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Full House

Fort Wayne hosts some great events in April

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


Shock and outrage… for laughs
The Civic “Off Main” presents 5 short works by irreverent playwright Christopher Durang

Probably all you need to know about playwright Christopher Durang is that his short play For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls is a parody of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie in which faded Southern beauty Amanda worries about her son Lawrence, a hypochondriac wallflower and borderline idiot, until older son Tom brings home a “feminine caller” named Ginny, a masculine girl who shouts a lot (she’s deaf) and tries to teach Lawrence how to be a man…

Well, it’s probably not all you need to know about Durang, but it’s a good start. For Whom the Southern Bell tolls is one of the five Christopher Durang pieces in the Fort Wayne Civic Theater’s 5 in 1 show which begins its run on April 3 at the Allen County Public Library.

As you might guess, it’s pretty funny stuff — Durang is known as an absurdist, and said once he was writing his own comic spin on dysfunction before “dysfunction” was even a word. Adjectives like “outrageous” and “irreverent” pop up frequently in his bios. Other phrases are “Obie Award Winner” (three times, for Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You; The Marriage of Bette and Boo; and Betty's Summer Vacation), Tony Award nominee, and Pulitzer Prize nominee (in 2006 for Miss Witherspoon).

And yet more words include “controversial,” “profane,” and “shocking.” As 5 in 1 director Larry Wardlaw explains, the play isn’t for everyone. “(Durang) is definitely edgy,” Wardlaw says. “It’s very funny, but I don’t think it’s particularly rated for every audience.”

“There’s a thread of irreverence that runs through the plays,” Wardlaw continues. “Durang really has a ‘shock value’ kind of thing, just to kind of jolt you. The ‘F bomb’ flies out in a couple of the pieces. I like to think it flies out in such an outrageous or outlandish way that it’s funny rather than offensive.”

At least four of the pieces in 5 in 1 reference acting or the theater. In addition to For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls, there’s Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room, where a playwright has a meeting with a hotshot Hollywood producer who pitches insane ideas for a screenplay.

Another piece, The Actor’s Nightmare, is a popular one among young actors. “That’s one a lot of young people still use for excerpts,” says Wardlaw. “It’s about an actor who finds himself on stage in four different famous plays he’s never been in before. It’s a lot of actors’ nightmare. It’s a lot of people’s nightmare.”

5 in 1 starts off with Mrs. Sorken, a very short monologue (Kate Black plays the title role, as well as the role of Amanda in Southern Belle and Sara in Russian Tea Room) in which a woman who says she’s Durang’s aunt (“he’s my favorite playwright, because he’s my nephew”) welcomes the audience and explains her likes and dislikes about the theater. Mrs. Sorken serves as a sort of threadline throughout the show, introducing the different pieces.

There’s also Wanda’s Visit, in which married couple Jim and Marsha (played by Lee Kelso and Gloria Minnich) deal with the guest from hell — Jim’s neurotic high school friend Wanda (Julie Donnell).

Wardlaw says he likes to imagine the short pieces in 5 in 1 coming together quickly in a workshop-type forum, just Durang and his actor friends having fun with some goofy ideas. “We’re trying to add that same sense to it, so hopefully it’s fresh, like we just came up with this stuff and put it on,” Wardlaw says. “It’s very experimental kind of theater.”

The Civic is giving 5 in 1 an ‘R’ rating — like Wardlaw says above, the show’s language and sensibility, while not graphically explicit or confrontational, isn’t for everybody — and it’s playing at the Civic’s Off Main stage in the Allen County Public Library. “Off Main productions are really supposed to be just that,” Wardlaw says. “They’re kind of tuned to a different audience, because you can do some of these edgier and more experimental things that you couldn’t do on the main stage, or wouldn’t want to do on main stage. That 200 seat theater is the perfect venue for these kind of plays.”

