For “The Spider Queen,” Alex Martinez Wallace’s Top 5 crazy fantasies

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The cast of “The Spider Queen” (Photo by Jeremy Blum)

“THE SPIDER QUEEN”
WHAT:
The NOLA Project’s annual collaboration with the New Orleans Museum of Art is a fantasy story and world premiere from members James Bartelle and Alex Martinez Wallace
WHERE: NOMA’s Besthoff Sculpture Garden, City Park
WHEN: 7 p.m. May 10-14, 17-18, 21, 24-26, 28
TICKETS: Adults: $25, NOLA Project Backstage Pass Members: $18, NOMA Members: $18, Students with ID: $18
MORE INFO: http://www.nolaproject.com

We are blessed this week with a double-dose of inspiration at The NOLA Project launches “The Spider Queen” for its annual collaboration with the New Orleans Museum of Art. First, the obvious inspiration: “The Spider Queen, co-written by James Bartelle and Alex Martinez Wallace,” is heavily influenced by “Spider,” the sculpture by Louise Bourgeois that resides in the production’s stage, NOMA’s Besthoff Sculpture Garden. “Spider” tells the story of a teen on a mission to learn how his father died, but winds up going down a rabbit hall along with a tepid park ranger. Along they way they encounter a characters that includes plenty of crazy creatures and, of course, a spider. So we figured Wallace would make for a fun choice to double down on the notion of inspiration by citing some inspirations of his own:

Alex Wallace (1)

Alex Martinez Wallace

I understand that I’m supposed to remark and embark on a vernacular voyage wherein I divulge with everyone the five cinematic influences that most affected the part I played in writing “The Spider Queen” — but I’m going to break the rules a little bit. And you’re honestly very lucky. Because I could go rule-breaking mad. I could have just sent to the editor-in-chief a painting of my influences. Or just a dreadful pencil drawing or some other such thing they absolutely didn’t ask for (mud slung fitfully against a blank wooden door), which, while it might mean something truthful and genuine to me, gives the kind readers of this editorial virtually nothing to go on.

I’ve lived non-sequiturally before. Sometimes I like getting yelled at. James Bartelle, with whom I co-wrote this story, was very good about keeping things from getting absolutely Loony Tunes while simultaneously letting me stretch my big dumb feathery wings. So I’m only going to break the rules a little here. And so most of my influences aren’t films. Some are television shows, and one is a play. I’m actually being really well behaved. A good boy! Arguably.

5) “THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING” (BOTH THE MOVIE AND THE BOOK) — Particularly the first installment of the trilogy, because it, more than the other two, asks you to swallow the most nonsense right out the gate. If you aren’t willing right away to eat the history of the One Ring, and the thousands of elves and dwarves and men and the great war that was many thousands of years ago and has now come thundering back into the present with the rediscovery of the ominous golden circlet and another imaginary race of tiny Hobbits … then the rest of the movie will sit with you as well as a hot-shit sandwich. You really just gotta go with it. It’s like the smash hit film “Inception.” If you start asking too many questions, you’re gonna miss something and then, before you know it, the main character of the play is in Gardendale talking to a flower person and you won’t know why. Just go with it. And “The Spider Queen” plunges you headlong right into the Council of Elrond. No foreplay! In theater, we can’t have lengthy voiceovers with historical cut scenes, or a length of text scrolling into the stars that sets the tone of the show. Well, we could, but it’s a lazy-bum solution. And we don’t have tiiimmme. There’s a kingdom in peril and two worlds colliding, and if you want in, you’ll have to hold on to your butts and jump in headfirst. And, like in Middle Earth, singing a song or poetry recital is a perfectly acceptable way to respond to any situation. That was particularly true in the books. “Why is Tom Bombadil singing? Again? Why, God, why?” Go with it — this isn’t your world — you aren’t in Kansas anymore. If you can’t tell by now, I’m a geek by many measures; if you’ve any experience with fantasy stories of any kind, you’ll slip into this play as easily as a familiar old worn leather boot

4) “STRANGER THINGS” — The first and largest revision of the play happened right when Netflix released “Stranger Things” — and just in time, too. The first cut of the play was going in a very odd direction. Very 1980s … but like… too 1980s. Like each character had their own hairband rock song. It’s ironic that a show set so completely in the ’80s helped move our play out of the ’80s. But more than anything, “Stranger Things” helped us conceptualize a fantasy world whose features were a reflection of our own world as opposed to a fantasy world with its own random lineaments. It also helped us, we hope, create a multifaceted heroine who takes the audience on a journey unlike any that has been seen onstage before. We also incorporated Eggo Waffles into the play — lololol that’s a lie. Continue reading

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“PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV, Ep. 22: NOLA Disability Pride Festival, art magazine The Iron Lattice, and movies in Venice

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For Ep. 22 of “PopSmart NOLA” as we continue to settle into our new day and time (Friday from noon to 1 p.m.) on WHIV (102.3 FM), we welcomed an awesome array of guests:

Jane Rhea Vernier, founder and chairperson of the inaugural NOLA Disability Pride Festival, which debuted Saturday (March 25) at the Advocacy Center of Louisiana and featured lots of cool entertainment and information about disability issues.

