Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Connecting Functionality with Meaning in Laura Ross’s Ceramics

Laura Ross / Studio Clay
at Craft(s) Gallery

Ceramic Bowl, Laura Ross, 2013.

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

In her artist’s statement, Laura Ross speaks of “functionality in relation to one’s daily rituals.” The work in this show perfectly embodies this idea with vessels and forms that are matched in practicality by powerful suggestions of history and spirituality.

These ceramic pieces are mostly simple, elemental forms of such solid footing that they often express a monolithic quality reminiscent of naturally formed monuments. Weighty and grounded, at least in visual terms, there is a durable physicality that indicates that each bowl, dish or pitcher could stand up to generations of use.

The utilitarian nature of the work pushes greater sophistication away from form and into the surface details of color, texture and the occasional sculpted addition (lid handles that are birds). Ross’s palette here seems dominated by deep blue and green tones. But there are groups of softer hues and some especially rich earth tones of ore, umber and sienna that form the foundation for interesting organic patterns and incidents to emerge from within the soda-fired surface. Ross has, in a few instances, enforced a more aggressive, manipulated texture on one or two vessels. But the rich and delicate beauty that results from what Ross calls “the mystery of the accidental” in the firing process provides an effective contrast between surface and form.

The approach allows enough crudity, if you will, to emphasize the connection to the clay beneath our feet and the origin of the material. The reinforcement of the elemental raises practicality to a deeper significance that such vessels have always had in the formal social and religious customs of our past as well as the mundane use in our daily lives. The act of breaking bread together has, over time, lost much of its meaning in human existence so that we tend to take for granted the most common and universal ritual, supplanting it with over-processed foods manufactured and consumed for pace and efficiency. The notion of nourishing body and soul in tandem has become largely neglected in the modern world.

Tiny Teapot, Laura Ross, 2013.
Such notions might seem a bit pretentious; yet the presence of such pieces as two water stones – forms that, again, balance scale and visual weight – with a very small and delicately placed pool of water with a live green plant seems to reinforce a spiritual element to the body of work. And the careful placement of one series, “Black/White Opposition,” in which 12 black and 12 white cups sit in close formation on two narrow shelves placed alongside each other on the wall, consciously blurs the line of “potter’s pots” (to borrow the artist’s phrase) and objet d’art. Clearly Ms. Ross’s point is that there need not be any such distinction; and after spending time with the body of work in this exhibit, I would be hard-pressed to disagree.

Latte Cup, Laura Ross, 2013.

The somber, no-frills aspect of much of the work is given meaningful contrast in a handful of humorous elements, such as a “Sitting Frog Jar” that is highlighted by the titular amphibian, a creature of marked expressiveness serving as the handle; or a “Slab Server” that, with its curled edges and strips of color modulation, is cleverly fashioned to resemble the bacon it is designed to present at table.

This exhibit is an auspicious inaugural for Craft(s), one of several new galleries that have opened recently in Louisville. Part fine art exhibition space and part craft boutique, the open and inviting space is located in the “SoFo” district, the area of Fourth Street just south of Fourth Street Live.

Laura Ross / Studio Clay

June 28 – August 31, 2013
Craft(s) Gallery
572 South Fourth Street
Louisville, KY 40202 
(502) 550-2035

Sunday, July 28, 2013

True to Life Farce Takes the Stage at The Bard's Town

Ben Gierhart, Amy Steiger, and Natalie Fields in
Patricia Milton's Reduction in Force.
Photo – The Bard's Town.

Reduction in Force

By Patricia Milton

Directed by Beth Tantanella and Scot Atkinson

Review by Rachel White

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Rachel White. All rights reserved.

Reduction in Force, a comedy by Patricia Milton, opened at The Bard's Town and deals with the economic crisis and the corporate greed and callousness that allowed it to happen. It is a true-to-life farce about the backstabbing and conniving that goes on at the top. 

