is stepping fully into the frontman role, often drifting decisively away from the keys to roam the stage and lean into the considerable power of his vocal hooks rather than laying low in the groove. It’s a move he could have made at arguably any point in his career thus far, but it fits the new material particularly well, placing him in the lineage of artists like Frank Ocean and Sampha whose auteur styles and left-field melding of pop and R&B manage to command large audiences.


PC: Bree Burchfield

PC: Bree Burchfield

Venturing through much of Boo Boo and new material from the forthcoming album amid a smattering of older tunes that fit the new direction, Bundick was as confident as a performer as I can ever remember seeing him. Even amid the most sweaty, dancefloor-ready vamps of the past, there’s always been something fundamentally bedroom producer about him, that felt like a masterful musician reimagining the music swimming around in his brain while saddled in front of the computer screen.

And that’s probably still who he is at heart but, for the first time, it’s possible to imagine that quiet, bespectacled oddball from around the way as the most unlikely thing of all—not just a nationally renowned indie artist, but a genuine pop star.

This might be some hell of a new record.

 

The Jasper Project Joins with COR to Present Time for Art Gala & Volunteer Hour Fundraiser at CMA

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The Jasper Project is delighted to partner with COR – Columbia Opportunity Resource – on this year’s celebration of Time for Art. Time for Art celebrates the Midlands’ arts, non-profit, and business communities through a silent art auction amidst an elegant Winter Wonderland gala on Saturday, December 8 at the Columbia Museum of Art. Volunteer hours are the currency of the evening and attendees bid for their favorite art pieces with hours of service to their community, taking their winning pieces home once service hours are completed.

COR invited the Jasper Project to participate this year by choosing 14 Midlands area artists to be honored on the evening of the gala. Selected artists then provided samples of their work from which COR chose and purchased one piece from each artist at a fair market price assigned by the artists themselves. All selected artists and a guest are invited to attend the gala as the guests of Jasper and COR where they will be recognized and honored. One artist will be chosen by an independent judge as the recipient of the Jasper Project Time for Art Best in Show Award and will be featured in the spring 2019 issue of Jasper Magazine.

This year’s honored artists are: Thomas Washington, Ginney Merett, Lucas Sams, Olga Yukhno, Michael Krajewski, Keith Tolen, Flavia Lovatelli, Sean Rayford, Sharon Collings Licata, Herman Keith, Kathryn Van Aernum, Cedric Umoja, Patricia Gilmartin, and Jan Swanson.

Tickets for the evening are on sale now and available at Eventbrite. The evening includes everything one would expect from a black tie optional affair with an open bar, hors d'oeuvres from F2T Productions, Management and Catering, a DJ (Big Time Entertainment), and live music by The Reggie Sullivan Band. Dress in your best and get ready to party! Tickets are $75/person and $140/couple. COR members have access to an exclusive discount.

 

 

 

CMA Presents Local Poets Joy Priest and Tim Conroy for its 2nd Session of theWrite Around Series

 

This Sunday, the Columbia Museum of Art will be putting on the second installment of its new Write Around Series, featuring poets Joy Priest and Tim Conroy in conjunction with the opening of the CMA’s newly designed collection galleries.

 

The Write Around Series is the latest project of CMA’s Writer-in-Residence, Ray McManus. For him it is “an opportunity for poets and writers to come to the CMA in pairs, walk the galleries, and write individual responses to the artwork.”

 

The idea came from an old CMA program called Frisson, which was created by Charlene Spearen and Leslie Pierce. “As a participant and audience member of Frisson, I simply loved it – the opportunity to come to the museum and generate new material,” McManus said, “and then to share that material with a receptive audience of literary folks and art folks and folks who were just curious what the hell a Frisson was; it gave me a space to grow in.”

 

Knowing how special this program was to him, McManus was confident the new Write Around Series would be just as important. “When we approach art, any art, I believe a conversation takes place – multiple conversations, really,” McManus continued, “When art speaks to us, when we are able to listen to art speaking to us, we can engage in a conversation that takes us through the art and beyond it. And each time we come back to that art, that conversation can be stronger, and completely different.”

 

By bringing local writers and poets to create work based on art, this program allows patrons the opportunity to participate in this conversation, “not THE conversation, but A conversation. A way of understanding the artwork,” McManus said, “For the everyday patron, seasoned art historian, perhaps the artist, and certainly the writers, I can’t think of a more immediate and hopefully rewarding experience. We no longer become patrons, art historians, artists, and writers. We become a community.”

 

This time around, local poets Joy Priest and Tim Conroy are sharing their work. “Joy and Tim are amazing. I’ve been a fan of their work for years, so perhaps for personal reasons, I reached out to them,” McManus continued, “But I also wanted the two of them together because the range of their voices together will make for one hell of a reading. Both are powerful poets on the page, but they also have a commanding presence on the stage."

 

Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, Priest is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of South Carolina. She is the recipient of the 2018 Gregory Pardlo Fellowship at The Frost Place and has received support from the Hurston/Wright Foundation, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and the Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown, among others. She is formerly an associate poetry editor for Narrative Magazine and senior editor emerita at Yemassee Journal. Her poems have appeared or are upcoming in BlackbirdCallalooFour Way ReviewThe RumpusBest New Poets 2014Best New Poets 2016, and The Breakbeat Poets.

 

Conroy is a former special education teacher, school administrator, and vice president of the South Carolina Autism Society. His work has been published in journals, magazines, and compilations including Fall LinesJasper, and Marked by Water. In 2017, Muddy Ford Press published his first book of poetry, Theologies of Terrain, edited by Ed Madden, poet laureate of the City of Columbia. A founding board member of the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Columbia.

Conroy was influenced to start writing from a young age by his older brother and sister, but he didn’t pursue writing until later in life. Three years ago, he was influenced by a presentation from Kathleen Robbins on her book of photographs of the Mississippi Delta, Into the Flatland. “I take this book home, and I’m inspired to write poems from the book,” Conroy said.

 

Shortly after, Robbins asked him if she could use his poem in her upcoming installation, and it all kicked off from there. “I was always the no guy,” Conroy continued, “But I finally said yes, and a transformation has happened.”

 

Since then, Conroy has explored many themes with his poetry. For this event Conroy is presenting 11 new poems in contingence with the new CMA galleries. “Most of the poems have turned out to be narrative poems,” Conroy said, “Some part of the art sparked a story, and I derived poems from them.”

 

He continued to say that just because the art inspired the stories, it doesn’t mean the poems are what you would necessarily expect. Conroy elaborated, “There’s one piece there that I can tell was created to make laughter, but for me it recalled one of my worst memories, and I wrote to that.”

