Chris Kaminstein on “The Stranger Disease” and the magic of theater (Artist Statement)

 

 

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“THE STRANGER DISEASE”
WHAT:
Goat in the Road Productions partners with the Louisiana State Museum and Friends of the Cabildo for its latest work, an immersive and historical look at yellow-fever in 19th century New Orleans.
WHEN: March 23-April 15; Thurs.-Sat., 6 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.
WHERE: Madame John’s Legacy (632 Dumaine St.)
TICKETS: $25
MORE: Visit the website

(Editor’s note: As we resurrect PopSmart NOLA, we do so with more intention of making this a forum for the creative people of New Orleans. The inspiration came from, of all places, a sports-related website. (Read more about that soon.) This means more content generated BY the artists and entertainers of New Orleans who explain their craft, their performances, their intentions, their challenges, you name it, as a way of making PopSmart NOLA a forum and a safe space for dialogue and engagement. Here Chris Kaminstein of Goat in the Road Productions kicks off the “Artist Statement” series as he discusses the creative process at work in their latest work, “The Stranger Disease.”)

Ian likes to creep out tourists out the second floor window. Here’s what he does: He stands with his face in one of the panes of glass and stares out at Dumaine Street. When a passing tour group sees him — some member of the group, the person particularly attuned to the hauntedness of the French Quarter — yells out, “It’s a ghost!” Ian waves, then fades away from the pane. Fun game.

I’m talking about “The Stranger Disease,” an immersive performance that Goat in the Road Productions — the theater company I help lead — is producing at Madame John’s Legacy (632 Dumaine St.) in collaboration with the Louisiana State Museum and Friends of the Cabildo. The show is about yellow fever and the rapidly changing “color line” in 1878 New Orleans. It’s immersive because the audience can follow multiple story lines and characters at their leisure. That’s the spiel.

A piece of theater is like a magic show. When it works well, it is effortless looking, surprising, as smooth as a cresting wave. The actors move in tandem, entrances happen at precisely the right moment, monologues are recited, feelings are felt, applause is exerted. Yet for all the complication of putting on live performance, one of the most common questions that actors seem to get from non-performance folks is, “How did you learn all those lines?”

Ask this to an actor and they will roll their eyes; learning lines is the basic price of admission for acting. Not knowing your lines is like a baseball player trying to take their at-bat without a bat.

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“Iris and the Goddesses of Carnival” puts women at the forefront of Mardi Gras history at the Louisiana State Museum’s Presbytere

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“IRIS AND THE GODDESSES OF CARNIVAL”
WHAT: Louisiana State Museum presents an exhibition celebrating the history of all-female Carnival krewes as Iris marks its centenary
WHEN: Opens Fri. (Feb. 10); runs through December 2018
WHERE: The Presbytere (751 Chartres St.)
MORE INFO: Visit the Louisiana State Museum website

One of the most anticipated features of the 2017 Carnival season will examine the feminine mystique when the Louisiana State Museum (LSM) opens its “Iris and the Goddesses of Carnival” exhibition on Friday (Feb. 10) at the Presbytere.

Iris and the Goddesses of Carnival Exhibition from LaStateMuseum on Vimeo.

The exhibition, produced with the support of krewes of Iris, Muses and Nyx, will, among other things, use the centennial commemoration of Iris to explore the evolution of female krewes, from the 1890s to contemporary Carnival — which has seen an explosion of the concept over the past two decades. There will be rare artifacts from the LSM’s vast collection, but also will include pieces from outside lenders, including what is considered the earliest-known existing queen’s dress of Iris that was worn in 1941 by Irma Cazenave — spouse of Count Arnaud Cazenave. The dress has been provided on loan from Arnaud’s restaurant.

“The Krewe of Iris boldly paved the way for other women’s krewes,” said Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser said in the press release. “The tremendous surge in participation in Mardi Gras by women is a testament to their success.”

Iris is named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow. When it was founded back in 1917, the women’s suffrage movement was in full swing, and the right to vote was just a couple years away. The emergence of Iris came after two decades of New Orleans women’s work to establish Carnival organizations. Les Mystérieuses, the first of its kind, premiered with a ball in 1896. While the more recent emergence of such noted all-female krewes as Muses, Nyx and Femme Fatale will be noted, “Iris and the Goddesses of Carnival” will fill in the major gap in between — including a look at the first women’s parade, held by the Krewe of Venus in 1941.

(Check out images and other artifacts from the exhibition here.)

There also will be references to long-lost krewes such as “the Mittens, the Mystic Maids, Empyreans, Titanians and more,” the press release noted. “Long-lived parading krewes such as Shangri-La, Rhea and Cleopatra will provide another important part of the chronicle of women and carnival. Original tableau ball artworks executed by Spangenberg Studios; paintings inspired by the Iris, Muses and Nyx parades; and the very first Muses shoe from their inaugural 2001 parade will make this exhibition sparkle with the spirit of the many women’s krewes that have left their mark on carnival history.”

