One of 2013's best events - Jasper went to the 27th Annual Chili Cook-Off in Five Points

As 2013 draws to a close, we recall the many fun times, the huge number of cultural events, and all the seasonal festivals that we enjoyed in the Midlands this past year.  For my money, one of the very best was the 27th Annual Chili Cook-Off in Five Points last month. So before all the fireworks and champagne tomorrow, join me as I reflect on the day that Jasper went and ate some chili!

5ptCCO13_flyersPhotojournalist and Jasper staffer Thomas Hammond has braved the dangers of Lebanon and Syria in the middle of that region's worst conflict in years.  (You can see photos and excerpts from his account in a recent Free Times cover story, as well as here and here.) My only question was:  could he face down the fiery heat of a habanero pepper?

To that end, Thomas and I ventured into the heart of Five Points, to take part in and to document the judging of the chili as part of the 27th Annual Chili Cook-Off.  Founded as a festive fundraiser by the original owner of Group Therapy and situated in the early years in that popular bar's parking lot, the Chili Cook-Off has grown to be an annual event of the Five Points Association, stretching across several blocks along Greene and Pavillion Streets, and raising thousand of dollars for Camp Kemo and the Hope Center.  Scott "Hollywood" Fleming, the current owner of Group, serves as the Festival Chair, while his wife Christina Fleming coordinates the judges.

Arriving at noon, I took a stroll around the newly expanded festival area. The event now encompasses not  just the small block between Group and the Post Office, but also two blocks of Pavillion Street, which runs perpendicular to Greene, along side the park, where the annual Blues Festival was conveniently running simultaneously. It made for much more elbow room, and an easier flow of foot traffic, especially for the youngest and the oldest of attendees. Live bands, plenty of beer, and lot of college students notwithstanding, the Chili Cook-Off is unquestionably a family-friendly event, and there were plenty of grandparents with their grandchildren, and not just at the "Little Peppers" children's play area. Indeed, baby bjorns and buggies were everywhere, and in particular it was a pleasure to see new mom Lindsey Burns, a Group Therapy bartender/manager, out with her newborn baby daughter Augusta.  OK, OK, daughter Annelee Charlotte ... although I still think Augusta would be an awesome name.

There's a prize for "best set-up," i.e. how a contestant's booth/tent is arranged and decorated, and so some teams go all out.  One group was called "Breaking Wind," and wore  haz-mat suits; someone told me they had some type of blue rock candy on hand too, in a nod to the AMC series Breaking Bad.  Another team's members were dressed in Ninja attire, and were working on a "Sweet Ninja" vegetarian chili. A number of teams also had creative names; one of my favorites was a group of co-workers from Providence Hospital, whose chili was called "Holy Ghost Pepper." One of the guys joked that that they hadn't gotten permission from the sisters, but figured that if necessary, they could get forgiveness later. Budweiser had set up a gigantic, two-story mobile bar, the sort of contraption that looked like a Decepticon just waiting to transform into its true nature.

Thomas had not arrived just yet, so I checked out the VIP area, i.e. the front bar of the nearby Pour House.  Or in Columbia-speak, "where the old Frank's Hot Dogs used to be." I'm significantly less than a very important person, but the designation applied to judges and event sponsors, and Five Points Association Director Amy Beth Franks had graciously hooked us up with access-granting wristbands and event T-shirts, so I wandered in.  A friendly volunteer named Gloria welcomed all who passed in with a festive red pepper necklace and a hug. Gloria and I discussed other events where she has volunteered, often through COR, the Columbia Opportunity Resource, including the Crawfish Festival, the World Beer Festival, and St. Patty's Day in Five Points.  Inside, believe it or not, was more food, most donated by local businesses like Jimmy John's, Insomnia Cookies, Chick-Fil-A, Village Idiot,  Zorba's, and many others.  Budweiser had some Shocktop Pumpkin Wheat Beer available, and naturally I had to sample a pint.  It wasn't half bad, even though I'm normally not impressed by Shocktop, and really have to be in the right mood for a wheat beer.  Unless it's roasted dark into a dunkel weiss, a wheat beer often has an odd tang that people usually try to cut with something fruity,  either in the beer, or by way of a lemon or orange slice floating in it. In actuality, something bland works much better, like watermelon (in Skull Coast's wheat beer) peaches (in R. J. Rocker's "Son of a Peach") and now pumpkin. There wasn't any extra nutmeg or cinnamon or coriander like so many of the seasonal pumpkin microbrews, just a vague sweet richness, which along with the amber color was reminiscent of a Yuengling, even though that's a lager and this was an ale.

It was time to meet up with Thomas. The first band, The Other Brothers, were playing a languid acoustic arrangement of the classic Drivin' 'N' Cryin' song "Straight to Hell"  on a stage with its back to Harden St. and the Five Points Fountain. The weather was just as cooperative as one could wish for in mid-November, a balmy Indian Summer afternoon.  People were already sampling plenty of chili, donating a dollar or more for each cup, and the water bottle table, staffed by Kathryn Daughtry and her friend Felicia, was doing brisk business. (Kathryn is not only a popular and proficient Group Therapy bartender, but also Jasper's downstairs neighbor in the Arcade, where she works at the Over the Top Boutique. Also raking in the dollar bills was Emmy, the jello shot girl inside Group, where we headed for the judging.

Emmy, with jello shots, on Group Therapy's back patio

Christina Fleming  and Gretchen Lambert met us at Group's back bar, where the judging took place.  This is the L-shaped annex off the pool room area, where you can still meet someone "under the moose."  Starting around 1:15, cooks bought in samples of their chilis in uniform styrofoam cups, appearing to contain 16 oz. each. Christina and Gretchen then assigned each a number, and noted if there was anything special, i.e. if it was a vegetarian or extra-hot chili.  A few cooks had extra containers, with garnishes like sour cream or shredded cheese, so that those could be sprinkled on if desired.  I was fascinated by how incredibly organized the process was - after a number of years of experience, Christina has perfected this down to a science.  Tasting was blind - all the judges knew was a number, and if the chili was (intended to be) regular, extra-hot, or veggie.  Therefore, afterwards, when people said "Hey, which did you enjoy?" all I could say was "Umm... number 17, the one that seemed to have some curry in there."

Gretchen Lambert (L) and Christina Fleming prepare the samples of chili to be tasted - Copyright 2013 Thomas Hammond Photography

Since the judges were primarily volunteers from the community, event, and supporters of the bar, the Five Points Association, or all of the above - but not professional chili connoisseurs - all we did was give a score, from zero to five, to each chili in turn.  A judge or two in past years has griped that they were given no guidelines to follow, but honestly, chaos would have ensued if we had taken time to follow some official definition or set of parameters for  48 different chilis.  Instead, we simply graded them based solely on personal taste and preferences, and scores were added up at the end. Therefore, if someone was a hard-core traditionalist and felt that chili should contain only meat with no beans, or only beef with no other meat, they could judge and grade accordingly, but everyone followed their own agenda.  Which, realistically, seems to me the best and fairest way to do it.

You read that correctly, however.  48 different chilis!  There were some 12 or possibly 14 judges. 10 were listed in the festival brochure, but that didn't include me or Thomas, and at least one more didn't get his bio back to them in time.  Ten places were set up around the bar, with scoring sheets, but eventually there were four judges at a nearby booth... but I think two people switched from the bar to the booth.  So let's say 12.  Thomas wanted to stay mobile so that he could take advantage of good photo opportunities as they happened, so he stood next to me, but sampled everything as well, while I actually wrote down my/our score on the tally sheet.  I say "our" since we agreed on just about every chili. Although I think he might have been a little more generous than I - I gave mainly twos and threes, very few fours, and not a single five. But no zeros or ones either.

Copyright 2013 Thomas Hammond Photography

I've been around many photographers over the years, including being photographed by Thomas, but I never really paid attention to how they do it.  Thomas fascinated me - he'd be chatting casually about something, and then suddenly like a puma he’d pounce on specific photo opportunities, sometimes moving quickly and leaning in, shooting 3 or 4 pics in quick succession.    Christina and Gretchen provided an endless supply of plastic spoons.  The rules were simple:  one spoonful of each chili, no double-dipping, mark down your score, and pass the container to the next judge. You discarded your spoon, took another one, and repeated the process.  This made for a completely germ-free experience. (And just to be clear - Scott and Christina are among Five Points' greenest, most environmentally-friendly business owners, so I'm sure those spoons were appropriately destined for recycling.)

(L-R) Judges Katie Atkinson, Will Green, Jason Broome, and William Corbett. Copyright 2013 Thomas Hammond Photography

Among the judges were Katie Atkinson, Jason Broome, Will Green from The Whig, and my friends William Corbett (a Budweiser employee but long time Group regular) and Moffatt Bradford (who competed in the very first Chili Cook-Off in 1986.)  I wasn't there in 1986, as I was still living in Georgia before moving back to Columbia just a few months later, and I'm pretty sure I missed the next few years due to rehearsals.  I know for a fact I was at the 1995 installment, as I have photos, in which I was wearing the same denim jacket I realized I was now wearing 18 years later.

It was a really fast pace.    Those little plastic teaspoons were generally overflowing, so perhaps they were really closer to a tablespoonful.   By that reckoning, with 48 chilis to try, each of us ate anywhere from one (48 teaspoons) to three (48 tablespoons) 16-oz. cups of chili over the course of perhaps 45 minutes. A number of people later in thee day asked if I had heartburn or a stomach ache, as if I were one of those competitive Coney Island hot dog-eaters, but really it wasn't that much chili to consume, and within a few hours I was in fact noshing on some of those subs and sweets in the VIP area.  Thomas was on my left, and the cups of chili to sample started with him, then passed to me, and so on to each judge's right, then around to the back table.  In other words, were there any question about how hot something might be, Thomas was my go-to for "Hey Mikey" moments.  Moffatt arrived last, and so brought up the rear.  Although as you will see below, even those labeled hottest of the hot were really relatively innocuous.   Most 16 ounce cups were still 1/3 to 1/2 full after being sampled by everyone. Christina and Gretchen made sure everyone had a beer or two to help cleanse our palates, courtesy of Group, and I enjoyed a nice cold Yuengling Bock. Bock is defined variously as "a dark, malty, lightly hopped beer," "a strong lager of German origin, " and "a very strong lager traditionally brewed in the fall and aged through the winter for consumption in the spring."  It's one of my favorites, and if you like regular Yuengling, this is similar, just moreso.  More rich dark malt taste, but also more hops.