Icarus Wealth Management, a shady Wall Street type firm (investing in hurricanes and trading in human organs are possible next moves), is downsizing to protect its profit margins. The screaming and begging of recently laid-off employees can frequently be heard off stage. Trader Gabby Deeds (Natalie Fields) must choose between two employees: her longtime secretary, Anita (Amy Steiger); and her new attractive mentee, Mitch (Ben Gierhart). What follows is a backstabbing fight to the death for the job.

The production makes use of some fine talent, and the play couldn’t have been better cast. Natalie Fields falls naturally into the larger-than-life role of Gabby Deeds. She has a deep, commanding voice and strong presence; and when she takes the stage she demands attention. She plays Gabby with a charming, happy narcissism that belies the evil she is willing to commit; because she is funny, we like her in spite of it. Gierhart and Steiger have chemistry together, especially when they begin to plot against Gabby. They are good foils for Fields, as they play crafty and anxious underlings against her oblivious confidence. They are like the clever mice to her powerful cat.

The problem with the play is that the characters are often painted too broadly even for a farce and the play tends to stay on one level. This slackens much of the tension in the first act, and the scenes drag. If the characters were played more realistically but with the ridiculously high stakes of farce it would be easier for the audience to connect with them. Part of this is the direction, but part of it is that the script meanders quite a bit early on before it sharpens in Act II.

Still, the world of the play itself is unique and one we don’t get to peer into or lampoon very often. The actors have wonderful comic moments. There is one gag in which secret information is written on a soft taco shell so that the information can be easily eaten and destroyed at a moment’s notice. At one point, Gabby demands that Anita hand over the taco shell that contains an important password; Anita desperately crams it into her mouth. When Ms. Milton writes in her program notes that a lot of the material in the piece appears farcical but is based on actual events, it’s the kind of brilliant touches like the taco shell gag where you have to ask, did that really happen?

Reduction in Force

July 25-August 4, 2013

The Bard's Town Theatre
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
(502) 749-5275

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Kids Find a Voice Through Poetry at the Vault

Deejay ATG of Generation iSpeak.
Photo – Jon Huffman.

Generation iSpeak Poetry Slam

Review by Rachel White

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Rachel White. All rights reserved.

So, I went to this poetry slam at Vault 1031 the other night, and I got to watch these really crazy gifted kids read their poetry; and I came out with their words in my head and just feeling really wonderful and different and moved. 

The poets come from a group called Generation iSpeak, founded by Julie Crittendon and her son Alex aka Alexander the Great. The aim of the organization is to gather Louisville kids from emotionally difficult circumstances and teach them how to express themselves through spoken word poetry. The results are overwhelmingly positive. There is a palpable sense of camaraderie in the room in an evening of genuinely compelling work. 

Alex (ATG) is the MC for the show, and he is made for it, cutting in and easing some of the tensions with easygoing humor and enthusiasm. The team is composed of seven poets: Gabe, Lance, Sparrow, Josh, Tessa, Mama Candace, and Dream. There are judges, but as ATG reminds us, “It’s about the poetry,” and it truly is. 

“Every time you get high, you paint vacancy signs on your eyes,” reads Tessa. “Us black kids want to get an education just like their children do,” reads Josh. Another poet refers to her “handmade heart.” 

Emotionally honest writing like this can cross social and cultural barriers because it is universal yet specific. You feel it, even though you might not have lived it. The kids have a maturity and a confidence on stage that belies their age.

The work isn’t always easy to hear. The issues they take on are the big ones: the Trayvon Martin case, racism, inner city crime, guns, poverty, drug abuse, grief, and loss. The poets might not have the polish of more seasoned writers, but the raw talent in the room is obvious and these writers have all of the grit and confidence of youth. 

Generation iSpeak is attending Brave New Voices Youth Poetry Slam in Chicago in the coming weeks. I wish them well. I am amazed by Alex and his mother’s vision; it seems that they have found a unique way to help kids out, giving them a voice in writing and showing them how to use it, creating an environment that is demanding yet supportive. A community of likeminded writers is a powerful thing. Louisville should listen.

