Westward Bound: The New Frontier of First Thursdays and Frame of Mind by Haley Sprankle

FOM Photo

The arts have become and continue to remain an integral part of Columbia with the plethora of local theaters, visual artists, literary artists, dance companies, and musicians present. While all of this art was here, not many were aware of it due to a lack of shared understanding across disciplines. That seemingly changed after the start of one, free event.

First Thursdays on Main Street.

“It started with the creation of the Frame of Mind Series. I had space in my retail location that I wanted to fill with art (as I approach my eyewear as a wearable form of art). I connected with local artists and started doing a monthly art series (Frame of Mind Series). This lead to me asking my neighbors to do something similar on the same night, the concept being strength in numbers. The rest is history,” says the man behind the screen of First Thursdays, Mark Plessinger.

Plessinger owns the eyewear boutique Frame of Mind where he not only sells unique eye wear, but also features local visual artists.

“There are two main influences [in starting Frame of Mind]. One is my experience in the eyewear industry. I have worked in almost all facets of the industry (from big box chain to small private doctor to eyewear boutique). I understand where the markets exist within the industry and what I needed to do to set myself apart from others,” Plessinger explains. “The other is art. My family is filled to overflowing with artists and I have inherited a very art centric viewpoint of the world and business.”

Plessinger’s business was located in the heart of Columbia, but is now making the move to West Columbia.

“We are going to continue to do art, just like we have always done. The big difference is going to be a change from an “alternative art space” to an actual gallery. We are establishing a roster of artists who will be represented in their “home” gallery (Frame of Mind). We will continue to do the Frame of Mind Series, but on a less frequent schedule. Also, since the space is bigger than our current space, we will be incorporating events from our Shamelessly Hot brand into the location,” Plessinger says.

With this move comes a transition for First Thursdays on Main Street as Plessinger no longer will spearhead the initiative.

“Everything transitions, everything has a lifespan. I created First Thursdays on Main based on a specific model. It was designed to give the growing retail and restaurant sector on Main Street a free place to highlight their businesses. We picked a consistent date, create a brand, and a PR arm and gave the street the ability to fill in with what they wanted to do. It was a very low cost, grass roots idea (and one that was successful),” Plessinger says. “However, like everything, the event has grown and changed. Thus a new model is needed for its continued growth and success.
We have begun to partner with a local event producer with the idea of them creating a new model (with new ideas and goals). We believe that this will give the event and Main Street the best opportunity to grow.”

These new beginnings in our familiar territory of Columbia bring about a new leader.

“After Mark moves, the essential parts of First Thursdays will continue. Preach Jacobs will be taking over as the leader of the event series, but many of the same organizations and merchants will participate,” Lee Snelgrove, the Executive Director of One Columbia, adds. “There could be some delays or minor lulls in the transition and it will likely take some time to develop a similar momentum that it once had. But, there are already a few events planned for the night of February 5th. So, overall I don’t think there will be much trouble during the transition.”

Although Plessinger is moving on to a new frontier, his impact on Columbia has set a standard for the arts community that will not be lost.

“One of the most amazing things about the Columbia art scene is its size and depth,” Plessinger says. “If I see a difference in our community now, it is that the city is slowly beginning to recognize that depth and size.” – Haley Sprankle

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Review: Mark Rapp & Stephanie Wilkin’s “Woven”

woven

By: David Ligon

As the lights come up, the stage was occupied by three platforms high above the floor with a five man band occupying them. After a subtle “one, two, three” from the bandleader they began to perform a big and brassy opening number called “Celebrating Life.” It immediately transported the audience to a New Orleans dancehall with the dancers onstage, coming in and out in pairs as they did the Charleston with huge smiles on their faces. It’s no surprise that New Orleans would have an influence on how composer Mark Rapp would shape his full-length work, Woven. He had lived and worked in New Orleans for the past decade, and most of the pieces that would become Woven were apart of Rapp’s master’s thesis. He and his collaborator, choreographer Stephanie Wilkin, both share a rich and experienced history that starts in Columbia then leads on to New York City, where they each found success. Neither had met each other until Rapp caught the interest of Katie Fox, the Executive Director of the Harbison Theater at Midlands Technical College. The theater ultimately invested in this show as part of Midlands Tech’s Performance Incubator series, with Woven as its third fully-funded collaboration. Katie Fox led a “speed date,” as she refers to it, while helping Rapp search for the perfect choreographer.  When he saw Wilkins’ choreography on a DVD, he was moved, and the collaboration began.

