all in a day’s (and a night’s) work: the 24-hour project.

24-hour project mike and laurieAfter the awesomeness of Friday at the 24-Hour Project, Brandy and I decided that Saturday we’d return, this time with Michael and some of the kiddos in tow. We scoured the program, reading through the descriptions of the 24 performances scheduled for day two, and with input from all involved, decided to try to make it to the theater in time for Mike Hudson at 1pm, because according to the program, he was “a guy you haven’t heard of” who “plays songs on the piano that you haven’t heard, in ways you haven’t heard.” Our curiosity wouldn’t allow us to miss THAT.

So after some breakneck-speed sledding down a steeper-than-we-thought hill, we raced home to put on dry clothes and then raced to Court Square Theater. We managed to score seats right up front again. I don’t know why more people don’t sit in the front row. We love the front row: I love the leg room, and Brandy likes to be able to get where she’s going without awkwardly squeezing between seats, bonking people on the back of the head with that giant lens.

Mike did exactly as promised: he played songs on the piano — some we’d never heard. A sad one called “I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face” about a quiet exit from a relationship. An unusual assortment of other covers, from “Music for a Found Harmonium” (Penguin Cafe Orchestra — you might recognize it from Napoleon Dynamite) to a Belle and Sebastian song, to Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes.” As many times as I’ve heard that old number, I’d honestly never heard the lyrics so clearly as when Mike sang it. A primitive protest song. At one point Mike told the sound booth he’d “feel a lot more confident if I could get a little more in the monitor.” They made the adjustment, but take it from us in the front row: we detected no such lack of confidence.

The female vocal ensemble Shekinah (which means, roughly, God’s presence among the people) performed next, bringing with them only a bongo, a tambourine, and a chair. At first I thought the chair was just in case the pregnant lady needed to sit down… but no, it was for the bongo player. Brandy and I saw these ladies at the Our Community Place Christmas Concert in 2012. Cal was enthralled and loved their purple dresses. I remember he asked me if he could “pet” them. ??? Anyway, they dressed in purple on this day, too.

Shekinah proves with their voices that the human being is the greatest musical instrument in existence. I can’t understand the concentration required to do what they do. Each of them must somehow hear only herself, because each woman seems to sing a distinct part, but she must also pay attention to the group so she doesn’t veer off and end up somewhere else. Not only that, but they sang ten songs in seven different languages, including a Dolly Parton cover, a traditional Irish children’s song, a Finnish song based on Psalm 100, and a sassy Bulgarian number.

After Shekinah, we took a little break at the Explore More Children’s Museum. The beauty (well, one of the many beauties) of the 24-Hour Project is that you could come and go. When the kids finally got all their wiggles out, we returned in time to see the Ears to the Ground Family take the stage.

ears to the ground family 1Any time you get a chance to see this band, you MUST. I mean this sincerely — I can’t believe how great they sound. Beautiful harmonies, clear as bells, never a sour note, never a lackluster performance. It’s probably not a priority to be “famous” or whatever, but they totally could be.

They have a few instruments — guitar, trumpet, bongo — but they also make use of their hands and feet, shoes and skin. My favorite of their set was Nichole’s song for her mom, in which she repeats, almost chants, like a prayer, “With a love like this, I will not despair.” Also, “Prison Cells,” a song about, essentially, forgiveness (and hypocrisy) inspired by a judicial system that just won’t “let them forget what they done wrong.” And the song about time: “Why waste so much precious time when we can float downstream in the living water, be grafted to the vine?” Thank you for that reminder!

ears to the ground 2Lastly, Chris Howdyshell took the stage. Yes, he was the last performer. The closer. By this point, a certain… euphoria hung in the air. Maybe it was sheer loopiness emanating from everyone who’d been up for 24 hours. It became clear that Chris’ job was to keep everyone from keeling over in exhaustion. He was their Red Bull. And really, there’s no better person for that task.

chris howdyshell 1He sang a few songs… “He Is a Friend of Mine,” accompanied by the story of Oliver’s birth. The one for Mariana, with the Alan Watts backstory. The song about workin’ and money and family — mighta been called “Walkin’ With the Devil.” But no, it’s actually called “Happiness.” But mostly he just talked to us. He entertained with a string of meandering anecdotes, like how he once ran into Nick Melas at the community health center, and even with a mask on, Nick was the “best looking guy in the place.” He also recalled the history of Open Mic at Little Grill… let’s see, it started with Ron Copeland, then Jay Zehr hosted it, but “only for a year because he got old,” and then Chris took over in the year 2000 until he left the Grill a year or two ago to become a restaurant manager.

