Once it was believed that the Internet would connect us together, individually as well as a culture, in ways unimagined before—and in some ways, it has. But it has also repeatedly proven a hunting ground where the unwary have found their identities, emotions and bodies manipulated, hijacked or broadcast, worldwide.
Now that a generation has grown up online, research is beginning to trickle in detailing exactly what all those daily hours on Facebook, in chat rooms and in role-playing games has done to some of these children by mediating some of their most important social interactions—and, in some cases, their own identity formation as well.
(For an eye-opening experience, readers should peruse the scientific journal articles cataloged here, at the website for ReStart, a Washington state-based Internet addiction recovery program. If any of these these issues look familiar to the reader, professional assistance should possibly be considered.)
Raleigh Ensemble Players’ production of Dark Play, or Stories of Boys places us at close proximity (in their upstairs studio at 213 Fayetteville Street) to Nick: a good student, an imaginative thinker—and a potentially budding young sociopath as well. After using the Internet to get back at bullies at school, lately Nick’s been interested in seeing just how farther he can push people he looks down on—those whose “gullibility threshold” is greater than his own. Where will they stop, he wonders: at meeting perfect strangers? Having sex with them? How about murder?
By now, they’re the kind of marketing metaphors we’ve all probably become numb to:
Arnold Schwarzenegger is the Terminator.
Christian Bale is Batman.
Reese Witherspoon is Legally Blonde.
But having seen the professional touring version of the Broadway musical, WICKED (actually, Professional Touring Company #2) at Durham Performing Arts Center, I’ve got a new one to shake things up a little:
Dick Cheney IS the Wizard of Oz.
Here’s a photo of actor Don Amendola, who plays the famous sorcerer (and humbug) in this imaginative prequel to the filmed version of The Wizard of Oz. For reasons we’ll get into, Amendola’s character frequently doesn’t smile during his scenes. But since our press photo doesn’t show that, you’ll have to use your imagination to picture this. Please do so.
Now add a small (and possibly cerebral-event-related?) growl in the left corner of his mouth.
If you’re hyperventilating at this point, try breathing into a paper bag; it should pass in a few moments.
That is what I saw from my orchestra seat.
Look, I know. And for what it’s worth, I hate them too: those terminally oversensitized commentators who insist on dragging endless political controversies into every cultural or artistic conversation, no matter how tangential. A discussion board about the TV show Lost this week provides an easy case in point:
pmaron_2000: There is no way on earth John Locke who was about to be operated on would not have been intubated and being monitored by an Anesthesiologist.BUT WITH THAT—sorry, but with that said, Wicked is a stunning, big-stage musical: a must-see pageant for the eyes and ears, given Eugene Lee’s steampunk set design, Susan Hilferty and Tom Watson’s outlandish costumes and wigs, Kenneth Posner’s dramatic lighting and Adam Souza’s orchestral direction. And Winnie Holzman’s book, based on Gregory Maguire’s novel, is also a fairy tale jaded just enough to speak directly to our time.
TBAGG1776: YOU KEEP FORGETTING. OBAMA’S BILL PASSED. WELCOME OT SOCIALIST HEALTH CARE REFORM, LOSERS!
But, mainly, Wicked is a fairly large-writ metaphor for the political exploitation of terror over the past decade—with a generous side of governmental anti-environmentalism for good measure. Still, if the results suggest what might have happened had Howard Zinn taken up writing children’s fables (with a really good composer and lyricist in tow), given this tale's particular history, perhaps that’s not entirely inappropriate.
“You do not ‘like that one,'” a sign in North Carolina State University’s Leazar studio sternly admonishes inquisitive visitors who might want to express appreciation for a design piece. Across campus at the College of Textiles, the same sentiment prevails during class critiques of the Senior Fashion Collection Studio.
“You can’t use the word ‘like’,” Cynthia Istook, associate professor of textile and apparel management and senior studio teacher, said. Instead, class members can make suggestions about changing a piece, and the designer can choose whether or not to implement them. “It’s interesting to see how it impacts the designers.”
