Curtain Call: The Weather Project

Curtain Call: The Weather Project

NACL Theatre’s Weather Project Turns Spotlight on Town

 
The show would have gone on rain or shine, but the weather was perfect. More than 70 people took part in the NACL Theatre’s pageant-style Weather Project production at Yulan ball field near Highland, New York (about an hour drive from Scranton) last Saturday evening. Several 100s more filled a pavilion to watch what a year’s worth of workshops, research, creative experimentation and rehearsal plays like.
 
NACL Theatre or North American Cultural Laboratory is one of 80 organizations to receive a $50,000 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts with community partners including Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development, among others.
 
Derived without shame from The Wizard of Oz, the story followed a group of school students whisked away from their science fair presentation on climate change to Solar Town. Their quest down the solar brick road with science teacher Mr. Stellar to the Golden Garden led them to real NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies climate change scientist Elaine Matthews in beekeeping garb, who would give them a very simple answer to their impossibly complex question. What can be done? “Live with less.”
 
Matthews just so happens to own a home down the road from NACL’s theater and volunteered to assist The Weather Project after reading about it in a local paper. To see a real, mature, female scientist featured with such authority was a revelation. This wasn’t a project about making “high art.” This was a project about making a real difference in real people’s lives using the conventions of art and performance and their power to communicate above and beyond the usual obstacles of language. As the “Solar Munchkins” sauntered out in red capes and backwards caps and sang an appropriately science-themed Weird Al style parody to the tune of “Moves Like Jagger,” you wondered what it must mean in the scope of the lives of these young people to be experiencing their entire town clapping along.
 
The “set” was flanked by risers of real windows each uniquely decorated by a local visual artist. It was backed by a grooving jazz band and trio of female singers providing live accompaniment. The contribution of professionals like Brett Keyser as weather reporter Stu Starkweather and a thoughtfully-choreographed trio of svelte dancers also helped keep the action flowing. Keyser led the project’s stilt-walking workshop that resulted in a gang of six stormy performers who circled the students with a bolt of watery blue fabric to create a tornado early in the play, a tsunami wave later on and the exploding chaos that returned our students home from Solar Town at play’s end.
 
While NACL has repeatedly said it’s position was for conversation regarding climate change and the Weather Project did not intend to take a position, we certainly didn’t see a presence from anyone suggesting climate change is not a threat. When the “fossil fuel gang” drove up in its red jaguar convertible, project’s director Tannis Kowalchuck held her fist out, thumbs down, cueing the audience to boo. We wondered if any of those booing would feel guilty walking through the sea of cars that had brought us all there to go home and back to reality. This fictional Fossil Fuel gang, although scored by an awesomely angsty teen rock band, was not much of a threat — they didn’t even get out of the car and our student protagonists didn’t have to confront them.
 
The Weather Project made it very clear that in the climate change war, we, the audience, are our own worst enemy. We are guilty for listening to the data and still not caring. The problem starts with us and, therefore, so must the solution. We need to keep searching.
 
Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond.
Send email to: alicia@the570.com
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Curtain Call: PA Burlesque Festival

Curtain Call: PA Burlesque Festival

Pennsylvania dancer Bunny Bedford (above) was the first runner up for the Crystal Corset Award in 2012 and will return for this year’s festival.
 

Fifth Annual Festival Brings PA Burlesque Back to Jim Thorpe

 
Producer Brooke Burke knew after her first burlesque benefit for the Mauch Chunk Opera House that she wanted to continue to present similar shows indefinitely.
 
“We were sold out and the response was so enormous there was no going back,” she said.
 
Boolesque followed that October, allowing what was then Jim Thorpe Burlesque to present neo-burlesque performances — more performance art, less gowns, gloves and boas and conceptual and scene-based pieces — in addition to classical burlesque dance numbers.
 
Now known as The Pennsylvania Burlesque Festival, the event spent its last two years in Philadelphia. It happily returns to its home base in The 570 this weekend for its fifth anniversary.
 
“Philly has its good points, but they just don’t get it,” Burke laughed. “Their concept of burlesque is really raunchy. It’s just not what we do … actually in this little town of Jim Thorpe, our audience is much more refined. And they’re more polite, too.”
 
The experiment was a good one, enabling Burke to attract performers that probably would not have gone to Jim Thorpe out of the gate. In year five, it’s not an issue. One of the only festivals in the U.S. that doesn’t require a submission fee, PA Burlesque reviewed approximately 107 applications this year, each entering two to three video recorded acts for consideration. Selected performers include local dancers as well as talents from as far away as Australia.
 
“I tried [charging a fee] but after a couple of weeks, I thought ‘I don’t care if this is how everybody else does it. I don’t feel good about it,’” she said. “I have the feeling that burlesque festivals in general are an animal that’s created its own extinction. They tend to charge performers for everything. They don’t get paid to perform. They don’t get their lodging or anything comped. They are supposed to just come for the thrill and prestige of being on whathisface’s stage in Maryland or New York.”
 
PA Burlesque is the only festival in the country that gives away a cash prize, she noted, adding that the only title that really means much in the burlesque community is Miss Exotic World, awarded by the Burlesque Hall of Fame. Dancers can spend as much as $9000 on a dress to compete. And it’s not like winning a title is going to land major endorsement deals. Even a few extra gigs isn’t going to net anyone a lot of cash these days.
 
“The only one who is famous is Dita von Teese and she’s less famous for being a burlesque performer than she was for dating Marilyn Manson,” Burke said.
 

Medianochea

Medianochea

PA Burlesque’s 2014 Headliner Medianoche was a cast member on Dita von Teese’s touring show for a while, the producer confirmed.
 
Although burlesque festivals may have a shelf-life, Burke feels that the genre of performance itself is more of a self-cleaning oven.
 
“The people who are in it for the wrong reasons will get burned out, just like in any other industry. But those who are careful about curating a good show and treating performers well will have a marketable product for years to come,” she said.
 
 

A Burlesque Starr Was Born

 
A native of Allentown, burlesque star Penny Starr has performed in either Scranton or Wilkes-Barre. She can’t remember which. The dancer just turned 81-years-young on July 31— we won’t hold it against her.
 

Penny Starr

Penny Starr


All of her costumes, clippings and other career momentos were lost in a fire in 1985. What we know for sure is that she was good enough then to be named Atlantic City’s Miss Bump-and-Grind 1963, and she’s in demand enough today to say she won’t work without a contract.
 
“They want me in New York, Alaska, Germany, Hawaii,” Starr told electric city and diamond city. “I guess they’re all starting to talk about this now. I won’t go unless they pay transportation and put me up … I need to have protection and that contract protects me.”
 
Penny Starr came out of retirement in 2012 to perform at Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend in Las Vegas with her granddaughter Augusta Avallone who, after making a documentary on LosAngeles neo-burlesque troupe The Velvet Hammer (http://youtu.be/rD8bJqjWmQE), began performing herself under the name Penny Starr Jr.
 
In those “dark years,” between hanging up her boa and returning to the spotlight two years ago, she took care of a former husband (one of six) who had diabetes and her mother who developed Alzheimer’s.
 
“I was real rusty when I went back on stage. I was nervous as heck, but I got through it and now I’m getting a lot of confidence.”
 
She stays in shape by doing aquatics at the Jewish Community Center, and at Friday’s PA Burlesque fundraising gala, she will perform a new routine to “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke.
 
“My numbers were ‘Harlem Nocturne’ or some kind of blues. This is the first time I’m doing something fast,” she laughed. “I’m really working at this because, this is not my kind of music, but everybody wants me to do something new. So I’m gonna try … I’ll be wearing aqua. I’m noted for my big boas.”
 
It was after a burlesque show at Allentown Brew Works that the senior dancer approached Brooke Burke of Dragontown Corsets about making a corset for her. Burke is also producer of the PA Burlesque Festival which she emcees as Madame Corsetiere, and encouraged the legend to dance solo in Jim Thorpe’s annual Boolesque event in October 2013. This year, Starr has worked the Southern Fried Burlesque festival in Atlanta, Victory Variety Hour in Las Angeles and then returned to Vegas. The publicity she’s gotten from these performances has resulted in calls from nursing homes asking her not to strip, but to tell the story of her life.
 
Back in 1957, she was not, as Avallone wrote in an article about that first performance together, “the kind of woman who wanted to go into the typing pool.” Starr was, rather, the mother of a couple of school-aged children who left the kids with her own mother and ran away with the circus. Starr’s mom loved show business — the dancer’s birth name was Janet Gaynor (Colby) after the star of the 1937 film A Star is Born — and was nothing but supportive. It helped that Starr, known off-stage today as Penny Roberts, sent money home for the kids. The fact that the marriage Starr entered right out of high school hadn’t work out, paved the way for her career.
 
It was her doctor and childrens’ godfather that encouraged her to “get it out of her system” in 1957. When the Cristiani Bros. Circus came through town Janet/Penny signed up. She started out as a trapeze artist, but spent more time in the safety net than in the air.
 
“My timing was terrible,” she laughed.
 
So they gave her a dance number with Lucy, the elephant that ended with her on the ground and the elephant’s foot looming over her.
 
“I used to think, ‘Lucy all you have to do is step and I’m done.’”
 
When Penny left the circus a year later to work as a dancer in the Tampa gentlemen’s club Guys and Dolls, it was her mother who would suggest the stage name Penny Starr, a mashup of her two favorite movies A Star is Born and Pennies From Heaven.
 
“My mother gave me dancing lessons — tap and acrobatics — since I was three years old. And when I got older, I danced at all the clubs. In fact, they couldn’t pay me, they paid my mother, because I was a minor. I did all the revues at West Club and Park. I just loved dancing,” she said.
 
Going into Guys and Dolls, she had no idea what she was doing, but the other girls showed her the ropes. She got herself a red sequined dress and danced to The Lady in Red (an old jazz standard.)
 