But how was the chili, you ask?  Nothing was bad although Moffatt grumbled, only half-jokingly,  that all were bad.  What he meant was that none were remarkably tasty, and none were particularly hot or spicy.  A few had some interesting seasoning, but often were undercooked, or were not technically chili at all.  About halfway through the process, several of the judges began to joke that certain entries were really just spaghetti sauce, or stew, but not chili.  Jason observed that so many chefs essentially "forgot what the hell salt is!"  i.e. all they needed was a little more seasoning to enhance decent selections of meat, chili peppers, and beans.  I suspect one could have improved almost every entry with a pinch to a dash of salt, pepper, chili powder and/or curry powder, cumin, garlic, and a dash of the hot sauce of your choice.

Presentation helped - the addition of cheese and sour cream certainly helped a few.  Feta cheese crumbled on top of one entry looked ridiculous but was an interesting taste - I'd love to be able to savor that dish more some day.  A number were either burned, or the chefs may have poured in way too much Liquid Smoke, or as one judge observed, possibly they burned the chili, then poured in Liquid Smoke to disguise it.  Some included interesting veggies beyond the customary peppers, beans and onions.  One featured bacon, although it wasn't crispy crumbled bacon but rather a strip or two floating in with everything else, and therefore it seemed a little  undercooked, and you could see grease floating to the top.  Another clearly incorporated sausage.  A few boasted venison which you couldn't necessarily distinguish, if for example the venison had been ground up along with the beef.

Several inventively used pulled pork, which is perfect for slow cooking with added spices, and soaks up hot sauce perfectly...but by definition, it's long and stringy and hard to eat with a spoon out of a small cup.  One chili improbably sported marshmallows on top, which added nothing taste-wise, and led to more than a few derisive comments.  One (almost certainly Joe Turkaly's chili, because I tried some at his booth later) featured brisket, which was tasty but, like many of the entries we sampled, could have been cooked longer. (A number of folks noted however that Joe got a late start.) That would be one lesson and recommendation I would pass along to all future contestants:  get started just as early as you can, so as to allow for the heat of the peppers and seasonings to be absorbed into the meat, and for the diverse flavors to meld together better.  One memorable chili towards the end, which turned out to be the Festival's overall winner, Chef Gary Uwanawich's Sizzle, included pulled pork, and was topped with a  bacon-wrapped poblano chili.

At some point during the judging, long-time friend and supporter of Jasper Rob Sprankle showed up. Rob, an accomplished local actor as well as photographer, was looking for a way to get access to the roof. While we suspect that more than a few Group patrons have tried to do that over the years, Rob's interest was legit, as he was taking photos for Camp Kemo, one of the beneficiaries of festival proceeds.

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Rob's friend and high school classmate Dan Lowe is a frequent competitor and often wins the People's Choice award, i.e. the most money raised; his wife Fauni is a nurse manager at Children's Hospital, and according to Rob they are "very cool people and really care about the cause. They are such incredible unsung heroes in this community."  In fact, a number of Palmetto Richland staff comprised the cooking team.  Rob has graciously allowed us to use some of his photos here.  Later in the day I ran into his daughter Haley, and I took great delight in introducing her around as "quite possibly Columbia's most gifted teenage babe actress, singer and dancer."  Which is true, but more importantly mortified her, which was the goal.

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Once judging was done, Kristina and Gretchen tallied the results, and our judging duties were complete. Thomas took off to document the spirit of the event via more visuals. (Thomas's photos can be seen at the Jasper Facebook Page.) Jason, Moffatt and I chatted with musician/actor/bartender Stanford Gardner inside the VIP area for a while, after which Moffatt and I took a stroll through the festival.  Local brewers Conquest Brewing had a tent, and I enjoyed a nice, rich, coffee-tasting Medusa Stout.  Other bands played, including Bossman, Atlas Road Crew, and Calvin and Friends. When word came down as to the winners, we congratulated Joe Turkaly, and were happy to meet his mother, who who introduced us to Slivovitz, a Croatian schnapps flavored with plum and juniper. The one question we forgot to ask her was if she had ever met Frank Zappa in the 1970's, which could explain much.  Joe has been competing in the Chili Cook-Off (and often winning) since the early 1990's.

This was the official roster of winners (the numbers refer to booth number) :

• Best Overall Set-Up:  Sweet Ninja Chili (#29)

• Best Vegetarian:  Team #45 (Jake’s on Devine)

• Best Bar/Restaurant Chili:   Riunite and Chili Rocks (#48)

• Best Edible Hot:  Nuclear Meltdown (#23)

• Most Money Raised (“The Silver Spoon Award” Winners) : Porky’s Revenge Pulled Pork Chili from Lowecountry Cookin’ (#37)

• Overall 3rd Place:  Texas Heat Carolina Sweet (#43)

• Overall 2nd Place: Killah’s Redemption (#7)

• Overall 1st Place:  Chef Gary’s Sizzle (#46)

The sun was starting to set as the official festivities slowly wound down around 6 PM. Many attendees took the occasion to head over to the adjacent Blues Festival, where    later slide guitar legend Sonny Landreth performed, followed by an all-star tribute to Frank Smoak.  It had been a delightful afternoon.

Why was this one of the most enjoyable events I attended all year? Simple. It was well-planned, and well-attended. Thousands of people were on hand, but there was never a sense of claustrophobia, and you could always move around freely.  There was plenty of food, not just chili; there were plenty of beverages for every taste. Everything went to a good cause. People of all ages and colors (and colors of hair, including assorted shades of Day-Glo) were in attendance.  Same-sex couples milled about holding hands, as did those of opposite genders.  There were plenty of silver-haired grandparents, but many were wearing denim jackets, and enjoyed a beer or two along with their chili. There were plenty of college students, but they enjoyed the vintage roots, rock, funk, and blues music that was being performed.  There were plenty of little children with parents and older siblings, and this was like another State Fair for them.  As far as I could tell, there was not a single "incident" anywhere, and indeed the whole experience was as safe as a school Maypole dance.  The entire day was simultaneously wholesome, and yet still a fun, throwdown party with beer and chili and rock-and-roll.  And that's about as good as it can get.

~ August Krickel

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Call for Submissions -- New Zine for Revolutionaries --> GRIEVANCES