The College of Textiles senior studio class began in spring 2007. It’s been offered each spring, and also last fall for the first time. Its first iteration saw a collaboration with the College of Design, but that hasn’t happened since due traveling between the campuses and a disconnect between each college’s respective goals.
“The Textiles students weren’t used to the critique process,” Istook said. “Textiles students focus on the end consumer. Design students focus on the concept.”
The class structure sees designers develop six-piece collections over the course of 15 weeks. Approximately every five weeks, two garments must be completed and presented to the class. (This year, the middle two critiques were a mere three weeks apart due to class negotiations, according to Istook.) The show doubles as the third checkpoint.
Kristen DePalmo’s collection revolves around resort wear and uses braids and knots as embellishments. She began gathering inspiration and sketching over Christmas break.
“I wanted to make a line that would simplify packing,” DePalmo says, citing her personal inability to pack light. “It’s elegant and mix-and-match. You can slip on a long dress that would also double as a cover-up.”
DePalmo enjoyed getting suggestions on how to improve her work from her peers.
“For many of us, it’s our first time making a collection of garments, so we really appreciate the feedback we get,” DePalmo said. In previous classes, students only made one garment per semester.
Her modesty is hardly deserved. Since her first children’s book, A Summer to Die, came out in 1977, Lowry has become one of the top children’s and young adult authors in the world, averaging about a book a year in a plethora of genres ranging from humor to drama to science fiction and fantasy.
Lowry, whose stepson Eric Small lives in Cary, will appear at Quail Ridge Books and Music on April 21 and Flyleaf Books on April 22 to promote Ball, a humorous fairy tale illustrated by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer.
The story might seem like a change of pace for those only familiar with the dark SF allegory of The Giver, or her other best-known novel, the WWII-set Number the Stars (both won the Newbery Medal, and both were recently picked as among the 100 best children’s books by School Library Journal), but Lowry says the diversity of her output helps her maintain her enthusiasm for writing.
“That’s the reason I enjoy what I do,” Lowry says. “I’d be bored if I worked on the same kind of thing again and again. At the moment, I have several books finished, and each is different from the next. [The Birthday Ball], of course, is very different in that it’s silly and has no redeeming moral value whatsoever, and is amusing and is very fantasy-like, and kids should enjoy it.”
In her more than three decades of writing children’s books, Lowry has seen the medium grow, both in terms of audience and narrative complexity. “My first book for children was published in 1977, and children’s literature was regarded as fairly benign at that time,” Lowry says. “But soon, Judy Blume had appeared on the scene, and children’s literature began to deal with more complex and difficult topics. And of course, that’s just blossomed now.
“There’s a book called The Hunger Games—terrific book, but it starts out with 24 children and by the end, 22 are dead in horrible ways! You couldn’t have done that in the 1970s, when people weren’t ready to deal with that in children’s literature. So I’m very grateful to have come along at that time, and maybe I’m starting to become obsolete as these harder-hitting authors appear on the scene.”
It had been a long day of rehearsals. Thankfully the show had reached its continental divide several days before: that meridian every production crosses—every fortunate one, at least—where the thought of roomfuls of strangers seeing what you’ve done no longer fills you with horror, but hope instead.
A film-based monthly we’d done an in-trade ad with had invited us to a party. A trendy downtown club was hosting the new head of local ops for Screen Gems: Yeah, kind of a big deal around here. “ Everyone will be there,” our host said.
We went. Didn’t stay that long. Something about the whole scene felt a little off.
At first, the party seemed like a smash. Picture, if you will, a barroom packed with calculated beauty, literally straight from central casting. But the conviviality had a tinge of desperation to it, that finally seemed one stage short of mania. Beautiful people with alarmingly bright eyes were leaning into apparently intense conversations—at every table in the room, simultaneously. Then, after a few minutes, with a bird-like turn of the head and an industrial-grade laugh, each would go cross-pollinate some other group.