“There were a lot of girls. There were no CDs, it was all live music and they would go on one after another the whole night through. I didn’t like that. I wanted to star. I didn’t want to be just one of the girls so I worked myself up to being the last girl and then I went to the Chesterfield Show Bar” she recalled. “And then I decided I wanted to come home for a little bit with mom.”
 
Starr joined a carnival to travel north.
 
“I became a cooch girl and there I learned. There I really learned,” she said.
 
Once she got back to Pennsylvania, she found herself an agent, joined the union and started earning “big bucks.”
 
“I would make $500-600 a night,” Starr said. “He would book me in a club, usually from Thursday to Saturday and it would be a good $1500 to $1600 a check. It was all contracts. You don’t get that today. I belonged to the union and I would only work union houses.”
 
The first thing a dancer did when arriving to a new town, she said, was visit the Vice Squad.
 
“They take a picture, they take your prints and you get a card. And they watched the clubs. I liked the vice squad because it was safety,” she offered. “They watched rehearsals. You could not show the crack of your rear. You had to be covered. There was no pasties or stuff like that. It was dancing. I always said, ‘I’m not a stripper I’m an exotic.’”
 
They show more today than they ever did in Penny’s heyday, she agreed.
 
“I would never have been able to work with my rear end shaking out like that,” she giggled.
 
That didn’t discourage admirers, though. There were always roses delivered to the clubs, Starr said. Once she found a fox stole in her dressing room. The gifts were always anonymous.
 
“For a year I used to get flowers every week and I still to this day do not know (who they were from.) The woman at the florist would not tell me.”
Her first poodle was a gift brought to her in a little basket at a club.
 
“Everybody knew I wanted a poodle. That was Cashmere Buttons. A couple of years later I got another one and I named it after a bottle of champagne — Piper-Heidsieck. They knew how to travel. They were allowed to go to the cocktail lounge and they would sit on the barstool and drink water in a cocktail glass.”
 
Starr later worked The Cotton Club in Atlantic City and shared the stage with Dinah Washington, Dizzy Gillespie and Pearl Bailey.
 
“It was a real good life,” she said.

The 5th annual Pennsylvania Burlesque Festival runs Friday through Sunday, Aug. 8-10 in downtown Jim Thorpe and includes classes and a “Burlesque Bazaar” marketplace in addition to performances both Friday and Saturday nights at the historic Mauch Chunk Opera House. More information on classes and performers is available at paburlesque.com. Among those scheduled to perform are: Headliner Medianoche (medianocheburlesque.com), Dulce Devine, Lucky Minx, Lucy Sky Diamond, Mistress Moxie, Magdalena Fox, Nina La Voix, Ula Uberbusen, Velvet Kensington, Puppie Buffe, Rosie Cheeks, Scarlet Starlet, Sizzle Dizzle, Amber Ray, Bunny Bedford, Venus Mantrapp, Miss Poison Ivory, ‘Stache and burlesque legend Penny Starr (Friday only).
Presale internet tickets are half-off ($10-12.50 plus service fee). Remaining tickets will be available for sale at the box office after 5 p.m. the night of each show while they last. Call (570) 807-8891 or visit paburlesque.com for more information.

Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond.
Send email to: alicia@the570.com.
 
 

The Artists’ Studio: July 31, 2014

The Artists’ Studio: July 31, 2014

July Evening Light, Seneca Lake, Burdett, NY. Brian Keeler.
 

First Friday Scranton Highlights

 
All four seasons in The 570 have something wonderful to offer, but it’s hard not to be a little partial to the more temperate summer weather that pumps up the First Friday Scranton crowds. People watching can be as much of a draw as the art walk’s exhibitions and live performances.
 
Among August’s highlights are an exhibition of recent plein air oils of Italy and Maine, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania by Brian Keeler titled “Topography of Light.” Opening at Laura Craig Gallery on Linden Street on Friday, Aug. 1 with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m., the show also features studio painted landscapes, like the image at left titled “July Evening Light, Seneca Lake, Burdett, NY” (oil on linen 38 inches by 44 inches). The painting is featured on the cover of Keeler’s new book Dramatic Color in the Landscape, which will be available for sale at the exhibit for only $30 and which the artist will be on hand to sign.
 

Samantha Glevick

Samantha Glevick


ArtWorks Gallery & Studo on the 500 block of Lackawanna Avenue will open a solo show by Scranton native Samantha Glevick titled Mindscapes. The artist graduated from Syracuse University this year after first attending PrattMWP College of Art and Design.
 
The images on display in Mindscapes, like “Street Surfing,” (at right) appropriates “imagery from my travels through instant street view maps and the mundane environments that I’m surrounded by,” she explained. “I have learned over time that life is about struggling and coping. My work plays on the fine line of vulnerability, instinct, consciousness and gender identity. Memories of experiences or foreboding clairvoyance’s manifest within my sub-conscious. These fragments of daily imagery are altered and manipulated until I am satisfied with the final synthesis … Much as a layout of tarot cards, the result often reveals information regarding private details of my life.”
 
Benjamin Adcroft

Benjamin Adcroft


If you haven’t been to the Slingluffs’ new Forage Space gallery at 310 North Washington Avenue, First Friday brings one last chance to see Benjamin Adcroft’s latest exhibition “Goodnight Moon.” The collection includes portraits of wolves, friends and nudes and small wood construction pieces from barn wood. Forage Space replaces the Slingluffs’ previous gallery at 527 Bogart Court.
 
The Vintage will dedicate its First Friday Scranton festivities to a visual art kick-off of its 24 Hours of Art marathon officially launching Saturday, Aug. 2 at noon with hugs and other welcoming gestures. View artwork by Marina Daniel and Sam Kuchwara and enjoy live music by Foolish Hugh. Sponsored in part by the Lackawanna County Department of Arts & Culture, all 24 Hours of Art events are offered by donation. See full schedule at left.
 

The Vintage: 24 Hours of Art: Aug. 2-3

Noon: Hugging / greeting/ kickoff
1 p.m. Lip sync battle
2 p.m. NEPWC open poetry reading / critique Group
3 & 4 p.m. Spirited Art: acrylic painting class
5 p.m. Improv comedy workshop w/ Conor O’Brien
6 p.m. Mermen. Staged reading of a new play by Roya Fahmy
7 & 8 p.m. Drawing Social w/Ted Michalowski feat. live music by Dan Rosler/ Ed Cuozzo/ Chelsea Smarr/ Jason Smeltzer/ Dio
9 p.m. CM (hip hop group)
10 & 11 p.m. Steel Reels – open film critique
Midnight: Scranton Story Slam — Midnight Stories with featured storytellers Lorrie Loughney, Casey Thomas and Victoria Boost
1 a.m. Stand Up Comedy featuring 11 local comedians
2 & 3 a.m. Unorganized Business improv comedy performance
4-7 a.m. Movie screenings
10 a.m. Musical easels
11 a.m. Wrap up
Balcony: 11:30 a.m. Flame and Shadow, Spark and Smoke: Meditations on Passion feat. John Bert (performance art)
Alley: 3 p.m. Vintage Ensemble Performance; 5 p.m. Constance Denchy in Regina di Torta
Backroom: 1 p.m. Group mural project with artists Sam Kuchwara and Marina Daniel
PNC Park @ Penn & Spruce: Noon-6 p.m. Vendors and acoustic music
6 a.m. Morning yoga
7 a.m. Wright Center presentation
8 a.m. Breakfast picnic

