Uncomfortably “Numb,” once again: Goat in the Road gets back in the chair

14500241_10154444151351760_8418151351694952114_o“Numb” — Chris Kaminstein directs Leslie Boles Kraus, Ian Hoch, Shannon Flaherty, Dylan Hunter, Emilie Whelan, Jake Bartush, and William Bowling
WHEN: Thurs.-Fri. (Sept. 29-30), 8 p.m.; Sat. (Oct. 1), 7 p.m. & 10 p.m.
WHERE: Catapult Performance Space (609 St. Ferdinand St.)
TICKETS: $15 general admission, $10 students
INFO: Visit the Facebook event page

I was always bummed I didn’t get “Numb” after interviewing Goat in the Road Productions’ Chris Kaminstein back in 2014 when the theater company presented this examination, so to speak, of all things pain management.

Fortunately, the show is back for an encore performance, relaunching last weekend and, following its run in the Catapult Performance Space (609 St. Ferdinand St.), will hit the road later this fall for a U.S. tour.

14290045_10154399846036760_1324648673572932237_oThe production, which won Big Easy Awards for Best Ensemble, Sound Design (Kyle Sheehan) and Original Work-Devised, is serving to kick off Goat in the Road’s 2016-17 season, though without original cast members Francesca McKenzie and Todd D’Amour (we miss them!). The work takes a look at early 19th century attempts at pain-free surgery, as well as “the ecstasy and intoxication of drugs that alter human consciousness, and the often-forgotten human stories that accompany advancement.”

It was a truly collaborative effort, director Kaminstein told me, in which the company partnered with the Pharmacy Museum as well as the Cachet Artist Residency Program to bring together experts in the field, as varied as Dr. Harry S. Gould, professor of Neurology and Neuroscience at the LSU Pain Mastery Program and a Cajun healer. The inspiration:

Goat in the Road has spent a couple of shows looking back at history to mine for interesting artistic material. One of the things I love realizing (over and over again), is that inventions we take for granted, like getting knocked out for surgery, have human complication attached to them. When nitrous oxide and ether were first being used in dental surgery in the mid-19th century, there was a tremendous battle between three men for the claim of being “first” to try it. Each man, over the course of 10 years or so, was destroyed by this fight in different ways. In “Numb,” you will see the story of Horace Wells, one of the first to try nitrous in dental operations, and his steady decline and eventual addiction to chloroform.

I’m planning to attend this evening’s performance and will share my thoughts soon after. Visit the Goat in the Road website for the rest of the 2016-2017 season.

 

 

 

 

 

OperaCréole sings out against gun violence with “Concert Across America”

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Music lovers might have missed out on OperaCréole’s performance at the Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday (Sept. 25) for the “Concert Across America,” co-sponsored with Ashé Cultural Arts Center, and part of a nationwide musical response to gun violence at more than 200 venues.

OperaCréole is a beautiful group to witness as it covers classical music across the African Diaspora, so it’s sometimes puzzling to see what at least feels like a lack of greater popularity in the New Orleans area. (I first saw, and wrote about, them at the 2015 New Orleans Jazz Fest, and with better photos.) But Sunday was a delight, if a somber one, given the tone of the evening as leader Givonna Joseph rooted the music in our nation’s long history with gun violence — stretching all the way back to the beginnings of slavery.

The performance was broken down into four major themes:“Mourning Our Ancestors: Africa to Reconstruction,” “Freedom Fighters,” “For Our Children” and“Change for the Future.” Working in collaboration with the Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church’s Chanel Choir, OperaCréole provided a space for each of its members to shine. OperaCréole opened with a beautiful team effort on “Great Creator” from Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s long-lost work, “Thelma” (rediscovered in 2012, a century after its debut), and then deftly blended “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” with the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”

Tenor Prentiss Mouton delivered a stirring version of Hall Johnson’s “Po’ Moner Got a Home At Last” (with accompaniment by pianist Marcus St. Julien). Bass-baritone Ivan Griffin dug deep on his take on Glenn Burleigh’s traditional “Go Down Moses.” Soprano Kenya Lawrence Jackson wished a sweet “Prayer” from Langston Hughes by way of Ricky Ian Gordon. Mezzo-soprano Aria Mason (Joseph’s daughter) had to literally compose herself for her personal tribute to a former student, George Carter III, a local third-grader, who later became a victim a gun violence as a teen, with her “Being Good” from “Hallelujah, Baby!”