chris howdyshell 2Which led to a story of his near-death experience. He’s taking phlebotomy classes, and during class, students “practice” on each other, and someone accidentally pushed IN on the syringe. Chris expected to die instantly, but he didn’t (obviously)… but his hand, where the needle went in, did swell up and get huge and black and horrifying… and after that big, long story he reminded us that he “paid money for that!” And the last thing I remember was  something about a wicked book from elementary school that scarred him for LIFE.

I wonder, next year… could there be a 36-hour project? Or 48? <cringe> Or, how about this — have a 24-hour project every quarter. This one was so much fun, I’m sure people will be eager to participate and attend the next. Here’s hoping that happens soooooon!

24-hour project survivors 2Copyright © 2012 – 2014 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers.This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

 

 

all day and all of the night: the 24-hour project.

24-Hour Project programsThe week leading up to the 24-Hour Project at Court Square Theater, I only worked one day. It was a teacher workday – we were finishing up first semester grades and planning for the second semester. I had a most productive day. I finished my grading and made a couple weeks’ worth of shiny, pristine, gorgeous lesson plans.

As usual, when I get ahead at work, we get a snowstorm, because the Universe can’t allow me to be fully and confidently prepared for tomorrow. So, we missed school the rest of the week. And each day, I thought, “Surely we’ll go back to school tomorrow,” so I made sure to be AS LAZY AS POSSIBLE that day, staying in bed as late as possible, returning to bed as often as possible, exerting as little effort as HUMANLY POSSIBLE. If I had known, lol, that I’d have a whole week off – man! I would’ve accomplished sooooo much more. I would have cleaned out the fridge, painted my kitchen cabinets, and laundered the linens on all five beds. Instead I ate Cheez-its, drooled on my pillow, and junked up on Dr. Phil. My mind grew as soft as the Playdoh my kids had dropped all over the family room carpet. Meh.

But Friday, January 24, I showered. I dressed. I did the hair and makeup. And I met Brandy at Capital Ale House for a sip before we embarked on the 24-Hour Project. Did we make it the whole 24 hours? Pffffffft. Heck no. For one, we got started a couple hours late. Two, I’d reverted to such an infantile condition that week that I worried what might happen if I wasn’t back in bed with a Binky by 11pm. So… this is a recount of what we actually saw.

When we got to the Capital Ale House that evening, the bartender immediately asked if we were responsible for “those love notes.” Did you see any of those? Someone (and no, it wasn’t us) sent love notes to local businesses. We could tell – based on handwriting and content analysis – that the notes came from a group of people. Creative people. People who could write a love note using the phrase “bloodless corpse” (Midtowne Market’s note). Dragonflies Toys and the Yellow Button also received notes, among other businesses. And Capital Ale House got this one:

Capital Ale HOuse love note frontCapital Ale House love note backWhat a nice ray of sunshine in that dreary week! Ah, Burg. You are so loved!

More evidence of Burg love: the attendance of and participation in that evening’s main event. The 24-Hour Project welcomed 46 acts (more than 200 performers!) who gave of their talents and time to put the Harrisonburg arts community to an “endurance test.” Could a theater stay open for 24 hours straight, managing back-to-back performances, patrons who arrived at all hours, and their own sleep deprivation? Yes. Could artists of all kinds get themselves to the theater and deliver a quality performances at any ungodly hour? Yes. Would patrons be so excited by the variety of performances that they would stay awake and attend the event for 24 full hours? Yes. And this 24-hour period is merely a microcosm of our arts community and the endurance needed to continually promote it and grow it.

We arrived at the theater, got a couple beverages, and found empty seats on the front row. I leafed through the program and read the descriptions of the performers. Some were quite intriguing, like Chris Howdyshell’s invitation to take a shower. Or Akota Chase: “the place you find yourself after drinking just enough to realize you’ve been conversing with the devil.” Or Crab Action, who managed to include “corpse paint,” “space opera,” and “uplifting” in their 40-word description.