Arts on the Square

Arts on the Square

This Saturday, July 26, Scranton will again be home to Arts on the Square, Scranton’s largest arts festival, according to its organizers and the city’s Best New Event of 2013, according to Electric City readers.
Arts on the Square organizers Cristin Powers and Chrissy Manuel, both of ScrantonMade, said they are pleased to see their celebration in its sophomore year.
“The county approached us,” said Manuel. “The arts and culture department, as well as the commissioners, were looking to do something really supportive of our art community and they saw our partnership with the Scranton Cultural Center the holiday beforehand, so they asked if we would like to partner with them in throwing an event on the square.”
Crafters, painters, photographers, musicians and more than 110 vendors will line Courthouse Square. The event will be kid-friendly with an activities tent and Spirited Art instructors’ art classes. There will also be adult and teen art classes, yoga classes in the lawn, a slow-motion video booth, live painting and other entertainment.
“People can literally spend the day there,” said Manuel. “There will be food trucks, ice cream and places to hang out and sit on the lawn. Last year, we saw a lot of people who brought blankets and just hung out on the lawn, which is really cool to see around here, because you don’t really see that often. You see that more in a bigger park or a bigger city.”
A first this year is yarn bombing, which will be one of the installation pieces for Saturday’s event. A yarn bomb, or yarn storm, is a form of removable graffiti that uses knitted or crocheted pieces in place of chalk or paint. Annie Cadden of Fisher Cat Fiber Co. said the yarn bombing is already a success. “The people who wanted to get involved are all so positive and they are all people who don’t even know each other. They will all meet on Friday,” she said.
printcolorYarn bombing is typically a solo project and something done on a creative whim. This piece is planned, but Cadden said she looks forward to seeing what is created with so many influences and artists’ visions.
Ryan Hnat is a painter who was part of the open-air gallery at last year’s Arts on the Square. This year will be the first year that he and his wife, a photographer, will have their own booth, Hnat Designs.
“We’re actually still working on putting our booth together, because this is our first actual festival,” said Hnat. “A lot of vendors travel to several festivals a year, but we haven’t done it yet. This is an exciting time. I really like supporting the growth of art in Scranton and that’s one reason why we got involved.”
Many of the vendors appreciate the focus on local. Billie Jean Williams, owner of Designs by Billie Jean, said she was one of last year’s featured artists for Arts on the Square, but is a regular vendor at many regional festivals and craft fairs. When asked to compare Arts on the Square to other festivals, she said that the city’s affair is “more concentrated on the local crafters of Scranton and the surrounding areas.”
Some of the vendors will show and sell their wares, but others will create right on the spot. There will be live painting by Evan Hughes and Benjamin Adcroft throughout the day and the pieces will be auctioned off.
“I’m honestly not even sure what I’m going to do yet,” said Adcroft. “It’s going to be spur-of-the-moment and spontaneous. I’m probably going to think of it the day or two before.”
Adcroft said sometimes having an audience can be a bit strange, but he is looking forward to painting outdoors and feeding off the other painter’s energy. “I like working big. I like working fast. Trying to finish a piece in one day is going to be fun,” said Adcroft.
Another element of art is music. Arts on the Square will have two stages this year: One on Spruce Street, hosted by Summersteps Records and another on Linden Street, hosted by Highway 81 Revisited.
Summersteps Records is a record label started by Eric Schlittler in 1996 when he began releasing demos for his then-solo-act, Kid Icarus.
“I started doing demos with Kid Icarus and at the same time my wife and I were dating and we were going to a lot of shows in New York City, so when we would go to a show, we would run off a bunch of demo tapes and eventually the idea started, ‘Well, why don’t we put these tapes out on a label?’” said Schlittler.
The Summersteps Stage will feature artists from the record label and bands that Schlittler said fit the vibe of the indie rock guitar stage, such as Kid Icarus, now a full band, Cold Coffee, Eww Yaboo and A Fire with Friends.
Schlittler said he is looking forward to reaching an audience that he may not normally have access to.
“I think it’s kind of a good opportunity to get your music out in front of people that maybe don’t necessarily go to a bar at night and are a little more art-inclined, so I’m kind of looking forward to getting our music out there and present it to maybe some different people,” said Schlittler.
Michael Lello of Highway 81 Revisited, a Scranton-based music blog, agreed.
“Just as a function of covering music and being involved with the ‘local music scene,’ many of the events we’ve been a part of have been at bars, which is fine, but it limits your audience,” said Lello.
The Highway 81 Revisited Stage will showcase five bands: Indigo Moon Brass Band, Heavy Blonde, Katie Kelly & The Charming Beards, Gentleman East and Charles Havira.
“I wanted some musical diversity on stage and artists that are either relatively new or doing things that are interesting or a little different,” Lello said.
With something for each of your five senses, this year hopes for more success than the last. Hnat thinks that the growth in the arts will even affect the financial situation of the city.
“In the last year, there’s a lot more people starting to put more time into doing more events and more artistic endeavors outside First Friday in Scranton,” said the painter. “The city and the artists and the local community can really continue to push the events, the growth of arts in the city can really flourish and if it does, it’ll start to even show an impact on the city and the city will start to flourish again.”
— kimberly m. aquilina

 

Participating
Vendors

1120 Studios  •  2 Cranes Plants  •  A=Mc2  •  A Daily Obsession  •  Air Affair Body Art  •  Alchemy Home Company  •  All Hands On  •  Aquilina Oddities  •  Ashley Kujat
bachestinks  •  Bellaluna Eterna  •  Benjamin Adcroft  •  Boutique Libertina  •  Burke’s Maple  •  C & P Designs  •  Campfire Music Festival  •  Canned Classics  •  Casey Heyen  •  Charlee’s Treasures  •  Charles Arts  •  Cheryl’s Creations  •  Cindy’s Jewelry Creations  •  Clay Chickadee  •  Coal Country Photography  •  Cork and Crafts Creative  •  Crafty Gifts (and Beer Bites)  •  Crow Designs Studio  •  D. Potts  •  Dale B Craft  •  Danielle’s Designs  •  Dave’s Art Den  •  Designs by Billie Jean  •  Designs from a Burchards Crossing  •  Ditch’s Delites  •  Draw the Pig  •  Earth and Wears  •  Eco-Chic  •  Edward Murphy Books  •  Elegantly Eclectic LLC  •  Erie Lackawanna Dining Car Preservation Society  • European Treasures  •  Everhart Museum  • Fisher Cat Fiber Co  •  Fly Me Home Decor  •  Folk Couture  •  FUNKY FINERY  •  Goldsack Art  •  Gypsy Jane Pop Up Vintage Shop  •  Handmade by Eliana  •  Heart for Art  •  Hexagon Project  •  Highway 81 Revisited  •  Hnat Designs  •  Igor’s Russian Art Gallery  •  Invoke Studio & Delectable Dreams  •  Jenn Bell  •  Jewelry By LaPierre  •  JMaz Jewelry  •  John Ingiaimo  •  JVW Inc.  •  Lackawanna County Library System  •  Lake Pots  •  Laurabee Studios  •  Light Curves  •  Liquid Heart Studio  •  Little Hands Big Art  •  Magaret DeBruin Designs  •  Margaux’s Monograms  •  Maria Grzybowski  •  Mercato  •  Miss Debbie’s Soaps  •  Mock Pie Studio  •  Mountain Sky  •  New Kirk Honey  •  Patricia Annabelli  •  Pop Up Studio  •  Reba Handmade  •  Reclaimed  •  a candle company  •  Reclamation Industrial Furnishings  •  Ruth Kkoelewyn  •  S.E.S Styles  •  Scenes from the Attic  •  Scranton Civic Ballet  •  Scranton Cultural Center  •  Second Time Around  •  Shanty Town Design  •  Sonny Jones  •  Woodturner  •  Spirited Art  •  Scranton  •  Spoon Sisters  •  Summersteps Records  •  Sundae Matinee  •  Symmetry  •  Tammy’s Stained Glass Treasures  •  The Bag Lady  •  The Baklava lady  •  The Dearly Departed Players  •  The Hunter Collection  •  The Pennsylvania Film School  •  Tiny Galazies  •  Transformative Art  •  Valerie Kiser  •  Verve Vertu Arts  •  Voyager Video  •  Well Dressed Cook  •  Woodland Way and more…

Curtain Call: Fairycakes

Curtain Call: Fairycakes

Playwright and director of Fairycakes Douglas Carter Beane poses with his American Academy of the Dramatic Arts production cast of the show. Many of the performers will recreate their roles for Scranton audiences this weekend.
 

Scranton Shakespeare Festival spreads its wings with ‘Fairycakes’

 
Once upon a time in Wilkes-Barre, a playwright with a playful sense of humor was born. Of course, little Douglas Carter Beane wouldn’t become a playwright until years later, after his family moved closer to Reading and after he did odd jobs and moved to New York City and attended the American Academy for the Dramatic Arts. Only then would he write unique plays that made people happy like The Nance and As Bees in Honey Drown and screenplays like To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar and books for musicals like Xanadu and Lysistrata Jones.
 
Eventually he would also inherit a house at Lake Carey in Wyoming County and start spending summers there with his husband, Lewis Flinn, and their two children.
 
“I thought my children should know eggs come from birds and milk comes from cows and not a deli. The important things in life,” he told electric city and diamond city.
 
That proximity to Scranton led him to contact Rich Larsen at The University of Scranton. About to head into rehearsals for 2013’s The Nance, he asked the theater department director to recommend a recent graduate who might make a good assistant. West Scranton native Michael Bradshaw Flynn had moved on to audition out of Hoboken while also maintaining roots in the region in founding the Scranton Shakespeare Festival.
 
“I had a lunch with him and I was just taken with him. I thought he was really smart and really inventive and positive and upbeat,” Beane recalled. “So he was my assistant and he did a terrific job.”
 
Before Beane left for the summer, Flynn would invite him to the Scranton Shakespeare Festival’s 2013 production in Nay Aug Park.
 
“I went to see it and I was so moved at these 400 people sitting there watching Comedy of Errors and I (said), ‘this could really be … something spectacular.’”
 
He began to think about making something fun and Shakespeare-flavored without being full-tilt Shakespeare. The resulting Fairycakes, he said, is like a “gateway drug to real Shakespeare.” Written in rhyming couplets, it’s more accessible than strict iambic pentameter, with more of a nursery rhyme or rap feel so that “people can just relax and not be too concerned with it.”
 
EC24CURTAIN_1_WEBPuck aka Robin Goodfellow aside, the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream have colorful names — Peasebottom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed — but other than flit around in attendance to Oberon and Titania, they don’t get to say or do much. Beane thought on to consider other the fairies of other tales and what Shakespeare’s fairies do when they’re not doing Midsummer.
 
“I thought one could be Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother and one could be Pinocchio’s Blue Fairy, one could be the Tooth Fairy and one could be a certain fairy which for legal reasons I can’t say but she aids a little boy who won’t grow up and flies,” he laughed. “Just when you think it’s public domain, it’s not.”
 
When he bemoaned to Michael Flynn that he wished he had the “cojones” to write the work in rhyming couplets and iambic pentameter, Flynn respectfully suggested he get them. Beane began scripting in “pseudo Elizabethean” on his front porch last August.
 
An early partial draft was worked by seniors at his alma mater, the American Academy for Dramatic Arts, over a string of Mondays and it inspired him to give the work more attention. He would wake one morning soon after the workshop with a great idea for the second act. When his husband Lewis told him it was the plot of Superman 2, he came up with something even better. A ‘no sets, no costumes’ presentation was staged with 22 AADA students and, with the support of president Susan Zech, a full production followed, running for one week in front of an invited audience in New York City.
 
“The kids loved, artsy-fartsy teachers loved it, the Shakespeare nuts loved it. People who just like comedy loved it. It had a real wide (reach).”
 
This weekend’s Scranton Shakespeare Festival production of Fairycakes features a slimmed down cast of 15, including Flynn.
 