 

To hear Priest and Conroy read, come to the CMA this Sunday the 18th at 3:00 p.m. The event is free with admission, which is free for members and $6 (or less) for general entry. For more information on the event or the gallery, check out the CMA’s website at: www.columbiamuseum.org

 

The Write Around Series has already had two wonderful writers speak and will continue even after this Sunday into the Spring. A full 2018-2019 schedule is provided below (bolded dates yet to come):

 

2018-2019 Write Around Series

 

·         April 8, 2018 – Julia Liz Elliott, Monifa Lemons, Maya Marshall, and Jillian Wiese*

 

·         September 30, 2018 — Ed Madden and Ray McManus 

 

·         November 18, 2018 — Joy Priest and Tim Conroy

·         February 10, 2019 — Nathalie Anderson and Len Lawson

·         March 17, 2019 — Cindi Boiter and Jennifer Bartell

 

* Nothing to Hide: Fours Writers Responding to Renee Cox and Imogen Cunningham

 

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Milo the Magnificent Coming to Columbia Marionette Theatre This Weekend with a Special Friday Evening Performance

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When asked to describe puppet act, “Milo the Magnificent,” along with the duo behind the magic, Alex & Olmsted (Alex Vernon and Sarah Olmsted Thomas), artist director for the Columbia Marionette Theater, Lyon Hill, captures the moment with three enchanting words: Charming, uplifting and playful.

 

“Milo the Magnificent” is a puppet performance starring an aspiring magician, Milo.  While Milo never uses dialogue, he consistently shows emotion throughout the production in the form of expression, engaging the audience without the use of language.  Alex & Olmsted, the duo behind the production, bring a unique spin to their use of innovative puppetry, according to Hill:

 

“Their work features a unique style of puppetry that draws from animation and cartooning.  The character Milo never speaks, but expresses a wide variety of emotion through interchangeable facial expressions.  At CMT (Columbia Marionette Theater), we like to showcase inventive puppetry, so I was keen to bring them to Columbia.”

 

That’s right! This one-of-a-kind production, “Milo the Magnificent,” will be featured in Columbia at CMT, one of only two guest artist brought to CMT per year.  As a show for all ages, this is one to bring amusement, entertainment and excitement to all.

 

The production will run on Friday, November 16th at 7 p.m. and Saturday, November 17th at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.  Ticket cost is $5 per guest, ages 2 and up.

 

The Friday evening performance is a unique one, as CMT typically does not put on evening productions; however, Milo the Magnificent will run one time on Friday evening, giving guest the opportunity to experience the show in all its glory.  A true, magical experience.

 

“The Friday evening show performance in an opportunity to see the show in a slightly different setting,” Hill says of the 7:00 p.m. production, “The theater darkens a bit more, there are no birthday parties, it gives the artist a chance to really shine.”

 

As for Hill’s personal favorite aspect of the performance: “It is a well realized production. The music, humor and style all merge perfectly.”

 

Come see for yourself!

 

To experience Milo and his magic, grab those close to you and come out to Columbia Marionette Theater this weekend to get a taste of Alex & Olmsted’s, “Milo the Magnificent,” and all of the unique and fun entertainment that this production has to offer!

 

For more information on the duo behind the act, visit: www.alexandolmsted.com

—Hallie Hayes

My Feet Will Be Praying -

Received this message this morning from a dear friend and member of our arts community, Cassie Premo Steele, and wanted to share it with all of you.

Dear Cindi,

I woke this morning with my heart heavy about yesterday’s events at the synagogue in Pittsburgh. I know you’re feeling it, too.

So I did what I always do when my heart is yearning for healing and change. I made something.

This image is a combination of two things from The ReSisters:

-Art by Amy Alley that depicts the Cherokee word for “fight,” which is not the kind of fighting we do now in our society.

-Dialogue between Hadassah, a theology professor, and Sanna, who knows that she is echoing the phrase by Rabbi Heschel, who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., at Selma.

I hope this little gift ripples out with waves of peace and understanding today.

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Thank you to Cassie, and peace to us all —

Columbia City Ballet Dancer Leonardo Victorino Reveals What it Takes to be Dracula

by Christina Xan

Victorino, as Dracula, with Principal Dancer Claire Richards in the role of Lucy Westenra

Victorino, as Dracula, with Principal Dancer Claire Richards in the role of Lucy Westenra

Based closely Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Columbia City Ballet is putting on its annual performance of Dracula this weekend, a show they have been doing for more than two decades.

Last week, I was able to sit down with ballet dancer and company member Leonardo Victorino to talk about what it’s like to get into the role of Dracula, a role he has been playing at CCB for four years.

“I’ve been dancing for 11 years now,” said Victorino, adding that he was inspired by his parents to start dancing, “My parents are musicians, and I grew up in the arts conservatory.”

Victorino experimented with several art genres like painting, violin, and drama, before finally finding the art form that’s enchanted him for the past several years, ballet: “When I was 16, 17 years old I decided to start dancing,” Victorino said, “It was a passion I had but was scared to follow because of negative perceptions. Fortunately, I did it, and it’s the best thing I’ve done.”

When asked why ballet was the art form that spoke to him, he said, “I feel like with ballet, I was able to do all the art I had done in the past in one. I had the drama, the music, the art, and I got to keep moving and expressing myself.”

Though he started dancing seriously as a teenager, Victorino said he believes dance is something that has been inside him since he was born: “When I was a baby, and my mom put me on the bed, she saw me stretching out on the bed,” he paused and smiled, “She thought I looked like a ballet dancer.”

This passion built and built, and he was dancing in a company in Pennsylvania before finding CCB: “I came to Columbia in 2015 when I got offered the job here,” Victorino said, “I immediately started playing Dracula, which was both scary and a huge honor.”

Victorino talked with me about the detailed physical and emotional process it takes for him to get into the role of Dracula: “The moment everyone goes on stage, and I’m left alone, I start getting in the mood of Dracula. As soon as I sit in the chair to start doing my makeup, that’s the moment Leo is leaving, and Dracula is coming,” he shared, “I try to keep far from distractions during the show because the stage is a full-time job. I know I carry the name of the production.”

Furthermore, Victorino shares that he watches documentaries about Dracula as a character and about Bram Stoker as an author so that he can fully understand the mindset of the character: “I’ve learned that to be Dracula I have to feel pleasure in the pain,” he said, “I have to convert the natural in me to the opposite.”

 For Victorino, telling a story through dance is just as and even more important than telling it through words: “Telling a story through dance allows me to express myself without words. The words are kind of dangerous because sometimes you don’t know how to express through them,” he added, “I can express anything inside of me just by movements. I can put out positive and negative energy through my body.”

Victorino also shared with me his two favorite scenes to perform: “The death of Dracula is my favorite scene because of the process of bringing this tragic death to the audience,” he continues, “the second scene where I bite Lucy and she is becoming a vampire is also really fun because we have a very intricate and sensual dance.”