Generation iSpeak

Vault 1031
1031 South Sixth Street
Louisville, KY 40203

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

17 Questions for Todd Zeigler

Elizabeth Cox & Todd Zeigler in the 2012 production of
Dirty Sexy Derby Play.

By Brian Walker
Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Brian Walker. All rights reserved

Todd Zeigler is a man of many talents. Originally from Atlanta, Todd graduated from college with a journalism degree and drama minor. After graduating he dove head first into theatre and moved to the great city of Louisville. He worked with numerous companies in town as an actor, director, technician – sometimes all three in the same production. He joined The Alley Theatre in 2009 playing drums for Evil Dead, The Musical, and has recently stepped up into the company’s Artistic Director position.

Brian Walker:  I’d love to do a “17 Questions for…” interview with you, if you’ve got time and are willing?
Todd Zeigler:  I am flattered and tickled as hell.

BW:  Oh good – I love a good tickle!
TZ: Thank you for asking! The pleasure is mine, yours, and if we do this just right, several random passersby.

BW:  Indeed!  Alright, Number 1:  So Artistic Director, there’s a ton of work that goes into running a theatre; what’s been the most challenging thing so far for you at The Alley?
TZ:  Learning to juggle and then finding a show to put it in!  I'm totally kidding…I'll never be able to juggle. In all seriousness, though, the biggest challenge that I totally thrust upon myself is keeping all our projects organized and on track. This is probably our most ambitious season yet, and our goal is to be as prepared on the front end as possible. That has included show selection; securing directors, stage managers and technical for the season; casting as many roles in advance as possible. And that's only the standard theatrical fare. We'll shortly be putting the call out for submissions to our spring new play festival, which is a mini-season in and of itself. Plus we're entering a team in the 48-Hour Film Festival, developing some other short film projects, planning some new play and acting workshops, and trying to bring some incredibly cool theater in from beyond the Ohio Valley. On top of all that, I've set myself up to write at least two of our shows this year – maybe three, if I am in the exact right place at the exact right time with the exact right drink for someone special…Zeus's Raven. What have I done to myself? Look at all that!  Whoever reads this, shake me the next time you see me. Just warn me you're going to first.

BW:  I’m going to shake you.
TZ:  Okay.
(Brian shakes Todd)

BW:  That’s a ton of stuff, but that’s great! Good for you! 
TZ:  Thank you.

BW:  Number 2:  What upcoming Alley project are you most looking forward to producing this season?
TZ:  It's hard to pick one. My A-number-one criterion for every show this season was, "Am I excited about doing it?" But today, I'd have to say All the Whos in Whoville, our Christmas special that pits a seemingly ageless time-traveling hero against an outcast villain declaring war on Christmas and the universe. It will be an epic sci-fi adventure and a whole lot of yuletide fun. I say that one because it combines everything we love doing here: cult classic material which people adore and celebrate like they own it, a little bit of our signature spin on the source material, plus the opportunity to do something really special for the Christmas season that has a bit of a point while still being tons of fun. I get to see how epic a story we can pull off onstage while throwing in a few surprises and left turns that will still make the hardcore fans happy. The pressure. That's a big part of what makes it so fun. Why do something that's easy?

BW:  Number 3:  And I hear tell of a late night Buffy the Vampire Slayer show? 
TZ:  Yes, indeed! In the spirit of how we've adapted Flash Gordon and Commando Cody for our late night performances (i.e.: lunacy and drinking games), we're developing Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 12 and Firefly: The Lost Episode, original 30-minute shows with a heavy improv bent that are tributes to these classic Joss Whedon opuses. (Someone can do more than one opus, right?) They'll be premiering at the Fright Night Film Festival July 26 to 28, and then run Saturdays at 10 p.m. all through the month of August. – longer, if the demand is there.