“He’s playing a cricket, a ghost and a stepmother. I’m doing what I can to humiliate him in his hometown. He will have six arms or be wearing a ballgown,” said Beane.
 
EC24CURTAIN_PHOTO_1_WEBIt was Flynn’s idea to audition the AADA actors, many of whom boast international origins, for Scranton Shakespeare’s other 2014 productions. Several of the actors we saw in Twelfth Night earlier this month in Nay Aug will also perform on Rich Larsen’s storybook set in Fairycakes at the Royal Theatre this weekend.
 
“We’re having a blast introducing all these people to Scranton. It’s kind of hilarious and brilliant for me,” said Beane. “The Welsh boy is wondering why all the Welsh food is here in Scranton. It’s coal miners, buddy.”
 
Beane has also directed the production, with a little input from a few of his friends in the business. Among them director Jerry Zaks, who has been a sort of mentor for the show, Beane said.
 
“He gives me notes you would think don’t make any sense and then you do them and they work and it’s like magic. I said, ‘The actors keep talking over the laughs, what do I do?’ He said, ‘Just tell them to breathe.’ And so I said, ‘OK guys, just remember to breathe.’ And they did it. It was magic. He’s a genius.”
 
Fairycakes runs Friday and Saturday July 25-26 at 6 p.m. at the Royal Theatre in the University of Scranton’s McDade Center for the Literary and Performing Arts. Call (570) 614-3313 or visit scrantonshakespearefestival.org for more information.
 
Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond. Send email to: alicia@The570.com.
 
 
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Curtain Call

Curtain Call

STAGES OF WAR: Actors Circle opens new Original Drama on Friday

 

In our quest to entertain, we often write plays based on silly things. And Actors Circle’s Lou Bisignani believes theatre should, above all, be entertaining. But he’s also interested in a good, meaty conflict. His new play opening at the Providence Playhouse in Scranton this weekend is set in Ireland during World War II. Titled A Private War, it contains a lot of laughs and even a little action, as he told ec/dc, but it is essentially a drama.
Born in 1939, the writer/director referred to himself as a “ WWII buff.” He’s read a lot about the war and seen all the movies and, while some of his other short plays delved into the topic, A Private War tackles it with greater depth.
“The thrust has always been the affect of war on civilians that are sort of caught up in this mess,” he said. “Years ago, I thought it would be good to have some Americans and some Germans sitting in a neutral country.” (Inglourious Basterds came much later, he noted, but, regardless, that’s not what his play is about.)
He estimates he’s written 15 shorter plays and a few one-and two-act plays. He usually sets them aside for a few years. A Private War was written a couple of years ago and archived. Bisignani assuming it would go unproduced. Then an old friend, Ted LoRusso, moved back to Scranton and lent his considerable playwrighting talents as a dramaturg on Actors Circle’s recent production of Bisignani’s version of Dracula.
LoRusso had been living in New York for close to 30 years, Bisignani estimated, and had a number of plays staged off-off Broadway in that time.
In the program for A Private War, Bisignani doesn’t have him listed as a dramaturg, however, (it’s a term LoRusso detests) but as a co-writer.
“He did not just edit it or add a couple of lines, he added about 10 pages to the script and a new character and I think it really improves the play quite a bit,” said Bisignani.
“I wouldn’t want people to think I wrote the whole thing by myself when I didn’t … he would take a couple of pages home and work on it and bring it back and it was longer, substantially changed and for the better.”
LoRusso didn’t change the story, Bisignani clarified, and the added character was actually his own suggestion.
“One of the kids that works with me didn’t try out and she said, ‘It’s a shame, I’d love to be in the play.’ So we created a girl next-door part for her.”
The plot, he explained, finds an Irish family who has lost a son at Dunkirk.
“They just got a letter three days ago, even though he was killed seven, eight weeks ago, from another Irish man who was there with him who made it back to England. While they are in mourning, they are not opening their little pub in a fishing village on the southwest coast of Ireland,” traced the playwright. “The mother and the daughter convince the father who is pretty adamant to let the priest and a few other people come in and we hear a discussion about (issues) and the father doesn’t want to hear that, but in the middle of all this, a German submarine captain arrives on their doorstep with a young submariner, a young man who’s been badly burned in a grease fire on the submarine seeking medical help. Of course, the father is not too receptive to the idea of helping a Nazi after the Nazis just killed his son a couple of weeks ago. So that’s the conflict.”
“Is he going to allow them to help? And if he does, then what happens?”
Bisignani expects the show will be entertaining, but is interested in seeing how the audience responds and what kind of changes he might want to make for future productions.
“Until Dracula, every time I did a play, I didn’t have Ted LoRusso to help me,” he said. “I was by myself and pretty much whatever I wrote is what we did.”
He directed wrote and starred in that first production of Dracula 25 years ago.
“My ego was such that I had try-outs and decided nobody could play Dracula and so I did it myself … I almost had a stroke doing it all.”
It was the recent resurgence of vampires in popular culture led him to pull the play back out. But it wasn’t as clever as he remembered it and that’s when he asked LoRusso to take a look at it. That contribution helped immensely, he said. In particular, it made the play much more entertaining.
He’s hoping A Private War will be similarly entertaining.
“I don’t want it to be like a documentary. It’s not a documentary. But if you pay attention and the actors use good diction, you’ll learn something. Everything that they say is basically true. People talk about events that happen at that time in the southern part of the Republic of Ireland,” he offered. “There were IRA people dealing with Nazis and getting money from the Nazis to go up to the northern counties and sabotage the British troops that were up there. All that’s true. So we talk about all that stuff, but we don’t talk about it in a scholarly way.”
A show needs to entertain — that’s Bisignani’s bottom line. If it’s a musical, you should leave humming the songs.
“We write musicals today where you can’t hum the songs, but I’m just very old-fashioned about that… you watch TV today and people have sex. You don’t have to watch it. In the good old days, the guy and the girl kiss and the next thing you see, they’re having breakfast and you can assume what happened in between. We don’t need to visualize it,” he laughed. “I don’t like people in scanty costumes or need to hear the strong words like the F-word and so forth.”
He also writes with his actors in mind, specifically creating roles for young people and finding ways to double roles so no one has to stand around backstage wishing they were in the spotlight. It takes a little ingenuity but it can be done, he said.
“If you give me a play where there’s a maid who comes in and says, “Dinner is served.’ Or ‘I’ll see if Mrs. Jones is in,’ and that’s it for her, I won’t do the play or I cut the maid out altogether, or more likely, I give the maid a lot more to do. I don’t care if the author is sitting in the audience. I just can’t stand putting somebody on the stage and giving them two lines.”
He cited Actors Circle’s production of The 39 Steps in 2012. Not only did they break from the recent tradition of having two actors play all the roles, Bisignani added song and dance numbers in a music hall scene to give a few of his 14 cast members additional opportunity to share their unique talents.
A Private War features a cast of 11, including John Arena, George Conrad, Warren Cox, Marissa Gaglione, Jeff Ginsberg, K. K. Gordon, April Holgate, Victoria Kuzy, Lorrie Loughney, David Spitzer and Art Walsh.
It runs July 17-20 and 24-27 with performances Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 or $10 for seniors and $8 for students. Call (570) 342-9707 for more information or visit actorscircle.org.

Curtain Call: Plays in the Attic

Curtain Call: Plays in the Attic

Gaslight Theatre Opens Program of Attic Plays in Kingston Storefront

 
Unless your attic has been refinished and converted into a swanky swinger’s pad, home office or mancave, you probably don’t spend much time there. We stash away things we don’t use anymore but can’t bear to put in the trash and forget about them.
 
The mysterious attic, thought Playroom producer Matt Hinton, was a prime space for Gaslight Theatre Company’s Playroom series writers to explore.
 
“You know there’s that old (theatre) joke about trying to put on a play and the producer picks up a script and its set in a living room in a New York apartment and they immediately put that script down,” Hinton said.
 
“I wanted to keep us on our feet and keep the writers in a creative way and I also wanted to explore the themes of that space and see what people came up with to make that happen.”
 
Starting with the Kitchen at King’s College in 2012, Playroom is in it’s third season, last year’s Bathroom shows were staged on the second floor at Arts YOUniverse in downtown Wilkes-Barre. It was July and it was hot in July. Air conditioning was a priority in the search for this year’s venue. It was a search that ended not more than a month ago when the company worked out the details to use an empty storefront on Wyoming Avenue in Kingston between Market and Pierce streets, Gaslight’s Dave Reynolds explained.
 
“We were literally just driving around looking at ‘For Rent’ signs. We had a really great contact with Diamond City Partnerships. He put us on to a bunch of empty storefronts in Wilkes-Barre and this ended up being the first one we were able to nab,” he said. “We’ve never done a show in Kingston, so that’s cool.”
 
Reynolds is the company’s scenic and lighting designer. Project producer Matt Hinton provided Reynolds with a set description from which he created a sketch upon which the playwrights were able to reflect while creating their plays. Once the venue was set, he was able to finalize the design.
 
The relatively low ceilings eliminated the trap door of his ideal set. But there are exposed beams and it “feels like an attic,” Reynolds said.
 
He’s also directing a play by B. Garrett Rogan titled Anyway. (If you saw last year’s Bathroom set of plays, Rogan wrote the comedy with four priests.)
 
“He has a really interesting and unique voice. There’s a humorous sarcasm to it,” he said. “I don’t want to give too much away, but there are certainly elements of religion to this one as well.”
 
The play’s characters are named “Seater, Pacer, Returned and Witness.”
 
“He likes to keep things ambiguous. Last year (the priests) were all named after verbs.”
 
We spoke the night after technical rehearsal and Reynolds was able to see the entire program.
 
“It really runs the gamut of styles. There is some comedy. There’s a meta thing that talks about what elements need to come together for a piece of theatre to exist … There’s a line to the extent that ‘this isn’t a play.’ It’s about narrative and conflict and the characters are talking about it as they are doing it. And there are some darker pieces as well,” he said.
 
