Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Live Art Moments

Be sure to check out this week’s Style that is chock full o’ stories by my critical compatriot Rich Griset. He talks about the Virginia Rep announcement, quotes Scott Wichmann in a piece about Seal Team workouts, and reviews Henley Street’s “Yellowman.” You’ll see in the “Yellowman” review that I’ll be one of the panel members for the “Yellowman” talk-back this Friday. So come on out and talk back to me!

As mentioned yesterday, here is a quick listing of some of my thoughts about the Live Art concert event on Sunday. Please feel free to add your own highlights in the comments.

I was surprised and delighted by Jason Mraz’s humility and accessibility as a performer. He let himself be fussed at by one mime and then upstaged by another when raising the curtain. Even when the spotlight was on him, he didn’t just bask, he interacted with his piano player and the performers around him. He even lent his bare feet to the instant art of Dancing Feet. If there is a word that means the opposite of prima donna, it is Jason Mraz.

I don’t know whose idea it was to tie everything together with the mimes but it was pretty brilliant. And from the stalwart Xavier Dobbins to the bossy Annie Hulcher to the antic T’Arah Craig and Brendan Kennedy they were a great troupe and an entertaining sidelight all their own.

I loved Samson Trinh’s energy and the voices of Allyson Mills Steele and Terri Simpson. The Upper East Side Big Band provided a sonic foundation for almost everything that occurred and it was as rock-solid as you could ask for.

How can you not be impressed by Susan Greenbaum’s voice? I had the pleasure of chatting briefly with Anne Holton after the show and she remarked how she couldn’t believe Susan doesn’t have a bigger national reputation and following. I couldn’t agree more.

Catherine Dudley was leading the students doing sign language on stage throughout the concert. Even if you aren’t deaf, Ms. Dudley’s signage is just a joy to watch. She’s not just an interpreter; she’s a full-fledged performer herself.

Throughout the concert, I was repeatedly struck by the way so many of the professionals involved in the project seemed to glow with an inner light, people like Willie Hinton, Danae Carter, Josh Small, Jenna McClintock, and many others. I don’t think there is any way you could fake the looks of pride, joy, and jubilation that were plain on their faces.

I enjoyed the way Steve Bassett interacted with the Dreamer Theater performers and the way the crowd enthusiastically responded to the duets with each of the “guest performers.”

Though it ultimately went on a little long for my tastes, the Human Story improv dance contained amazing moments of discovery and interaction, making it among the most powerful pieces of the night. What a clear example of how movement and music – without any spoken words whatsoever – can communicate a whole universe of meaning.

I never got any sense of condescension toward any of the performers, regardless of their abilities. The event was an object lesson in how, given the right support and preparation, differently-abled people can do amazing things. One of my favorite performers was Claire Foster who took part in the impromptu painting in response to Susan Greenbaum’s first song, was a prominent dancer in a couple of pieces, and was the signing interpreter for a piece near the end. She shone with such confidence and even a bit of swagger whenever she was on stage. Another performer I noticed was Shishir Ingale. Though his affect was relatively flat, when he danced, he expressed as much buoyancy and happiness as anyone else on stage.

One of the most admirable aspects of the event: Erin Thomas-Foley – who could have asked for a moment in the spotlight and by all rights deserved one – stayed in the background during the entire performance. She may insist that she was just one cog in a gigantic machine but it’s clear she was actually the motor that made it run. The lack of any kind of official backslapping about the importance of the project and the inclusion of just the slightest ask for support showed great restraint and class, and kept the focus on what was transpiring on stage.

I’m sure there are dozens of people that deserve recognition for making “Live Art” happen but one last kudo to offer: while Ms. Thomas-Foley was obviously the principle force in getting the project going, the SPARC staffer who was officially tasked with managing it was Courtney Edwards. As she was someone who also didn’t get any stage time or official call-outs, I’d like to offer congratulations to her as one of the event's unsung heroes. Well done!

The show ended with a medley of songs celebrating Virginia, which was appropriate, but I’d say that even more specifically, this event was a celebration of Richmond and the great arts community here. Congratulations to SPARC for making this happen but also congratulations to everyone here who helps foster Richmond’s artistic livelihood. “Live Art” was a victory for every single person involved but also for all of us.


Jody Strickler said...

Alright... I can only say, "Couldn't agree more, couldn't agree more, couldn't agree more." I was there for two LONG days of rehearsal and then the performance (tucked in with the 30 or 40 other volunteers who helped to keep things rolling) and the major memory I will retain is the absolute joy of EVERYONE involved. And, as Erin told the entire cast before the show, it's all about the joy of having worked hard to give their love to the audience..."

Al said...

I have no idea who you are... but as a parent of one of the children who watched this magnificant production come together from the first rehersal - you are spot on!

ALL of the staffers and volunteers were amazing with their huge hearts! Erin and Courtney - well... there simply are 'no' words.


Thanks for sharing this blog!

Anonymous said...

That was an awesome performance by everyone! I really loved how it all came together. I am crying right now because what you (the blogger and commenters) said was true for all of us. I was one of the performers withing the Dreamer Theater. It was awesome to be performing with all those people. The big names were really rather chill about us taking the spotlight when they were performing with us. It was funny to be at the dress rehearsal and watching Steve Bassett trying to borrow some of our moves on "Tools for the Soul". All of the people were very friendly and I hope to be able to do this again soon!

Melody said...

Dave: Thanks for giving my Claire her first theater review! We are ecstatic!! And you were spot on for noting her "swagger." Please continue to blog about LIVE ART--this story must be told!!

On a different note, please add Christian Youth Theater of Richmond to your list of producers. Claire has taken classes at CYT for several years and been in many of their productions. Their shows are AWESOME and if you have never been, PLEASE PLEASE come to one. Claire will be in Little Mermaid the next 2 weekends and then CYT is doing Oliver in November (although Claire is not in that show).