Kathleen Halm paid lovely tribute to Verdi’s “Requiem” (1st movement) and then joined OperaCréole on Moses Hogan’s “Walk Together Children.” Everyone chimed in on the finale, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” with members hoisting signs marking the cities that have experienced the most recent tragedies of gun violence. While the program encouraged the audience to contact legislators and community advocates to speak out against gun violence, the song was an apt coda on peace: Let it begin with me.

 

Ri Dickulous’ Top 5 inspirations (good and bad) for “Roped In,” an exhibition on binding rope

roped-inWHAT: “Roped In: Binding Rope and Art Photography Showcase”
WHEN: Sat. (Sept. 24), 6 p.m.
WHERE: The Art Garage, 2231 St. Claude Ave.
MORE INFO: Visit the Facebook event page

She does sword swallowing and glass art, sure, but, performer Ri Dickulous is bound and determined to expose, educate and entertain people about the often-misunderstood world of all things binding rope. So that’s why we asked her to ponder some of the cultural ties to the form, so to speak, and she responded with an amazing description of the form, and the elements that might help informer “Roped In” exhibition in collaboration with photographer Josh Hailey on Saturday at The Art Garage. (Check out this preview on WGNO’s “News With a Twist.”)

Shibari, taken literally from the Japanese phrase meaning “to tie,” has a long standing tradition within Japanese culture entwined into the erotic arts, more specifically known as kinbaku. Before that, it had been utilized as a method of torture for prisoners and soldiers, known as hojojitsu. Within the past 50 years or so there has been a surge of Western fascination within the art, spurring people who had been playing tie ’em up games as children and turning it into damsel in distress games seen by popular figures such as Bettie Page.

Today we are able to see many applications of Japanese and Western inspired rope bondage, from fashion macrame clothing, to suspensions geared to challenge the mind and body. It seems as if the art form itself is only hindered by the imagination of those that hold the knots in their hands, and so we currently are in the process of a Renaissance of rope bondage.

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Ri Dickulous

Personally, I began my rope journey nearly 10 years ago in the Washington, D.C., area, bottoming predominantly and learning all the while how it would feel to experience different styles of tying, the different types of materials used in tying, and learning basic terminology/names to know/essential ties seen in traditional shibari and Western tying.

Personally I was always drawn to rope bondage because I loved all of the sensory elements of it (sound, sight, smell, feel and occasionally taste) that would be able to focus my attention and bring me immediately into my body with the right rigger. Since moving to New Orleans, I decided that I wanted to tie myself predominantly, and within the past two years began tying others in an effort to translate my knowledge gained over a significant period of time. Josh Hailey approached me about doing a photo series inspired by these sorts of ties, and I agreed with the caveat that each four hour photography session would begin with a half hour lecture on the essentials of being tied up. I insisted on not teaching others how to tie, but what they needed to know in order to stay safe whenever they were tied up.

The result was thousands of images of individuals in beautiful, unique ties, as well as a small community of people who have been tied together into a unique experience focused on education, personal advocacy, generating safety in community, and of course art.

Below are five sources of inspiration that drove me to this project, ranging from “I wanted to inspire people to not do it this way” to “I want people to feel that this style of art of accessible and open to their involvement.”.

“FIFTY SHADES OF GREY” — I grit my teeth whenever anyone mentions “Fifty Shades,” but the fact of the matter is that the subject matter opens up the whole world of BDSM to people who may have previously had preconceived notions of what the BDSM scene is all about. The reaction of the community to this book and movie was astounding, and people who had been living and performing in this lifestyle for years flocked out of the closets and dungeons in order to enlighten the public that “Fifty Shades” is in fact a great example of BAD BDSM practices. Many have heard the songs from The Weeknd, and seen the music video where there is a woman suspended as a chandelier. Not the best example of suspension I’ve ever seen, but it’s super shiny and a great way to begin to explain what sort of things can be seen within this scene other than whips and chains.

“TIED,” BY WYKD DAVE — This video is emblematic of artistic posing seen in much of shibari video art. In performance art, the rigger plays much more of a role, often becoming incorporated into a sort of a dance. This video, however, is a stellar example of technical skill and variation within differing poses. The artist is able to continue her work, with the rope simply adding to her work as opposed to completely taking over her work. I was fortunate, years ago, to attend an intensive hosted by Wykd Dave and learned a great deal of focusing on the basics of tying, especially things like the morphology of knot work, how the lines should lie, and why all of those things are important when overall conveying the desired effect in tying.

FRED KYREL — I cannot tell you how many people refer to this man’s work whenever I mention that I do shibari. This falls into more of the erotic macrame element of shibari and is considered to be very modern, experimental, and Western. The designs are laid on the body so that once they are removed, they can never be replicated exactly the same way ever again. True couture, at its finest.