The only new playwright on the roster this year is Robert Anderson who locals might recognize for his book The Cat, the Sun and the Mirror. Directed by Hinton, Monsters in the Attic finds a couple cleaning out a house after (Laurel’s) mother, a hoarder, has died.
 
“It had its own technical (issues),” Hinton said. “How much stuff do we pack on to this set for them to unpack? So, for some of that you have to kind of suspend your disbelief. But I think if anyone who has been through this, will know that moment. What do you keep? There’s a lot of stuff you don’t want to get rid of, naturally, because this stuff is now your connection to that person.”
 
Hinton’s own play continues the story of the family depicted in his pieces in the last two seasons of Playroom. The first, set in the kitchen was titled Drake Disappears, and that child Drake comes back in this year’s Attic play.
 
“He has a pirate radio station that he runs out of his attic at night very much like, if you’ve ever listened to Coast to Coast AM or Art Bell late night talk radio where they discuss werewolves and UFOs and stuff like that. It’s a call-in show,” said Hinton. “And in this case, he resurrects the ghost of his grandfather as his engineer and sort of co-host in the whole matter. So it’s a story about paternity — his grandfather and his father, Rich, from last year’s Bathroom play are in it.”
 
Time is the theme that has bubbled to the surface of this growing collection, Hinton said.
 
“How time eludes us or we lose track of time or we take advantage of our time, if we are smart, to spend with family members, loved ones and friends.”
 
“I tried not to think too much (about the previous plays) as I wrote this one, but I wanted to make links enough for those people who have seen the others and maybe remember them but so that it stands on its own so new people can enjoy this play as well,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be so interior.”
 
Hinton is also directing the Jenny Hill (now of Lancaster) play World of Wonderment. “She is always innovative and inventive and what she wrote was a video game,” Hinton said. “There are two avatars and you follow them through milestones in their life. It requires a whole third character which is a video screen.”
 
This technical aspect was more fun to play with, he said.
 
“I won’t reveal the magic by which I create that screen, but I dug into the past and used a Nintendo 8-bit style to create this world. It’s got sound effects and wonderful music that we all know and love. It’s that early stage of video game, but there is a lot of whimsy to it, but it also has real elements — things that really happen to people and depth.”
 
Playroom has about three or four rooms left in it, he guessed.
 
“I think when we end the series, Living Room might be the last room we do absolutely.”

Putting together these shows is a lot of work, he confirmed, but it’s worth it.
 
“You’re putting up theater that’s never been seen before and you’re asking people to create something — it’s a commissioned piece. It’s the ultimate collaboration.”
 
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Playroom: Attic

 
Monsters in the Attic by Robert Andrew Anderson
Directed by Matthew S. Hinton. Featuring Dane Bower as Richard and Mandy Boyle as Laurel.

World of Wonderment by Jennifer Hill
Directed by Matthew S. Hinton. Featuring Jon Vojtko and Kimmie Leff.

The Man Upstairs by Lori M. Myers
Directed by Drake Nester. Featuring Olivia Caraballo as Katy, Bill Amos as Ed, Tom Taraszewski as Brian and Kate Priestash as Alice, with Lukas Tomasacci.

This Isn’t a Play by Lukas R. Tomasacci
Directed by Jason Alfano. Featuring Mark Mallecorcio as Don, Billy Joe Herbert as Harv and John Bubul as Carl with DJ Nat and Clara Kelly.

Talk the Night by Matthew S. Hinton
Directed by Brandi George. Featuring Rob Klubeck as Drake, Lukas Tomasacci as Captain and Mike Little as Rich.

Anyway by B. Garret Rogan
Directed by Dave Reynolds. Featuring Dane Bower, Tim McDermott, Jason Alfano and Josh Alberola

The Next Step by Rachel Luann Strayer
Directed by Wendy Popeck. Featuring Brandi George and Meaghan Fadden
 
IF YOU GO:
WHEN: July 10-12; July 17-19, 8 p.m. July 20, 2 p.m.
TICKETS: $12 General; $10 Student/Senior
INFO/RSVP: gaslighttheatre@gmail.com.
WHERE: 251 Wyoming Ave, Kingston. Located between Market and Pierce streets in Kingston, the venue is situated near Kevin’s Restaurant and Walgreens. Parking is available in the Fidelty Bank parking lot when the bank is closed. The cast has also been parking in a gravel lot adjacent to the venue so far without incident.
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Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond. Send email to: alicia@the570.com

the artists’ studio: declare it yourself

the artists’ studio: declare it yourself

Above: One of The Vintage social media/outreach interns, Kyle Holland.
 

The Vintage celebrates community art manifestos this First Friday


 
“The word, the word, the word outside your domain, your stuffiness, this laughable impotence, your stupendous smugness, outside all the parrotry of your self-evident limitedness. The word, gentlemen, is a public concern of the first importance.” —Hugo Ball, Dada Manifesto 1916
 
The United States of America’s Declaration of Independence is a manifesto almost as famous as The Bible’s Ten Commandments and at least as influential as Marx and Engles’ Communist Manifesto. Unlike politics, there’s hasn’t traditionally been much of a financial or even social reward for artistic creation. Yet, artists tend to believe in why they are creating so strongly they’ve created some of the most memorable manifestos in history. There’s no rule saying you can’t have an art movement without a manifesto, but what fun would that be? Besides isn’t art all about creating your own rules?
 
CHEAPART_WEBThe Vintage has posted Bred and Puppet Theatre’s The WHY CHEAP ART? manifesto on its walls since it opened five years ago. This year, directors Conor O’Brien and Theresa O’Connor decided to reinvigorate the venue’s mission by drafting a manifesto instead of rewriting their business plan. In addition to print copies at the venue, the manifesto will be shared online. O’ Connor expects they’ll use it as a marketing tool.
 
It incorporates a little more creativity and activist energy than can be found in the usual mission statement, O’Connor agreed.
 
“We decided to reestablish where we’ve come to and what our mission is and to do it in a way that the public can be involved,” she said. “We still have our mission statement, but this is a little bit more tracing where our beliefs come from and why that is our vision. It’s a little more of a why than a what.”
 
Designed by five social media and design interns currently working at The Vintage, the document will be unveiled at a special First Friday reception on July 4 from 6 to 9 p.m. along side a number of similar proclamations commissioned from a diverse group of approximately 15 regional creatives asked to share their own personal visions.
 
“For writers, it is a little bit different as the manifestos are text-based with design consciousness, but for a painter or a musician, asking them to express themselves in this different way really helps think about why they are doing what they are doing. We’ve been getting a lot of different ideas as to what a manifesto is to different people. Some of them are three words. Some of them are five pages,” said O’Connor.
 
The Vintage board chair Mandy Boyle at Arts on Fire.

The Vintage board chair Mandy Boyle at Arts on Fire.


At the Arts on Fire festival last month The Vintage provided supplies and asked people in attendance to write down their own manifestos.
Where as artists participating in the exhibit were asked specifically to take their time and think about their manifestos and design them, this was more of a “get your thoughts down immediately” activity, she described.
 
“We said, ‘Everyone’s voice is important and we just want to hear what your thoughts are.’ So we have about 15 that people who did that which will also be on display.”
 
O’Connor noticed reoccurring themes of creativity and strength in the pieces she’s seen so far.
 
“I think just telling people their voice is important made them realize, ‘Maybe this is what I want.’ Writing it down and declaring it gives them confidence in what they are,” said O’Connor.
 
The Vintage didn’t stop with Bread and Puppet’s cheap art manifesto for inspiration but researched other source material on the internet including guidelines on how to write a manifesto to get different points of view. The overall impression left on O’Connor was the boldness those works have in common.
 
“There are certain words that stuck out to me that didn’t have a meaning behind them, but they pushed the meaning forward. Just saying the words, ‘I Believe,’ doesn’t really mean anything, but then when you add your own (clarification) as to what your beliefs are, those words take on a validity.”
 

A Few of Our Favorite Manifestos

Beyond political texts and artistic vows, manifestos can take the form of images like Shepard Fairey’s famous Obama “Hope” poster and social media placards like the ubiquitous “Live Life Manifesto” to the widely adapted 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous or Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and even songs like “Imagine” by John Lennon and Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” (See 1000manifestos.com.) Here are a few of our hard-hitting favorites to get you started. (There are multiple sources available online for many of these. Just “google” your way to the texts or visit The570.com for our list of active links.)
 
* Roberto Bolano’s First Manifesto of Infrarealism
 
* Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, first manifesto
 
* Bread and Puppet: the Why Cheap Art manifesto?
 
* Hugo Ball’s Dada Manifesto
 
* K.M. Weiland’s A Wordplayer’s Manifesto
 
* The Ten Key Values of the Green Party of the United States
 
* Bertrand Russell’s Ten Commandments for Living in a Healthy Democracy
 
* The Apple Manifesto: “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”
 
* The Wikileaks Manifesto by Julian Assange
 
* Seth Godin’s Linchpin Manifesto
 
* Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist
 
* The Surrealist Manifesto by Andre Breton
 
* The S.C.U.M. Manifesto by Valerie Solanis
 
* Heide Göttner-Abendroth’s Nine Theses on a Matriarchal Aesthetic
 
* Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Manifesto for a New Theater
 
* Dogme 95: The Vow of Chastity
 
* The Personal is Political by Carol Hanisch
 
Thinking about drafting your own declaration this Independence Day. Check out “How and Why to Write Your Own Personal Manifesto” at The Art of Manliness. (artofmanliness.com/2012/02/13/how-and-why-to-write-your-own-personal-manifesto.)