When asked what his goal for the show is Victorino said, “Everything that I’m feeling is important; the stage is the reality for me, and I want to bring this expression as real as I can to touch the audience,” he concluded, “Really, I just hope people come and that they have a good time. Oh, and if they want to see me after the show, I promise I won’t bite!”

To see Victorino and the rest of the production in Columbia City Ballet’s Dracula, get your tickets to attend either Friday, October 26th or Saturday, October 27th.

 

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Les Merry Chevaliers & Death Becomes Even the Maiden Kick Off Jasper's Happy Hour Concert Series Wednesday Night atTrustus

The Jasper Project

Happy Hour Series

The Merry Chevaliers

The Merry Chevaliers

The Jasper Project is kicking off a new series of early evening fun on Wednesday with our first ever Happy Hour Concert featuring Les Merry Chevaliers and Death Becomes Even the Maiden.

The purpose of this series is to provide a mid-week time to listen to original local music, have a drink with friends, and still get home in time to put your kids to bed and not wreck your sleep schedule for the rest of the week. This is also an important fundraiser for Jasper Magazine.

We were thrilled when Alex Ruskell of the Merry Chevaliers volunteered their band to play and we are crazy appreciative of their generous contribution of time and time, as well as that of Heyward Sims and Death Becomes Even the Maiden, who will be opening for the Merry Chevaliers. (Blog post on DBETM coming up next.)

Come on out to Trustus on Wednesday night. Doors open at 6 for a cash bar, happy hour snacks, with music starting about 7.

Tickets are $10 at the door – or, join the Jasper Guild at any level and get in for free AND become eligible for the drawing of a pair of tickets to this year’s 2nd Act Film Festival coming up on November 7th.

Now, some words of wisdom from our featured musicians --

Jasper:  First of all, who are the Merry Chevaliers, what instruments do the band members play, and what are the members’ unique missions in the band?

 

LMC: Les Merry Chevaliers are France’s 14th favorite punk/pop band.  Les members are:

            Pierre Balz – rhythm guitar, glockenspiel, digeridoo – unique mission is to be fifth most handsome band member.

            Guillaume Guillotine – lead guitar -- unique mission is to be fourth most handsome band member.

            Garique Le Freaque – drums -- unique mission is to be third most handsome band member.

            Count De Monet – vocals -- unique mission is to be second most handsome band member.

            Menage O’Shea – Bass -- unique mission is to be most handsome band member.

 

Jasper:  Where did the concept of the Merry Chevaliers come from and how did you guys go about actualizing the idea into a musical group?

LMC: After a long night of drinking sweet claret and reading Rimbaud, the idea of dressing in French frippery and playing the dulcet tones of punk rock sprang fully formed from Pierre’s head like fair Athena in her gossamer robes.  While it is likely a violation of several sumptuary laws, the powdered wig hides Pierre’s bald spot.  The band formed when Pierre wrote some songs and asked his friends to sing along.  When they wouldn’t, he asked these guys.

 

Jasper:  How long have you been together?

LMC: We’ve been together for a year and a half, and have played shows in Columbia, Charlotte, Charleston, and Greenville.  We’ve also been featured on WUSC’s Columbia Beet, WXRY’s Unsigned, and Sirius XM’s Goldie’s Underground Garage.

 

Jasper: What kind of music do you play and why?

LMC: We play power pop punk – because we like it and think it’s fun for audiences to sing along and jump around to.

 

Jasper: What are your musical backgrounds and what do you guys do for day jobs?

LMC: Mssrs. La Freaque and O’shea have played in many other area bands.  The other three are rank amateurs.  For day jobs, we are all men of leisure.

 

Jasper: What do you want people to experience from your concerts?

LMC: Life can feel pretty dark sometimes – we’d just like people to have a little break to have some fun, dance, and laugh.

 

Jasper: What’s next for the Merry Chevaliers after the Jasper Happy Hour concert? 

LMC: We are working on our follow-up to 2017’s Never Mind the Baguettes, Here’s Les Merry Chevaliers! The current working title is Plus Grands Succes Volume Trois, and it will feature the world-wide mega hits “Faster than the Speed of Sexy,” “I Ruined Coitus for You,” “Sex Sommelier,” and “I’d Punch King Kong in the Balls for You.”

 

Jasper:  What did we not ask that you’d like our readers to know?

LMC: As part of David Hasselhoff’s divorce settlement, he kept possession of the nickname “Hoff” and the catchphrase “Don’t Hassle the Hoff.”

 

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If you or your band would like to participate in Jasper’s Happy Hour Concert Series - a fundraiser for Jasper Magazine - hit up Cindi Boiter or Kyle Petersen.

Better Late Than Never Review - Shakespeare in Love from USC

“I am very sorry, sir,” said Bob. I am behind my time.