We surveyed the Good Time for a few moments, without speaking. Then I leaned across the table and hissed to Keith, my technical director: “Exactly what fresh hell is this?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” he said. “They’re auditioning. Except for you, me and the guest of honor over there, everybody in this room is desperate for one thing.”
“It’s not just to be noticed,” Keith continued. “That’s easy. Each of these chillun has to be the most fascinating thing in this room.”
He took a sip from his beer. “Every single one of them has got to be desired. No—devastating. Unforgettable.”
“And all of them,” he concluded, “are convinced that their careers depend on it.”
“Creeping Christ,” I said, “we’re in a roomful of junkies.”
“You got it, ace.”
“Drink up,” I said. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
Which was when our host began introducing me as a stage director, also new to the region, with a show about to open in the biggest theater in town.
Mor Aframian initially founded MorLove, a nonprofit with proceeds going to aid orphans at the Amani Baby Cottage in Jinga, Uganda. She met Jamie Powell, who had participated in a MorLove fashion show in 2008. Aframian, Powell and Beth Stewart of Emerging Green Builders joined forces in organizing an eco-friendly fashion show for the Triangle. The first Redress Raleigh (RR) show was held last year.
“We learned a lot from last year. We’ve tried to tweak it and refine it a little more,” Aframian says. Only 15 designers will show Saturday night, as opposed to last year’s 20, and a jurying process was added for potential participants. Planning for the show has lasted for nine months—Aframian likens the process to gestating a child.
The event has attracted high-school, college and professional designers from all over the state. Naturally, the range of talent begets a propensity for diversity.
“There’s a good variety of ready-to-wear [garments], couture and adding different techniques and objects,” Aframian says.
Designer Rima L’Amir first volunteered for MorLove at its inception in 2006. Though this is her first year designing for the event, she had heard of it before.
“I’ve definitely been interested in RR, because sustainable fashion in what I want to do,” L’Amir says.
L’Amir’s collection mixes organic cotton with fabric she’s found in various places, such as her apartment and her work with MorLove.
“It’s a ready-to-wear line for young men and women, ages 20 to 30,” L’Amir says. She notes that this is her first time creating menswear, and it’s been a challenge.
Audience members cheered and roared for N.C. State’s student designers and models Wednesday night in Reynolds Coliseum. But what the audience never sees is how much hairspray, cookies and ironing go into putting that line out on the runway.
I shadowed designer Gennie Catastrophe and her models in the hours before as they prepared for their moment in the spotlight.
2:15 p.m.: I arrive at eco-friendly Bottega-A Hair Studio on Glenwood Avenue, where Catastrophe has scheduled her models for their hair and make-up. The salon is especially full because Laura Mazzurella’s models are there at the same time. Catastrophe greets me wearing jeans and a white hoodie with a button proclaiming her to be a “B.F.D.,” and introduces me to her models.
Katie Stewart’s curly hair gets teased and volumized, and a stylist clips in thick braids of similar thickness and twists tiny braids of her hair. Debbi La Rue’s hair starts out straight, progresses to an updo and ultimately ends up as a side-swept ponytail. Catastrophe speaks with another stylist and points to her inspiration board for guidance, with its photos of soft waves, braids and light makeup.
Lauren Ramsey sits in another room, getting made up by an Afterglow Cosmetics technician. Ramsey closes her eyes as the technician brushes shadow onto her eyelid, creating a smoky-eye effect.
2:30 p.m.: Ramsey’s clipped-in thick braid is shedding long blond hairs.
When showing a collection, a designer’s job is to take the audience into his or her own created world. Two designers in this year’s Art to Wear (A2W) are pulling from different locales to put their looks in proper context.
Designer Eleanor Hoffman’s collection stems from images of mirrors, moonlight and circles. Two poems, Lorenzo Smerillo’s Maze and Maria Taylor’s Birmingham 1982, serve as initial inspiration points, tacked on the wall above her work space’s sewing machine for easy reference, along with pieces of fabric cut in leaf-like shapes. The moon reference will even make it into her selected runway music, a Grizzly Bear remix of Feist’s "My Moon My Man."