CURTAIN CALL: Six Days of Twelfth Night

CURTAIN CALL: Six Days of Twelfth Night

Above, from left: Leah Gabriel as Viola/Cesario, Lee Minora as Olivia, and Conor McGuigan as Malvolio in Scranton Shakespeare Festival’s production of Twelfth Night running July 11-13 and 18-20 in Nay Aug Park under the direction of Adam Fitzgerald. All shows begin at 6 p.m. PHOTO BY ALICIA GREGA.
 

Scranton Shakespeare festival returns to Nay Aug park with ‘An Improbable fiction’

 
As with most of Shakespeare’s plays, even if you haven’t seen Twelfth Night (or What You Will), you’ve already heard some of the lines. Following the opening shipwreck scene, Duke Orsino implores court jester Feste, “If music be the food of love, play on.”
 
The words are among Lee Minora’s favorites. A native of Scranton, she lives and works in Philadelphia these days, having attended Temple University. She came back to the Electric City the past two summers to see the Scranton Shakespeare Festival’s inaugural production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2012 and last summer’s Comedy of Errors. She’s thrilled to be among this year’s international cast, playing the lady Olivia, the subject of Orsino’s desire.
 
“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them,” Twelfth Night later repeats in the mouths of several characters.
 
Scranton Shakespeare is not clearly afraid. It has expanded its season to a two-week run of this first romantic comedy to be followed July 25-26 with the world premiere of a new play Fairycakes written and to be directed by five-time Tony Award nominee Douglas Carter Beane (a Wilkes-Barre native who grew up in Wyomissing.)
 
A third production follows in Aug. 8-10 when the company presents Gilbert and Sullivan’s musical melodrama The Pirates of Penzance.
 
Among those who utter the famous “greatness” lines are Olivia’s uptight servant Malvolio, to be played by Scranton actor Conor McGuigan.
 
We spoke with McGuigan and Minora at The University of Scranton where the cast has been rehearsing prior to next week’s opening.
 

From left: Leah Gabriel, Conor McGuigan and Lee Minora rehearse a scene from Twelfth Night. -PHOTO BY ALICIA GREGA

From left: Leah Gabriel, Conor McGuigan and Lee Minora rehearse a scene from Twelfth Night. -PHOTO BY ALICIA GREGA


The production, the explained, sets the play in the 1950s on a Caribbean island and the Feste character will be played by a women, but the staging remains pretty traditional. And while there is some bawdiness and drunkenness, particularly where it comes to Olivia’s degenerate cousin Sir Toby Belch (Scranton’s Joe McGurl), they expect to see a lot of families in the audience.
 
“The kids won’t pick up on that, but the parents will,” Minora said. “There’s no change from that time to this time as to what’s funny. Sex jokes are funny. Drunk people are funny. Falling down is funny. Throwing yourself desperately at a person who’s not in love with you … well, it’s funny this time.”
 
A love polygon or sorts, Twelfth Night finds Orsino pursuing Olivia who is in love with the boy Cesario, who is really a disguised Viola, who is in love with Orsino. Meanwhile, Olivia is also pursued by the awkward Sir Andrew Aguecheek and secretly worshipped by Malvolio.
 
“The comedy comes from having really high stakes circumstances and taking it so seriously that it then becomes hilarious,” Minora said. “Being in love in a regular naturalistic way and someone not loving you back is sad. Being so desperately in love that you are chasing someone, like trying to force them to love you forcibly — is hilarious.”
 
While the stakes are high, McGuigan agreed, he sees no need to get too deeply psychological.
 
“I’m of the thinking that if the playwright said it, then that’s the way it is. (Malvolio) comes on and everybody’s like, ‘he’s a jerk.’ OK, so I play the jerk. I pick up the clues that are in the script. They talk about him a lot.”
 
“He’s not a jerk, he just wants to do his job right so desperately,” Minora argued.
 
“Yes, but he yells at people for having fun,” said McGuigan.
 
“Well, Olivia likes you. I like you. You do a very good job at work. You do all of my bidding perfectly … well, until you think I’m in love you.”
“It is crazy what they do to Malvolio,” he agreed. “Just because he yells at them. They really screw him over.”
 
“It’s so mean,” she laughed.
 
While McGuigan was among the Comedy of Errors cast, this is Minora’s first performance in an outdoor Shakespeare production. Bugs and sweat, the threat of sunburn and awkwardly unmasked park entrances are worth the reward of bringing quality theatre to such large and appreciative audiences. Minora remembers seeing kids walking by from the pool who stayed to watch the entire show.
 
“There are a lot of times in Shakespeare where you break the fourth wall. So the audience feels like it has an intimacy with these characters that normally they wouldn’t have.”
 
“I am going to look like I came out of a pool by the end of the show,” McGuigan laughed.
 
“I like working up a sweat during a show,” said Minora. “I feel like I’m doing something.”
 
In the event of rain the show will attempt to go on. One of last year’s shows was cancelled because the rain was so “torrential,” but one audience of 100 or so came prepared with umbrellas.
 
Twelfth Night is presented free of charge July 11-13, 18-20 at 6 p.m.; donations will be accepted. No reservations are required. Call (570) 614-3313 or visit scrantonshakespearefestival.org for more information.
 
Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond. Send email to: alicia@The570.com.

Curtain Call: Why Not That Man?

Curtain Call: Why Not That Man?

Ever get the idea some people would just rather complain than actually take meaningful steps to change problematic conditions? Changing things is hard. It requires a significant investment of time and work. It demands focus and discipline, the ability to honestly accept things as they are and the vision and faith to see alternate realities, including ideas other than your own, as real possibilities.
 
If you partake in social media, you may have noticed the advice of Malcolm Gladwell (author of books including Blink, The Tipping Point and Outliers) on changing your mind being shared and re-shared, this week.
 
“That’s your responsibility as a person, as a human being — to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don’t contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you’re not thinking.”
 
Good for you if you’re not on social media, but you’re missing a large part of our cultural conversation. These internet-enabled sharing platforms are not just a trend, but a tool by which we can measure what concerns society in real time. (BBC News offers a fascinating blog/twitter stream/radio program @BBCTrending, for example, that analyzes what’s popular on social media around the world and why.) Anyone could have announced a theatrical event inspired by the recently trending hashtag #YesAllWomen, but when it turned out to be infamously controversial monologuist Mike Daisey (@mdaisey), Twitter exploded.
 
“The purpose of Yes All Women was to create a banner under which women could tell their own stories, the idea of a man borrowing the banner and using it to tell his own stories did not go over well,” Jessica Goldstein wrote at ThinkProgress.
 

Monologist Mike Daisey performed Yes This Man at Joe's Pub on Wednesday, June 25.

Monologist Mike Daisey performed Yes This Man at Joe’s Pub on Wednesday, June 25.

When journalist Kelly Hills (@rocza) suggested Yes All Men or Yes This Man as a better title for Daisey’s male guilt response, he agreed, apologized for his misstep and adopted the new title. But many people — namely women and the hater-oped journalists who think nothing the artist will ever do again can possibly have value since he incorporated fictional elements into a documentary piece about Apple factories oversees on This American Life — will not accept the correction. Daisey explained his piece intends to honestly examine his own role in the subjugation of women. You’d think even angry women could appreciate a man accepting responsibility, but some will not be fooled. How dare he make money off this one-night only (for now) baring of his ugly soul!
 
They are really angry. They’d rather he sit down and shut up. Apparently being subjugated for centuries can have that effect. One woman was so frustrated he couldn’t “comprehend his actions are part of the problem” she tweeted, “it’s not my responsibility to educate you,” and then stormed off in virtual silence.
 
He was so perplexed he actually responded to my comment on the conversation.
 
Mike Daisey @mdaisey: I actually think the topic of what a man can or can’t say is absolutely fascinating. My Twitter discussions aren’t rising to that level.
Alicia Grega @kittybelle: @mdaisey I thought men’s honesty about their, if accidental, complicity is a goal. Yes, women need to be heard, but silencing anyone is bad.
Mike Daisey @mdaisey: @kittybelle I don’t think men’s complicity is accidental. At least, I know mine isn’t. It isn’t always conscious, but it isn’t accidental.
Alicia Grega @kittybelle: @mdaisey That’s probably an important distinction. I can’t speak for all women but so easy to say “he should know better” & just be angry.
 
Restricting the conversation to one gender is not the way to bring about real change. Do you just want to complain or do you want things to change?
 
Women’s voices are so underrepresented in American theatre that a feisty group of female playwrights based in L.A. calling themselves The Kilroys got a lot of attention last week for releasing The List of 46 quality plays by women leading theaters should consider producing next season instead of the same old white male scripts. But is it the only way to see more, strong female characters on stage?
 
Playwrights are told to write what they know. They are criticized for not writing believable characters of other races or ethnic backgrounds, genders or sexual orientations, etc. Of course we’d all love to have a RENT-rainbow of friends and acquaintances to draw upon, but believe it or not, some writers are bookish types who don’t get out much. Others prefer to live in less distracting, smaller communities which just so happen to be more homogenized. There are plays that won’t be produced in Scranton right now because, even as the ethnic diversity exists, members of those communities are not involved in the cultural circles where plays are made. Can we talk about how to change this? Maybe. But not if you’re going to get angry at me for starting the conversation.
 
Artists can’t be honest if people are so uncomfortable with not-knowing, with remaining undecided, that they stop listening when they get scared. We can’t be afraid to get into discussions over our heads. It isn’t weak to say, “I don’t know,” or “I don’t have an opinion on that.” And we can and should reserve the right to change our minds.
 
Playwrights should be allowed to create characters that fail without being humiliated, so they can try again and hopefully get a little closer the next time. Theatre is uniquely qualified to help us explore the emotional ambiguity of grey areas. You feel things during a live experience that you cannot get reading social media posts, browsing the web, or watching TV. Theatre can open our minds to other perspectives, allowing us to see through the eyes of characters with whom we might not identify in theory. We might have different values or ideas, different backgrounds or life experience but we all have the same emotions. We can humbly admit that our actions might legitimately cause someone pain (e.g. Redskins is a racial slur) and not just demand they get over it.
 
