Monday, August 20, 2012

How to Open a Cupboard

How to Open a Cupboard is a dance and theater performance focusing on social commentary on the modern world. The primary props used throughout the performance are two red cupboards which have holes cut out for the performers to fit into them like wooden suits. The cupboards and the show as a whole seem to be a metaphor for the boxes we are put into, and those we build around ourselves. Through obligations, work, personal relationships, and the expectations we place on ourselves and those others place on us, we are always being boxed in or limited by the societal structures and people around us. They weigh us down, constrain our creativity, and stress us out by pulling us in several directions at once. 

In this respect, How to Open a Cupboard was dead on in showing how these various things affect an individual both physically and mentally. The performance was a kind of controlled chaos with extreme, sometimes absurd repetition, and one of the performers perpetually being bogged down or boxed in by the others on stage. While it starts out a little unusually at first with the actors wearing the cupboards, as it goes on, the commentary becomes clear. A comic sense of confusion and chaos in the modern individual’s everyday life persists, while the feelings of being overwhelmed and pulled every which way by various obligations resonates with the busy twenty-first-century lifestyle. 

war queer peace solo

Feminism, indifference, and ignorance are a few of the themes that run through war queer peace solo. The performer, Melissa Birch, goes through several different characters as they relate to these themes. The characters each represent a different perspective of these themes in modern society. As an added benefit, the venue makes for a perfect backdrop to the peace aspect of the performance as it is an outdoor garden at the Trident Booksellers and CafĂ©. 

One particularly beautiful part of the performance is when Birch sings; the songs act as a sort of summation or transition from one character or topic to the next. Her voice, and it is a lovely singing voice, juxtaposes the sometimes exaggerated characters that precede the song. The characters are “exaggerated” in that they are extreme examples of certain perspectives in society; the performance itself is not at all exaggerated, but rather very honest and evocative. 

While I did not fully understand the reasoning behind the movement Birch uses throughout the performance, it definitely adds a certain urgency to the points brought up in the monologue. Following the performance, Birch sat down for a short Q and A session with those in attendance and discussed the performance and some of its themes in a little more detail.

Tonight Only!

Tonight Only! blends improv, humor, and occasionally song to create a completely unique one-act play in under an hour. Each performance is based on a new topic suggested by someone in the audience: the Sunday afternoon show was called "Waiting for the Bus".

Without any further direction than that, and with only a few wooden blocks as props, the actors created a setting, funny and dynamic characters, and even drama in the improvised action that followed. The characters separated themselves out into primary and secondary roles, and the actors moved in and out of the unscripted scenes with such ease that one might think they had planned it all along. The actors truly became their newly invented characters, and pursued each scene with comic determination while still moving the story forward. An on-stage keyboardist helped add to the mood of each scene, as well as providing a melody for any impromptu musical numbers and allowing the actors to transition easily from one scene into the next one.

Though it is definitely a good way to spend an hour at the Fringe Festival, the potential for some adult themes or language might make this show a better choice for a more mature audience. The actors' ability to transform a simple directive, "waiting for the bus" into an improvised story filled with heartbreak, ambition, and persistence is reason enough to attend. Tonight Only! is fun, inventive and enjoyable from start to finish.

You'll Never Be Alone

In short: You'll Never Be Alone was entertaining as hell. It combines a variety of visual effects with auditory effects while the performers move in sync with all of it. From classical to jazz to modern music, as well as other sounds effects like monologues and recorded word repetitions, the dances and action are fluid and beautifully synchronized with the sound. The scenes are frightening at times,
comic at others, and poignant throughout.

Nuances that set this show apart are the use of light and shadow, sound and silence, and the nearly flawless transitions of the screens used in the set. The actors are also the ones behind the set, moving the screens around the stage to create a new shadow effect or cinematic visual in a scene. Their transitions from behind the screens to in front of them are often incorporated into the scenes, and the move is virtually seamless. Nostalgia surfaces throughout the show through the music, costumes, and the occasional movie clip, recalling the original talking pictures, cinematic greats in black and white, and the colorful wardrobes and perfectly coifed styles of times gone by.

One of the only blemishes was the timing, which for a couple of the dancers was off slightly in a couple scenes, but it did not at all detract from this thoroughly unique and entertaining performance.