Ezine

Jasper thinks the following is pretty cool & wanted to help spread the word. -- cb

~~~~~

"Grievances is a zine for revolutionaries ... or cut-ups, sarcasm machines, people that want to make others feel lighter with the tool of commiseration, people that want to make people feel shitty about the idiotic things they do ... In essence, it's a zine for the people.

"Left or right, gay or straight, male, female, animal, vegetable, mineral ... Anyone from any state, country, or cultural background is welcome to share their experiences, opinions, stories, and art, whether it be personal, political, controversial, tame, profane, pure, satirical, or seductive ... The important thing to remember is this is PRINT so keep your word count down (make them count), and please, if you are submitting visual art OR writing, try to have it fit on HALF or full sheet of A3 paper (typical US printing paper - sorry international folks).

"The launch is scheduled  for March 8th -- Grievances will: go live online, be available at the VillaVilleCola arts festival at Conundrum music hall in Columbia, SC, and hopefully I [Lorna Fest] can get volunteers to print copies in their area ... nationally and abroad! I intend to put out a new issue quarterly thereafter. The idea was twofold - with so many talented but unheard of peers, I decided it was time we started something of our own Warhol factory, letting each other stand on each others' shoulders. It's the same idea with the theme "grievances." Sure, it's a funny Festivus tradition from Seinfeld, but I also see talking about what's going on in our lives and our world as an aid in the ability to conspire, bind together, and understand each other ... in essence, your rants put fear to death and make others feel less alone.

"Submissions will be accepted from the general public, with real names, sobriquets, or anonymously. Sadly, depending on how many submissions are received, some folks' grievances may be saved for a later issue. I can only include what space allows. If you submitted to Grievances 2 years ago, when the final product was never released, your work will be included in the first issue, unless you ask me not to. The front and back covers will be full color (I hope).

"Donations are welcome, although I fully intend to fund the project myself. Also, if anyone (graphic designers?) would care to volunteer to help with the collation and printing, I would love the help! If you know any other creative person in any other grievous place, PLEASE forward this email to them, put them in contact with me, or just tell them about it. I also invite you to share information about Grievances on facebook or other social media. All the publicity would be greatly appreciated.

"The deadline for the launch issue is the 31st of JANUARY 2014. Submit your fiction, nonfiction, or 2-D visual art in the form of a word document, pdf, jpeg, or pages right here: airyourgrievances@gmail.com."

 

Thank you & kind regards,

 

Lorna

 

"Tell them what you cannot stand for, then show them what you do stand for.”

Let’s start somewhere. State your grievances…. Air them to the world. Nail them to a wall, or just send them to our inbox. We’re good listeners.

MOVIE REVIEW: Nebraska--A Road Trip through Regret, by Wade Sellers

   Bruce Dern stars as Woody Grant in Alexander Payne's "Nebraska"

Nebraska plays at the Nickelodeon Theatre through January 2nd. Visit www.nickelodeon.org for timJune Squibb, center, and Mary Louise Wilson, right, co-star in Alexander Payne's "Nebraskaes and ticket information.

 

 

Nebraska is a powerful story of the relationship between fathers and sons.

"This is the power of this film. It captures honest, tender moments between a father and son, when defeat is admitted, the truth is realized. ... Rarely has this been shown so beautifully in a film." - WS 

No matter the personality of our parents, their own personal history is selectively given to us as we grow older. They seem to censor the information, choosing what is appropriate for us to hear and to learn as children, then, as we grow older and life as a family takes over, the stories that are re-told seem to revolve around the more pleasant memories. As children, this is only recognizable to us as we grow older and are able to relate to the experiences of our parents. Nebraska, from Director Alexander Payne, is a simple story of family that approaches those moments when children begin to see a small part of the world through the their parents’ eyes and understand the choices they made years before.

 

Veteran character actor Bruce Dern (Big Love, Coming Home) plays Woody Grant. Grant has received a letter in the mail claiming that he is the recipient of a million dollars. In the opening scene, Woody is stopped by a police officer while walking on the side of the road in his home of Billings, Montana as he begins his journey to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his prize. His youngest son David, played by Saturday Night Live alum Will Forte, is called to the local police station to pick up his father. After seeing the letter David attempts to convince his father that it is a scam. Payne gives us a clean, close shot of the letter, communicating to the audience that, without question, Woody is walking toward a disappointing reception. Stubborn and confused, Woody refuses to accept that the letter is fake and makes it known that he will travel to Lincoln to collect his prize.

 

David Grant, at a crossroads in his own life, sells stereo equipment in Billings. A thankless job that he struggles with. His older brother Ross, played by an understated Bob Odenkirk, is on-air talent at a local television affiliate and is seen as the star of the family. June Squibb has the role of Kate Grant, Woody's shrill voiced, wife, who is as much critical of Woody as she is concerned. After a second attempt to walk his way to Lincoln and collect his prize, Woody asks his son to drive him to Lincoln. “What the hell else do you have to do” Woody crackles at his son, and the two set off through the plains of the Midwest.

 

Nebraska could be viewed as the third in a trilogy of cathartic road movies from Payne, preceded by About Schmidt (2002) and Sideways (2004). Dern's Grant is an old drunk. Woody is viewed by his sons as a man who cared more about drinking than being a father. A soft-hearted David views this trip as a way of connecting with his father. The similarity between the two men is obvious. Both men are stubborn and weak in the same breath.

 

The turning point of the film is during a short detour David takes, at the beginning of the trip, to view Mt. Rushmore. Thirty minutes off the Interstate, the father and son stand beside their parked car outside the park entrance. Woody looks curiously at the monument. “What do you think?” David asks. “It doesn't look finished” his father responds. Standing below the patriarchs of our country, the meaning is clear. Payne sets the scene as a wide shot, outside the gates. He lets us see the reality we all eventually witness when we visit an iconic area: entrance gates, waiting in line, the banal efforts that are never seen in promotional posters and history books. On this trip, we will all share Woody Grant's trip through an unfinished life of small regrets.

 

As father and son continue down the Interstate, Woody leans against the passenger side door, much like a dog seeing a world that is recognizable but completely new. During rest stops, David urges his father to not start drinking again. Dern's drunken entrance into their hotel room ends with a gash on his head that lands him in the hospital for a day. Cautious at traveling any further, David calls his mother and plans are made for Kate to join them and to reunite Woody and his brothers for a meeting in their hometown in Nebraska.

 

When Woody and David arrive at his brother's home they are greeted by Aunt Martha, played by Mary Louise Wilson. It one of the most wonderfully simple scenes in the film. Having not seen each other in decades, she feels the responsibility to hug and be courteous. They are family, but there is an awkwardness to the hugs that is familiar and unspoken. Payne's humor pops up again when we meet his brother Ray, played by Rance Howard- father to director Ron Howard and grandfather to actress Bryce Dallas Howard. A post-modern theme of the patriarch begins to show itself. Dern was formerly married to actress Diane Ladd and is father to academy award nominated actress Laura Dern. It is a brief tip of the cap to all patriarchs of American cinema. The joy of having two well-oiled, Hollywood character actors share the screen is a pleasant surprise.

 

David and Woody slump into a local tavern, Woody reunites with his former business partner Ed Pegram, played by an always welcome Stacy Keach. While his son is in the bathroom of the bar, Woody prematurely, lets word out that he has come into money. Word spreads quickly around town that Woody has come into a million dollars and quickly becomes the talk of the town. Old friends and acquaintances begin to seek out Woody and congratulate him on his good fortune.

 

David takes it upon himself to squash the news of his father's false good fortune. He visits the local newspaper. Word has spread and the paper wants to do a story on Woody's homecoming and recent winnings. There he meets Woody's former high school girlfriend, Peg Nagy, beautifully played by Angela McEwan. Surprised by the news that his father ever dated anyone other than his mother, David listens as Peg describes a father that he never knew. David learns deeper details about his father's service. Woody was a Korean War veteran. A spot on character background by Payne. Known as “The Forgotten War,” Korean veterans have always been shifted aside in history books—sandwiched between the honor of World War II and the conflict of Vietnam. Woody Grant is the embodiment of this.

 

The story becomes a bit uneven at this point. Woody's wife has joined her husband and son and quickly begins reuniting with the women of the family. Sitting around the kitchen table, the women of the family begin gossiping like school girls, as if they picked up a conversation that paused years before. But soon, as word has spread to all points of the town that Woody is rich, the hard off residents, including immediate family, begin pressuring Woody for money. Ed Pegram traps David in a tavern's bathroom, bringing up decades old loans he lent Woody. At a family reunion, in-laws trap David and Ross, pressuring them to settle up on old debts. David's two cousins, two bumbling caricatures with less than mediocre ambition, set up a half-baked mugging to steal Woody's prize letter.

 

The whole section seems obvious. Intended to open Woody up as the gentle caring member of the family, it instead paints the entire family in a negative way, destroying the earlier set-ups of family; men watching football, the women cooking and gossiping. They are not at all likable anymore and that taints the honesty of the story.

 

“Nebraska” also falls onto a bit of a crutch as Woody's wife Kate visits the local cemetery to pay her respects to family members. Filled with a new energy after leaving Montana, Kate finds her youth. But this quickly devolves into her own personal high school tales of teenage boys from the town trying to get more from her than a simple kiss. It is the funniest scene of the movie, but shouldn't be. The brashness overshadows the effect that her words have on Woody. After her third crass tale of teenage lust, Woody slumps away. It is a tender moment of genuine pain, but is easy to lose in the laughter.

 

Two films quickly come to mind while watching Nebraska- David Lynch's The Straight Story and Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show. The Straight Story for its stubborn lead character played by Richard Farnsworth as he travels on a lawnmower to reunite with his brother and The Last Picture Show for its black and white film palette of a barren Texas town.

 

Black and white is always a misnomer when speaking of cinematography. The beauty is always in the mid tones. Payne and collaborator, cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, give us a harsh canvas of Midwestern life. Payne demanded for years that this film be shot in black and white. It is a decision that triumphs. From the opening frame of Woody walking on the side of the road to the grey images of David's stereo store set inside a run-down strip mall, there is a specific tone of  honesty that is set early in the film. As the two travel on the barren Interstate, the flat plains, filled with dirty, half melted snow, make us feel harsh winter crosswinds blowing across our faces. And when the camera is set at the end of the bar in any of the multiple taverns the father and son visit, the harsh Midwestern lines on chiseled faces of the men and women planted on their stools, beers gripped stoically in their hands, give us a solid sense of place. We know these characters without having to hear any words at all.

 