-          Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Much like Bob Cratchit, I must apologize profusely to the cast and crew of USC’s outstanding production of Shakespeare In Love. After seeing last Sunday’s matinee, I planned to have a review ready within a couple of days. A series of storms, both literal and figurative, got in my way this week, and I’m afraid my review will serve more of an archival purpose than a promotional one. Nonetheless, the show deserves the accolades I have been carrying around in my head for six days, so here goes:

~~~

Based upon the Tom Stoppard film of the same title, Lee Hall’s Shakespeare In Love retains “about 90%” of Stoppard’s film dialogue, according to Kevin Bush, Marketing Director for USC’s Department of Theatre and Dance. The old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is wisely heeded by Hall, who still manages to bring a freshness and slight opening-up of the film to his stage adaptation. Also impressive is the Elizabethan-meets-Techno music by composer Paddy Cunneen, which underscores (pun intended) the timelessness of not only Shakespeare’s works, but also the message that tumultuous love affairs existed well before gossip tabloids and tell-all books. Having live musicians onstage, augmenting the recorded bits was an excellent choice, and the overall aesthetic was that of an Elizabethan love story that could just as easily happen today.

Staying faithful to the movie’s plot, the play, a young William Shakespeare is having difficulty finishing his “comedy” of Romeo and Juliet. With opening night creeping ever closer, Shakespeare’s anxiety and frustration put production of the show into increasing unlikeliness, until he finds his muse in Viola, a young woman of the upper classes who disguises herself as “Thomas Kent,” and manages to land the role of Romeo (ironically, opposite a boy in female dress as Juliet, given the era’s ban on women performing onstage.) A romance quickly blossoms, despite Viola’s engagement to a nobleman whom she neither loves nor understands, and who  seeks her dowry to prop up his estate in the Colonies. As in the film, mistaken identities, double-and-triple layers of deception, and Shakespeare’s Cyrano-esque courtship of Viola (with his friend, Kit Marlowe, supplying romantic dialogue from a nearby hiding place,) propel the plot. As one might presume, chaos obviously ensues, but to paraphrase the title of another of The Bard’s works, all’s well that (almost) ends well, and though Viola does, indeed, depart for The New World, the ensuing heartbreak prompts Shakespeare to reconceptualize Romeo and Juliet as a tragedy, overcoming his writer’s block, and finishing what eventually becomes one of his most celebrated and oft-performed plays.

As Shakespeare, John Romanski is less the dashing Bard of legend, and much more an ordinary young artist, struggling to find fame and love. Bravo to Romanski for taking a role that could have been played as a whinier version of Charlie Brown mooning over The Little Red-Haired Girl, and embracing the joy and enthusiasm he has for his writing and performing troupe. Though not a doppelganger, Romanski’s look definitely offers a reasonable approximation of what Shakespeare may have looked like as a young man. I particularly enjoyed Romanski’s layering of emotions and reactions to the series of successes and failures his character faces. To say that his fortunes swing like a pendulum is an understatement, yet Romanski never makes his transitions from happiness to despair to fear to ecstasy jarring or overly sudden. He plays the subtlety of Shakespeare as expertly as the bombast, and never allows himself to veer into a parody or exaggerated comic version of the role.

Olivia Hensley’s Viola is another “perfect fit” for her role, with her pluck and determination paired with softness and genuine care for the playwright with whom she finds herself falling in love. Hensley’s look is gently beautiful, with the flowing hair and stylish dresses of an Elizabethan lady of means and stature, which makes her successful disguise as a boy even more impressive. As with Romanski, she never falls victim to caricature, but does change her voice and bodily movement to create both an elegant ingénue and a male commoner who is honestly believable. Her final letter to Shakespeare is a mini tour-de-force, and Hensley is spot-on with her delivery, mixing resignation, sadness, and “smiling against tears” into a brio of emotions that provide one of the show’s most touching moments.

Wessex, the “designated baddie” of the show, is brought to life by William Hollerung, who combines a scheming con man’s superficial charm with a few moments of genuine menace. You don’t like him very much, but you can almost feel sympathy for him, despite the atrocities he commits against Viola, and his overall pomposity and conniving. I would stop short of describing him as a comedic villain, but there is a sprinkling of bumbling humour underpinning his rogueish misdeeds, and Hollerung plays the laugh moments (an especially funny bit involving rotating clothing racks brought the house down Sunday afternoon) perfectly straight, which makes them even funnier. As the most ill-intentioned character in the show, he is ironically dressed in all white, reinforcing his outer layer of respectability. (Nice choice, Costume Designer Molly Morgan.)

The rest of the cast is uniformly solid, which speaks volumes of Director Andrew Schwartz’s skills at casting and direction, as well as the quality of education USC Theatre students are receiving. This was a good play, period; not just a “good college show.” I would personally place it in competition with most professional shows I have seen. The cast was well-rehearsed, the timing and delivery were impeccable across the board, and was over long before I wanted it to end.

Scenic Designer Nate Terracio’s set is semi-minimalist, with a few flourishes of grandeur, which perfectly reflects the events and encounters Shakespeare experiences throughout. I’m not sure whether or not that was the motivating force behind his design concept, but it was most effective in tying together the physical locations and the mindset of the protagonist.

Again, I offer my mea maxima culpa for my tardiness to all involved with this most enjoyable production. Yours faithfully promises to be Johnny-on-the-Spot with getting his job done next time. Bravi, Shakespeare In Love company! You truly created a work of which you can be quite proud.

Frank Thompson is proud to serve as Theatre Editor for JASPER.

 

REVIEW - Trustus's Silence! The Musical is a Hilarious Respite from a Weary World

“A little nonsense, now and then, is relished by the wisest men.”

-WillyWonka - Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

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Members of the Silence! cast Sam McWhite, Mike Morales, Kayla Machado, Latrell Brennan, and Abigail McNeely

 When one thinks of The Silence Of The Lambs, words like “hilarious” and “side-splittingly funny” don’t generally come to mind. The classic film, starring Jodie Foster and Sir Anthony Hopkins, sent chills up the spines of movie-goers worldwide, but other than one or two cheeky asides from Hopkins, the movie was a straight-up crime drama/thriller without much comic relief. Such is definitely NOT the case with Trustus Theatre’s season-opener, Silence! The Musical, which serves up an affectionate but irreverent parody of the original.

The plot of the musical follows that of the film fairly closely, but takes advantage of every opportunity to play the situations and characters for laughs. Inside jokes abound, and sassy references to other pop culture staples can be found…if you know where to look. I am going to try and see the show again, as I was so busy laughing and scribbling down notes, I’m sure I missed a few things here and there. Director Jonathan Monk clearly had great fun in using his own celebrated sense of  humour to enhance an already outrageous comedy. Kudos  are also due to Monk for his superb casting, which made the show damn near perfect. (My only caveat is that the script is quite vulgar in spots, which I find delightful, but if sexual slang and twisted characters aren’t your thing, beware.)