Sinthesis is told primarily through song and music, with scenes that take place during several periods throughout history. Both actors and musicians play roles in each scene, with the actors playing several roles throughout the show--some of which recur later in the performance while others appear only once.

In all, the best part about Sinthesis was the music: for the most part, the songs were performed and written well, with a couple of very catchy songs in the middle. However, the story was a bit difficult to follow: part of this, I believe, stems from the costume changes. Some of them were clearly indicative of the period in reference, while others did not seem to accomplish anything, let alone a change in setting. A few technical details also interrupted the performance, including props that did not quite work as they were intended, and all the cords for the musical equipment and microphones covering the stage floor looked easy to trip over.

Perhaps the biggest hitch in the performance is that it came off a bit amateurish--the singing, monologues, and dance scenes could probably all have benefited from some adittional practice. While the musicians for the most part seemed trained in their instruments, as far as the actors were concerned, only one seemed to have any formal experience in singing and dance.

Holey Smokes.

Holey Smokes follows a small town's fixation on an unusual, seemingly bottomless hole that appears in one family's yard. While it is never explained what the hole is or where it came from, the implication as the play progresses is that it is there to provide something other than the answers that so many of the people hope it can give, something darker.

Each of the characters has their own idea about what the hole is and what it does, with some acting as narrators and others acting out scenes directly. Overall, the actors play their roles well, especially with all the back and forth among the actors who play multiple roles, though some came off more melodramatic than others. This was amplified by the fact that many of the actors really projected their voices. Because of the size of the Dairy Carsen Theater and the natural acoustics, such volume was a little excessive.

The performance was very minimalist, with few props and limited costume changes, even for characters played by the same actor, making it difficult at times to figure out which character was in the scene. To make it more difficult were the abrupt transitions from one scene to the next. In spite of this, Holey Smokes as a whole is an interesting, if morbid, perspective on desperation in difficult times.

it's a long time to be wearing black

It’s a long time to be wearing black, forever, that is, if you’re dead.  This performance was put on by the Subliminal Space Research Group, clearly a Naropa founded institution. 

We walk into the strangely set up performance space, a circle of seats in the middle as well as seats along the outside of the dance floor at the Community Dance Collective. Luckily no audience participation is requested. There are two girls wrapped in white ribbon, tangled with bells, and surrounded by scattered pink flowers. Awkward moments of silence are interwoven with themes of relationship, death, and transition. It is less of a dance piece and more experimental performance.  At times beautiful and eerie at other times dissonant and uncomfortable. 

Reading the summary is recommended to better understand story line!  If you are interested in quirky and offbeat performance, questions into the nature of existence and sitting in the middle of a performance space surrounded by tangled nymph-like creatures, see this show. 

-- Olivia Katz

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cecily and Gwendolyn: A Fantastic Fantastical Probe

Something magical happened at the Trident on Friday evening. A group of Boulderites got a big shiny mirror held up to them, and it wasn’t unpleasant at all.
It is difficult to imagine what happens at Cecily and Gwendolyn’s Fantastical Inquisitorial Probe without having experienced it, largely because it is so dependent on the audience of any given night. That, of course, is the genius of the show. I have never witnessed two performers who were more responsive to the ever-changing nature of their audience. But audience is not the correct word.
When you attend this performance, you become a “like-minded explorer” in an anthropological study of your own culture. As time-traveling, delightfully Victorian scientists, Cecily and Gwendolyn are there to investigate your thoughts and behaviors, which they do through some extremely entertaining audience interaction, and to draw conclusions about the society that you are a part of, which they offer back to you with the sharpest and kindest of wits.
This premise would already be enough to produce some highly entertaining performances, but what takes this show from funny to valuable is the fact that the two performers truly are curious about their “subjects”, and want to inspire in them that same spirit of inquisitiveness, investigation, and appreciation for their own culture.
Part long-form improvisation, part community-building exercise, C and G’s Fantastical proves that theater arts have the power to do more than just entertain modern-day audiences – they can open our eyes to the parts of ourselves that we can be proud of, the parts that can help us towards a happier world.

-- Katrin Welch

The Good, The Bad, and The Inspired

As I sat and waited for "The Good, The Bad and the Stupid" to begin, I was surprised to find myself feeling very giggly. Could the troupe's hilarity be powerful enough to generate a force field of giddiness that I couldn't resist? Was it merely the anticipation of a crowd determined from the beginning to laugh as much as possible? As it turned out, both theories were proven true.