Ultimately, the town finds out that Woody is chasing fools’ gold and begins to mock him. They take advantage of his fragile mind as they took advantage of his generosity years before. David witnesses this first hand. It is a moment between a father and son that is painful to watch. No matter the strength of a father through a son's eyes, it is wrenching to watch him in a true moment of weakness. This is the power of this film. It captures honest, tender moments between a father and son, when defeat is admitted, the truth is realized. After years of poor decisions that have stained a paternal relationship, the reasons for those decisions are realized by a son. In that moment there could not be a stronger bond than family.  Rarely has this been shown so beautifully in a film.

 

Nebraska is not a lyrical film. It is not an overarching metaphor for the current state of family. Nebraska is the very definition of a small movie. Through its gentle hand-holding it leads us through one singular moment where a son begins to understand his father's life. Dern brings a depth of honesty to his role that only comes with decades of experience. Forte's work holds promise for future roles outside sketch comedy. June Squibb threatens to steal the film as Woody's wife, but Payne's smart direction rides her brashness at just the right level. The film is uneven at times, as Payne seems to grit his teeth, unable to hold back his superb ability to get a smart laugh through a sight gag. But these are small interruptions that do nothing to take away from the pleasure of riding with Woody and David as they begin to listen to what each other is saying, if only through short bursts of words, grunts and shrugged shoulders. This is most evident in their first scene together in a bar when Woody stares directly into his adult son’s eyes and states, “Come on, don't you want to have a beer with your old man?” For any son, it is a moment of comfort that can't be put into words.

 -- Wade Sellers

Nebraska plays at the Nickelodeon Theatre through January 2nd. Visit www.nickelodeon.org for times and ticket information.

 

 

 

Call for Art! Cultural Council teams up with CAE - EARLY DEADLINE!

Art at Delhi Ariport Art at Toronto Airport

  • Jasper doesn't usually post straight press releases but we're very happy to hear about this call and wanted to make sure as many folks as possible see it. Heads up Visual Artists -- we want to see your work at CAE!

 

Cultural Council Announces Call to Visual Artists

The Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington Counties, in partnership with the Greater Columbia Metropolitan Airport, is issuing a call to 2-D and 3-D artists for rotating exhibition opportunities  at the airport.

Artists living in the Midlands will have the opportunity to exhibit their 2-D work on walls between the security checkpoint and the food court at the airport for a period of two months beginning in February, 2014.  3-D artists will be provided the opportunity to exhibit their work in a secured exhibition case at the entrance of the atrium from the ticketing concourse.   Travelers to and from Columbia will be introduced to Midlands artists through their work and will be provided information to contact the artist if they wish to purchase any of the pieces.

“The arts provide a great introduction to our area.  We have such fine artists living here, and exhibiting their work to the traveling public will enhance the travel experience to the traveler and provide exposure to the artist and their work,” said Anne Sinclair, chairman of the Richland-Lexington District Airport Commission.  “It’s a win-win-win situation for the public, the airport, and the artist community.”

Interested artists are asked to submit 3 images representative of their work to Norree Boyd-Wicks, executive director of the Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington Counties via e-mail to Norree@SmartArts.info by Wednesday, January 8, 2014.  Artists will be selected and notified as to their exhibition dates.  All 2-D work must be exhibition ready with proper hanging wire and hooks.  All work, 2-D and 3-D must have proper labeling.  Information about the artist and the exhibited works will be prepared by the Cultural Council and provided to those interested in contacting the artist.

“The Cultural Council is very pleased to partner with the airport in providing arts experiences to travelers and promoting local artists,” said Boyd-Wicks.  “The Cultural Council is celebrating 30 years of service to the arts in the Midlands, and this program is a wonderful addition to our activities.”

The Cultural Council is celebrating 30 years of service to the arts in the Midlands.  For more information, call 803-799-3115.

 

bittersalt bittersweet -- Michaela Pilar Brown's new performance art opens this Thursday at 701 CCA

Michaela Pilar Brown in bittersalt bittersweet  

 

 

Michaela Pilar Brown's 

bittersalt bittersweet

 

Thursday, December 19, 2013, 7;00 p.m. 

701 Center for Contemporary Art -701 Whaley Street, 2nd Floor

Admission Free

 

Performance: “the most immediate art form… for it means getting down to the bare bones of aesthetic communication—art/ self-confronting audience/ society.”—Lucy Lippard

 

Performance art is a generic term that encompasses such styles as conceptual art, body art, and feminism, as well as very specific art movements like Fluxus and Viennese Actionism. The style gained popularity in the 1960s when visual artists began abandoning the object for a more direct mode of expression. Subverting linear theatrical narratives for spontaneous and honest interaction with audiences in response to social and political concerns connect the artworks placed within this classification.

 

Parallels can be drawn between Michaela Pilar Brown’s performance, Bittersalt Bittersweet, and a myriad of influential performance pieces including Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece (1964) and Marina Abramović’s The Artist Is Present (2010). Her piece also follows in the tradition of African-American artist Adrian Piper’s conceptual work that first brought race and gender into the conversation, as well as the Kara Walker and Lorna Simpson’s deconstruction of stereotypes. The strength of this performance is that it combines elements of all of the aforementioned sources. Here, Brown forces participants to engage on an intimate level with her, while having to make difficult decisions about her, which have the potential to elicit unexpected responses in both the sitter and audience. Challenging inappropriate modes of representation of marginalized people, Brown stages the performance within a tent, clearly referencing P.T. Barnum’s commodification and exploitation of Joice Heth. The setting also works in concert with sideshow exhibits featuring “exotic” peoples from other countries. The Dahomey Village, one of the Midway attractions at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition nicknamed “The White City,” comes to mind and reinforces the Baudelairian voyeurism made prominent by Barnum. Looking from past to present, Brown’s work is analogous with Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña whose performance, Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West (1992), blurred the lines between fiction and reality. The stereotypes personified were sometimes believed to be historically accurate, sometimes feared for the anxiety-inducing unknown of what the performers might do, and sometimes irritating because of the overt commentary on racism and oppression. Bittersalt Bittersweet continues the debate about race in America, but it is more focused on the treatment of women. On an even deeper level, this performance is a personal exploration into the psyche of the artist as she rejects societal definitions ascribed to African-American women for the preferred titles of daughter, sibling, partner, lover, caregiver, and role model.

 

By Lana A. Burgess, Ph.D.

Faculty Curator, McKissick Museum

University of South Carolina

 

"A Christmas Carol" for the post-modern, steampunk generation - August Krickel reviews the new show at Trustus

ChristmasCarol2 When the pretty young lady, clad in Victorian-era garb but sporting short, natural hair, leans into the microphone and begins beatboxing, you know this isn't your father's Christmas Carol. It's still Charles Dickens's timeless story, however, but with plenty of reinvention from playwright Patrick Barlow, director/scenic designer Chad Henderson, and costumer Amy Lown.   Purists may raise an eyebrow or two at this post-modern take on a holiday classic, while purists of a different sort may wonder why Trustus Theatre is producing a family-friendly, feel-good version of a century-and-a-half-old novella, but there's no question that talent both on stage and behind the scenes ensures enjoyable seasonal entertainment with some decidedly non-traditional story-telling twists.

We're all familiar with Scrooge, but let's focus on Barlow for a moment.  He's best known for a stage adaptation of The 39 Steps, in which three actors played dozens of characters from the Hitchcock film, interacting with a rugged hero whose tongue was firmly planted in cheek; their quick changes of costume, wig, accent and gender, miming or improvising most sets and props while navigating the melodramatic plot and dialogue made for broad slapstick comedy.  Here Barlow uses the same technique, but retains respect for the original flowery prose.

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Stann Gwynn, almost unrecognizable under heavy character make-up, plays Scrooge throughout.  The bulbous nose, ravaged face and bushy eyebrows (designed by Robin Gottlieb) are reminiscent of some of the dwarves from the recent screen version of The Hobbit - exaggerated but still believable - but more importantly, they seem to free Gwynn as an actor. He's played older before, he's done accents before, and he's played grandiloquent characters before, but I've never seen those all at once, with such sustained intensity over more than two hours. Avery Bateman, Catherine Hunsinger, Wela Mbusi, and Scott Herr portray everyone else, although the quick changes and jumps from one persona to the next occur fairly naturally.  Actors playing multiple roles is commonplace now on stage, and Barlow only occasionally uses that convention for comedy. Even the use of marionettes to depict young Scrooge and Tiny Tim prompts an initial surge of laughter from the audience, but then plays out in a fairly straightforward manner.  Indeed, I found myself wishing that there were a lot more comedy, even if improvised by the capable cast, especially in the first act. When Hunsinger appears as a sort of sexy, steampunk Spice Girl-turned-nanny in the second act as the Ghost of Christmas Present, the pace picks up, and Barlow occasionally veers away from the original Dickens text to insert jokes here and there, including a hilarious conclusion to Scrooge's dream that breaks the fourth wall unexpectedly.

Catherine Hunsinger - photo by Richard Arthur Király

All four of the mini-ensemble also double (triple?) as singers and musicians, providing mood music in the background via various instruments, and sometimes breaking out into traditional Christmas songs.  Both Hunsinger and Bateman, last seen together in Henderson's production of Spring Awakening two years ago, get to show off their lovely voices, but they actually are even more impressive in their mastery of multiple characters and authentic accents.  Dialect coach Marybeth Gorman (surely helped by Mbusi, a native of the U.K. who has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company) has ensured a lively mix of credible twangs and lilts that are mainly Cockney, "proper" British, and Irish, but I swear I heard hints of Manchester, rural Yorkshire, and Wales here and there, which was quite refreshing.

Stann Gwynn; photo by :Richard Arthur Király