GARTH KNIGHT — In the more experimental realm of artistic installation and performance art, we see Garth Knight. Well known for his bindings to render his models to look like they have grown into the roots of trees, or the inter bindings of cardiovascular tissues, he continues to be brought up as another artist who is brought up consistently to me as a jaw-dropping rope artist.

KINOKO HAJIME — Finally, blending traditional and experimental Japanese rope art is Kinoko Hajime. I feel bad to include him last within this five-part pop series, but I figured that I would approach this topic from how a Westernized American may be approaching Japanese rope bondage. First, “Fifty Shades,” then music videos, then what would you get if you did a simple Google search for rope bondage. Kinoko Hajime is a contemporary artist who certainly deserves mention within this field, as he is one of the driving forces for innovating the current rope Renaissance, along with other artists such as Akira Naka. Kinoko’s work focuses on red rope of different sizes and different purposes, giving it a very visceral feel to every one of his images and blends the traditional with the innovative seamlessly. Even if you haven’t seen his work before, you should take a look and get an idea of what sort of images can be created while blending the old styles with the new.

The Reverend Pastor Father Brother Ben Wisdom explains his spiritual path

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WHAT: Brother Nutria
WHEN: Tues. (Sept. 20), 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Hi-Ho Lounge

With his work as a producer and host for the Snake Oil Festival and Slow Burn Burlesque along with emceeing Bella Blue’s Dirty Dime Peepshow, Ben Wisdom has carved out his niche as the fallen preacher man who has succumbed to, revels in and even peddles the sins of the flesh. It’s as if Jimmy Swaggart had decided to stay on Airline Drive. It’s something into which he’s evolved over the years, and when he’s at the top of his game he’s one of the funniest comedians in New Orleans. He’s even become a radio host with his show “The Ministry of Misbehavin’” on 102.3 FM WHIV and WHIVfm.org, Tuesdays from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. But there is a context to his conversion, and he was gracious enough to share his journey with us as his band, Brother Nutria, prepares for its gig on Sept. 20 at the Hi-Ho Lounge.

I have a pretty interesting and fun life. I’m a burlesque emcee and show producer in New Orleans, Louisiana. I love “the city that care forgot” as well as a healthy dose of downright debauchery, so burlesque in the town I love is a good fit for me. However, I haven’t always been down with the “ways of the devil,” or the promiscuity of the Crescent City. In a different life I was a devout follower of Pentecostal Christianity. I was baptized three times. I spoke in tongues. I even, for a brief time, considered becoming a preacher.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen, I guess? My going from devout holy roller to filthy burlesque emcee was a long journey, and as you can probably guess, my relationship with religion is now and really always has been complicated. And, that’s why I can’t seem to get it out of my act. I’m known for some of my, I guess you would call them catch phrases — “amen and amen again,” and “hallelujah and hallelujah to ya.”

I often incorporate religious themes into my performance, and I even have a character, The Rev. Pastor Father Brother Ben Wisdom, that is a full-on, bent, Pentecostal preacher who extolls the virtue of having no virtue. This character was first born at a Slow Burn Burlesque show called, “Jesus’ Big Birthday Bash” — it was our twisted version of a Christmas show). I further developed the character in a show I co-produce with my partner and co-creator, Little Luna, called the “Unholy Roller Revival,” which is a mock tent revival that we have put on every year at the variety arts festival that we also produce, called Snake Oil Festival. I use the Preacher character as a lens to hold up to what I consider to be the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of the people who use Christianity to rule us.

And, now, the preacher character is going through another evolution. A year ago, I joined a group of great guys (MarkAlain Dery, Nate Pendergast and Kit Keen) here in New Orleans, and we formed the band, Brother Nutria. We all share in the songwriting duties, but I probably write two-thirds of the lyrics, and as you might have guessed those lyrics are full of thoughts questioning the world view as seen through the eye of so-called modern Christian America. We have song titles like “Gospel Billy Preacher,” “Ready to Sin” and “Holy Ghost Drone Strike.” In the latter, we sing, “We’re all good people. We’re all sanctified. And, when it comes to Christian white folks, his love is double wide.”

ben-smokeI was introduced to religion at a young age. My father was raised in a conservative Catholic household in New Orleans. My mother was raised in non-denominational, full gospel churches is Forth Worth, Texas. As young adults and parents, mine weren’t super religious, despite their upbringings. Before I was about 9 or 10, I don’t remember going to church that much except for with my grandparents. However, my most vivid early memory is from when I was somewhere around 4 or 5 years old. It is a memory of my parents allowing me to attend the Pentecostal tent revival being put on by two of my Dad’s friends, who were former drug addicts turned holy-rolling missionaries. Their son was the same age, as me and we were fast friends. I can recall the sites and sounds of that night. We were in some field in or around Vidalia, La., which is right next to Ferriday, the hometown of Jimmy Swaggart and Jerry Lee Lewis, which is where we also lived. In the field they had set up trailers for the ministers and singers. There was a humble stage at the center of it all. That stage was equipped with some ancient PA system that amplified each of the speakers and singers to the point of over-modulation. It was all lit in the dark night by blinding construction lights of some kind.

