NWNW Weekend Two - Studio Showcase Jun 12, 2010

by Shango Los

Attending the On the Boards 2010 NWNW Festival weekend #2 was slightly different for me than last weekend. Due to scheduling issues, I decided to split the two Showcases up onto different nights. Last night I saw the Studio Showcase pieces and will be enjoying the Mainstage Showcase on Sunday evening. As I said last weekend, I do not consider my role on this blog as a critic at all. I’ll leave that to the misanthropy of the local papers. I am an artist’s booster. I am there, yes, to watch with the experienced eye I have developed over 10 years of attending and being engaged by performance but the  “critical" part was already taken care of by the OTB selection committee. I am merely writing today to give a glimpse into some of the shows, help you reminisce if you were there and encourage you to go if you have been silly enough to not go already.

The Satori Group The Making of a Monster It is always exciting to reach the end of a piece and say to myself,  “Well, I’ve never seen anything like that before." That was definitely the case with this performance. The Satori Group has made real the visual style, cues and pace of a Japanese graphic novel and imported it into a live stage experience. It is all there; the pitiful antagonizing hero, the impish and immature approach to sexuality, the human/animal/monster creatures, and the bizarre facial expressions held longer than comfortable. The tuff boys have the faces of warthogs while the cutie girls have foxtails like it was a cosplay party. The staging is where the real risks were taken though. Stagehands in full black constantly moved stage props and frames around so that with a bit of suspension of disbelief, you could actually imagine you were reading a graphic novel or watching anime. The most challenging aspect for this adaptation is that Japanese entertainment moves so quickly. The crew as a whole often seemed to be having difficulty keeping up with their own blocked out pace. Don’t misunderstand me though, the stagecraft was well thought out and really moved but trying to adapt Manga for the stage is a Herculean task, especially on what I can only assume is a small budget. Cheers for The Satori Group for taking on such a new and very difficult project. Lily Verlaine Magpie I knew Lily Verlaine’s name from her burlesque reputation and was expecting something associated with that. What I wasn’t expecting was her very successful modernization of the art. Much of burlesque is backward looking towards another time in history and I have never been much for period pieces being a futurist myself. However, Ms. Verlaine’s performance absolutely updated her genre right into fine art. Her performance drew a huge amount of playful sexiness from a bit of skin here and there at the beginning. Thankfully, the playful reveals did crescendo into a nearly full reveal that had even more women in the audience squealing with glee than the men. It was very much interpreted by this audience as a girl power piece and deservingly so. I would be remiss if I didn’t note Ms. Verlaine’s absolute success with interacting with the audience. Unlike Paul Budraitis from last weekend who broke the fourth wall by yelling at the audience, Ms. Verlaine cozied up to her audience, at times crawling over them and in the end quite enjoying herself over a pilfered Polaroid of an audience member (and new fan I am sure.) Clearly the crowd pleaser of the evening, I hope we see more of Lily Verlaine as she continues to bridge the burlesque world and the more formal performance art one. Erin Leddy My Mind is Like an Open Meadow I must say that it was a bit off-putting how slow Erin’s stage crew moved about and changed sets. There did to seem to be a lot of people helping her but the transition into and out of her piece was slow and disturbed the flow of the evening. This says nothing of Erin’s performance which I am about to cheer but it does suggest that with a piece with this much going on, the Stage Manager needs to take a more iron hand to make sure things are done snappily. Folks seemed to just wander around a lot of the time. Erin’s performance is a very conceptual piece that is a true joy to watch as well. She chose to live with her Grandmother for a year and record over 40 hours of their conversations in order to capture her stories, opinions and wisdom. From this frame of reference, Erin does a magnificent job bringing us along with her as she quickly changes characters from herself to her grandmother’s audio recordings and to herself playing her Grandmother. Without her unsubtle clues, we could have easily gotten lost but with her wigs, sound effects and stage placement, I always knew from whose narrative the story was coming. The content was playful, very heartfelt and brought a tear to both my and my companion’s eyes at different points. Erin does not feel like a rookie breaking out but more like someone with a lot of stage experience who may be trying something on her own as something different. Her demeanor is very comfortable on stage and that confidence was very useful in creating the trust we needed to have in her to follow her quickly changing narration. I expect more good work to come from her. Charles Smith Today I am a Zionist If you don’t know Charles Smith by now, know that he is a rock solid professional. He owned the stage the moment he stepped on to it. His piece is quite theatrical and he moves through both the serious and slapstick with even and pulsing wit. The narrative parts are delivered with swift confidence, humor and with such detail that I found myself leaning in to make sure I didn’t miss anything. In delightful contrast though, Charles also plays musical interludes on his hammered dulcimer that really even out the pace into an ebb and flow that really works. This piece is merely a snippet of a much larger piece in the 2010/2011 On the Boards Mainstage season and it felt like it. I had to remind myself several times that NWNW is designed to let successful performers like Charles work out some kinks and check in with audience responses before the evening length piece is completed. A good deal of the time I felt I was only getting a small piece of the arc of an evening length piece and while than put me slightly on edge, I must realize that this arena is exactly what it is for. I will simply have to wait to enjoy the full depth of his performance. Interestingly enough, both my companion and I thought the piece had a lot in common with the recent OTB performance of West by "Awesome." Both pieces had the same pacing and historical obsequiousness and were directed by Matthew Richter which we thought notable. Another good Studio Showcase. I am very much looking forward to the Mainstage on Sunday evening. Until then.