The intention of this series is to have the show previewed and then for it to become a touring work. After its debut, Fox was thrilled to announce that the show had already received two offers from production companies to begin touring.

Requiring two months of preparation, Woven is an ambitious collaboration, a 90-minute work combining jazz music and contemporary dance. Jazz music can sometimes be intimidating and difficult to choreograph because it’s scattered melody and improvisations, which pushes some choreographers away.  But Wilkins took that challenge head on and let her strong and fabulous dancers improvise in certain ways, just as jazz musicians tend to do. Wilkins makes a great effort to blend in interesting nods to swing dance while keeping a contemporary framework. Contemporary choreography has a way of being led by raw emotion, and deals with pedestrian movement and expands on it, sometimes playing off what your partner does on stage with a set of rules. Ms. Wilkins had very interesting ideas, new lifts I hadn’t seen before, and new combinations of movement that worked well with the evening’s music. The structure of her movement is interesting, because it incorporated a lyrical contemporary style, as well as Broadway and swing. It created unique juxtapositions not often seen. The structure of the movement gives more organization to the often-scattered music that can be associated with jazz.

Wilkins is an Adjunct Professor at the University of South Carolina, and when she was looking for talent, she picked five dancers from the university: Emily Anzalone, Rhe’a Hughes, Vidal X. James, Dallas King, and Dustin Praylow. She used one professional dancer from Columbia, Anthony Hinrichs, who currently dances with UNBOUND, a local contemporary-jazz company and is also on the faculty of Southern Strutt in Irmo. The dancers were enthusiastic about being a part of this work, and they danced with great ease despite the difficulty of Wilkins’ choreography.

With just six dancers in total, which is small amount for a 90 minute full-length work, it sometimes felt like the piece hadn’t reached its full potential. In the future perhaps more dancers can be added, spreading out the responsibilities to create a broader feel and really explore the main characters more. Hopefully a bigger cast can be incorporated in the future so Ms. Wilkins can have more to work with and not tire out the dancers. The moment where this was most clear was a video break in the fifth section of the first act, “Sweet Serene.” It was obviously meant as a break for the dancers, who until that point had been dancing wonderfully in couples and as a group. The video montage felt unnecessary since the dancers would be constantly going in and out of character. The constant real life or blooper moments that were happening on screen took away from the storyline and the music didn’t seem to sync that well either.

The night was comprised of two acts with eleven pieces of music with a story revolving around a couple and the evolution of a relationship from first encounters, to breaking up, to self-loathing, and ultimately getting back together. Dallas King and Anthony Hinrichs took on these demanding roles. Ms. Wilkins not only gave them athletic, aerobic challenging choreography, but she was also able to capture the emotions needed for the storyline.

The couple that was featured in the video, King and Hinrichs, now appears onstage, and the struggle that was depicted towards the end of the video is now more visually stimulating. The expressiveness that the film tried to capture is better understood on stage. After Ms. King leaves, Mr. Hinrichs is left all alone and he began to dance passionately and expressively, using a lot contractions and pliés as he is dancing through his pain. He’d jump high and turn, a tour en l’air, and immediately jump to the floor into a push up position, crawl out from that and tour en l’air again, all while playing the angsty adolescent boy trying to find love. He shakes a lot as if he was going insane from a broken heart, and he tries to compose himself but he can’t. He collapses; giving up under one of the platforms, and the moody cool jazz score is an appropriate ending to the first part of the evening. The second act opens with Ms. King dancing to slow lyrical number, almost pensive about what had happened in the previous act.  The movement quality is so strong with Ms. King that she is quite able to express the pain her character is going through. In the end they found their way back together dancing a beautiful pas de deux of him mimicking her every move, as if to say we’ve got this together.