There was a smell of boiled peanuts in the air.

Continue reading

The woman behind the coolest kiss at Southern Decadence

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Photo by @carrotellis

At first it seemed like a lark of a moment, an image I saw on Instagram and happened to “repost” using an app, of two women sharing a kiss in front of a bunch of religious protestors during the festivities of the 45th annual Southern Decadence celebration in the French Quarter. (This also was the same day of the grand marshal’s walking parade.)

Little did Jordan, the woman pictured at right, know that a playful moment with her roommate would have a little viral moment, garnering more than 200 “likes” on Instagram as well as several shares (including by me). Jordan (she preferred to use only her first name) is a master’s student at a Philadelphia school, hoping to become a physician’s assistant, and currently is doing a women’s health rotation in Mississippi. So this really was a bit of a happy coincidence. Here Jordan responds to a few emailed questions about the moment.

What brought you down to Southern Decadence on Saturday?
I’m currently on my women’s health rotation in Mississippi; I’ll be here in the South for five weeks total. This was our only long weekend, so my roommate and I planned a trip to (New Orleans) without even thinking about it, and my boyfriend flew down from Baltimore and met us. So it was totally serendipitous that we happened upon this goldmine of a festival.

How did that photo come about?
After a glorious brunch and a few mimosas, we followed the trail of glitter and assless chaps making our way to the parade. Before the parade even started, we saw a crowd of people, heard some yelling, and realized what was going on. After watching the protesters for a little while we were about to leave because we didn’t want to feed into the negativity and give them what they wanted. But then we thought maybe we’d just be bold and remind them why they wasted their time on “the Lord’s day” to bully strangers. We walked right up in the cleared street, right next to the police officers trying to maintain the peace, and kissed like we hadn’t seen each other in years.

I am in the photo, kissing my roommate, a dear friend of mine. We are just two like-minded women who believe in sexual fluidity, and refuse to fight anger with more anger. We didn’t want to yell at them, we just wanted to show them that their presence was meaningless, that their attempts at intimidation were not going to work. One of the more ironic parts of the story is that the shot was taken by my loving, male partner of two and a half years.

What was the reaction of the protesters? Onlookers?
The protesters seemed confused, and just tried yelling about how disgusting we were. They repeatedly condemned us, saying that we’re “gonna burn in hell” and my friend calmly responded,“Well, at least I’ll be with her.” And aside from a few giggles, those were the only words either of us said. The onlookers cheered and drowned out the negativity, someone with a bullhorn was taunting them asking why they liked watching it if it was such a sin, and a woman came up and “beaded” us before we walked off hand in hand. Continue reading

DJ Soul Sister’s Top 5 “dream invites” to her 10th Annual Birthday Jam — living and dead

 

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DJ Soul Sister’s 10th Annual Birthday Jam, featuring Chuck Brown Band, New Breed Brass Band
WHEN: Fri. (Sept. 9), 10 p.m.
WHERE: Tipitina’s, 501 Napoleon Ave.
TICKETS: $20 advance, $25 at the door
MORE INFO: Visit event page

Melissa Weber, as DJ Soul Sister, has been that rare New Orleans musical artist, connecting the dots between New Orleans music to the rest of the nation in her never-ending passion to expose audiences to the deepest cuts and the rarest grooves of funk music — without ever lifting an instrument. That is, of course, if you don’t consider a turntable an instrument.

Whether as the host of WWOZ’s “Soul Power” or her “Hustle” shows at the Hi-Ho Lounge, DJ Soul Sister goes far beyond the obvious stars and hits of the genre and digs a little deeper, but always keeping the party going. Her star power has grown over the past decade to the point where she’s become a presence at festivals more known for live music, and to the point where her annual Birthday Jam has become one of the early highlights of the fall music season

On this, the eve of her 10th Annual Birthday Jam — featuring the Chuck Brown Band, backing musicians for the late go-go legend out of Washington, D.C. — we asked DJ Soul Sister for the artists, living or dead, she’d love to have on the guest list.