The Civic Theatre Off Main Presents “5 in 1” (rated R)
Allen County Public Library Auditorium
Fridays and Saturdays April 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18 at 8 pm.
Sundays April 5 & 19 at 2 pm

Tickets: Adults $15; Ages 23 and under $10, Sunday Sr. Matinees $12.
Box office (260) 424-5220
Business Office (260) 422-8641 x221


Life on a string
The innovative Joe Goode Performance Group combines dance, narrative, and puppetry in Wonderboy

When we first see the eponymous hero and narrator of Wonderboy in the opening scene of the dance piece by the Joe Goode Performance Group, he’s standing at a window, longing to go outside but frightened of the consequences. So hypersensitive that he’s almost paralyzed, Wonderboy eventually ventures out of his shelter into the world, and like many coming-of-age tales, the road to acceptance and love is messy and heartbreaking.

Wonderboy, a collaboration between the Joe Goode Performance Group and renowned puppeteer Basil Twist, comes to Fort Wayne on April 18 courtesy of the Fort Wayne Dance Collective.

The title character is a puppet, created by Basil Twist. Six dancers manipulate Wonderboy through out the piece and supply his voice. The show has won raves from critics and audiences. “After watching the live artists of Joe Goode Performance Group manipulate him for a few minutes,” says one writer, “it almost comes as a surprise when they abandon him briefly and you realize he isn't actually capable of tilting his head by himself.” But it’s not just the considerable technical skill of the dancers and Wonderboy that has garnered praise — the story’s warmth and humor are what really makes Wonderboy, and pulls the viewer in long after they’ve grown used to the interaction between dancers and puppet.

The Joe Goode Performance Group is known in the dance world for this kind of innovative and collaborative work. Formed in 1986, the company has performed annually in the San Francisco Bay Area (the JGPG’s hometown) and has toured extensively throughout the U.S. JGPG has appeared in Canada, Europe, South America, the Middle East and Africa. Founder Joe Goode recently received an "Izzie" (Isadora Duncan Award) for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography for a piece earlier this year with AXIS Dance Company called the beauty that was mine/ through the middle, without stopping.

Goode has said that there’s a germ of autobiography in Wonderboy both for himself and the puppet’s creator Basil Twist. “Both of us share the same story, of being sensitive, internalized creatures who didn't know how we were going to be in the world,” Goode said to the San Francisco Chronicle last year. “And then discovering art, discovering a voice through art. Discovering that not only could we get applause and approval but purpose and dignity, and a sense of place in the world.”

Liz Monnier, the Artistic Director of the Fort Wayne Dance Collective, says that, in terms of expression, the Joe Goode Performance Group uses everything in the spectrum — language, storytelling, original music, and (of course) dance. “They’re well known for their duet work, their ability to lift each other,” Monnier explains. “Everything has momentum, so they use gravity and weight and it’s just amazing, the fluidity of this company. You’ve never seen anything so beautiful.”

But they also use language, something unusual in the dance world, and something which, Monnier says, sometimes surprises audiences when they first see a performance by the company. Creative writing is part of the group’s process. The material the group performs often comes from the dancers themselves. “(Goode) uses creative writing exercises to uncover material that is what he calls ‘felt’ material, so it’s really coming from a human place,” says Monnier, who has taken several workshops with Goode and will study with him again this summer on an Inspire Grant from the Follinger foundation. “Goode’s favorite kind of people are inappropriate people, people that are sort of on the outside of things.”

Wonderboy features all the elements that the JGPG is known for — dance theater that combines movement with narrative, imagery, and original music. Monnier says the interaction between the dancers and Wonderboy is striking “Sometimes the puppet flies, sometimes it dances. After a while, it speaks and it actually starts looking real.”

The performance has adult themes — Wonderboy’s journey into the real world is not an easy one — so it’s not recommended for children.

The JGPG will also perform an older, shorter piece called Maverick Strain with Joe Goode himself, which is a sort of campy take on a cowboy story.

Joe Goode will also deliver a lecture/demonstration at Indiana Tech on Friday, April 17 from 12:30 – 1:15.

The Fort Wayne Dance Collective presents the Joe Goode Performance Group

April 18, 2008, 8:00 p.m.
Arts United Center
303 E. Main St.
Tickets: $25 adults
$20 seniors/students
$30 at the door

• A lecture/demonstration at Indiana Tech Friday, April 17 @ 12:30-1:15.