Stephanie Pearl Travers, editor-in-chief of the recently launched Iron Lattice art magazine, which will celebrate the release of its third issue on Saturday at Barrister’s Gallery.

Laszlo Fulop, associate professor of Documentary and Video Writing at the University of New Orleans and curator of a film series that began Friday (March 24) with “The Wings of the Dove” as part of both Friday Nights at NOMA and as a companion to NOMA’s “A Life of Seduction: Venice in the 1700s.”

We also featured this week’s Relevant Link, and, a had quick check in on some “Best Bets” for tonight and the rest of the weekend.

SEGMENT ONE: Jane Rae Vernier, NOLA Disability Pride Festival
Jane Rhea Vernier, founder and chairperson of the NOLA Disability Pride Festival, as well as the Founder and Head Honcho of the Quirky Citizens Alliance. The QCA’s mission is to foster equality without sameness for people with Disability and Neurodiversity and cultivate a strong, cross-disability culture in the city of New Orleans. She is an autism self-advocate and affirmative activist with nearly ten years personal and professional experience working with adults and children with Disabilities. Jane Rhea is committed to Disability awareness and building a stronger culture. (Check out this feature on the festival by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.) NOTE: While we did not get a chance to cover it during our segment, Vernier pointed out the National Center on Disability and Journalism, a very helpful website for journalists covering disability issues. I hope to use this for future reference when covering the subject.

SEGMENT NO. 2: Stephanie Pearl Travers, The Iron Lattice
Stephanie Pearl Travers is editor-in-chief for the New Orleans-based art quarterly, The Iron Lattice. This relatively new publication enjoyed its Volume 3 Release Party on Saturday at Barrister’s Gallery on St. Claude Avenue. This issue features the works of Douglas Bourgeios, Frank Relle and Malik Rahim. When she’s not working on the latest issue, you can find Stephanie Pearl Travers teaching a yoga class at Wild Lotus Yoga or pouring a customer a glass of wine at the neighborhood wine shop. Before the Iron Lattice, she was a freelance writer and editor who helped create marketing strategies for small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

I spoke with Stephanie at her home in the Musicians Village, and the tapping sound you might hear comes not from her typewriter, but her very friendly and vigilant dogs moving around as we chatted.

SEGMENT THREE: Relevant Links
For our Relevant Links this week, I’d like to point your attention to a story by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune this past week about a record-breaking year for New Orleans tourism in which the city welcomed a whopping 10.45 million visitors in 2016. Hey, that’s great.

“These achievements are the result of a strategy that attracts a combination of carefully targeted convention business and leisure travelers through tactics which leverage paid media, earned public relations exposure and special events to market New Orleans to the world,” said New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Stephen Perry.

It also is another indication of the prevalence of short-term rentals (STRs) that helped host these visitors, raising the ire of the many residents — as well as the rent — in those neighborhoods. It remains to be seen how the newly passed STR regulations by the City Council will affect residents and neighborhoods moving forward.

But then there’s another relevant link, in which the New Orleans Advocate noted that for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, more people are leaving New Orleans than coming into the city. Jeff Adelson writes:

For New Orleans, the main source of growth in recent years was what is known as “domestic migration”: people moving into the city from other areas of the United States. In 2011, for example, the city gained about 9,700 more people that way than it lost to other parishes and states, amounting to about three-quarters of the growth the city saw that year.

At that time, some former residents were still returning home and many new residents were being lured in by the city’s culture or to work on the recovery with nonprofits and other agencies.

But with affordable housing in scarce supply and nearly half of the city’s job growth coming in low-wage sectors such as hospitality and retail, the city may no longer have the allure it once did. About 760 more people left the parish for other areas of the country last year than moved in, according to the estimates.

While the tourism industry is a vital economic engine for the city, you have to wonder at one point how much is too much — a question that, frankly, should be asked about a lot of the culture of post-Katrina New Orleans. If the city is so flush with tourism (and tourism dollars, yet we’re seeing a first-time post-Katrina reversal of the net gain of residents — with them, a potentially dwindling tax base — what kind of city will we wind up having? Given the rise in housing costs and the decrease of well-paying jobs, we have good reason to wonder whose New Orleans this really is. Something to ponder moving forward.

Here’s the link to the NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune article.

SEGMENT FOUR: Laszlo Fulop, UNO; curator, Venice film series at NOMA
Laszlo Fulop, Associate Professor of Documentary and Video Writing at the University of New Orleans, curated a series of three movies that prominently feature the Venice, starting with tonight’s screening of the adaptation of the Henry James novel, “The Wings of the Dove,” which was part of the Friday Nights at NOMA activities. It’s tied to NOMA’s “A Life of Seduction: Venice in the 1700s.” Here Fulop walks us through the creative process of curating this series, why Venice is so special, and what about these films together and separately resonated with him most.