Chuck Brown — This is an obvious choice but, as the “Godfather” and creator of the go-go sound of Washington, D.C., that I’m dedicating my party to, he will be present in spirit. Like my Birthday Jam last year, I’m having a huge specialty birthday cake created that everyone can enjoy. I was gonna keep it a secret, but I’m too excited to hold it in any longer. This year’s cake, created by Dat Cake Place, will include 100-percent edible conga drums with a painting (again, edible) of Chuck Brown. He’s got his own lottery tickets, memorial park, statue … now he’ll be on a cake! Seriously, this is how much Chuck Brown is loved, and his music and style is so influential to me. I’m thrilled that his band (the Chuck Brown Band) and all of the other go-go bands and musicians in the D.C. area keep his sound alive some 40 years after he started it.

George Clinton — Why? Because George Clinton. Actually, now that I think about it, George has been to one of my birthday parties. Here he is with my mom at a birthday party that I threw at the New Orleans Hard Rock Cafe with other P-Funk Virgos back in 1997. (See slideshow photo.) The Funk must always be present when it comes to a birthday party of mine.

Questlove — Being that Questlove is the music lover’s ultimate music-loving artist/performer/historian/critic/writer/badass that I aspire to be when I grow up, it only makes sense that I’d invite him. Besides, any serious lover of funk music can’t resist D.C. go-go, and I know he loves it. Several years ago, I opened for The Roots at a concert in the New Orleans Main Library on Loyola, of all places. One of the songs I mixed in my set, as it came to a close, was a go-go cut called “4th Gear” by Trouble Funk (1983). When The Roots took the stage, Questlove incorporated that go-go beat in the intro. I was jumping up and down.

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Slick Leo (Photo courtesy Leo Coakley)

Slick Leo of New Orleans — I’ve been talking a lot about DJ Slick Leo lately, but he is such an influence on me, even though I was pretty young when I was really exposed to him. I was too young to go see him play at the Famous Disco or places like that. But I learned about Washington, D.C. go-go music from his live on-air mixes on the long-defunct WAIL 105 FM in the mid 1980s. The station regularly had this music in rotation, songs like “Meet Me at the Go-Go” by Hot, Cold Sweat and “Let’s Get Small” by Trouble Funk. I never forgot that sound and how much I loved it, so I credit him with introducing me to go-go. Thanks to him, and my love of funk music, I’ve developed a lifelong appreciation of the music and culture of D.C. go-go, and I just want to share it with others — just like he shared it with me. People should know that he’s a legendary music figure in this city, and the fact that we can trace many New Orleanians’ knowledge of D.C. go-go directly to him is one of the reasons why.

Teena Marie — “Lady T” is my favorite female vocalist of all time, hands down. I’ve just loved her my whole life, since I was very young. It’s hilarious that I had no idea she was white until I was approaching high school. She’s one of the most soulful vocalists of all time. I opened for her a few times, but was scared to death to meet her. I don’t get very star-struck, but she’s someone I just viewed as untouchable. But, funny enough, in the months prior to her passing, we became Twitter friends — out of the blue! Like, she started following me, and we’d chat back and forth about music. And sometimes she’d DM (direct message) me, too. It was all about our appreciation of music — Linda Lewis, Linda Jones, New Birth, you name it. She loved and knew her music. After all of this communication transpired, I always thought we’d have a great time meeting in person. I do think she’d love D.C. go-go music, especially since she also played congas, which is a key instrument in the go-go sound. Plus, she loved New Orleans so much.

Read more: Check out Keith Spera’s article on the event in the New Orleans Advocate.

45th annual Southern Decadence grand marshal walking parade in photos

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Had a blast attending and shooting the grand marshal walking parade for the 45th annual Southern Decadence festival that originated at the Golden Lantern and wound up at the intersection of Bourbon and St. Ann streets.

I previewed the weekend for the New Orleans Advocate, and there are still some parties left to consider as the festivities conclude Sunday night and Monday morning (as noted here).

You can find some other quick snaps from the festival I shot on my phone, over on my Instagram account.

More cool Southern Decadence events that didn’t make the Advocate story

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While the New Orleans Advocate ran my perfectly adequate round-up of familiar and offbeat events for the 45th annual Southern Decadence weekend, there’s sooo much more that could’ve gotten in there.