As Clarice Starling, Kayla C. Machado is the only character to do a full-out imitation of her film counterpart. In her early-90s bobbed hairdo and makeup, she bears a striking resemblance to Jodie Foster, but the verisimilitude doesn’t stop there. Without ever breaking character, Machado delivers a brilliant rendition of Foster’s distinct dialect, complete with pronouncing her “s” sounds with “sh.” For example, she consistently refers to herself as “Agent Shtarling,” which simply got funnier as the show progressed. I will admit to having feared at first that the convention would get old, much like an SNL skit that runs several minutes too long, but I was wrong. To use another subversive pop culture example, it’s like a running gag on Family Guy that’s funny at first…then it starts to get old…but then it crosses over into hilarious, and you laugh until it’s over. Machado is, ironically, given the number of insinuations about Starling’s (and Foster’s) sexuality, the “straight man,” yet she gets some of the biggest laughs of the evening. One of her finest moments is when she gives a lengthy, incomprehensible, monologue about her detective work, only to be met with a response of “I have no clue what the fu*k you just said” from Robin Gottlieb (more on her in a minute,) and Machado manages to keep a perfectly straight face. (To her credit, Machado and a couple of the other actors did have one “Harvey Korman Experience,” when they all cracked up at some uproariously crude witticism. Rather than being a distraction, this was a positively golden moment when the actors simply couldn’t contain their hilarity, which strengthened the already-solid connection with the audience. Harvey would have been proud. ;-)

Machado and Morales with Robin Gottlieb

Machado and Morales with Robin Gottlieb

As Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Hunter Boyle is at the peak of his game. I attended the show with my friend, local actor Bill Arvay, who declared Boyle’s performance “the best thing I’ve ever seen him do.” While this may have been a bit hyperbolic, given Boyle’s rich resume of memorable characters, I understood the sentiment. Boyle’s Lecter isn’t quite as menacing as Hopkins’, which illustrates the understanding Boyle and Monk had of the character as he fits into this somewhat Bizzaro-World spoof. Boyle is less genius cannibal, and more smartass intellectual, and it works. One of the many tips of the hat to other theatrical works is his prison suit number, 24601. (Les Mis fans, admit it, you were mentally singing it once you noticed the number.) Boyle is still the “Hannibal The Cannibal” from the movie, but he deftly takes the lighter script to heart.  Straight lines are played for laughs, and Boyle had to hold for laughter for at least thirty seconds when Lecter corrected S(h)tarling on the famous “Fava beans and a nice Chianti” line.

Patrick Dodds, whose considerable talent seems to grow and develop with each role he undertakes, manages to create a frightening Buffalo Bill who still fits in with the MAD Magazine atmosphere of zaniness. While making the part  his own, Dodds winks at the character with a few straight-from-the-film bits. Fans of the movie will remember the odd tic of a laugh Buffalo Bill tries to suppress when asking Starling about a missing woman she is seeking. “Was she like, a big, fat, person?” isn’t a funny line per se, but when Dodds adds the brief snicker to his query, the result is a cascade of knowing laughter from the audience. While Dodds is younger and a bit more manic than his screen counterpart, he is a perfect fit (see what I did there?) for the demented lunatic of the stage adaptation.

Dressed in all black, with white floppy ears, the other five actors play “everyone else,” including a flock of lambs, establishing individual characters by adding a jacket, hat, or comparably simple garment. Costume Designer Amy Brower Lown succeeds in maintaining  a specific, cohesive, style without ever compromising the ersatz reality of the script. Lown’s concept is brilliantly supported by LaTrell Brennan, Robin Gottlieb, Abigail McNeely, Samuel McWhite, and Mike Morales, who transition seamlessly from character to character.

As Ardelia, Starling’s roommate and is-she-or-isn’t-she girlfriend, Brennan not only develops a three-dimensional character, but also displays great facility at  delivering a punchline, often remaining perfectly serious during her funniest moments. Gottlieb brings her customary stage presence and overall panache to playing a series of all-male characters. (Another inside joke is set up when Gottlieb appears as Starling’s deceased father, prompting Starling to plead “Papa, can you hear me?” with Yentyl–like wistfulness.) In an uncredited cameo as mental patient Miggs, Gottlieb hilariously re-creates the (in)famous moment when Miggs masturbates and flings the resulting *ahem* substance at Starling, substituting a can of Silly String at a decidedly seminal moment in the show.

Working double duty as Buffalo Bill’s victim, Catherine, and her US Senator mother, McNeely demonstrates an almost chameleon-like ability to morph into completely different appearances. I honestly didn’t realize the roles were done by the same person until well over halfway through.

McWhite’s primary alter-ego of Lecter’s keeper, Dr. Chilton, is less pathetic than the film Chilton, interpreted more as a fast-talking pickup artist than a socially awkward nerd. While we can easily imagine the movie incarnation moping in depression after failing to seduce Starling, McWhite’s Chilton has probably had more successes than failures with women, and displays a delightful “your loss, baby” attitude, likely moving on to his next potential lover.

Morales was the most difficult actor to track, as he, like McNeely, apparently has the ability to shape-shift. I suspect it was he who played the geeky entomologist who also fails to woo Starling with his offer of “cheeseburgers and the amusing house wine.” ( This line is pretty much a throwaway in the movie, but takes on great hilarity when placed in the world of Silence!) Morales also has a most amusing death scene as the ill-fated Officer Pembry. As with the rest of the show, what was frightening and/or grotesque on the silver screen becomes fodder for hilarity onstage.

Sam Hetler’s scenic design is both functional and visually intriguing, creating a unit set that serves as over a dozen locations. Hetler’s work is showing up with growing frequency on Columbia stages, and he never fails to deliver a professional-quality set with a few unexpected flairs. Marc Hurst’s lighting design reinforces Hetler’s fun-house set with dramatic changes in intensity and color, never letting the audience forget that this is a bizarre alternate reality. Particularly impressive were his use of lighting Buffalo Bill’s lair from beneath the playing surface (blending perfectly with Hetler’s dungeon-wall motif,) and a sudden full-stage switch to fuzzy black-and-green to simulate the view from a pair of night-vision goggles. Hurst also helps create locales with projected establishing texts such as “Baltimore Nuthouse” and “Mr. Belvedere, Ohio,” among others.

Machado and Hunter Boyle

Machado and Hunter Boyle

Musical Director Randy Moore lives up to his customary professionalism, making piano, keyboard, and drums sound like a full orchestra. Bravo to Trustus and Moore for utilizing live musicians in a time when far too many theatres are opting for “canned” pre-recorded orchestration. The freshness and obvious communication among the four instrumentalists added another layer of connection to the show, as well as the audience.

Lest there be any doubt, I found Silence! To be a laugh-a-minute roller coaster ride of naughty satire, and left with my sides aching from constant guffawing.  It’s definitely for grown-ups, and never blinks or shies away from that fact, so be prepared. Never before have I seen a dancing vagina ballet, bubble-wrap bulletproof vests, the “Manamana” song used as a diversionary tactic, an imitation of Jodie Foster reciting “she sells seashells by the seashore,” or Hunter Boyle in a fabulous hat and caftan ensemble. (Okay, that last one was a lie.)

Silence! runs through 3 November, and tickets can be purchased online at Trustus.org, or by ringing the box office on (803) 254.9732. Word is spreading, and tickets are likely to be going fast, so reserve your seats soon for this delightfully macabre, oft-profane, “egregiously misrespectful” piece of  theatre that maintains Trustus’ commitment to professional and well-produced art.