“[I wanted it to be] an enchanted forest, and to have a magical feel,” Hoffman says of her line. Nowhere is this more evident than her plan for a model sporting antlers, taken from her favorite childhood book Imogen’s Antlers. Hoffman’s motifs include natural forms and use fluid lines. She’s using embellishments and laser-cut appliqués made from stencils, so she’s logged some significant time using the College of Design’s laser-cutting machine.
“It’s definitely been a learning experience,” Hoffman says of creating her line, citing examples of bleach and screen-printing mishaps. But she says they’ve turned out to be happy accidents, with the added bonus of making her work look more graphic.
Hoffman had previously designed in the 2009 A2W show, so she knew the ropes pretty well. That experience helped for this year, now that she’s pulling double duty, participating as both a designer and the event’s director. She agreed to fill the capacity before the 2009-10 school year began. There is currently no rule against a director designing a line.
She’s designing one short dress, three long dresses and two jacket and pant sets. Mannequin forms next to her Leazar workspace sport works in progress. A floor-length, one-shoulder dress with a leaf cutout and a pair of pants with beads and a racing stripe silver paint speak to Hoffman’s affinity for detail.
Designer Chase Kennedy is A2W’s youngest participant, being a junior in fashion and textile management. He should be used to this: He was the youngest designer last year as he was the only 19-year-old chosen to show.
Twitter: @byronwoods Facebook: arts.byron.woods
In a recent review I decried a production that, like humanity in the famous T.S. Eliot quote, could not “bear very much reality.” Unfortunately, Home is Not One Story, the latest stage production by Hidden Voices at The ArtsCenter, is its diametrical opposite: a work that bears entirely too much.
Since their first productions in 2003-4, I have followed the Voices with deep interest, praising their previous endeavors that effectively lifted the voices and visibility of communities at the margins of our society—works that fully earned them an Independent Art Award in 2007.
With that said, Home is Not One Story is clearly the least successful of their stage pieces I’ve seen.
To be clear, this assessment is no reflection on the largely non-actor, community-based cast, which warmed admirably to their task as the evening progressed.
In the company’s previous projects, ethnographer/playwright Lynden Harris has utilized an amazing editorial sense and an enviable economy of expression in working different series of personal interviews and writing exercises from various populations into admirably stageable scripts.
But her editorial sense and artistic economy have gone far astray here. Home, indeed, is not one story. It’s entirely too many stories, mashed one on top of another, in a pile-up that flattens the audience under a disjointed mountain of attempts to seemingly represent every single reason for homelessness.
Some designers in this year’s Art to Wear show are taking inspiration from the elements. Two designers in particular are working with water.
Natalie Bunch, a landscape architecture major in the College of Design, was specifically drawn to water’s various properties when she studied in Ghana last summer. Her studio was focused on observations dealing with solutions on improving the environmental systems. She cites drainage canals along every street and trash dumps lining the beach, and how the Ghanaian population connected water systems with sewage systems. Bunch aims to change the prevailing mindset by visually showing how water should be celebrated.
“There’s a way to change [the perspective], and respect water,” Bunch says. She’ll focus on water’s various attributes, such as adaptive, cyclical and aesthetic properties.
“I wanted to give a fresh outsider perspective [on water], and change the perspective on the Ghanaian people,” Bunch says, adding that she didn’t encounter much interest in water systems among the Ghanaians she met.
Bunch began sketching out ideas while still in Ghana, and then began constructing them this spring. She’s preparing five looks, with two of them being menswear. She is using both bought and found materials, including non-wovens, pre-dyed fabrics and fabrics she’s dyed herself. With her range of techniques and fabrics, Bunch is clearly ambitious and plans to showcase that fact loud and clear, especially with her final piece.