BW:  Number 4:  So you act, you direct, you write plays, you produce, you build sets, and I swear, if it can be done in a theatre you can do it. But is there one specific aspect of doing theatre you wish you had more time to focus in on?
TZ:  Definitely writing. Of everything that happens in the creative process, writing is the one thing that makes my soul do the Diet Coke Sip-and-Sigh of Satisfaction. [Pops top, sips, "Aaaaaaah."] The entire process is so incredibly fulfilling, from pouring over tons of research to connecting all these seemingly disparate threads, to rewriting and rewriting to hearing your words in someone's voice and going "No! Who wrote this crap?! You'll have fresh pages tomorrow." It makes my soul radiant. That and candy corn. I love candy corn.

BW:  Number 5:  You also play the drums. Ever thought about writing a musical?
TZ:  I've actually had a few ideas. But that would be a very atonal musical. [Rim shot.]

BW:  Haha!  Yeah, I guess you’re right.  Number 6:  You starred in the latest incarnation of Point Break LIVE. What was your favorite thing about playing the late great (God, I loved him) Patrick Swayze?
TZ:  Without getting too artsy-fartsy actory about it, I aimed more for the Bodhi character than Swayze himself :). But there are some Swayze moments, and it's all about quality over quantity. The one I'm most proud of is that we throw in two lines of "She's Like the Wind," the song he sang for Dirty Dancing. I can actually sing IN KEY. I may have ruined half the joke.

BW:  Number 7:  The Alley is known for doing very “movie-inspired” theatre. What’s one movie ya’ll haven’t brought to the stage yet but are dying to?
TZ:  No joke: two years ago, LEO did an April Fool's review of our production of Schindler's List: The Musical. There's a file folder floating around our office somewhere titled Schindler's List: The Musical. It's empty, mind you, but for a second, we thought about it...

BW:  Number 8:  Who are your favorite playwrights, and why do their plays hit you?
TZ:  I came to theater very late in life. I've learned by doing, so I don't have a deep knowledge of too many writers. But my tastes definitely bend toward the UK. Once I understood Samuel Beckett, I marveled (and still do) at how much life is in all of his characters. You think they're so weird and abstract and "WTF?"; and then you see them done right, and you think "My god, of course" and "I've been there." Secondly, Tom Stoppard. If dialogue and character were candy, Stoppard would be Willy Wonka. Just wow. Candy corn!

BW:  Number 9:  What’s your favorite Louisville hangout?
TZ:  The Alley Theater. I'm artistic director. I never leave this place. Why do you think we leave the bar open during the late shows?

Todd Zeigler.

BW:  Duh.  I should’ve known!  Number 10:  What advice would you give to someone looking to break into the local theatre scene?
TZ:  No matter where you start, jump in. Go to every audition, go see every show and talk to the people involved afterward. Learn an offstage skill. We all want to be onstage. It's the people that can design a light plot or sew that are infinitely valuable. See Question Number 1 – I really have done all that, and more. And for me personally, the biggest quality to have is this: Always be pleasant. If you're not there, be the person everyone misses.

BW:  Number 11:  In years past The Alley has hosted a Zombie-themed play festival – The InHuman A Festival – and this year it’s going to be different, right?
TZ:  Indeed it is. Even as we started this past season with Living Dead in Denmark (Shakespeare…with zombies), we were saying, "Ya know, we really need to get away from this." And this past spring's InHuman A Festival was much more diverse. I think only two plays featured zombies. So next spring, we'll be doing Superhuman: A Festival of New American Superhero Theater. Aside from it being another loving wink-wink-nudge-nudge to the Humana Festival (And in all seriousness, we love Actors Theatre and the unparalleled opportunity they provide for new plays. They're fantastic.), I think it will appeal to a different side of the writing process. Zombies and the undead can appeal to a certain dark, macabre part of the soul. It's fruitful but can get you down. I'm hoping the superhero genre will bring upon us an optimistic, hopeful assortment of plays.  I guess maybe what I'm saying is, Man of Steel disappointed me. 

