The Performant

The Performant: Up, up and away

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It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman flies again.
 
It’s been 75 years since Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster began developing their most enduring creation, Superman, a character who would go on to change the shape of pop culture forever. The first bona-fide comic book superhero, the spandex-clad refugee from outer space inspired whole universes of imitators, each more improbable and yet strangely influential than the next, and our collective fascination for the modern pantheons of nigh-invincible beings remains virtually unabated, as one glance at a list of blockbuster movies starring caped crusaders and misunderstood mutants can attest.

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The Performant: I’m With the Banned

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Since practically every single calendar day of the year has been appropriated by some cause or another (in this month alone we celebrated Labor Day, Patriot Day, National IPA Day, National Seat Check Day, World Rabies Day, and National Grandparents Day, to say nothing of Suicide Prevention Week, Constitution Week, and National Emergency Preparedness Week), it can be hard to keep them all straight. But one week that stands out, at least for myself is Banned Books Week (Sept 22-28), a 30 year-old tradition spearheaded by the American Library Association.

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The Performant: For Those Who Have Rocked, We Salute You

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Theater artists reflect on life on the road in this final dispatch from the 2013 fringe festival circuit.

One of the most interesting aspects of the North American fringe festival circuit is the way it makes touring with a piece of theater an accessible proposition to even typically penniless performers. It hearkens back to an era when dozens of theater companies sent themselves on cross-country tours in much the same manner as punk bands or circuses (the San Francisco Mime Troupe and the Independent Eye among them), a rite of literal passage that seems quite out of reach for most theater-makers today. This means that despite its traditional, lottery-based programming, a penchant for kingmaking still pervades the Fringe, and certain prolific artists can become as rock stars, circumventing the lottery odds by booking themselves into unofficial venues as in Edinburgh, capturing oddience attention from year to year. Read more »

The Performant: Vancouver Fringe-mania

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Well, it’s been another fringe-ferrific whirlwind here at the Vancouver Fringe, but like all good things, it too has come to an end. The Boulder Fringe is still poised to begin this afternoon despite the flooding, but the East to West Coast circuit is now complete, and many career-fringe artists headed home, wherever that may be, to count their successes and tally their losses (often both).

For Naked Empire Bouffon Company the rewards of its five-week tour appear to be both tangible (a Critic’s Choice nomination and a “Talk of the Fringe” award in Vancouver, quotable reviews, and some modest profit), and ephemeral (connecting with other Fringe artists, experiencing new frontiers of audience reaction, generating excitement and controversy). But it’s been a lot of work to get that: months of rehearsal time, many long days of flyering in costume, hustling for audience and some small portion of recognition. But it’s the shows themselves that Fringe artists and audiences come together to experience, and it’s the shows that will hopefully stay with us long after the bone-wearying nature of the hustle fades from memory. Here’s a shortlist of some of the stand-outs from my second week at the Vancouver Fringe. Catch them elsewhere if you can.

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The Performant: Fringe 101, an essential lexicon revisited.

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With the frenzy of the Edmonton Fringe Festival finally subsided, and Vancouver’s about to begin, myself and the Naked Empire Bouffons are ready for action. We have posters to plaster, our venue to scope out, and fellow artists to schmooze before the festival opens on the fifth, but in the interim I have time to let my attentions wander back momentarily to San Francisco, whose Fringe Festival also opens this week.

Did you know that we boast the second oldest Fringe Festival in the United States (the first being Orlando’s)? And that, along with Vancouver, we represent the final leg of the CAFF (Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals) circuit for touring Fringe artists, despite the small complication of not actually being Canadian? Admittedly our festival is smaller than the Vancouver event (36 shows, as compared to 91 and counting), but it’s still a veritable bacchanal of drama, dance, and comedic derring-do packed into 14 days.

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The Performant: Fringe Dwellers

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It’s hard to believe, but the 32nd annual Edmonton Fringe is already over and touring companies like Naked Empire Bouffon are packing their bags to move on to the next festival, while artists who have finished their runs head for home — whether that’s Australia, the UK, or just North of the High Level Bridge. As at every Fringe, my goal has been to see just as many shows as I can, and in between stage-managing Naked Empire’s run and feverishly making deadlines, I saw 35, which ranged in content and execution from the merely mundane to the inarguably sublime. Here’s a roundup of my personal favorites and companies I recommend watching out for should they make over to San Francisco.

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The Performant: Surrender to Dorothy

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San Francisco’s invasion of Canada has begun

On my first day in Alberta, Canada I am greeted by gracious Edmontonians bearing platters of smoked meats, a local tradition perhaps, and upon joining my reconnaissance troop, the small but mighty Naked Empire Bouffon Company, who I’m stage-managing for their one-month Fringe Festival tour, we head down to the 32nd Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival headquarters to discover what we can about the territory. The Edmonton Fringe is the second largest in the world after Edinburgh (the original), attracting over a half-million people to the festival site, and hosting over 200 performing companies over the course of 11 days. Mixed in with the vast throng of performers from around the world, a small regiment of infiltrators from the Bay Area have scattered themselves throughout the festival grounds and venues, a quiet invasion of quirky monologists and seasoned storytellers.

And Naked Empire of course, whose confrontational buffooning offers an entirely different definition of Fringe theatre. Read more »

The Performant: The Stiltwalkers Union

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In an iconic sequence from Winsor McCay’s eccentrically beautiful Little Nemo in Slumberland, Nemo’s bed sprouts elongated legs and strolls through the city as Nemo and his cantankerous friend Flip cling to the bedsheets and try not to fall out. Whenever I see performers on stilts, the exaggerated limbs of that unexpectedly animated furniture are one of the first things that spring to my mind, their death-defying acrobatics furthering the resemblance to an unnerving dream sequence.

Tapping into both the whimsical and the deeply unsettling nature of stiltwalking as art form, San Francisco’s Carpetbag Brigade and Nemcatacoa Teatro from Colombia performed their unique brand of physical theater in tandem over the weekend, along with Tucson, AZ’s VerboBala and Hojarasca Andina from Colombia, as part of their transcontinental “Bi-Cultural Road Show."

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The Performant: Brave Old World

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Tweaking tradition with Minor Empire and Thingamajigs

There are as many roads down the path of “world music” as there are countries represented within that nebulous category. And while there’re still plenty of purists adhering strictly to the musical traditions of the past, it’s just as common for today’s world musicians to use those traditions as a kind of jumping-off point for their compositions, in much the same way that the 12-bar blues have been the foundation for numerous offshoots of “American” music.

A good example of this conscious hybridization between past and present, old word and new, is Toronto-based Turkish-Canadian combo Minor Empire, who blend sinuous Eastern folk tunes with Western jazz-jam, desert rock, and pulsing electronica, providing multiple entrance points to their specific sound.

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The Performant: Roll Out the Barrel

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At Nerd Nite, beer + nerds = fun

One of beer’s most intriguing qualities is that it’s an incredibly easy elixir to get nerdy about. In fact, it’s almost like a double gateway — attracting regular folk to the wide wonderful world of microbiology and science-minded folk to the bar scene. What’s more, beer as a social catalyst has been bringing people together for possibly over 10,000 years and is the third most popular beverage in the world after water and tea, providing plenty of opportunity for historical insight and cultural exchange.  All of which made hosting a beer-tasting event at San Francisco’s 38th edition of Nerd Nite kind of a no-brainer … except with brains. Read more »