There isn't much to say about this show other than: See it.

Boulder Fringe is lucky to be hosting such a funny, imaginative and talented physical comedy show. The magic lies in the way the performers take common children's games and enhance them with excellent circus skills and the unparalleled delightfulness of an adult imagination unfettered. A rubber ball and a sweatshirt become a tall, clumsy, techno-loving creature. Stick ponies are the inspiration for an epic and hilarious race through the desert, and a pillow becomes so life-like that I actually felt creeped out. In a good way.

You owe it to your imagination, your inner child, and any actual children you know to pile into your clown SUV, drive down to the Dairy, and get your giggle on.

 -- Katrin Welch

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Stll Napping

Tonight I saw "Still Napping" a theater production put on by Nicoll and Oreck Dance Theater @ the Performing Arts Center at Naropa.  The premise of this tale sounded intriguing--an examination of the current state of affairs of humans and their planet.

The piece was a mixed media production interweaving dance, piano, head-lamp play, music, voice-overs, some choreography and some simple but curious props.  Some poignant questions were posited by different members of the cast, such as "What if we are all in a trance? A consensus trance? Who can tell truth from falsehood anymore?"

However, these powerful questions weren't given enough space and were lost in a clattering of noises and interruptions. As my friend said, this performance felt a little bit like a car crash that you can't stop looking at.  Although that seems a little harsh, there were times when it would have been appreciated to have more clarity around what was happening. I found the performance disjointed and hard to understand. There were moments of coming together but overall I found the storyline hard to follow.  A worthy exploration but wish the meaning had been more clearly translated to the audience.

-- Olivia Katz

Boy in the Basement: Fun, Energetic, Mildly Offensive

           Perhaps it’s my lack of fluency in the language of comic books. Maybe I spend too much time with my friends from the Women’s Studies Department, or maybe I just don’t want to know what goes on in the minds of some twenty-something male writers. Whatever the reason, I found myself feeling amused, entertained, and yet vaguely offended during most of this show.
            In the show, a writer narrates the book he is writing, while his characters act out the story on the stage next to him. In typical comic book romance fashion, these characters are mostly two-dimensional stereotypes defined by their sexuality. This fact would be fine if it were somehow critiqued, or if we were able to explore the psyche of the writer himself. What needs does he seek to satisfy through his writing? Unfortunately, such contemplations get lost in the tantalizing spectacle of the bawdy, energetic plot-within-the-plot.
            The cast gets points for creative use of sets and props, as well as for solid performances. This is a great production for a person who is a fan of comic books and romance novels, but the satire doesn’t come across effectively enough for someone who is not. Someone like me. 

-- Katrin Welch

Loved By You

Tonight I saw the opening act of “Loved By You: A Self-Love Story” at the Dairy Carsen theater in Boulder, Colorado.  This solo, biographical, schizophrenic piece takes us on a journey through the life of a woman who’s been to hell and back and survived to tell her tale.  Written and performed by Lori Shantzis the content of this piece was bold and courageous but the performance but lacked impact at times.  There were tremendous technical difficulties during the show, projectors not working, sounds out of sync with her performance, and clearly the actress was put in a challenging position having to navigate that while also attempting to put on a good show. She did her best to gracefully narrate the films we could not see.

In this tale, Lori oscillates between an overtly sexual Marilyn Monroe alter-ego to herself as a small child, a teenager, and a 20-something almost woman.  We are led through the dark caverns of a childhood wrought with pain, familial abuse, and utter confusion.  A poignant and heartwrenching story centered mainly around this character’s toxic relationship with her father.  I found the story personally compelling as I think it takes tremendous courage to get on a stage and reveal to the world the sorrow we have traversed.  However, as a theater piece, I felt that this performance lacked luster.  It was sometimes hard to tell when she changed character and at times felt the performance was underdone or overdone, words dropped and hard to hear, and a sense that she herself was shrinking on the stage.  As the show went on she seemed to grow more comfortable in her own vulnerability and I subsequently felt more invited into the story.  Ultimately this solo piece is an inspiring one and something worthwhile seeing for anyone who’s ever thought their family was the most screwed up at all, for anyone who’s sought love in all the wrong places, or anyone who’s just downright human. I found this piece to be one of humility, bravery, and insight.  I commend her on her fearlessness.

You can catch one of her other shows throughout this week.

-- Olivia Katz