Some of the fun facts and highlights of the exhibition, courtesy of the museum, include:
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“PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV (102.3 FM), Ep. 11: Kim Vaz-Deville, Virginia Saussy, Wayne Phillips on women and Carnival

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Carnival season is upon us, and I thought this was a good opportunity to discuss some of the more intriguing aspects of Carnival culture with some of its most notable figures. Because that’s a lot of ground to cover, I hope to dedicate the next two shows on this subject. That starts off with today’s guests. Joining us:

Dr. Kim Vaz-Deville, associate dean of the college of arts and sciences at Xavier University and author of the 2013 book, “The Baby Dolls: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the Mardi Gras Tradition.”

Virginia Saussy, marketing consultant and charter member of the Krewe of Muses, whose landmark debut in the early 2000s helped spark a massive influx of women participating in Carnival on a more formalized structure.

Wayne Philips, Curator of Costumes & Textiles and Curator of Carnival Collections at the Louisiana State Museum. Wayne’s here to discuss an upcoming exhibit at the Presbytere celebrating women’s Carnival krewes (and that’s just this week!). So you can call today’s show our “Estrogen Fueled Carnival Episode.”

SEGMENT ONE: KIM VAZ DEVILLE, AUTHOR, “THE BABY DOLLS”
I was really excited to welcome our first guest. Kim Vaz-Deville, Ph.D. is professor of education and the associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Xavier University of Louisiana. Her book, The Baby Dolls: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition was published by Louisiana State University Press in 2013 and was the basis for a major installation, “They Call Baby Doll: A Mardi Gras Tradition” at the Louisiana State Museum’s Presbytere unit in 2013. It is the 2016 selection of the Young Leadership Council of New Orleans’ One Book One New Orleans. Vaz-Deville guest-curated with Ron Bechet, Department Head and Victor H. Labat Endowed Professor of Art Painting, Drawing, and Community Art at Xavier University of Louisiana, an art exhibit titled “Contemporary Artists Respond to the New Orleans Baby Dolls” which showed work about and inspired by the tradition in Spring, 2015 at the George and Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art in New Orleans. Normally photographed on the streets of New Orleans during the ritual times of Mardi Gras, St. Joseph’s night and Super Sunday, photographer Phillip Colwart invited maskers to take stage portraits. Vaz-Deville curated these in a photography exhibit, “Philip Colwart’s Studio Portraits of the Baby Dolls of New Orleans”, on view 2015-2016 at the Shreve Memorial Public Library, in Shreveport, LA.

SEGMENT TWO: VIRGINIA SAUSSY, KREWE OF MUSES
Virginia Saussy has been a part of one of the most fascinating developments in Carnival culture in the past two decades. The emergence of the Krewe of Muses on the parade routes back in 2001 signaled the beginning of a massive influx of women into more formalized Carnival activity even though the first female Carnival krewe rolled 100 years ago. (More on that later in the show.) We now have Muses, and Nyx, and the predominantly African-American krewe Femme Fatale, and of course myriad marching and dancing troupes as we previously discussed. Virginia Saussy, a marketing consultant who’s an original member of the krewe, is here today to talk about how Muses helped alter the Carnival scene, and what we might expect from female krewes.

SEGMENT THREE: WAYNE PHILLIPS, LOUISIANA STATE MUSEUM
Finally, welcomed Wayne Phillips, who has served as the Curator of Costumes & Textiles and Curator of Carnival Collections at the Louisiana State Museum since 1998. Wayne is responsible for a collection of over 30,000 artifacts, including historic and contemporary clothing, accessories, and textiles of all kinds, as well as an encyclopedic collection of artifacts documenting all aspects of Louisiana Carnival celebrations statewide. Wayne has made strides in expanding the State Museum’s holdings documenting the LGBTQ community in Louisiana, with particular interest in gay Carnival krewes. In 2014, Wayne served on the Steering Committee that founded the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, and he serves on the board of directors for the organization today. For this segment, Wayne discussed an upcoming exhibition at the Presbytere focusing on women and Carnival, tied to the 100th anniversary of the Krewe of Iris.

I want to remind everyone that if you like what you hear on “PopSmart NOLA,” we’re here every Saturday from 3-4 p.m. on WHIV (102.3 FM). You can listen to the archived, podcast version of the show on my SoundCloud account, “dlsnola.” Also, you can visit the website at popsmartnola.com, and like our Facebook page. You can also follow us on Instagram at “@popsmartnola” and I’m yammering away on Twitter at @dlsnola504.

Also, if you like our show, we’d love your support in the form of underwriting; email me at dlsnola@gmail.com for more info.

Thanks again for joining us. I want to remind everyone to keep the intelligent discussion going. Happy Carnival, y’all.