That said, here’s that more part, including some really offbeat stuff:

Decadence ExtravaGAYnza featuring Violet Chachki
Fri. (Sept. 2)
Masquerade, Harrah’s New Orleans Casino
No cover
That Advocate roundup includes Atlanta drag queen Violet Chachki’s appearance at Bella Blue’s New Orleans School of Burlesque, but there are key omissions, including her appearance on Saturday at Bella’s “Dirty Dime Peepshow” Saturday night (Sept. 3) as well as this fun Decadence-themed show. So the Season 7 winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has a chance to own the evening on this one. More acts will perform as well.

Glitter Tits Is a Drag: Southern Decadence Addition
Sat. (Sept. 3), 10 p.m.
Sidney’s Saloon
$5 cover “(with drag/androg/glitter/costume/weird)”
$10 cover (“basic”)
You should go to this party that’s moved over from the Voodoo Lounge if for no other reason the creators make the weirdest-ass videos in the New Orleans social-media world (and that’s saying something). But yes, as one can glean from the dress-code possibilities, this party is about as genre- and gender-bending as Decadence gets (although “CREAM” is in the ballpark, too). Music will be provided by DJ Rusty Lazer and DJ Nice Rack. (Pro tip: Bring and/or wear glitter, because you are probably going to be wearing it by the end of the evening anyway, one way or another.)

Horse Meat Disco
Sat. (Sept. 3), 10 p.m.
Ace Hotel
$20
The folks at Club A present the New Orleans debut of popular British disco party DJs with a mix of “underground disco, Italo and rarities that have been rocking crowds from their base in Vauxhall, London, to dance floors worldwide since 2009.”

Am I missing something? (Or at least something that’s at a club not already listed in the Advocate story — for fairness?) Holler at me at dlsnola@gmail.com and I’ll add to the roundup.

BONUS CONTENT FOR BONUS CONTENT — Check out the trailer for the pilot of “Atlanta’s a Drag,” starring Violet Chachki.

Playwright Gabrielle Reisman’s Top 5 influences for “Flood City,” opening The NOLA Project’s 2016-17 season

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“FLOOD CITY”
WHAT: The NOLA Project presents its 2016-17 season opener, written by Gabrielle Reisman, directed by Mark Routhier, and starring Ashley Ricord Santos, Keith Claverie, Amy Alvarez, Trey Burvant, Ian Hoch, Jessica Lozano, Matthew Thompson
WHEN: Thurs.-Sat. (Sept. 1-3), 8 p.m.; Sun. (Sept. 4), 2 p.m.; through Sept. 17
WHERE: New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), 2800 Chartres St.
TICKETS: Thursdays and Sundays: $30 general admission & $20 for NOLA Project Backstage Pass Members. Fridays and Saturdays: $35 general admission & $25 for NPBPM. Purchase online at www.nolaproject.com or by calling 504-302-9117.

“Flood City” already was remarkably timed as The NOLA Project’s 2016-17 season opener, what with its proximity to the 11th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The recent floods in Louisiana — first in March, in north Louisiana, and the a couple weeks ago in south Louisiana — make playwright Gabrielle Reisman’s world premiere feel downright prescient. But as with lots of productions, there’s a lot more to “Flood City” than just water, as we’ll learn from Reisman after requesting her influences for this work — her third produced by The NOLA Project, which mounted “Taste in 2009 and Catch the Wall” in 2013. This production is directed by Mark Routhier. Here’s what Reisman had to say about it:

“Flood City” charts the wake of The Johnstown Flood of 1889. The flood has destroyed the bustling steel town of Johnstown, Penn., and left a motley crew of survivors and surveyors to clean up and rebuild. Meanwhile, at a bar in Johnstown a century later, laid-off steel workers wax metaphoric about past lives and future ambitions. Traversing time and space, the play is an all-too-apt mirror of our present times. It takes a darkly comic look at both the lunacy of rebuilding and the strength it takes to clean up and start over.

Though I watched a fair amount of Johnstown Flood documentaries, 1980s country music videos and revivalist church services in writing this play, these five videos most influenced the dark-hopeful magic I was trying to build in “Flood City.”

“Telephone,” Lady Gaga — These U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s version of Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” may be my favorite thing on the Internet. I love the combination of completely earnest choreography and fabulous DIY costumes against the intense polish of the pop music. Add to this the fact that it was made in the strange anti-space of an occupying army base in a war zone. It’s more Dadaist than anything Lady Gaga herself could dream up. “Flood City” is about a bunch of folks making something out of nothing in the midst of disaster. It employs a similar sense of play and peril. A man moves nonchalantly through the wreckage with a pipe sticking out of his head. Two women sell bits of broken flood relics to first responders. There’s a blitheness-of-necessity inside the catastrophe.