A little more on the music:  sometimes, Henderson incorporates modern songs, from artists like Justin Timberlake and Panic! At The Disco. At other moments, the actors perform moody instrumental tunes, developed by cast and director before rehearsals began. Particularly effective are Hunsinger on cello at moments of poignancy and sorrow, and Herr on keyboards, creating menacing chords sung to by Bateman, as Mbusi appears as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  Henderson uses a Line 6 Delay Modulator to create a number of beatbox and hip hop effects, as well as a Vocalist Live harmony effects processor. The tech gadgetry is certainly interesting; I'm not sure how much it actually adds to the performance, but it certainly livens up the proceedings. What is especially memorable is the production design, which incorporates a painted facade of a London street scene, plus expertly detailed projected images (snow falling, the hustle and bustle of city streets, a clock's face moving forward in time, the logo of Scrooge's business, a time vortex a la Doctor Who) courtesy of Baxter Engle.  Those projections are seen on a large round screen of sorts over stage left, and enhance the setting so much that I'd be happy to see similar effects in future productions. Amy Lown's excellent costumes include elegant Victorian attire, saucy steampunk-chic couture, and an ominous, tattered Christmas Yet to Come that could have been designed by Terry Gilliam.

Avery Bateman as the Ghost of Christmas Past

Not everything works. The audio technology sometimes gets very loud, which is intended as a sort of in-your-face wake-up call to an audience that might get bored by the familiar material, but might be a little intimidating to the youngest or oldest attendees. (The show is completely G-rated, but its intensity, from the apparitions for example, might make this best for, say, age 10 and older.)  Sometimes the music and sound effects clash with the dialogue, and/or make it sound distorted.  The first act drags at times, and could use a lot more of the comedy found the second. A re-imagined Marley, his chains now controlled by the other three actors as if to signify his torment in the afterlife, seems awkward and unwieldy rather than scary.  Christmas Yet to Come is scary, but a Darth Vader-like heavy breathing effect got laughs where there needed to be chills.

This production is a new one, however, simultaneously opening here, off-Broadway, and at other regional theatres around the country, and new works are often revised. What impressed me about Barlow's adaptation is his incorporation of huge amounts of the original language from Dickens, made easily relatable by proficient performers, and his tweaking of its theme to resonate even more with contemporary audiences. Scrooge is no longer simply a cranky old man who had a sad childhood and bad experiences at Christmas; Barlow's Scrooge is now much more of a predatory lender, who seems to take delight in seeing the poverty of his fellow citizens, and gloats over his riches like Alberich and the Rhine gold.  Several of the supporting characters emphasize with great eloquence the "It takes a village" mentality, making it clear that charity and compassion are necessary far beyond the Christmas season.  It's no secret to local theatre-goers that director Henderson likes to liven up material that needs it with inventive staging.  I'd love to see him take this overall production theme - music, costumes, set design - and apply it to some classic of the stage like Shakespeare or Aristophanes.

At this point, one is likely to do one of two things. Either you will say "Wow - a Dickens classic with a twist, actors playing live music, Avery Bateman beatboxing, Catherine Hunsinger playing the cello and dressed as a steampunk babe - I've got to make reservations now!!"  Or all of that that may sound utterly ridiculous.  I must say that I had no real interest in seeing the story of Scrooge yet again, but I enjoyed this production; however, I generally enjoy these performers, and the way Henderson often toys with narrative technique for maximum dramatic effect.  Box office for this show will likely determine whether Trustus experiments more in this direction, or less.  But as I often find myself saying with local productions, either way, the people involved do a great job.

A Christmas Carol runs through Saturday, December 21st; contact the Trustus box office at 803-2254-9732 for more information, or visit www.trustus.org.

~ August Krickel

"Yes Virginia - The Musical" at On Stage Productions - a review by Melissa Swick Ellington

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The On Stage Productions performance of Yes, Virginia The Musical offers plenty of heartfelt holiday spirit.  Drawn from an animated television special, the stage musical (with music by Wesley Whatley, lyrics by William Schermerhorn, and book adapted by William Schermerhorn from the animated special and storybook by Chris Plehal) has been developed by Macy’s as a performance opportunity for young people.

the cast of "Yes Virginia - The Musical" at On Stage Productions; photo by Rob Sprankle

Based on a true story, the action unfolds during the year 1897 in New York City. Eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon questions whether Santa Claus is real. The search for truth takes her to the library as well as through the holiday bustle in the city, where Virginia encounters a bell-ringing “scraggly Santa” who reveals gifts for friendship and wisdom. Since she has been told “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so,” Virginia writes a letter to The New York Sun, asking “Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?” While the answer to her query is well known, the journey to that answer provokes curiosity.

Olivia (L) and Liberty Broussard as

Highlights of the performance feature the lovely singing voice of Liberty Broussard as Virginia, the clever timing of Rachael Sprankle as the whimsical Librarian, and the dynamic exuberance of Olivia Lesniak as Virginia’s best friend. Zach Tenney as Scraggly Santa exudes strong stage presence and communicates believable character development. JoJo Wallace conveys the mean girl role of Charlotte with vigorous energy, supported by her snooty cat Mrs. Whiskers (Mia Coats). Sincerity and sweetness emanate from the entire cast, particularly in the closing reprise of the title song. Additional cast members include Ella Johnson, Grace Beasley, Emma Cathryn Eubanks, Pierce Mejias, Perry Raines, Zavery Johnson, Paul Woodard, Heyward Moak, Cameron Eubanks, Turner Carson, and Major McCarty. The capable and dedicated production team includes Robert Harrelson (Director), Ryan Rogers (Youth Director), Rebekah Cheatham (Youth Choreographer),

Rachael Sprankle as Miriam the Librarian;  photo by Rob Sprankle

 

Michelle Cheatham (Choreographer Coordinator), Debi Young (Rehearsal Music Coach), Brandon Moore (Stage Manager), and Tony Vaccaro (Stage Design and Props). April Wallace and Gina Moak Cotton designed costumes, Harrelson and Rogers planned lighting and sound, and Jill Larkin and Niane Szalwinski shared producer responsibilities. Production design establishes numerous locations effectively, such as Virginia’s home, the Sun office, the library, and the streets of New York City. Projections of images featuring different Santas from around the world emerge in the library sequence. Younger viewers will benefit from front row seats, as the audience arrangement can obstruct the view of little ones. The intimate performance space creates a cozy and welcoming environment; carol-singing and piano-playing plus a hot chocolate “bar” (and the delectable dessert offerings for sale) make intermission feel like a friendly holiday party.

JoJo Wallace (R) as mean girl Charlotte, and Mia Coates as her snooty cat; photo by Rob Sprankle

The focus on youth engagement at On Stage Productions is commendable, as evidenced by inclusion of the student directing intern in the opening remarks, and the production’s involvement of an eleven-year-old choreographer. The young actors appear comfortable and confident on stage. The audience’s enjoyment of the performance is buoyed by the children’s delight in performing. (My six-year-old daughter confided after the first act, “Mommy, this seems like a GREAT place to be in a play!”) The earnest ensemble entreats in song: “Believe in joy. Believe in love. Believe your whole life through. Keep bright the light of childhood.” The light of childhood shines brightly at On Stage Productions this holiday season.

Want to learn more about the script and score? The website yesvirginiathemusical.com provides production resources which will delight young theatre artists. Interested in attending the On Stage performance? Visit www.onstagesc.com for tickets and further information. Yes, Virginia The Musical will be presented at the On Stage Performance Center (680 Cherokee Lane in West Columbia) at 7:30 pm on December 7, 12, 13, and 14, and at 2:30 pm on December 7, 8, 14, and 15.

~ Melissa Swick Ellington

 

Brian Childers plays Danny Kaye this weekend at Workshop Theatre, and talks about his roots in local theatre

image This weekend, award-wining professional stage performer Brian Childers brings his critically-acclaimed one-man performance as Danny Kaye to the stage of Workshop Theatre for two shows only.    An Evening with Danny Kaye is co-sponsored by The Katie and Irwin Kahn Jewish Community Center as a fund raiser for the theatre. Show dates and times are: Sat. December 7 at 8 pm, and Sun. December 8 at 3 pm.

Childers, a Columbia native and veteran performer on local stages, took time recently to talk with Jasper about his career and this special production.

Jasper:  Tell us a little about your background, and how you became involved in theatre locally.

Childers:    I was born in Columbia, SC, and graduated from Irmo High School.  My first "role" was in a production at our school assembly. I played the Narrator, and my mother says there was no stopping me. I was singing from the time I was able, and sang in church and school all the time. I did my first children's theatre rroduction with (Bette Herring's) Upstage Children's Theatre in Columbia many years ago, but I really cut my teeth on working with such theatres as Workshop Theatre, Town Theatre and the Lexington Arts Association.

Jasper: What were some especially memorable shows at Workshop, and some people you really enjoyed working with?

Childers:  Growing up in Columbia, I always wanted to be in a show at Workshop Theatre, and I got the privilege to be in several shows there.  I did And the World Goes Round, a play called Scotland Road, Scrooge, the Stingiest Man in Town, and one of my all time favorite theatrical experiences was playing John Adams in 1776 at Workshop. I worked with such directors as David Swicegood, Cindy Flack, and Clarence Felder. I loved every set I have ever seen built by Randy Strange. I really love the staff and crew at Workshop.

Jasper: At what point did you make the transition into acting professionally?

Childers:    I finished college, and came back home for a year and a half, not sure what was the next step to take. I actually did a full season and a half of back-to-back shows at Town Theatre and Workshop Theatre. Those were some of the best times that I can remember. After that season I decided it was time to head up north and try my wings in show business.  I decided not to move directly to New York. I had many friends who had up and gone to the Big Apple and had not worked since!  Instead, I decided to move to Washington D.C.    There was, and is, a thriving theatre scene there. I thought that if I couldn't get cast in Washington, I certainly was not going to get cast in New York. I was incredibly lucky in Washington:  I worked constantly for the next 5 years.  (After) my first audition, I landed the role of Emory in Boys in the Band at my first professional theatre company, The American Century Theatre. It was this theatre that brought about the life changing role of Danny Kaye.

Jasper:  You first played Kaye in Danny and Sylvia; how did you initially get cast?

Childers:  I was in a production of Hollywood Pinafore with The American Century Theater.  I was playing the role of Raif Rackstraw. When Jack Marshall (the show's director and the artistic director of the theatre) and I discussed what to do with this character, unbeknownst to us at the time, we really shaped him as a Danny Kaye-type without meaning to. There was one scene in particular that Jack saw me play and apparently the lightbulb went on.  Jack had had the script on his desk of Danny and Sylvia, but was convinced he needed someone who really could be Danny. So when Jack saw the scene in the show he ran back to me at intermission and said, “You are going to play Danny Kaye, and I have a script on my desk.”  I immediately said "Oh, I love Danny Kaye", but the truth was I knew very little if nothing about him. I went home that night and googled Danny Kaye... and then I thought "WHAT HAVE I GOT MYSELF INTO??"   Once we started rehearsals with Jack Marshall, I knew all was going to be fine. He directed me and taught me how to play Danny Kaye.  And that was the start of this incredibly long wonderful journey. I have been playing Danny Kaye on and off for over 13 years.