BW:  Number 12:  If you got to be deserted on an island with any living celebrity for thirty days, who would it be and what would ya’ll do all month long?
TZ:  While there are degrees of celebrity, I would have to say comic writer Grant Morrison. The conversation would basically consist of me devolving into Chris Farley from "The Chris Farley Show" sketch on SNL. "You remember that one time when you had Batman defeat the god of all evil, who was, like, the archetype of all evil, only to have him send Batman traveling through time to write his own history and become a time energy-fueled bomb that was going to destroy all reality? … That was really coooooool."

BW:  Number 13:  What inspires you to keep doing theatre?
TZ:  At this point, having worked and studied and had my successes and failures and gotten to the point where I guess I'm a leader of sorts now, it's taking a glance into someone's soul and seeing what's in there waiting to get out; and then finding just the right thing for that person, and seeing it in their eyes when they feel it for the first time. I get burned out just like anyone. Discovery. That glint in the eyes as they widen with recognition. That keeps it fresh. 

BW:  Number 14:  If you had to name one single favorite experience doing theatre in Louisville, what would it be and why?
TZ:  There are too many, so I'm going to pick two. So, nyah. 

BW:  Hey, it’s your interview. You can say whatever you want!
TZ:  On the acting side, it was being in the cast of the revival of Dirty Sexy Derby Play. That was just a magical group in a magical show.  On the backstage side, it was my first time directing a show – The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guirgis. It was a big show (3 hours, 8 minutes: yeah, yeah, I know…), and I gave the closing monologue to someone who was not an actor by training, just someone who was innately a performer yet very grounded and real. We worked the monologue a bunch, and I'm a light hand when directing. I try to give just enough for an actor to find the golden ticket themselves. And after one rehearsal, he sent me a text that said, "I finally get it. That Stanislavsky sh*t that you guys do." That moment…well, see answer to Question Number 13.

BW:  Number 15:  What’s something you've learned since taking over as The Alley's Artistic Director that you wish you would’ve already known?
TZ:  The magic combination for saying "No" in just the right way. We are incredibly fortunate to come into this season with a lot of momentum and a lot of people who believe in what we're doing and want to be a part of it. And I'll give full credit where it's due: I got where I am because Scott Davis (Alley Theater founder and Producing Director) kept giving me opportunities and saying “Yes” to things I wanted to do (like three-hour shows – trust me, I've learned my lesson). I want everyone that comes here to have those same opportunities. But a big part of my job is knowing when to say "No." No one, not even me, can do everything they want to do. I just try to make sure if I have to say "No," whoever is hearing it knows that it either means "Not right now" or "Hmm…well, no, but check this out…."

BW:  Number 16:  Any secret Alley plans for this season or next you can share with me…give Arts-Louisville a little "breaking news" story?
TZ:  "Point Matrix Live: The Ultimate Mash Up."  Not really – no. But can you imagine? "Morphi, this is your wakeup call! I am an IT Developer!"

BW:  Number 17:  What’s one thing most folks would be surprised to learn about you?
TZ:  I know every single word to "Ice Ice Baby." It is the only thing I will do at karaoke. I don't even need to look at the screen. But I do require a bourbon and coke to make it happen.

Reservoir Dogs
"White" (Male) Cast: Fridays (Aug. 2, 9, 16, 23) at 7:30 p.m.
"Blonde" (Female) Cast: Saturdays (Aug. 3, 10, 17, 24) at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $17 + coupon code for $5 to see the other show
Industry Nights ($12 tickets): Men on the 5th, Women on the 12th
Student Nights (Name Your Price w/ ID): Women on the 8th, Men on the 15th
At The Alley Theater
1205 East Washington Street
Reserve tickets at 713-6178 or