Call FWDC at (260) 424-6574 or visit www.fwdc.org for more information.


The other-worldy sounds of SEAMUS
Three public concerts highlight international conference at Sweetwater

It’s no secret that today, musicians use computers to compose, record, arrange, and perform music.

But the composers who work in what’s called electro-acoustic music are using computers in a way that goes far, far beyond what you’ve ever experienced before.

Sweetwater is playing host to the SEAMUS 2009 National Conference from Thursday, April 16 through Saturday, April 18.

SEAMUS stands for “Society for Electro-acoustic Music in the United States,” and on that weekend over 200 attendees from as far away as South Korea, France, Ireland and Spain, as well as from Canada and the US, will gather to explore recent compositions and developments in the Electro-acoustic genre of music.

You can check out the unique sights and sounds of SEAMUS at the concerts that cap off each night of the conference.

This is the first time the SEAMUS conference has been held outside an academic setting since it was established in 1985. The state-of-the-art technology in Sweetwater’s 250-seat Performance Theatre, plus the company’s 30-year involvement with music technology, where determining factors for bringing the conference to Fort Wayne.

Sweetwater’s Michael Rhoades, a SEAMUS member, conference host, and an electro-acoustic artist in his own right, describes electro-acoustic music as the way that sounds interact with each other over time and how they evolve. “It is really a completely different style of music than anything you’ve ever heard before,” he continues. “It’s not based on melodies and harmonies and traditional things that music has been based on for thousands of years.”

Electro-acoustic music started back in the 30s with French-born composer Edgar Varese, “He’s what they call the father of electro-acoustic music,” Rhoades says. “He started using different sounds like wood slapping together, things like that, in the orchestral things he was doing.”

After Varese, the music branched off in two directions — the musique concrete movement, where “found sound” is put on tape and manipulated; and composers who used what Rhoades describes as quasi-random processes to generate music.

These days, much of the composition is done via computer. “A lot of times the people who are making this are highly trained classic musicians, so they’ll, say, write a flute part, and create algorithms in a computer that listen to that flute line and react to it and interact with it as it’s playing its part. So there’s a lot of interactive music between instruments or ensembles and computer.” Rhoades adds that a lot of composers are also creating pieces that feature interaction between the music and computer-generated visuals.

“A lot of people who generate these pieces of music are very interested in the intersection of science and art,” explains Rhoades, who will perform one of his own compositions (“Tunnel Maze”) at the Saturday night concert. “I use mathematics and physics — especially quantum physical formulas and approaches — to program the computer to generate the music for me. I use things like cellular automatons to have the computer generate the numbers I use to create music.”

It’s pretty heady stuff, but nevertheless electro-acoustic music has found a dedicated audience among fans of experimental or adventurous sounds, those who want to expand their musical palette… or even people who just like spectacle of some of the visual music pieces. “Those are, as you might expect, really intricate and interesting abstract video works that interact with that kind of music,” says Rhoades.

That’s probably why elements of electro-acoustic music have been popping up in film soundtracks for years, like in 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was based on a lot of elector-acoustic music. “People think of the music as science-fiction type sounding, which I think is kind of… I think it’s because they aren’t used to hearing that kind of music so they think of it as other-worldly,” Rhoades says.

Indeed, the three concerts that are open to the public and cap off each day of the conference promise some impressive and other-worldy sights and sounds for the curious, adventurous, and interested.

On Saturday night, the representatives from the University of Illinois will set up two seven-foot Tesla coils in Sweetwater’s parking lot. “So we’re going to create some big arcs and loud sound,” Rhoades says. “It’ll be music that, in part, is generated by the Tesla coils and then also a computer part that accompanies that.”

Other performers include Larry Austin, who has been composing electro-acoustical music since 1948. His piece “Tableaux: Convolutions on a Theme” — for alto saxophone, octophonic computer music, and video — surrounds and immerses the audience in live and recorded sounds to the accompaniment of a video artist Kevin Evensen and entitled “Look at that Sky.”

An extremely limited number of seats are available for the evening concerts, so registration is required. Please call (800) 222-4700 extension 1137 to reserve seats, and visit www.seamus.sweetwater.com for concert schedule.

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