First up for us was the JMU Horn Society, who for thirty minutes soothed and entertained us with several French horn pieces… from Handel’s Watermusik to a more playful number, “Hide and Seek.” In fact, JMU was quite involved with the Project, contributing eight performances and more than three hours of entertainment.

JMU Horn Society1 JMU Horn Society 2

Bourbon Barrel Congress hit the stage next, and if you haven’t seen these guys perform, you need to find out when you can and make arrangements. THEY ARE SO GOOD. Ethan Hawkins’ voice made me want to sob during the first number… sadness tinged with a weeeee bit of anger/vengeance/romantic tension: “I want you so bad… I want you so bad.” But then Chris Davis sang. Lordy. “I put some whiskey into my whiskey, I put some heartbreak in my heart” and that whole mournful thang. JUST STOP IT. We were mildly confused when they sang “Nothing Gets You Down Like Your Hometown”… Brandy pointed out that they must be from Staunton. Wamp! Good one!

Bourbon Barrel Congress 1 Bourbon Barrel Congress 2Luke Gibson and friends were… well, hilarious. I laughed continuously for their 15-minute set, even during the “uncomfortable silence” advertised in the program. At times he stood, at times he sat, at times other people came on stage… he joked about the stress of having to perform, his math teacher who sells drugs (it’s a JOKE, people), and delayed sentiments leading to heartache… None of that sounds funny as I read over it now. I guess you had to be there.

Luke Gibson 1 Luke Gibson 2I probably won’t adequately express how, ahem, funny Ivan Christo was, either, during his stand-up routine. He joked about how Virginia is just North Carolina upside down, what if hats could talk, and how some jokes only make sense in Wilmington, and his props (a piece of neon green poster board) added a much-needed element of awkwardness :) Punchlines included “drop your drawers,” “bald beagle,” and “it’s freakin meowt.”

Ivan ChristoDead Professional (aka John Harouff, aka the guy who’s also in Cinnamon Band) is just awesome. He does this thing with drum loops and two vocal tracks and his guitar. He harmonizes with himself. It’s part trickeration and part sheer talent… except it’s no trick: he’s responsible for all the sounds… playing music with his hands and feet and heart and lungs, all by himself.

Dead ProfessionalIt was getting kinda late and my Playdoh mind was wandering. Do musicians ever, during a performance, just get tired of singing? I mean, I love to sing, but I never sing for ninety minutes because I run out of hot water after like thirty. I also sing in the car while my kids cringe in the backseat. And even that’s never longer than thirty minutes or so… and even still I find myself saying, “Man, singing makes me tired!” Maybe I’m just doing it wrong.

The last performance I saw on Friday night was Medicine Calf. They are the loudest two people I’ve ever heard. And I mean that in the best of ways. The drummer played with those giant Q-tip things, and the brushy things – I love that sound. I loved their complicated rhythms and tempos; I heard tones of Pink Floyd and Radiohead at times, and at other times, I’m not exactly sure what happened. But they were phenomenal.

Medicine CalfI got in the car. I was bushed. I thought about the many long hours ahead for the theater staff, volunteers, and performers. I thought how committed and caffeinated they must be. I resolved to return the next day, kids and all. There was too much good stuff; I didn’t want to miss more than I had to.

Growing an arts community isn’t easy. Many people have forgotten that art is a natural part of daily life. It brings depth and meaning to the rest of life. It softens the demands of work. The stress of family. The pinch of finances. Art suspends time, and that suspension is about as good for the soul as anything. After a long day of work, it’s sometimes hard to go back out just to see a couple paintings or a performance. But once there, you are infused with such energy that you want to return soon for more. And that’s why, after a week of Cheez-its and Dr. Phil, I NEEDED to get into that theater for an infusion. The arts cannot be looked upon as extra-curricular, as something one enjoys on a special occasion, or something reserved for those of a particular class. Harrisonburg works hard to provide regular, affordable access to all forms of art, and that work – the constant fundraising and promotion and creation – takes a level of endurance many communities just don’t have. Thankfully, our community does have it.

Stay tuned for the story of Saturday’s performances at Court Square Theater.

Court Square Theater nightCopyright © 2012 – 2014 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers.This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

har-har harrisonburg no. 24: no strings attached.