The burden is not on the audience to shoulder an open mind, but also on the artists to first entice them and make them feel comfortable before it challenges them. Art will be more successful where it can be created with compassion. A wise artist knows the objections of his audience before they can be made and disarms his potential attackers with proof of empathy. A wise audience seeks transformation and welcomes enlightenment.
 
 
Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond. Send email to: alicia@the570.com.
 

Curtain Call: Proof at Diva

Curtain Call: Proof at Diva

Mollie Dooley and Bob Balitski star in Diva Production’s Proof at The Olde Brick Theatre in Scranton, opening Friday, June 20.
 

Diva Argues for Contemporary Drama with ‘Proof’

 
The idea that anyone can be “famous” for mathematics in the 21st century is the hardest thing to believe about David Auburn’s subtle family mystery, Proof. Fortunately, the playwright didn’t let that stop him. Beating the nerd trend in pop culture by years, his 2000 play opened off-Broadway in May, transferring to Broadway by October. The fact that it won both the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award in 2001 (one of only 22 plays ever to have received both top awards) should be all the evidence you need to give it your attention. Diva Productions opens a new run of the play Friday, June 20 at The Olde Brick Theatre in Scranton under the direction of Alex DeVirgilis.
 
Generally only available to work as an actor in supporting roles because of the evening hours required by his “day job,” DeVirgilis had worked with Diva producers Paige and Bob Balitski in the past as an actor, but never as a director. They asked him in January if he’d be interested in taking the reins of the Auburn play, giving him enough time to extend the rehearsal process and meet with his cast largely on weekends. The four-character cast includes Mollie Dooley as Catherine, Bob Balitski as her father Robert, Liz Naro as Catherine’s older sister Claire and Casey Thomas as Hal.
“My role as a director has been very transparent. I’m really just helping them with nuance. I gave them my basic vision and we were all in agreement,” DeVirgilis said.
 
The director’s script is falling apart from use, but he was able to count only five pages in which Catherine is not on stage. (That scene pits Claire against Hal. Interestingly, Claire is never shown with her father.) The role, DeVirgilis said, is “an enormous responsibility” for Dooley.
 
Proof finds “troubled young student” Catherine on the eve of her 25th birthday, reeling in the wake of the death of her father, a “famous mathematician,” who she has personally taken care of for years. Her estranged sister arrives to tidy loose ends and a former student of her father’s appears in hopes of finding a last morsel of brilliance in one of the 103 notebooks Robert left behind. Surprised by a possible romance with Hal and egged on by her put-together sister, Catherine fears she may inherit her father’s madness as well as his intelligence.
 
Proof is a work driven by its relationships more so than simply character-driven, DeVirgilis suggested.
 
“The relationships between the characters are so fine tuned,” he noted. “There is push and pull going on between them. Each character relationship has a push/pull. Or you could say love/hate … and the actors are constantly balancing between that push and pull. This is a story with some conflict.”
 
Auburn leaves room for interpretation, he added.
 
“The writer sets up layers very early so you can really choose how you balance those layers. Do you want to 60 percent on this side or 50 percent? There is a tremendous amount of opportunity in the subtlety of it … There is a constant presence of dramatic tension and it (challenges) the actors to always be re-calibrating and rebalancing and the chemistry can change very easily. If one actor acts a little different it causes this cool chain reaction. Scenes can morph quite a bit.”
 
That’s not a bad thing.
 
“It’s what every director wants,” DeVirgilis reasoned. “Every director wants to see a different show every night. He wants his actors so masterful over what they’re doing that each little change causes the dominoes to fall in another pattern.”
 
Adapted to screen in 2005 by Rebecca Miller with David Auburn under the direction of John Madden, Proof, the movie, received mixed reviews. The cast, including Gwenyth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal as Hal and Hope Davis as Claire, may be its biggest problem, argued DeVirgilis.
 
“It really is written as a brilliant play, but there’s no guarantee that is going to translate to film. In fact, in this day and age, it would be strange if it did. So they changed what they had to change and I was fine with that,” he said. “It’s just the casting was not so good. They were obviously casting for Hollywood appeal. They didn’t trust the story.”
 
Categorizing it as a family drama, the director likened it to a “small Arthur Miller play.” DeVirgilis might not be the only one to have made that comparison — screenwriter Miller is, incidentally, the daughter of Arthur Miller.
 
“Exploring these issues could be very dry, it could be depressing and sad, but Auburn found a way to create this script pivot on the mystery of this mathematical proof — who wrote it? And also he created a very cute and delicate romance between the young woman and the young man (i.e. Catherine and Hal), who are nerds. He is having fun with the nerd genre. It’s endearing. So these things soften the blow of this otherwise very poignant psychological family drama.”
 
Flashbacks further help keep the play from “becoming a dry sermon about family problems.”
 
“The degree of realism is unsurpassed. The relevance of the play is also unsurpassed. It is timely,” DeVirgilis pitched. “(The Olde Brick) is a very intimate space and all those nuances are in your lap. You can’t not become involved watching this play and that can’t happen in film … By the time you get to the end of this journey, you are truly moved.”
 
Proof runs June 20 through June 29 with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. The Olde Brick Theatre is located at 126 W. Market Street in Scranton. Tickets are $12 or $10 for students and seniors. Call (570) 209-7766 for reservations or visit info@theoldbricktheatre.com for more information.
 
w proof pst

Curtain Call: Shakespearean Summer

Curtain Call: Shakespearean Summer

The ‘Wood of Birnam’ moves in through the audience to defeat Macbeth at Ghostlight Production’s sixth annual Shakespeare in the Park production last weekend in Chinchilla.

Nothing Compares to Shakespeare on a Summer’s Day

Tradition depicts magic sparking in the dark, glowing forth, almost as if this cloak is required for us to visualize its power. Shakespeare’s Macbeth boasts numerous references to darkness and night. This is where the “weird sisters” practice their questionable art of divination which triggers the play’s tragic action.

Shakespeare remains most produced playwright in the United States. It’s a fact I sometimes grumble about as a writer and director who specializes in the development of new works. But there’s a good reason The Bard continues to be staged and reinterpreted over and over again more than 400 years later and why thousands of people flocked to South Abington Park in Chinchilla to see Ghostlight Production’s sixth annual Shakespeare in the Park production of Macbeth in broad daylight, or at very dimmest, sunset.

For all my grumbling, the truth is I adore Shakespeare. Ocean beaches and boardwalks are nice and all, but it’s not really summer without a good dose of outdoor Shakespeare. Still, I didn’t particularly jump for joy when I saw this year’s Ghostlight selection. I’d seen several productions of Macbeth — one at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, now The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, when I was an undergraduate theater major at Drew University and another in Tuscon, Arizona, quite possibly at the University of Arizona. Neither one was particularly thrilling despite clannish kilts flapping in stage fights and dim lights combating thick stage fog.

It’s not that I underestimated Ghostlight Productions, but I’m well aware they are largely an amateur company. Even while Macbeth’s director Jonathan Strayer and his wife/partner Rachel Luann Strayer are as educated and qualified as any professionals out there as far as I’m concerned, their actors and staff are volunteers. I’m especially fond of the Strayers because, like me, they believe NEPA deserves the same quality of cultural experience as NYC and it’s not above us to reach for that just because we live here rather than there.

Still, I didn’t expect to be quite so impressed. Strayer used the real magic of theatrical craft, sparking audience imagination to do with Macbeth before sundown what better financed companies I’ve seen could not do with all the special effects and darkness at their disposal. Bloody hands reached the very furthest families from the “stage” in the form of hauntingly bright red gloves. An animalistic swarm of nine hissing “witches” replaced the three cackling stereotypes settled on by so many other companies. This ensemble beat on large barrel drums with long wooden staffs also used for fighting, providing tribal live percussion which we felt vibrate up the hill and through our camp chairs.

The only set pieces other than a few props, these barrels occasionally became furniture and anchored the play’s action, necessarily staged in the round, kept in constant motion. Thanks to the excellent sound system, I heard lines in text I never noticed before or had at least forgotten. The themes of masculinity — in Lady Macbeth’s first speech she asks for the balls to do what needs be done and young Malcolm may be hesitant to lead because he is still a virgin? Other jokes about virility and arousal helped renew my interest in a text that bored me long ago in the classroom.

Strayer’s great strength as a director is getting this work across to huge spread out audience of various levels of theatrical experience and education. He held their attention to the very end.

It makes me angry that you can’t see this production. Except thousands of people did. And the summer’s not yet over. Harrisburg’s Gamut Theatre will bring their Macbeth to Tunkhannock in two weeks and The Scranton Shakespeare Festival returns to Nay Aug Park in July with Twelfth Night. I’ve seen that comedy twice as many times as Macbeth. So many times, in fact, that I almost auditioned so I didn’t have to sit through it again. But after this past weekend’s refreshing experience at Macbeth, my faith in unexpected theatrical magic has been restored. And thank the Bard for that, because I couldn’t stay away if I tried.

ghostlight mb2

ghostlight mb2

Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond. Send email to: alicia@the570.com.

The Artists’ Studio: June 5, 2014

The Artists’ Studio: June 5, 2014

Dilys Jackson: All That Glitters
 

Iron Maidens

Welsh artist Dilys Jackson (dilysjackson.co.uk) has noticed a parallel relationship between the natural erosion of rock due to the sculpting forces of wind and water and the growth of plants to the weight and pressures propelling the human body through the world. This takes shape in her art as series relating to “conformities and conflict, construction, deconstruction, and reciprocal processes.”
 