Frank Thompson is proud to serve as Theatre Editor for JASPER.

Patrick Dodds as Buffalo Bill - all photos courtesy of Trustus Theatre

Patrick Dodds as Buffalo Bill - all photos courtesy of Trustus Theatre

Introducing the Roster of 2nd Act Film Festival 2018 Filmmakers

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Hugo Guzman is a veteran of the French Foreign Legion. His is the owner/operator of Titan Throw Multimedia.

Hugo Guzman is a veteran of the French Foreign Legion. His is the owner/operator of Titan Throw Multimedia.

Katly Hong is an animator and illustrator who is most fascinated by human relationships and vulnerability

Katly Hong is an animator and illustrator who is most fascinated by human relationships and vulnerability

Daljit Kalsi (left) is a journalist and filmmaker from Greenville, SC whose films have been featured in festivals across the globe. His 2017 film, BOUND, won Best Overall at the Tryon International Film Festival and is streaming now on Amazon Prime.

Daljit Kalsi (left) is a journalist and filmmaker from Greenville, SC whose films have been featured in festivals across the globe. His 2017 film, BOUND, won Best Overall at the Tryon International Film Festival and is streaming now on Amazon Prime.

Caroline Mobley is a Marketing Assistant with Historic Columbia by day and cinematographer by night. A native of South Carolina, she uses her understanding of Southern culture, paired with a passion for film, to create strong visuals and meaningful stories. While 2nd Act is her maiden voyage as a professional writer/director she has had films in Indie Grits and Campus MovieFest.

Caroline Mobley is a Marketing Assistant with Historic Columbia by day and cinematographer by night. A native of South Carolina, she uses her understanding of Southern culture, paired with a passion for film, to create strong visuals and meaningful stories. While 2nd Act is her maiden voyage as a professional writer/director she has had films in Indie Grits and Campus MovieFest.

A South Carolina native, Ian O’Briant has studied a cross section of visual and performative arts. In an academic career spanning a decade and a half, fizzling and dying somewhere around the second year of his first year of grad school, he was the director, cinematographer, editor, writer, and boom mic operator for numerous student films. He has worked in media and journalism for 10 years.

A South Carolina native, Ian O’Briant has studied a cross section of visual and performative arts. In an academic career spanning a decade and a half, fizzling and dying somewhere around the second year of his first year of grad school, he was the director, cinematographer, editor, writer, and boom mic operator for numerous student films. He has worked in media and journalism for 10 years.

Tia Pennix graduated from USC with a degree in Journalism, but acting has always been her passion. Eventually, Tia merged the skills she learned from journalism, with her passion for acting, and began filmmaking. This is Tia’s first time entering a festival.

Tia Pennix graduated from USC with a degree in Journalism, but acting has always been her passion. Eventually, Tia merged the skills she learned from journalism, with her passion for acting, and began filmmaking. This is Tia’s first time entering a festival.

Johnny Sizemore is the C.E.O. of Showtime Productions, a national production company specializing Theatre and Film and the C.E.O. of JMS Media Group, a full-service photography and videography entity servicing the Upstate and abroad.

Johnny Sizemore is the C.E.O. of Showtime Productions, a national production company specializing Theatre and Film and the C.E.O. of JMS Media Group, a full-service photography and videography entity servicing the Upstate and abroad.

Zack Spencer grew up in Columbia, SC and is currently a junior at USC where he is the Executive Producer of 1080C, USC's short film organization. His goal is to become a cinematographer and writer, and to share his perspectives with the world through narrative storytelling.

Zack Spencer grew up in Columbia, SC and is currently a junior at USC where he is the Executive Producer of 1080C, USC's short film organization. His goal is to become a cinematographer and writer, and to share his perspectives with the world through narrative storytelling.

Barry Wheeler is an IT professional and a Columbia, SC artist, concentrating his work in digital media. He is a graduate of the South Carolina Honors College (BS, Chemistry) and the University of South Carolina (MA, Media Arts). His background in science and computers motivates his practice, which explores the relationships between technology, digital process, information design, and art. Barry’s work has been featured at various exhibitions and shows around the state.

Barry Wheeler is an IT professional and a Columbia, SC artist, concentrating his work in digital media. He is a graduate of the South Carolina Honors College (BS, Chemistry) and the University of South Carolina (MA, Media Arts). His background in science and computers motivates his practice, which explores the relationships between technology, digital process, information design, and art. Barry’s work has been featured at various exhibitions and shows around the state.

Quaviondre Williams, Timothy Boualapha, and Bridgette James have combined their talents under the name B. T. Williams. Based in Columbia, SC the individuals are college students who recognize that when they work together, they can push each other to new heights of creativity.

Quaviondre Williams, Timothy Boualapha, and Bridgette James have combined their talents under the name B. T. Williams. Based in Columbia, SC the individuals are college students who recognize that when they work together, they can push each other to new heights of creativity.

2nd Act Film Festival 2018

Wednesday, November 7th at 7 pm

VIP/Filmmaker Reception at 6 pm

Trustus Theatre

Karl Larsen's Untethered, Opening Friday at Frame of Mind, Challenges Preconceptions and Invites Discourse

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 “I was looking at the art and I realized that I was Untethered,” Columbia-based artist, Karl L. Larsen, describes the title of his upcoming exhibition, “… it’s a free for all in there.  Untethered means to literally separate myself mentally and physically from the things that I think are plaguing society.”

 

Local artist, Karl L. Larsen, dives into his inner being and views the world through a fresh perspective in his upcoming show, Untethered, opening October 5th at Frame of Mind, with a reception from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.  With topics that are meant to be mind-boggling and controversial, this show will offer not only originality, but opportunity for discussion on topics that deserving of discourse.

 

The 33-year-old Columbia native will be showcasing art that posits a question that is faced in everyday society but is often avoided: Why do we believe what do believe?  A question that revolves around this broad idea of thinking for oneself.

 

Larsen shows his art through new eyes, by creating in a manner that involves him “taking off the lenses,” and showcasing pieces that dwell in his own thoughts, leaving breadcrumbs behind for the viewer to pick up, and make what they will from; hopefully exploring their own views.

 

“Over the last year or so, I’ve been going through a transition, and I like to use the, you know, ‘taking off the lenses’ that I’ve been wearing my entire life … I finally got brave enough to take those off and detach from things, and to step outside of my boundaries,” Larsen explains on the idea behind this intriguing collection, “…  So, a lot of these are mixed up in some very interesting conspiracies with politics, and amongst other things, but once I took these glasses off, I began looking at everything with fresh eyes … it gave me inspiration but it allowed me to create in this undisciplined, just go at it; no rules.”

 

With art that explores a multitude of different media and style, the artist hopes that his work will create dialog through the vision that he has created from his own ideas; a vision that isn’t corrupted by the media.  With only two pieces that come from a personal side of Larsen’s life, each opposing piece contains different content that is embodied with a rabbit hole of possibilities for each individual to explore, asking questions such as, why do you look at the world the way that you do?  

 