Brian Childers as Danny Kaye

Jasper:  Kaye was a huge star at one point, but perhaps not as well known now to modern audiences, apart from his iconic role in White Christmas. What do you think about him as a performer, and then as a character to play?

Childers:  Danny was really a genius. He could sing, dance, act, clown, and hold an audience in the palm of his hand. He was a true entertainer. That word isn’t used much these days. You have a singer, or a dancer, or even a triple threat, but Danny was much more than all those things. At one point he was the highest paid actor in Hollywood.  Danny conducted symphony orchestras, was a professional Chinese chef, a pilot and was fascinated by surgery of any kind. Versatile was definitely a way to describe Danny.

Playing Danny as a character has been one of the greatest challenges and most fulfilling things I have ever done as an actor and performer. Danny was complicated offstage and yet was so wonderful with an audience onstage. It's a dream for any actor to dive into a role like that.

Jasper:    What are some particularly enjoyable roles and shows that you have done?

Childers:  Of course playing Danny Kaye Off-Broadway for three years was pretty spectacular. Danny still remains my favorite role. When I first arrived in DC, I landed the part of Emory in Boys in the Band. Perhaps because it was my first real professional experience,or just the great character that it is, I loved that role. I was fortunate to be cast in a brand new musical called 90 North at the Kennedy Center, which made me a member of Actor's Equity, the theatrical union. I played Tom Sawyer on the National Tour of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and loved the cast and the role.  And starring in a national tour was a very big learning experience.   I actually loved playing John Adams at Workshop Theatre in 1776. When I got the call that I was cast, I was floored.  I told the director I was entirely too young, and I was performing with some terrific actors in the theatre scene there at the time. He told me trust him, and it would be fine. I did, and I loved the role and the cast of that show.

Jasper:  What can audiences expect from this performance in Columbia?

Childers:  An Evening with Danny Kaye is just as it sounds. I have been in several different book musicals of his life, (including) Danny and Sylvia and another very successful show I did called The Kid from Brooklyn. Both covered his life story. This show is not that.  Danny used to perform one-man concerts all over the world. Many people over the years came up to me and said "Why don't you do a show that was like the concerts he used to do?" So I put together this show. The idea is that the audience is coming to see Danny in his one-man concert.  There is nothing but music and stories. I perform some of his greatest material, from  "Tchaikovsky", "Minnie the Moocher" to  "Hans Christian Andersen" and of course "White Christmas". The show is filled with great music and laughter - a fun and exciting evening at the theatre. My hope is that it will bring nostalgia to some and for others (introduce) this great performer to a new generation.

Brian Childers

Jasper:  Finally, why do you feel organizations like Workshop Theatre are important to a city like Columbia?

Childers:  I believe that theatres such as Workshop play a vital role in both the community and in the cultivation of young talent. Community theatre enriches the lives of those who take an active part in it, as well as those in the community who benefit from live theatre productions. On either side of the footlights, those involved represent a diversity of age, culture, life experience, and a strong appreciation of the importance of the arts. Places like Workshop Theatre are essential and must be preserved and nurtured. I know that I would not be where I am without actively taking a part in Workshop Theatre. It is a privilege to be able to return and perform at Workshop Theatre.

...................

Brian Childers won the Helen Hayes Award for Best Actor in a Musical for  Danny and Sylvia: A Musical Love Story, as well as the Mary Goldwater Award for his portrayal. The  New York Times wrote that this was "an outstanding performance by Brian Childers as Kaye," while Talkin’ Broadway said: "Childers makes you feel as if you are watching the real Danny Kaye. Every gesture is perfect and he has mastered the mimicry and dialects that were such a great part of Kaye's performances."  In 2014, Childers will play the title role in The Jazz Singer Off-Broadway.  You can also learn more about his career at http://www.brianchilders.net.

Details on this special performance can be found at the Facebook event page  and at the Workshop Theatre site.  Tickets are available online,  or call the Workshop box office at 803-799-6551.

~ August Krickel

 

Thomas Crouch has new work at S & S -- sadly, it's for their last show

crow 1crow3crows-nests-2 Raven - flight

Eat Crow

Thomas Crouch’s new exhibit is opening on Thursday night, December 5th, as the final S&S Art Supply show. We’re sad to see S&S go – under the leadership of Eric Stockard, longtime purveyor of arts supplies, S&S has been a steadfast and loyal member of the arts community. Always doing their share. Always doing what’s right. They’ll be missed.

Back to the art.

Crouch’s new exhibit,“As The Crow Flies,” explores the physical and conceptual space shared between humans and crows. The crow, Crouch says, has long been used symbolically and metaphorically in language, literature and visual art to explain human conditions and situations. From Crouch’s perspective, this is due to the intuitive and highly intelligent nature of the crows and ravens. According to Crouch, “Corvid’s adaptability to human nature is due to their study of humans. As [hu]mankind has civilized and manifested itself on earth it has unknowingly created the perfect environment for the Corvid family.”

In mythology, Native American beliefs and Christianity, Crouch continues, “crows and Ravens have highly symbolic value—good or bad. In The Bible it is written that Noah first let a White Raven fly before he sent out doves. The Raven never returned so it was then that the Raven was turned black. Depending on the religion/belief the Ravens are considered stealers of light as well as givers of light.

 

From POST-ECHO -- PASSAGE is here!

post 2 Local record label Post-Echo is releasing the final segment of its five-part film experience PASSAGE on Tuesday, December 3rd. What began as an almost journalistic exploration of abandonment in the South morphed quickly into a complex, multi-part movie. After putting out an audiovisual graphic novel called DRIFT last year, it seemed only fitting for the label to begin work on the production of its first interactive film.

 

Although Post-Echo was created in official terms in September of 2011, the idea to produce collaborative artistic content came almost a year earlier when Post-Echo founders Justin Schmidt and Franklin Jones formulated the idea that later became DRIFT. The collaborative hopes to act as an outlet for artists in which they are provided with resources that might not otherwise be readily available. Post-Echo certainly carries out the typical role of a record label through the CDs and vinyls it puts out. But the group also uniquely focuses on the production of content that displays components of all the visual arts.

 

The making of PASSAGE began with simplicity. The crew would drive around for lengths of time, searching for broken-down places – places whose own dilapidation provided life to the stories that Post-Echo wished to tell. Throughout the course of the five parts, the filmmakers delve into a variety of themes, including meta-interaction, voyeurism and post-industrial abandonment.

 

“With Passage, we’ve sort of mashed all of these ideas together to build a metaphoric Jenga tower of a narrative,” says Franklin Jones, who acts as writer, editor and director of the film. “Every installment has been about raising the height of the tower, and in part V, we hope to knock the whole thing down to better reveal the pieces.”

 

The final part of PASSAGE is 48 minutes, significantly longer than its predecessors. It features an original score from JFS (Jason F. Stroud) that Jones best describes as “electro voodoo folk metal.” The release will bind together the individual parts, while also providing viewers with an ending that is neither clean nor easily explainable. The creators hope to spark thoughtful conversation at the end of the film and allow room for the viewers to think freely and form their own opinions on the movie’s meaning.

 

“The conclusion won’t necessarily come with a nice, little bow, but the gift wrap will indeed be interpretative,” explains Jones.

 

Jasper music editor Kyle Petersen interviewed both Jones and Schmidt in the September/October issue of Jasper magazine. Petersen discusses Post-Echo’s creation and the various projects it has embarked on in thorough detail. The article can be read online at www.jaspercolumbia.net.  

 

Several minutes of self-reflection were required after viewing each installment of PASSAGE for myself. The film strained my brain in the best of ways, and I have nothing but appreciation for the time and thought that went into its conception.  

 

To learn more about Post-Echo, visit www.post-echo.com. All parts of PASSAGE are available on the site, as well as music from Post-Echo artists.

 

 

Movie credits are as follows –

 

Writer/director/editor – Franklin Jones

Principal Cinematography – Justin Schmidt

Additional Cinematography – Jason F. Stroud, Franklin Jones, Corey Alpert, Sean

                                                Shoppell, Caitlin Hucks

Visual Effects – Jason F. Stroud

Visual Art – Eli Armstrong

Starring – Bobby Markle

 

Music

Part I – Cancellieri

Part II – Koda

Part III – Forces of a Street

Part IV – Devereaux

Part V - JFS

Jasper Salon at 80808 with the Midlands Clay Arts Society FRIDAY NIGHT!

Nervous Nelly by Renee Rouillier We're taking the Jasper Salon on the road again!

This time we're heading down to the Vista to visit with the Midlands Clay Arts Society at Vista Studios Gallery 80808.

Four individual artists with different techniques -- Betsy Kaemmerlen, Terry Meek, Renee Rouillier, and Tim Graham -- will explain the unique processes they use to achieve the effects they want for their art. (Stay tuned to What Jasper Said this week for more in-depth looks at the featured artists.)

Artist - Terry Meek

This is a chance to get a good handle on various clay arts techniques, theory, and terminology, and learn directly from the artists themselves.

The free event will run from 6 until 8 pm with intermittent presentations given throughout the evening.

The Jasper EconoBar will be operating so come out and enjoy an adult beverage and the new MCAS exhibit, and take home a lot of new information and maybe a new piece of art.

 

Artist - Betsy Kaemmerlen

 

 

Thanking our Advertisers & Guild Members BY NAME!

Thanksgiving_WordArt1 As this long weekend of explicit thankfulness comes to a close, Jasper would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the individuals and organizations for whom we are most thankful -- those who pay the piper or, in our case, the printer.

Jasper Magazine is 100% supported by advertisers and Jasper Guild members. We take no money from anyone else -- not even city government, (unlike with at least one other publication, a new advertorial one, city government doesn't even support us with their advertising dollars -- guess you won't be hearing us boast about bottles of champagne showing up on our doorsteps on New Years Eve!) But because of this, we're under no one's thumb and therefore not obligated to anyone. We like it this way.

But this makes us even more appreciative of those who support us both personally through their guild membership and with their advertising dollars.

Jasper Guild Members have gone out of their way to reach into their own coffers to support us. We can't tell you how much this means to us. We need your money, yes, but it is the act of your actually giving it to us that sometimes chokes us up -- we'll admit it -- we sometimes feel a little like Sally Field and we're not ashamed of it!