There’s something about improvisational comedians that appeals to us all. Maybe it’s that we’re impressed by how quick on the trigger they are. Maybe it’s that they are MacGyvers of comedy, creating humor out of some random words, a feather boa, a Q-tip, and a plunger. Still maybe it’s that they find themselves squirming in the most uncomfortable situations but manage to emerge without anything exploding. Or perhaps it’s that improv comedy is a reflection of life itself–the beautifully strange daily occurrences in all our lives.We are all improv comedians (or tragedians) in that way.

Still, it’s fun to go out and see people act ridiculous.

On a warm May evening, Brandy and I took her kids to see a performance by No Strings Attached, Harrisonburg’s own improv comedy troupe. The performance was at Plan B, a cute, little BIG coffee house in Broadway. I was glad to finally see that place. Spacious and comfortable, it houses a mix of modern and vintage mid-century furnishings, two bars, a toy area for kids (or whomever, really), and a cozy fireplace. They also display lots of local artwork–some for sale–and they use real plates, mugs, and silverware–nothing disposable. It just feels good in there.

No Strings Attached, starring (on this night) Rachel Jenner, Tony Lopez, James Oates, Steve McClay, Jeremiah Meadows, and Gbenga Adekunle, took the stage at about 7pm for a two-hour set and were introduced by an employee of the establishment who sat at the sound booth. Brandy had a weird Wizard of Oz moment as she looked around for the source of that voice. “…Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” Except there were no flames or any giant, misshapen, green heads.

Rachel explained a few things to the spectators. First, all their material is unrehearsed and supplied by the audience. Second, they often ask for volunteers to assist on stage, and she insisted that “if we ask for volunteers, it’s to make us look stupid, not you.” Hm. I happen to believe in “stupid by association,” but okay.

Then the show started. And although I’ve seen them before, I’m familiar with what they do, and I was all equipped with my notebook and pen, I’ve never tried to take notes at one of their performances–and it was a nightmare. Everything happened and changed so fast, and nothing made sense for more than like a minute and by the time I wrote anything down, it had morphed into something else, plus I kept getting distracted by the performance itself, PLUS I was laughing my butt off at times… so my notes are but a random collection of… weirdness. Like, “Remember that dog that was licking on it?” And, “Why am I supporting his head? He’s dead.”

???

I remember that those two lines came from the same skit, but I have no idea what the skit was about.

My favorite part of the night was a charades-like game where the group asked the audience for two adjectives and two nouns. They got “transcendental” and “photogenic,” and “dog” and “sponge.” The group divided into two teams. One team had to mime “photogenic dog” to Gbenga and get him to say it, and the other had to act out “transcendental sponge” and get Steve to guess it. WHAT?! And as they guessed out loud at each other, Steve and Gbenga were actually hurling really bizarre insults at one another. Now, get ready to write some of these down for future use:
“You’re modular.”
“You’re circular.”
“You’re a transcendentalist square.”
“You’re a transcendentalist nerd.”
“You’re a fixture.” ???
“You’re a person that’s not a king.”
“You get smaller and you go through the air and your eye pops out.”
Okay, so maybe you had to be there.

Steve, puh-leeeeez UNDERSTAND this!

Somehow Steve got “transcendental sponge” before Gbenga guessed “photogenic dog.” Here’s how to act out “transcendental,” in case you ever need to:
1) Act like a train. (trans)
2) Hold up ten fingers. (cen)
3) Act like you’re at the dentist. (dental)
Voila!

And for sponge:
1) Pretend to wash dishes.
2) Pretend to wash a car.
3) Pretend to wash a dog.
4) Act out an ocean floor scene.
5) Get frustrated.
6) Do lots of squeezing motions with your hands.
7) When your partner STILL doesn’t get it (ugh, Steve!!), do lunges, and somehow that’ll work.

I’m sure between the photos and this entry you have a crystal clear picture of what to expect when you go see No Strings Attached. Ha. Catch them on Harrisonburg’s next First Friday at Downtown 34, and be sure to like them on Facebook to stay informed of other upcoming performances. Prepare to giggle, snort, cringe, guffaw, squirm, gasp, and possibly even sneeze. I’m sure it’ll be excruciatingly uncomfortable and side-splittingly funny for all involved!

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Photos by Brandy Somers. Written content by Katie Mitchell. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.