“Don” — I’ve been enamored with the 1978 Bollywood film“Don” since I was in high school. “Don” follows a charismatic crime boss (Don), the woman who wants to see him dead, the man who begins impersonating him, and their complicated romance. I’ve spent years looking at Bollywood songs from this period because they usually involve a character singing a secret to the person the secret’s about. The person they’re singing to can totally hear the words, but it’s as if the song takes place in some sort of breakaway dream moment. When it’s over, we as audience know more about the person singing and their secret intentions, but the person who heard the song is none the wiser. In this song, the man impersonating Don is telling Don’s criminal brethren he’s not who they think he is and he is tricking them all. You can read a weird translation of it here. In “Flood City,” and in all my plays, I’m interested in the moments where characters casually break the fourth wall and the ways giving an audience secret knowledge invests them in the world. There’s also a lightness/sharpness/silliness to this video that I love so hard. We’ve been playing with that same light/sharp/silly combo as we put the play on its feet.

“Get Into the Groove,” Madonna — In “Flood City,” the survivors of the Johnstown Flood live onstage simultaneously with a dive bar of newly out-of-work steel men in 1992. When I was figuring out how these two times intersected in the play, I was listening to a lot of pop and country songs from the late 1980s and early ’90s. Writers do this sort of lucky-socks thing where we’ll hear a song that makes us see something new about our play then we obsessively listen to it on repeat like its a portal for all of our play’s secrets. Madonna’s “Get Into the Groove” was this song on this play. The upbeat call to dance was somehow the perfect discordant window to these jobless, uncertain steel men.

“Funnel of Love,” Wanda Jackson — This song makes me swoon every time I hear it. It’s sexy and a little scary. There’s queerness and down-the-rabbit-hole quality to the song that I dig so much. While “Get Into the Groove” feels like the way 1992 operates inside a story about folks in 1889, “Funnel of Love” is the way these two times are dancing up on each other: an off tempo two step between different disasters a century apart.

“Tambourine Praise,” Jacolby Parker — “Flood City” skirts a little with miracles and faith. I spent a lot of time parsing through spirituals of the late 1800s, as well as the ballads and parlor music that was written about the Johnstown Flood itself. In the end, though, the thing that spoke to me most were Baptist tambourine breaks, and the sermons that lead right up to these breaks. Of all the videos I watched, and even of my memories visiting Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in the 1990s, this post by Jacolby Parker gets me the most. It is so simple and so personal and so skillful. I wanted to touch on the hope inherent in rebuilding and the way we have to give ourselves over sometimes to a higher power — the rigor and joy it takes to let go and move forward.

 

Xena Zeit-Geist’s Top 5 Miyazaki films, in advance of “Howl’s Twirling Tassels”

 

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(Photo by Jerome Gacula)

“Howl’s Twirling Tassels: A Burlesque Revue Celebrating Hayao Miyazaki,” featuring Xena Zeit-Gest, Grand Mafun, Sarah Duprix, Remy Dee, Dane Baxter, Loretta Dean and Miss Margery
WHEN: Fri. (Aug. 12), 9 p.m. & midnight
WHERE: Eiffel Society (2040 St. Charles Ave.)
TICKETS: $10 general admission, $20 VIP
MORE: Visit Facebook event page

The Society of Sin long has trafficked in pop-culture homage that taps into such familiar territory as comic books (“Arkham ASSylum: A Batman Burlesque Play”) and TV game shows (“The Vice Is Right”). But with “Howl’s Twirling Tassels,” this nerdlesque troupe explores pop culture in a very different, and potentially more vivid, way in its tribute to Hayao Miyazaki. The legendary Japanese anime director and his Studio Ghibli crafted critically acclaimed movies for decades before stunning American audiences with the 2001 release of “Spirited Away” — which won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and helped audiences take a second look at previous releases such as “Princess Mononoke” and preceded the 2004 Academy Award-nominated “Howl’s Moving Castle.”

Miyazaki’s films work against many of the narrative and visual styles to which American audiences are generally accustomed to, unafraid to explore dark, even adult themes with fluid, sometimes languid rhythms and pulsating images. They often feature strong female protagonists, one of many reasons they are a fitting inspiration for The Society of Sin. On the eve of Friday’s performance, producer-performer Xena Zeit-Geist offers her five favorite Miyazaki films.