The most disconnected part of the evening was when the dancers would leave the stage and do not return at all as the music finished. This happened more than once and it was disappointing that the dancers never really got to give their own punctuation at the end of each movement. These moments however were to give each musician time to do their own thing and give the improvisatory nature of the music its own autonomy. These jazz solos, although quite impressive, felt vacant because the dancing suddenly stops and the stage is free from movement. It felt as if there were two shows going on or the story of the song had yet to be completed. But when the dancers were on stage the juxtaposition of these two mediums worked really well together. The jazz music gave each movement a breath of happiness when sometimes contemporary movement can feel overly emotional and pained, although it didn’t seem like this was Ms. Wilkins’ approach. This show was a success because it brought two mediums together not often seen, and did an exceptional job. People will be clapping their hands with the dancers, and stomping their feet to the amazing music presented. Hopefully the show can add a few more dancers and then this already amazing production can be polished and made even better for people all across America.

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Diving a little deeper … In the Red and Brown Water at Trustus Theatre: A Preview by Rosalind Graverson

red and brown

 

When Columbia starts trusting the arts programs and supporting them more, the organizations can start taking more risks and exploring. Trustus Theatre has reached a point where they can start sharing unique theatre experiences with their audiences. That’s exactly what their production of In the Red and Brown Water is.

 

First in The Brother/Sister Plays trilogy, written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the series blends Yoruba mythology with a modern day story set in the Louisiana projects. The trilogy is described as a choreopoem, combining poetry, movement, music, and song. The language throughout the show is beautifully lyrical, but it’s not what you expect to hear from the average citizen of Louisiana.  Along with the poetry, the actors are also called to say their stage directions, reminiscent of Shakespeare’s asides.

 

The cast features some familiar faces: Avery Bateman, Kendrick Marion, Katrina Blanding, Kevin Bush, Annette Dees Grevious, and Jabar Hankins; and some new ones as well: Bakari Lebby, LaTrell Brennan, Felicia Meyers, and Leroy Kelly.

 

Not only does the audience get to experience something new, but the production team and cast do as well. We asked Avery Bateman to share some of her experiences getting to know her character, Oya, and Kendrick Marion to explain some of the differences in the rehearsal process between this production and a more typical play or musical.

 

Avery Bateman - photo by Jonathan Sharpe
Avery Bateman – photo by Jonathan Sharpe

Avery: “Oya is a completely different character in comparison to the others I’ve portrayed throughout the years. She delves deep into a part of my spirit that I have not returned to in a while. She is both regal and vulnerable. Her regal persona is that of her Orisha/Goddess name. “Oya” known as “The Mother of Nine” is the orisha or storms, wind, change, magic, death and the cemetery, and the guardian between worlds. She is the bringer of death and new life (hope). Oya’s orisha persona has every right to stand high and tall with pride. However, her vulnerable persona, her humane side is a type of soul that is complex and broken. Oya’s broken spirit gives her a complexity that I as an actress must sit and think about every now and then so that I give her the correct amount of balance when on stage. I must say that I am extremely blessed to not have experienced all that “Oya the human” has experienced in my youth. Everything that she loves deeply is taken from her against her will. I’ve not had the privilege of portraying a person of this definition in all my years of theatre. I’ve only ever portrayed the comic-relief character or the misunderstood villian or the obliviously happy sunshine. All of them had great dimension but none of them reached into my chest and broke my heart as much as Oya. I love this character; she has helped me understand love and life in a way I don’t think I would have ever understood fully if not for this show.”

 

Kendrick Marion, photo by Rob Sprankle
Kendrick Marion, photo by Rob Sprankle

Kendrick: “This production differs from your normal straight play because there are so many other elements and textures involved with this piece. The text itself reads like poetry, and McCraney challenges the actors to portray it as such, while still making it feel natural and conversational. Both the music (most of which we arranged) and the stylized movement help to tell the story in an almost ethereal way. This has been an incredibly challenging piece, but an amazing experience, and I cannot wait for Columbia to take the journey to San Pere, Louisiana with us!”

 

Also, in the gallery at Trustus, Ernest Lee , The Chicken Man, will have his art showing and for sale. Wednesday, February 4th at 7:30, he will have a meet and greet and give a talk, “The Life and Art of Ernest Lee, The ‘Chicken Man.'”

 

Be sure to get your tickets for In The Red and Brown Water, opening Friday, January 23rd and running through February 7th.

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