Our advertisers have taken a chance on us, as well. And they're taking a chance on you, our readers, too. Please help us repay their faith in us by patronizing their places of business. Tell them you saw their ads in Jasper and thank them for supporting your arts community with their advertising dollars.

Because the reality is, without them -- without our advertisers and our guild members, we wouldn't be here. Bottom line.

Our sincerest thanks to the members of the Jasper Guild:

Nancy Kauffman - Russ & Jeannie Eidson - Jennifer Phelps - Wade Sellers - Todd Mathis - Nancy Pope & John Watkins - William Fickj - Coralee Harris - Gigi Woods - Marcia Watkins - Katie Fox - Cindy Patterson - Elena Martinez-Vidal - Laurie & Duncan McIntosh - Diane Hare - Forbes Patterson - Erin Bolshakov - William Starrett - Toni Elkins - William Schmidt - Anna Shaw Legare - Sheila Morris - Lauren & Robert Michalski - Doni Jordon - Manita & Charles Craft - Localhappiness.net - Ceille Baird Welch - Philip Mullen - Kay & Jim Thigpen - Kirkland Smith - Amy Overstreet - Alex Smith - Charles Lesser - Joseph Counts - Tracie Broom - Alvin Neal - TraceBallou - Janna McMahan - Dick Moons - Easter Antiques - Margey Bolen - Melinda Cotton - Robert Coffee - C. Hope Clark - Wentworth Tradd - Watermark Hypnosis - Heather Green - Bob Waites - Catherine Petersen - Cindy Roddey - Sean McGuiness - BA Hohman - Joe Morales - Raia Jane Hirsch - Grace Aguila - Wild Blue Sky - Robin Gottlieb - Lizzie Wrenn - Nancy Marine - Ladybug Art Studios - Ron Hagell - Harriet Showman - Anthony Imperial - Trinessa Dubas - Glenda Keyes

Tremendous thanks also to our Advertisers:

Trustus Theatre - Midlands Clay Arts Society - One Columbia - Columbia Museum of Art - Columbia City Ballet - Mouse House - Elite Framing - The Whig - Artizan - Vista Ballroom - Bonnie Goldberg South Carolina State Museum - Cellar on Greene - Tapp's Arts Center - Ramco Framing - Columbia Marionette Theatre - Coal Powered Filmworks - Kristian Niemi for Rosso and Bourbon - First Citizen's Cafe

 

If you'd like to advertise with Jasper please contact AdTeam@JasperColumbia.com

If you'd like to become a member of the Jasper Guild, please email Annie@JasperColumbia.com or Cindi@JasperColumbia.com or go to http://jaspercolumbia.net/store/products/category/jasper-guild/

In any case, thanks for reading & thanks for being  a part of the Jasper Family.

-- CB

 

 

Jasper Goes to the Library - Tuesday with Laurie McIntosh!

Laurie  Starting in December at the Richland Library and six of its branches, don’t be surprised to smell turpentine in the circulation department or hear singing in the stacks because Jasper is going to the library!

Jasper Goes to the Library is a new outreach program presented in a partnership between Jasper Magazine and Richland Library. Once a month for six months and at six different library branches, artists from six different arts disciplines will present an hour long program of performance and demonstration.  Disciplines include dance, theatre, the literary arts, music, visual arts, and film.

It was a brainstorm that originated with Heather Green, manager of Richland Library Wheatley. “I had really begun thinking about how Richland Library could partner with our community artists to have the biggest impact on our community,” Green says.  “Although we are considered a metropolitan area, many of our residents do not have access and exposure to the many arts resources we have right here in Columbia. I decided to contact (Jasper editor) Cindi Boiter to get the ball rolling on a Richland Library/Jasper partnership. My initial ideas were small – that Jasper could come to Richland Library Wheatley, which is my location, and present something arts related. Cindi blew my small ideas wide open suggesting that Jasper and the Library collaborate for a series of presentations – from performing arts to visual arts. So in one afternoon meeting, my little idea grew into a wonderful partnership.”

 

Local visual artist Tim Floyd is also one of the six selected artists and arts groups to participate in the inaugural program and is scheduled to present and demonstrate on January 7th  in 2014 at the Ballentine branch of Richland Library. For Floyd, who will be talking about creative solutions and demonstrating how to make an encaustic painting, it makes perfect sense for an arts magazine like Jasper to design a series of arts events which will allow working artists to share their talents with their community in free and public spaces.  “Libraries are the knowledge hub of a community. Showing original art and process is important for the encouragement of others,” Floyd says. “Maybe one person will get a spark and go out and create something.”

 

The programs will all take place on the first Tuesday of the month starting on December 3rd  with visual artist and writer Laurie McIntosh who will be talking about and reading from her art book, All the In Between – My Story of Agnes, at the Wheatley Branch. McIntosh’s book is an annotated catalogue of an art series she completed commemorating the life and death of her mother. Other presenters include the musical duo of Todd Mathis (guitar) and Cully Salehi (viola) who will perform at the North Main Branch on February 4th, films from The 2013 2nd Act Film Festival presented by Jasper Magazine on March 4th at Richland Library Northeast, Columbia City Ballet Company on April 1st at the Southeast branch, and the South Carolina Shakespeare Company on May 6th at the Cooper branch.

 

“Columbia has so many wonderful resources. We should all be partnering more to maximize our message that all residents/communities deserve to have quality education and information—no matter their socioeconomic standing,” says Green. “I am so excited that Richland Library and Jasper are partnering up to further promote the arts in Columbia. Six months of Jasper artists in our libraries? That sounds pretty awesome to me!”  

 

 

 

 

 

"Ho Ho Ho" at Columbia Children's Theatre - a review by Melissa Swick Ellington

hoho3 Ho Ho Ho offers bright and energetic holiday entertainment at Columbia Children’s Theatre.  Designed to engage even the youngest audience members, this production features wacky humor in the custom of British pantomime.   As “panto” embraces audience participation and madcap folly, Ho Ho Ho keeps viewers shouting with gleeful laughter at the silly antics of familiar festive characters.  Father and Mother Christmas (i.e. Santa and Mrs. Claus) face rollicking chaos as they strive to reclaim elusive holiday spirit amid comical mishaps.  Tradition blends with pop culture references as elves cavort to contemporary hit songs. Audience members will enjoy participating in this rowdy ride through pursuit of Christmas magic.  The boisterous comic style of the show embraces broad physical jokes as in vaudeville, including slapstick sequences that may startle some of the youngest viewers, as well as a bit of potty humor that will appeal to a wide cross-section of audience members. (Truth be told, my husband and I laughed even harder than our children did during one particularly memorable sound cue sequence…I bet you’ll know which one if you see the show.)

As directed by Frank Thompson, the production maintains a brisk pace and admirable clarity. Cast members work together in a vibrant, captivating ensemble. In the central role of Father Christmas, Lee O. Smith brings empathy and warmth to his character in the midst of the wild hijinks. Will Moreau as the Musical Elf shares a special talent for mesmerizing the young audience, often without speaking a word. Mother Christmas (Christy Shealy Mills) drives the play’s narrative with vivacity, while the effervescent elves are portrayed with enthusiastic commitment by Elizabeth Stepp and Bill DeWitt. (Andy Nyland serves as understudy for the role of Elf Boy Len).

(L-R) Bill DeWitt, Christy Chealy Mills, Elizabeth Stepp, Will Moreau

As ever with a CCT play, commendable production values are maintained, with sound design by Frank Thompson and costume design by Donna Harvey and Jerry Stevenson. Costumes combine recognizable holiday attire (that iconic red suit) with surprising delights (an ever-changing parade of zany hats). Complex action onstage relies on offstage support; clearly, this production has a superb team in place. Stage manager extraordinaire Jami Steele-Sprankle keeps the mayhem under control and provides effective backstage organization. Sound technician Anthony Harvey delivers praiseworthy precision in the execution of numerous sound cues which are essential to the show’s comedy, while David Quay supplies dependable light board operation.

As a parent, I was particularly gratified by the actors’ knack for nurturing my preschool son’s focus throughout the performance. He was able to engage in the audience-actor transaction of live theatre at a level of understanding that I hadn’t seen from this little boy before. The youngsters in attendance at this matinee performance were charmed by the actors, and became visibly invested in the play’s events.

audience participation

Before the performance, cast and crew members involve children in coloring stocking ornaments and helping to decorate the onstage tree. A gentle approach to audience participation invites eager kids to take part in various opportunities, but does not overwhelm more reserved children. Stick around after the show to meet the cast, get autographs, and take photos. (My daughter observed, “I love when the actors autograph my program at Columbia Children’s Theatre!”)

Early in the performance, my youngest child chortled with laughter after a funny physical sequence and declared, “Ohhhh that is SO silly.” Yes, Ho Ho Ho, scripted by award-winning British children's playwright Mike Kenny, is indeed “so silly,” in the most affirming and affectionate sense of the term. Columbia Children’s Theatre offers our community a comedic gift this holiday season in a fast-paced and cheery romp. Head on over to Ho Ho Ho, jumpstart your holiday spirit, and laugh your cares away with Father Christmas and friends at Columbia Children’s Theatre.

~ Melissa Swick Ellington

 

Jasper 2013 Artists of the Year Announced!

photo by Richard Kiraly  

Jasper is delighted to announce the winners of the Jasper 2013 Artists of the Year awards in dance, literary arts, music, theatre, and visual arts.

Congratulations to:

Terrance Henderson, who is the Jasper 2013 Artist of the Year in Dance.

Members of the band, The Restoration, who are the Jasper 2013 Artist s of the Year in Music.

Janna McMahan, who is the Jasper 2013 Artist of the Year in Literary Arts.

Vicky Saye Henderson, who is the Jasper 2013 Artist of the Year in Theatre.

And, Philip Mullen, who is the Jasper 2013 Artist of the Year in Visual Arts.

Terrance Henderson - Jasper 2013 Artist of the Year in Dance

 

The Restoration - Jasper 2013 Artists of the Year in Music

Janna McMahan - Jasper 2013 Artist of the Year in Literary Arts

Vicky Saye Henderson - Jasper 2013 Artist of the Year in Theatre

Philip Mullen - Jasper 2013 Artist of the Year in Visual Arts

 

 

 

 

Nominees for Jasper’s 2013 Artists of the Year were solicited from the community at large with a resulting 55 nominees. Five teams of arts experts deliberated for almost 20 hours to arrive at the top three finalists in each of the above categories. Almost 4500 artists and patrons voted with the final vote deciding the winners.

The winners were honored on Thursday, November 21st during Columbia, SC’s Vista Arts celebration with an awards ceremony at Coal Powered Filmworks at 1217 Lincoln Street in the heart of Columbia’s Vista. All winners and finalists are also featured in the new issue of Jasper Magazine – The Word on Columbia Arts.

Last year’s winners included Chad Henderson for Theatre; Morihiko Nakahara for Music; Regina Willoughby for Dance; Kwame Dawes for Literary Arts; and, Susan Lenz for Visual Arts.

An Anti-Violence Arts Project w/ STSM, Tapps, And Jasper

Print Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands  (STSM) is partnering with Jasper Magazine and Tapp's Arts Center to launch a new arts and anti-violence initiative called Imagine If: Envisioning a World without Violence. Imagine If invites community members to recognize, identify, and name the elements of violence around them and imagine a world in which those things do not exist.