“Princess Mononoke” (1997) — “Princess Mononoke” was the first of Hayao Miyazaki’s films that I ever saw, so it will always hold the most special place in my heart. I remember picking it out from the video rental store during a weekend with my dad because of the wolf on the cover (I was obsessed with dogs and wolves as a child) and immediately being hooked. Rewatching the movie as an adult, the moral ambiguity of the film continues to fascinate me. I love stories where there’s a clear conflict but it’s not cut-and-dry good vs. evil, like the San vs. Eboshi conflict in “Princess Mononoke.” Lady Eboshi is the antagonist of the story, but she’s an incredibly strong, inspirational leader who does what she feels is best for mankind, no matter the stakes, and Ashitaka clearly has a lot of respect for her. She’s the first female character that I remember seeing portrayed as a benevolent, competent ruler in a children’s movie and one of the first “villains” who wasn’t straight-up evil. From the first time that I saw the film, I admired Lady Eboshi, even though I ultimately sided with San. At the time that I first watched “Princess Mononoke,” I strongly preferred the company of animals to the company of humans and was really banking on finding out I was an Anamorph (or at least realizing my ability to converse with animals like Eliza Thornberry) before I got too old so that I could go live in the wild and not deal with people anymore. I may have related to San’s anti-human self-loathing on a deeper level than most of my peers at the time. (Side note: I’m still secretly sort of upset that I still have no idea what my cat is saying the majority of the time.)

“Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004) — I read an interview of Hayao Miyazaki where he actually named Howl’s Moving Castle as his favorite of his creations, and I think that this is where his passion for filmmaking really shines. Miyazaki was open about his rage over the war in Iraq, which partially inspired the pacifist themes of “Howl’s Moving Castle,” but his strong opinions never come off as heavy-handed or preachy; it’s even easy to get swept up in the sweet, whimsical side of the plot. However, the film still manages to tackle a plethora of complex issues — depicting the atrocities of war, championing the message that life is worth living at any age, and, once again, illustrating that sometimes conflicts are more complex than good vs. evil and that even those who might be considered villains are capable of positive change, introspection and personal growth. Plus, there just really aren’t enough movies with badass little old ladies as lead characters, and Miyazaki’s portrayal of Sophie makes getting old seem pretty awesome.

“My Neighbor Totoro” (1988) — “My Neighbor Totoro” is one of the strangest, most imaginative stories I know of, and therefore one of my favorites. From the soot sprites, to the cat bus, to Totoro himself, Miyazaki creates a cast of fantastical, yet somehow oddly believable, characters in this heartwarming adventure. The cat bus is probably my favorite thing about the movie. I just rewatched this one with my roommates, who’d never seen it before, and it was getting to the part where Mei and Satsuki are waiting at the bus stop with Totoro, and then it’s Cat Bus that rolls up — such a strange and pleasantly unexpected creature. We all just laughed and marveled at the strange way that she moves with her little caterpillar legs. (I always imagine that the cat bus is a lady, even though I don’t think that cat buses actually abide by the gender binary.) When Loretta Dean mentioned wanting to do a Cat Bus-themed burlesque act, I was over the moon with anticipation! I believe the soot sprites will make an appearance, as well, and am told that her act will contain some audience interaction.

“Spirited Away” (2001) — As a kid who obsessed over books and movies like “Alice In Wonderland” and “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” I was absolutely smitten the first time I saw “Spirited Away.” Another masterpiece in imaginative storytelling, “Spirited Away” immediately swept me up in its dazzling and dark fairytale world. Like the strange, fantastical creatures in “My Neighbor Totoro,” the inhabitants of the film’s spirit world fascinated me to the point that I’d find myself my own versions of No-Face monsters and pig people and thinking of little backstories for them. It’s also an excellent examination of the effects of capitalism and consumerism; once again, Studio Ghibli manages to explore extremely complex, grown-up themes in a film made to appeal to young people without sacrificing story or watering anything down.

“Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989) — While some might argue that “Kiki’s Delivery Service” in some ways lacks the complex conflict and fantastical drama the makes so many of Miyazaki’s other films remarkable, it’s an endearing film with a lot of heart and one of my favorites. The film centers on a 13-year-old witch-in-training who’s transitioning into adulthood and getting her bearings as a practitioner of magic. Unlike so many Studio Ghibli films, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” does not delve into a morally ambiguous conflict between external forces but instead makes an antagonist out of the title character’s own self-doubt. In the film, Miyazaki does an expert job telling the story of a compassionate, resilient young woman who learns the value and power of her own vulnerability. This will always be one of my favorite movies to re-watch as someone who regularly battles villains such as “Imposter Syndrome” and fear of failure (as so many artists do). Kiki teaches one of the most important lessons someone interested in harnessing the magic inside them can learn: To be the best witch you can be, you have to find a reason to get right back on your broom, even after a big fall, even when no one understands (not even your cat), even when you’re not totally sure that you can fly. This is the only way to experience true triumph.