“I do kind of want to have those discussions with people who want to talk about this kind of stuff and they are curious,” the artist says, “and when you take those glasses off a beautiful world emerges.”

 

Larsen has been creating art for 5 years now, however, his show Untethered isn’t about creating beauty from his external view - it is about creating work from an internal perspective.

 

The artist debates the idea that society is consumed with what we are getting from the media and believing everything we are told without taking in our own perspectives, which is what one needs: to be challenged and to have their mind stimulated.

 

“It’s really about thinking for yourself, and even though this stuff is strange and it may be a little offensive to people, I think they need it,” Larsen continues his exploration into the creation of his work, “Artist have to tell the truth, because nobody else is telling the truth.”

 

Through this collection, Larsen is not only providing a new perspective on the strange things in the world around us, but he is opening opportunities to learn more about the things that are really processing in the viewer’s own mind.  “So, the fun thing about it is that, not only can you gain a new perspective on things, you learn more about yourself,” Larsen explains.

 

The artist Karl Larsen

The artist Karl Larsen

Along with this thought driven collection, Larsen will also display fashion that he designed via individuals at the event and his popular painted couch, which has circulated Columbia, at opening night.

 

One should come into this show with an open-mind, expecting the unexpected and be willing to dive into their own ideology through the ideas of another.  Larsen has no intention of this show portraying what his previous show offered, but instead is providing a whole new chapter of work.

 

“I want to always test myself … and as long as I stay like that, every time that I show is going to be wildly different then the last,” Larsen describes on what to expect, “And I think that’s what artist have to do in order to challenge themselves.”

 

Untethered will be displayed for two months, closing on November 30th.  To view more of Larsen’s work, you can purchase tickets to an event that he will be featured at, Collectively Supported Art, on November 9th (tickets available at the opening reception of Untethered) or find him painting at the West Columbia Fall Back Fest on November 2nd.

 

Columbia is lucky to have an artist who breaks boundaries and challenges not only himself, but his audience; one who explores controversies through a new, clear perspective.

 

“… that’s what art should do. Art should bring people together. It should be challenging people,” says Larsen, “Artist have to tell the truth about themselves because if they don’t - or what they’re trying to portray - then what are they doing?”

 

-Hallie Hayes

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REVIEW -- OnStage Production's Hairspray is a Jewel Worth the Trip

“…your eyes can deceive you; don’t trust them.”

-Obi-Wan Kenobi,
“Star Wars: A New Hope”

Tracy sends a cheerful "Good Morning, Baltimore!" to her hometown.

Tracy sends a cheerful "Good Morning, Baltimore!" to her hometown.

Okay, I will freely admit that the first couple of times I attended a show at OnStage Productions, my eyes concealed a perfect gem, literally at my feet. When one arrives at The Old Mill in Lexington, it looks like someone converted a couple of ancient warehouses into an upscale brewpub, added a small shop or two, then called it a day. While these establishments do exist, there’s also something quite special just a few feet underground.

Housed in a renovated downstairs area, OnStage has created  the look, feel, and atmosphere of a cozy, hip, Off-Broadway house. The space is a bit cramped, and has a slightly “rough at the edges” feel, as I firmly believe all good playhouses should. Be prepared to sit close to your seatmates, but that’s all part of the aura and style OnStage has created in building what could easily be a 100-seat, upstairs, Greenwich Village theatre. Just set your personal space requirements to “NYC mode,” and you’ll have a blast.

 

Speaking of blasts, Director Robert Harrelson truly blew us away with Saturday night’s performance of Hairspray, The Musical, which continues its run this Thursday-Sunday. With a cast full of talent, and some most innovative staging, Harrelson makes the show work like a well-oiled machine. The set, though simple in design, effectively creates the show’s various locales through a quartet of four-sided columns, outstanding use of lighting to suggest a specific space, and a never-ending flow of kinetic energy from the cast, who all move things around just in time to be perfectly in place for the next scene. The action of the play never wanes, nor does the seemingly boundless energy of the cast. One of the highest compliments I can give a musical is that it “never stops moving,” which perfectly describes this version of Hairspray.

 

And of the performance, itself? Well, it had me singing along with half the score, and laughing uproariously, often at the most inappropriate jokes and one-liners. Again, I must sing Harrelson’s praises for DOING THE SHOW AS WRITTEN. Hairspray, the John Waters film which gave rise to the musical, was subversive as hell, made fun of cultural stereotypes, and embraced the taboo with mischievous glee. The musical has toned down a bit of Waters’ signature vulgarity, but keeps its norm-shattering and cheeky storyline intact. Harrelson has not altered the script in any way, nor has he “bleeped out” a single potentially-controversial line. This is Hairspray as it was written to be played, not a sanitized-for-grandma production. (Incidentally, I saw several grandma-types laughing and enjoying the show right along with me.) Bravo for Harrelson for his faithfulness to the work, and the ensuing quality that comes with that integrity.


Charity Gilbert, Laiyah Smith, and Jamila Wicker raise the roof as "The Dynamites."

Charity Gilbert, Laiyah Smith, and Jamila Wicker raise the roof as "The Dynamites."

The cast has some double-casting, with about half the roles being played at all performances, with others alternating between two actors. My friends and I saw “Cast A,” and they delivered a fast-paced, turbo-charged, roller coaster of a ride that I’m sure is matched in quality by “Cast B.”

Leading the cast as Edna Turnbladt is Bradley Watts (who shares the role with Jeffrey Sigley.) Watts is great fun to watch, and throws himself enthusiastically into the part. There’s a definite nod to Harvey Fierstein’s Edna, but Watts makes the role his own, not only vocally, but also through the creation of a slightly softer, somewhat less acerbic Edna than we’ve seen from other productions. Without ever losing the comedy or the no-nonsense personality, Watts gives us an Edna that retains her strength, but never at the cost of her femininity. Her rapport with husband Wilbur, played in both casts by Theodore Reynolds, is spot-on, and the two clearly trust each other as scene partners, creating a snapshot of the trust and affection between Edna and Wilbur. Reynolds is appropriately goofy without ever resorting to mugging for the audience, and makes Wilbur the lovable doofus with great success.

As Tracy Turnbladt, Whitney McDonald shines in a role she is clearly delighted to be playing. Her talent is undeniable, and she’s clearly confident in the character choices she has made. A “plus-sized” social warrior and crusader for justice, McDonald’s Tracy is also quite lovely. (Think Nigella Lawson meets a Designing Women-era Delta Burke, with a dash of Adele thrown in,) and serves as a perfect example of how beauty not only comes from within, but also that outer beauty can take many forms. McDonald allows Tracy a sweetness that never compromises her commitment to equality and progress. As for her vocals, one word. Wow! Harrelson has clearly followed the old theatrical adage of “cast the best singers first,” and McDonald can deliver on a ballad or belt the paint off the back wall, without ever losing pitch or sincerity. (Tracy is played on alternate nights by Katie Edelson.)