As part of the Imagine If project, STSM is collaborating with Tapp's Arts Center to conduct free arts workshops with community members and groups to  create art of all genres and media (including visual, film, photography, creative writing, etc.) around the theme of imagining a world  without violence. The first workshop will be held on Saturday, November 23, 1:00-3:00 p.m. at Tapp's Arts Center (1644 Main St., Columbia, SC).

For this workshop, we invite people of all ages and artistic backgrounds to bring your sketchbook, notebook, and/or camera and see what inspires you as  we go for a guided stroll down Main Street. Feel free to stick around at Tapp's after the walk to write, sketch, photograph, and fellowship with other artists and community members. You don't have to be an artist to participate, just be open and willing to delve into your pool of creativity. The workshop will be facilitated by Tapp's Arts Center artist-in-residence Jim Dukes and local writer/teacher Brandi Perry.

The creative pieces made in these workshops can be created just for fun,  for personal growth and healing, or to submit for display during Sexual  Assault Awareness Month (April). STSM will use a selection of the pieces submitted through this campaign to be displayed at Tapp’s Arts Center for the April 3 kickoff for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and throughout the month of April.

All our workshops are free, but please register online. And if you can't make it this month, keep an eye out for future announcements about project workshops and events.

For more information on the Imagine If project or to submit a piece, please contact STSM's Prevention Education Coordinator Alexis Stratton at  pec@stsm.org or 803-790-8208, or visit the Imagine If webpage.

-- Alexis Stratton

Guess Who the Jasper 2013 Artists of the Year Are, and WIN!

Jasper leaf logo We're counting down the days and hours until we announce this year's winners for Jasper's Artist of the Year in Dance, Literary Arts, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts on Thursday, November 21st at 6 pm!

To make time pass more quickly we thought the members of the extended Jasper Family might be interested in getting in on the competition.

Here's how:

Visit us on Facebook and find the message GUESS THE WINNERS posted on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/jaspercolumbia. In the comments section under that post, do just that -- guess the winners in each of the five categories by 4 pm on Thursday, November 21st.

If you are correct -- in ALL FIVE categories -- visit us on Thursday evening at our release celebration at Coal Powered Filmworks at 1217 Lincoln Street and you'll win one of our cool new purple Jasper Backpacks. It's that easy.

To refresh your memory, here are the finalists in each category:

Dance:  Erin Bolshakov     Wayland Anderson     Terrance Henderson

Music:  Phillip Bush     The Restoration     Fat Rat da Czar

Literary Arts:  Janna McMahan     Aida Rogers     Jim Barilla

Theatre:  Bobby Bloom     Terrance Henderson      Vicky Saye Henderson

Visual Arts:  Michaela Pilar Brown     Philip Mullen     Thomas Crouch

 

We're looking forward to seeing how clever you are -- and learning who the winners are ourselves!

So get guessing -- and we'll see you on Thursday when we announce the winners!

 

Jasper Shares -- A New Way of Getting Your Arts News & Accomplishments to the Community

sleeve  

Dear Artists and Arts Lovers,

 

We've got something new and exciting up our sleeves and we can't wait to tell you about it. We call it Jasper Shares and it's a new way of keeping everyone in the loop about the goings-on in the greater Columbia arts community. No, it's not just event-oriented--although we will be offering for your consideration Jasper's Picks for the most interesting and innovative events coming up. It's more about the great things Soda City artists do that often lead to these events. Things like getting a part in a play or a ballet or winning a contest or award. It's about sharing arts news with people who care, and it's about making the sharing of news as easy as clicking right here!

 

Jasper Shares will show up in your in-box on a weekly or less schedule with helpful arts-based news – not only about what’s going on with Jasper, but also about what’s going on with all of you in the greater Columbia arts community.

 

  • Did your new book come out or did it get a review you’re too shy to share?

 

  • Did you release a new CD?

 

  • Has the cast for the latest play at any of our local theatres been set?

 

  • Do you have an exhibition opening soon?

 

  • A concert, film, or dance performance?

 

Let us know and we’ll help you share your good news with the rest of the world. However, with an arts scene as bustling as Columbia’s, we won’t be able to share everything that’s going on. But we’ll pick out the coolest arts news—the news that affects the most people, and the biggest deals—and we’ll pass the word along in Jasper Shares.

share 2

 

We’re also claiming Bragging Rights!

 

Was your painting accepted at some big deal art gallery or did you win an award or a prize or a random, but brag-worthy accolade? Sometimes it’s awkward to boast about your own successes and accomplishments. But the rest of us really do want to know. We’re a community! Your success is our success! So let Jasper Shares do the crowing for you.

 

Send us your news in an email to editor@JasperColumbia.com with the word SHARE in the subject line. If you have a photo or video, send that, too!

 

And look forward to the first official issue of Jasper Shares coming soon.

 

Until then, keep making good stuff happen, Columbia artists and arts lovers! All our lives are better because of the good work you do.

Take care,

Your friends at Jasper

 

Sign up for Jasper Shares at www.JasperColumbia.com or simply click here!

sharing 1

 

"Planet Hopping" at the Harbison Theatre - a review by Melissa Swick Ellington

Planet-Hopping  

Planet Hopping Is Out of This World

 

The actor questions, “Is everybody ready to go back to earth?”

“No!” declares a young boy in the audience.

He was certainly not the only one who wanted to prolong tonight’s premiere performance of Planet Hopping: An Intergalactic Puppet Musical. This luminous collaboration between the puppet artists of Belle et Bête and popular “kindie” rock band Lunch Money reveals the theatrical magic possible when innovators imagine together. The performance quality easily rivals family-oriented productions I have attended at national theatre education conferences as well as various venues in New York City. Planet Hopping is a marvel that has been created right here in Columbia, and you don’t want to miss it.

Developed as part of the Harbison Theatre @ MTC Performance Incubator, Planet Hopping shares a voyage from earth to outer space with an emphasis on the power of friendship. Kimi Maeda brings engaging charisma to the play’s puppet hero (Stella Spark, “an astrophysicist when she was just a lass”), while Lyon Hill skillfully characterizes Stella’s sidekick marionette, the lovable and quirky robotic assistant Jack. Through Stella’s Planet Hopping technology, the audience accompanies the characters on a dramatic journey through the solar system, led by the appealing tour guide Mollinda (Molly Ledford). The incorporation of fantasy with scientific facts will delight both children and their adults.

planethopping3

The Lunch Money band members (Ledford, J.P. Stephens, and Jay Barry) are as captivating as ever, sharing clever lyrics and rocking tunes that resonate with music lovers of all ages. One of the production’s greatest strengths is the seamless inclusion of the multi-talented band members as purposeful characters in the story. The “Amazing on the Moon” musical number melds band, projection screen, puppeteer, and marionette in a charming sequence made extra special by a puppet moonwalking…on the moon. The crowd-pleasing “Big Ball of Gas” Jupiter rap performed by P.J. the “new guy” (Stephens) with beatboxing by Jack the robot (Hill) becomes a highlight of the show.

Planet Hopping benefits from an admirable unity of production design, with creative use of lighting effects, video projections, and shadow puppetry. Want to learn about zoetropes, moveable cutouts, marionettes, transparencies, scrims, and more? Check out a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the production here: http://www.harbisontheatre.org/behind-the-scenes-with-planet-hopping/. You can also read composer/lyricist Molly Ledford’s insights into the development of the show’s music, which includes “a bubblegum pop song about orbiting” and “a rockin’ number about enjoying 1/6 of our normal gravity on the moon.”

planet-hopping3

What a gift this collaboration is to our community. My six-year-old daughter spotted a promotional poster weeks ago and has been pleading to “go see the show Planet Hopping” ever since; I am grateful for her awareness and persistence, because this production is a one-of-a-kind experience. Upon receiving a sticker badge when exiting the theatre, my kid sighed happily, “It is amazing to be an official Planet Hopper.”

You can go hop planets with Captain Stella Spark and crew on Saturday, November 16 at 2 pm at the Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College (803-407-5011 or www.harbisontheatre.org).

planethopper

"Sleuth" at Workshop Theatre - a review by Jillian Owens

 

sleuth2

Would you like to play a game?

No no no! This isn’t the latest installment of a poorly-written body horror series. This is Sleuth, a mystery/thriller by Anthony Shaffer. The title made me think this play was  probably a just silly British farce of some sort. I hadn’t seen it, or either of its film versions (both starring Michael Caine.) Upon entering the theatre, I was warned that  “There will be at least one, and possibly more gunshots in this show.” by at least three  ushers.

"Spoilers,” I thought.

The show opens in the lavish country home of Andrew Wyke (played by Hunter Boyle), a successful writer of many mystery novels and a man obsessed with games.  He’s clever, and he knows it.  Games of strategy and wit are what he lives for.  Shaffer once said he based parts of this character on his friend, Stephen Sondheim, who also  shared a love of games.

Unfortunately, his wealth and intelligence aren’t enough to captivate his much younger  wife. She has left him for the handsome young Milo Tindle (played by the also  handsome Jason Stokes). Wyke invites Tindle to his home to presumably discuss the  details of his pending divorce from his wife.

(L-R) Hunter Boyle and Jason Stokes match wits in "Sleuth"

Sleuth surprised me in many ways. As I said, I didn’t expect this play to be much more than a witty farce. But it is much smarter than that. What begins as a situation comedy, with plenty of funny wit-matching and clever dialogue, becomes something far darker  and complex as the action unfolds. Wyke and Tindle aren’t the only ones playing  games here. This script was written to toy with the audience and their expectations as  well. Just when we’re comfortable and think we understand what this show is about,  Sleuth takes another turn - carefully placing its next piece.

Boyle and Stokes are well-cast in their roles as the jilted-but-proud novelist and the  young-but-not-so-dumb lover. It’s a tricky thing to go from quick banter to far scarier  places at the drop of a hat, but they do this fairly well. Their British accents aren’t bad, although a bit of Southern crept in every now and again. There were opportunities  where they could really brought out the more sinister moments of this play with even  more intensity, but I only saw this show on its opening night. With seasoned actors  such as these, I expect even more commanding performances as the show  progresses.

Randy Strange’s country manor set is impressive, with all the trappings of wealth  presented in a style you’d expect of Wyke. Alexis Doktor’s costumes are nicely done as well, although they seemed to lean towards the 1970 publication date of this play, rather  than the contemporary setting that is indicated by the use of a few modern bits of  technology throughout the show. There were a couple of technical glitches in the  performance I caught, but seeing Hunter Boyle play them off made me forgive thesesmall flukes.

I hope others aren’t put off like I almost was by what kind of play they assume Sleuth may be, because you really don’t know. Trust me. I would love to share more...but I’m afraid  that would just ruin the game.  The play runs through Sat. 11/23; call the box office for ticket information at 803-799-6551, or visit http://www.workshoptheatre.com.

~ Jillian Owens