Among the exhibitions showcasing her work around the world is one she curated, Iron Maidens. Featuring the work of American, Welsh and English women who use often dangerous and heavy cast iron as their primary medium, it opened in the United Kingdom in 2009 and later traveled to the US in 2011 showing first in Minnesota to St. Catherine University where Tamsie Ringler, another of the artists featured in the show, has worked as an assistant professor of sculpture. This month it will make its final stop, opening at the AfA Gallery in Scranton on Thursday, June 5 in conjunction with this weekend’s Arts on Fire festival at the historic Scranton Iron Furnaces and Friday night’s Fire at the Furnaces benefit. A reception will be held during First Friday Scranton from 6 to 9 p.m. following an Artist’s Talk with Theresa Smith at 5:30 p.m.
 

Tamsie Ringler

Tamsie Ringler


“Iron casting has a very old history as a process for creating functional products,” Ringler said. “Its history as a sculptural process is much more recent, beginning with studio-based casting in the 1960s. Today the sculptural use of iron has bloomed into a world-wide movement,” Ringler explain in an announcement for the St. Catherine University exhibit.
 
Additional artists featured in the show include: Simone Bizzell-Browning, Sarah Clover, Felicia Glidden, Cynthia Handel, Kate Hobby, Dilys Jackson, Justine Johnson, Deborah LaGrasse, Coral Lambert, Alison Lochhead, Carrie Phoenix, Tamsie Ringler, Theresa Smith and Julie Ward. The exhibition will be on display until June 28. Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
 
Photograph by Alex Seeley

Photograph by Alex Seeley


Also on display this month on the gallery’s second floor is a group show representing local artists. “Keystone Iron Works at the Scranton Iron Furnaces: Casting the Future with an Eye on the Past” presents images captured during the past five years of the Arts on Fire industrial arts festival and “its impact on the community.” Participating photographers include Alex Seeley, Lynn Larusso and Denis Yanashot.
 
In Nature, Design: Lori Ryan

In Nature, Design: Lori Ryan


If photography is your cup of tea, this month’s art walk has plenty to quench your thirst. Across the street from AfA at the ArtWorks Gallery and Studio, a new exhibition of photos by Lori Ryan titled “In Nature, Design,” opens with a reception also from 6 to 9 p.m. Citing the Edo period in Japanese art as an influence, the collection reflects “a harmonious pairing of water and land in images in which the space becomes an illusion, where planes appear as one, illustrating stillness with a minimalist application,” according to a statement by the artist.
 
“The images focus on the play between positive and negative space, water in its various forms and on occasion, the merging of man and nature,” she writes.
 
Fans of Ryan’s work should take note that the artist will host a grand opening of her new photography studio on shore of Lake Wallenpaupack later this month. She plans to offer portrait and commercial photography services, fine art prints and photo workshops for beginner, intermediate and advanced photo enthusiasts. ArtWorks Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. In Nature, Design will remain on display through July 24. Call (570) 207-1815 for more information or visit artworksnepa.com.
 
A dash across the parking lot to Center Street brings you to Marquis Art & Frame where a new exhibition by Niko J. Kallianiotis will open in Camerawork Gallery with a reception from 6 to 8:15 p.m. also on Friday. The show is titled Bittersweet Apple and represents the Greek-born artist’s investigation into the Greek-American Diaspora in Astoria, New York. A graduate of Marywood University, Kallianiotis formerly worked as a freelancer at Wilkes-Barre’s Times Leader and later for The Coshocton Tribune in Ohio and The Watertown Daily Times in New York. He currently serves as an assistant professor at Marywood University and an adjunct assistant professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He is also a contributing photographer for The New York Times and Getty Images.
 
Bittersweet Apple will remain on display through July 29. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Visit cameraworkgallery.org for more information.
 
Niko J. Kallianiotis, “St. Dimitrios.”

Niko J. Kallianiotis, “St. Dimitrios.”


 
Brooklyn’s Wizard Skull aka Alex Duke is the guest of honor on The Bog Art Wall for the month of June. Visit wizardskull.com for a peek at the latest mutants

Arts On Fire

Arts On Fire

TT02artsonfire_P2.jpgFor the past five years, the Arts on Fire festival has helped heat things up to usher in the summer. The festival began in 2009 to benefit the Scranton Iron Furnaces and Anthracite Heritage Museum. The three-day festival kicks off on Friday, June 6, with the Fire at the Furnace fundraiser, which includes a live iron pour, music by the Coal Town Rounders and refreshments. Saturday, June 7, and Sunday, June 8, will feature industrial artists demonstrating glassmaking, blacksmithing, pottery and other disciplines. Visitors can start and end their day with a trolley ride from the Trolley Museum to the Iron Furnaces for a $1 fee.
“It’s a milestone for us this year,” said festival chairman Bob Savakinus. “One of the things that’s unique about Lackawanna County is we always have such great participation from different groups.” Partners in Arts on Fire this year include the Lackawanna Historical Society, Steamtown National Park, Everhart Museum, the Trolley Museum and the Vintage Theater in addition to 12 featured industrial artists.
“Last year, we had about 1,700 people,” said Savakinus. “We’re hoping this year if we have some good weather, we can beat those numbers — it seems like we always have a little rain or drizzle or other weather holding us back.” As of press time, the weather forecast for the weekend was clear.
The main attractions for the Fire at the Furnace fundraiser and one of the highlights for the festival will be live iron pours. Saturday’s iron pour will be hosted by students from Keystone Iron Works, an ARTS engage! program for high school students focusing on iron casting. The program received its second National Endowment for the Arts grant this year.
“Because we are so honored to be able to pour at the site, we have our professional crew come in Friday night,” said Nikki Moser, co-founder of Keystone Iron Works. “We have people coming in from Wisconsin, Baltimore, Florida, New York — all over the place. They say it’s the best iron pour they’ve ever been to.”
The professional demonstration at the fundraiser Friday night will be extra special in the nighttime setting. “It’s going to be fabulous, there will be sparks everywhere,” said Moser. “We’re going to cast a 300-pound vessel made by students in the program that will be going in the sculpture park at Keystone College.”
Visitors to the pour on Saturday will be able to watch professional artists working with students casting their own work and will be able to purchase art made that day at the festival. The Keystone Iron Works program teaches students about working in a collaborative and dangerous environment to create art.
“We’re trying to teach kids to work together in this very intense moment of danger and risk,” said Moser. “It’s an amazing opportunity — they get to make a piece of sculpture and walk away with something that physically transformed. It was a negative, empty space that was filled with molten metal and became a solid object.”
The hands-on learning experience introduces students to different ways of thinking about art in a setting outside the classroom — after all, pouring molten iron isn’t something that can be done inside a schoolroom.
“My partner, Pat McGowan, coined a phrase I’ve totally jumped on,” said Moser. “He said what we’re doing is a ‘live classroom.’ I love that, because we live in this very technology- oriented world right now. The idea of a ‘live classroom’ is what we’re doing — they’re alive, physically, emotionally and intellectually engaged in every moment with us.”
The Arts on Fire festival encompasses the theme of learning about the craft and Scranton’s heritage at the historic iron furnaces, which started operation in 1840 and were run mostly by new immigrants to the U.S.
“What I really like about what we do with Arts on Fire is it’s not only an arts event, we’re also combining history and education,” said Savakinus. “We’re actually trying to educate people in sort of a sneaky way, by doing something fun with bands and artists and the iron pour. But we’ll also tell them some history, about the part the furnaces played in Scranton’s development.”
the Arts on Fire arts festivalA photographic exhibition at AFA Gallery on First Friday will showcase photos from previous years’ festivals. “A key ingredient toward getting the NEA grant is the idea of community placemaking and the arts and their involvement in community placemaking,” said Moser.
Another highlight of Friday’s art events will be the Iron Maidens exhibition, highlighting works by female artists from the U.S. and United Kingdom who work with iron casting. The show at AFA Gallery will be this year’s final stop for Iron Maidens exhibition after completing its tour of the U.S. and U.K.
The casting to be completed by Keystone Iron Works is one of the largest the group has created: a geometric folded paper pattern, measuring approximately 30 inches in diameter and tipping the scales at about 400 pounds.
“The unveiling will be ridiculous,” said Moser. “It’s a bunch of us hitting it with hammers. It’s something new for us this year. We’re trying to see what’s the biggest thing we can cast down there without a permanent facility.”
It promises to be a bit more exciting than a ceremonial ribbon-cutting.
Arts on Fire and the Fire at the Furnace fundraiser celebrate arts and heritage in Scranton and the spirit of hard work and innovation that has been rooted in the area for hundreds of years. It’s a weekend-long event that will delight adults and children alike and spotlights a unique location and local talent.
“It really is about this idea of community and placemaking,” said Moser. “We are a community, we are a tribe. All of us. This festival brings us all together in this way that we should be really excited and proud about.”
— tucker hottes

THE POP UP STUDIO AND #POTHOLE

The Pop Up Studio recently created an online event called #Pothole which challenged people to decorate potholes, building upon a prior event hosted two years ago called “Pothole: Positively Filling Negative Space.” After creating a scenario using potholes as the environment and photographing the scene, more than 50 people submitted their work for a chance to win prizes from Kost Tire and car wash coupons. More than 4,100 votes were cast from all over the country during the two week voting time frame. #Pothole was featured on national television, radio and the web, with New Orleans and Myrtle Beach now holding their own pothole contests inspired by The Pop Up Studio.
Next up, The Pop Up Studio will present SHIFT on June 6 during First Friday Scranton at 426 Mulberry St., Scranton and The Hunt, a scavenger hunt inspired by Scranton’s people, history and architecture, on June 21. Register your team at thehuntscranton.bpt.me or visit potholepopup.com, thepopUpstudio.org or facebook.com/thepopUpstudio. — tg