CLOSING
I want to remind everyone that if you like what you hear on “PopSmart NOLA,” we’re here every Friday from noon to 1 p.m. — yes, our new day and time! — right here 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 as always 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.

Our theme music is “Summertime” by Robin Mitchell.

Up next: Chris Lane with “Eat, Pray, Fight!” I’m preparing to do all of the three, just not here.

Thanks again for joining us, y’all. For “PopSmart NOLA,” I’m David Lee Simmons, reminding everyone to keep the intelligent discussion going.

PODCAST: NOMA’s Vanessa Schmid explains “A City That Lives on Water,” one of the four components of “A Life of Seduction: Venice in the 1700s”

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“A LIFE IN SEDUCTION: VENICE IN THE 1700S”
WHAT: Exhibition of costume, glass, handbags, masks, a puppet theater, and exquisite paintings by Canaletto, Guardi, Longhi and others from one of the centers of Western art
WHEN: Feb. 16-May 21, 2017
WHERE: New Orleans Museum of Art
MORE INFO: Check out the event page

Before the press preview of the new exhibition by the New Orleans Museum of Art, “A Life of Seduction: Venice in the 1700s,” I got a chance to sit down with the woman who put it all together. Vanessa Schmid, the Senior Research Curator for European Art, focused on one of the four components of the exhibition, “A City That Lives on Water,” which I thought was a nice connection to New Orleans (though you will find there are others in this amazing collection).

Schmid discusses some of the examples that fit into the water theme, although one image that particularly resonates with her — “The Redentore Procession,” oil on canvas, by Joseph Heintz, The Younger — is elsewhere in the exhibition. (It is an amazing piece; check it out in the gallery above.)

I will have more both on the exhibition (which opens Friday and runs through May 21), and will welcome Schmid as a guest on the next episode of “PopSmart NOLA” on Saturday (3 p.m.-4 p.m.) on WHIV (102.3 FM). You also can read an essay by Schmid about the exhibition in the the NOMA Arts Quarterly publication.

The exhibition is guest-curated by the former director of the Civic Museums of Venice, Giandomenico Romanelli. Check out the array of programming planned, including lectures, films and festivities, around the exhibition.

Japan Fest at NOMA creates its own drum beat (photos)

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Had a nice time with friends and kids at the very kid-friendly 22nd annual Japan Fest at the New Orleans Museum of Art on Saturday (Oct. 8). The event included activities and food both inside and outside of NOMA, including a separate area of food and craft activities inside the The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden.

The festival included regular performances by Houston’s  Kaminari Taiko Drummers at the beginning, middle and end of the day. Elsewhere guests had access to traditional dance groups, tours of our Japanese art collection, martial arts demonstrations, a fashion show (featuring lots of anime/cosplay action), and Japanese food.

The event provided a big dress-up opportunity, and while I missed the fashion show, there were lots of folks traditional kimonos, Pokemon costumes, and other anime figures.

The festival was organized by NOMA in collaboration with the Consulate General of Japan in Nashville and the Japan Club in New Orleans, featuring 30 community groups and presenters.

Michael DeMocker of NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune has great shots of the main performances here.

Also, check out the NOMA photo gallery from the 2015 fest.

Francesca McKenzie, even when in school, makes a cool theater honor roll

Francesca McKenzie in a publicity photo for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane.

Francesca McKenzie in a publicity photo for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane.

New Orleans theater audiences who might have wondered whatever happened to actress Francesca McKenzie received a pretty cool update when American Theatre named the San Francisco native one of its six theater figures to watch, in Role Call. Along the way, the article noted that McKenzie — a member of NOLA’s Cripple Creek Theatre and Goat in the Road Productions — is working on her MFA in theater at Yale University.

But even though she’s gone in the woodshed, McKenzie (whom I met when she sat in for a “StoryQuest” reading for kids at NOMA) clearly hasn’t gone unnoticed. As for what she’s up to:

She’s currently in her first year in the Yale School of Drama MFA acting program—and she brings a lot of experience with her. “I am excited to be challenged as an actor and have this time to focus solely on my craft,” she says. “If I had gone to grad school right out of undergrad I wouldn’t have known why. Since I’ve been making work in New Orleans I’m going into the experience with a clear sense of what kind of theatre I want to make.” She’s understudying a role in peerless at Yale Repertory Theatre this month and will be in Salt Pepper Ketchup at the Yale Cabaret in January 2016.

Here’s to McKenzie getting done as quickly as she can so she can back here and continue to help bring fresh young voices in the New Orleans theater scene. You’re gone for now, but definitely not forgotten. It’s clear, based on her comments to Role Call, she’s got vision: “I envision a national theatre landscape where all stories can take center. I want people of all skin colors, class brackets, and experiences in the audience, onstage, and on the production team.”

P.S. I saw another artist on this list, rocking cellist Ben Sollee, perform live in concert. Catch him if you can.