As foils for the Turnbladt women, we meet Velma and Amber Von Tussle, a former pageant star, and her beauty-queen daughter, Lisa Baker and Zanna Mills, respectively, who share the roles with Leslie Dellinger and JoJo Wallace. Baker brings down the house with her “Miss Baltimore Crabs” number, and Mills, who demonstrated her skill at playing sweet and innocent as Mary Ann in last season’s Gilligan’s Island: The Musical, shows that she can play “mean girl” Amber with equal aplomb. Mills also makes her debut as a choreographer in this production, and the result is a series of well-rehearsed, toe-tapping, fun choreography that almost pulls the audience members into the aisles to boogie down.

As David LaTorre performs with both casts, I can quite literally say that there isn’t a weak (L)ink in the show. (Thanks, folks, I’ll be playing here all week.) In what could easily be a standard, Richie Cunningham-esque boyfriend role, LaTorre find’s Link’s humanity in every sense of the word. Neither Superboy nor “bad boy,” Link finds himself at several personal and ethical crossroads, and LaTorre conveys well his sense of conflict, as well as his desire to do what is right, even if it costs him. Ara-Viktoria Goins is a somewhat sexier Motormouth Maybelle than devotees of Hairspray may be used to, but it works brilliantly with the character’s believe-in-yourself philosophy. Goins, like McDonald, has a huge voice that can shake the rafters, as well as purr seductively, as she demonstrates in her performance of “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful.”


Ara-Viktoria Goins as Motormouth Maybelle.

Ara-Viktoria Goins as Motormouth Maybelle.

Much of the social statements in Hairspray center around the budding romance between Seaweed Stubbs (Joshua Wright) and Penny Pingleton (Camryn Harsey, alternating with Kari Tilghman.) Seaweed is black, Penny is white, and it’s 1962, so there’s plenty of era-based controversy over their relationship. While never preachy or heavy-handed, their story strikes at the core message of the play, which is that what’s on the outside doesn’t matter. Both performers approach the material with a light touch, but their message of social justice, equality, and the strength of unity comes through loud and clear. Wright and Harsey both bring strong voices and considerable stage presence to their roles.

Debra Leopard and Mark DiNovo, as usual, turn in memorable, fully-realized, enjoyable characters. While Leopard is a hoot as Penny’s religious-fanatic mother (and also shines in a smaller role as the High School principal,) DiNovo had me doubled over with laughter every time he took the stage. His two “bonus” roles in “Good Morning, Baltimore” and “The Big Doll House” are absolute side-splitters, and his lame-clad Mr. Spritzer is a delight. Linda Lawton Brochin serves up a couple of hilarious cameos, and Karlton Timmerman’s Corny Collins hits all the right notes as a smarmy-but-charming dance show host, and manages to show off a very nice singing voice, as well.

Were there a few negatives? Yes, but none that marred the experience. The musicians (yes, Hairspray utilizes live musicians, which I strongly support) could be a bit overpowering at times, but to be fair, we were seated fairly close to them. A couple of the soloists had to struggle with a note that was too high or too low, and I occasionally missed a lyric or two. There was one small glitch during a scene change, but by the time I even noticed, it had been corrected.

OnStage Productions is a short, 20-minute drive from Downtown Columbia, and I strongly encourage everyone to make that drive. Hairspray is slick, polished, well-paced, and provides a subtle reminder of the importance of equality and acceptance in society.

 

Hairspray concludes its run this Thursday-Sunday. Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.onstagesc.com

Frank Thompson is Theatre Editor for Jasper.

Next up for the Jasper Project?

Keith Tolen is our first featured artist in the

Tiny Gallery Series

Thursday, October 4th in

Studio #7 of Tapp’s Arts Center https://www.facebook.com/events/975033929365281/

Keith Tolen Opens Jasper's First Tiny Gallery Series this First Thursday at Tapp's

Artist Keith Tolen - photo by Michael Dantzler

Artist Keith Tolen - photo by Michael Dantzler

The Jasper Project is bringing a brand new project to light during First Thursday this month: The Tiny Gallery Series.

 

Jasper’s goal with this project is twofold – to support artists in our community and to encourage budding art collectors to start their collections. During upcoming First Thursdays, Jasper will be teaming up with local artists to display their work for sale at affordable prices in their studio at Tapp’s Art Center.

 

Kicking off the first series is local artist and South Carolina native, Keith Tolen. “I’m honored that I’m kicking this off; it’s hard to believe,” Tolen said with a chuckle as we chatted over coffee, “But I’m nervous too. I want to do this event justice.”

 

Tolen has been studying and working on his craft for decades now. An art education major in college, he worked in both retail and real estate before landing the job as an art teacher at Camden Middle School – a job he cared for and worked at for 30 years.

 

Beyond teaching, Tolen has been creating art since a young boy. He and his brothers used to draw together, and Tolen’s first love was film and photography. When he focused on painting in college, he became heavily influenced by the abstract expressionist styles of the 1970s, the art style that still influences him today. In his recent years, Tolen has tried to challenge himself by taking classes in different art styles, such as still life. All of these influences come together for his Tiny Gallery Series where there is one thing in particular to expect: eggs.

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Tolen said that the form of the egg is key for painting. It is between shapes, not circle or oval, pointed at the top, and plays with light and shadow in simple yet complex ways. He is using eggs in these paintings as a “balance of the simplicity of the egg and the chaos of abstract expressionism.”  

 

“I hope these eggs take on a personality and travel from canvas to canvas, taking on the identity of its surroundings while still maintaining its own integrity,” Tolen says, “I love color, and the challenge with these paintings was to have backgrounds rich with color but for the eggs to be the draw, to be very neutral.”

 

This will be the third time Tolen has shown his egg paintings this year, the first two times both to a positive critical reception. When asked about past accolades in his career, however, Tolen told a powerful story about a young girl in his first 6th grade class who took her passion for origami and taught an entire class of 50 students her art, holding their attention on a Friday far after the bell had rang.

 

“I could sell a painting for a million dollars,” Tolen said, “But it wouldn’t compare to the moment that girl stood in front of her peers and captivated them with her art.”

 

From this comes the importance of an event like the Tiny Gallery Series. Like what that girl did for her class, “Art inspires us; it educates us.” Tolen said.

 

When asked about his goal for his paintings in particular Tolen said, “There’s two things I want people to say. Either ‘I can do that’ or ‘I appreciate that.’ I want people to see my paintings and be inspired to go use their creativity and make something of their own, and if not to at least look at them and know they mean something special.”

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This event is, again, not just a chance to see art from local artists but to help the community of Columbia start their own art collections. “It’s important to have art in the home beyond just for exposure,” Tolen says, “Having original art on your walls builds bonds, connections, and it demystifies the idea that only certain people can experience art. Art is for everyone.”

Future artists participating in the Tiny Gallery Series include Olga Yukhno, Bonnie Goldberg, Dave Robbins, and more.

To see Tolen’s work, stop by Tapp’s Art Center in Studio #7 starting at 6:00 p.m. this Thursday, October 4th, and be sure take a piece of his passion home for yourself.

—Christina Xan

 

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