Cary’s incremental embrace of live theater at Koka Booth Amphitheatre—still too little, if not too late—continued (and concluded) for another year with a brief but notable regional production last week of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
By way of recap, it took Cary’s Cultural Arts Division a full decade after Booth Amphitheatre opened before finally committing to the venue’s first live theater event. When it did, last summer’s production of Twelfth Night garnered good audiences—and made the Indy’s best of 2010 lists for ensemble, direction and costume design.
The current production, Booth’s second such endeavor, was granted four nights at the venue last week. (Theater-goers will already recognize that length constitutes, at most, one-half of a two-to-three-week run that is the standard for regional live theater.) Then Hurricane Irene effectively cut that already modest stand in half, canceling two nights of performances, before A Midsummer Night's Dream closed on Sunday night.
That was, of course, unfortunate. But a look at Booth Amphitheatre’s upcoming calendar reveals an even more disturbing fact.
After Dream's closing, that venue remains dark over both of the next two weekends.
Did Cary's Cultural Arts actually prefer to let Booth just stay closed during that time, instead of chancing a multi-week run that would meet the region’s standard?
If so, the briefest glance at the track records of comparable venues just a few miles northwest—and even fewer miles northeast—might be instructive.
For during the 10 years Cary presented no live theater at Booth, Paperhand Puppet Intervention consistently demonstrated that a regional company can fill a major outdoor venue of comparable size—for a solid month of weekend shows—and then still have enough demand left over for satellite dates in another local city. (Paperhand’s 11th season at Chapel Hill’s Forest Theatre, which opened Aug. 5, ends on Sept. 5—before a three-night stand the following weekend at the N.C. Museum of Art, Sept. 9-11.)
Could any arts presenter in this area have possibly missed the significance of that development?
Under the circumstances, the question’s irresistible: Why couldn’t the same—or, at the least, a conventional, two-week run—be granted for live theater, outdoors, in Cary?
The query only becomes more pressing when considering the quality of this summer and last summer's brief productions. It's clear that both of these rewarding shows deserved a longer run.
The first Game On Raleigh will be held tonight at the Busy Bee Café’s Hive in downtown Raleigh from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., a self-described “Battle of the Bands” for video games that offers Triangle gamers samples of what local developers have to offer.
Ten developers, ranging from such veterans as Spark Plug Games to newer groups such as Pangolin Games, will show off games specially developed for the event, with titles ranging from Ninja Hamster Rescue to Bust-a-Marble to Sushi Boy Thunder. Gamers in attendance to the free event will pick their favorite from these, and hopefully gain some new insight into the variety of small-scale game developers in the area.
“In this day and age, it’s getting easier and easier to put a quality game together,” says Ben Moore, a spokesman for Mighty Rabbit Studios, who put together the event and features the game Saturday Morning RPG in competition.
“The younger population out here is into arts and music, but the Triangle has such a cache when it comes to technology that it’s easy to put out something that combines art and technology, and maybe creates something with a deeper story than usual.”
Moore says that part of the goal of Game On is to help introduce some of the smaller game developers to Triangle gamers, and build interest in their projects.
“With the down economy, while the game companies are financially sound, they’re not hiring,” Moore says. “A lot of companies have an interest in making more than just an entertaining iPhone app, and have some great ideas, and so they’re interested in getting their name out there.”
And in the long run, Game On hopes to bring attention to the fact that the homegrown game development market in the Triangle is worth noticing.
“There’s two or three big companies that get all the attention, but there’s 40-plus game studios in the area, and if you tell people that, they say, ‘Wow, really?’” Moore says.
“Part of our goal with this is to build more of a community amongst ourselves and help support each other. This is one for the little guys—our way of saying that we’re here too.”
Here's the trailer for Sushi Boy Thunder:
The strange, tragic and very funny tale of two siblings coming to terms with being part of their parents' performance art experiments as children (from the boy infliltrating a beauty pageant in a dress to the parents staging a mock failed proposal on an airplane), Fang is a personal story for Wilson, though not in the way you'd think. On the phone from his home in Sewanee, Tenn., the soft-spoken Wilson, who appears at Quail Ridge Books & Music tonight at 7:30, answered our questions about the book's roots—and why his own childhood wasn't like the Fangs'.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: So the book's been getting strong reviews—what's your reaction to that, and what do you feel is the source of the story's appeal?
Kevin Wilson: Oh, it’s beyond what I had expected. I’m overwhelmed.
I’m thinking that it’s the age-old story of dysfunctional families, which I think strikes a chord with people, and that this dysfunctional family is particularly strange because of the art they create. It taps into that disconnect that children feel from their parents—something that’s been done hundreds of times, and tries to find some new spin on it.
From what you’ve said elsewhere, it sounds the Fangs’ childhood resembles your own—at least superficially.
I grew up in a household where my parents were, I think, very much interested in creating a world separate from the real world for myself and my sister. They were not fond of the outside world, so they created this great place in our house. Not a lot of people came in—they didn’t have many friends—so we were their best friends in a lot of ways, and allowed to do whatever we wanted.
If we wanted to be superheroes, they got us capes. If we wanted to make movies, they showed us how to make stop-motion-animated movies with our Star Wars figures. They allowed us to have this childhood where the outside world existed, and we knew it was there, but it just wasn’t as interesting as what went on between the four of us inside our house.
I drew upon the idea of how we isolate ourselves from the rest of the world growing up, because all you need is your family, and the way that becomes complicated as you get older, and you need to leave it and become your own person.
But your parents weren’t like the Fangs’…
Oh, my parents were awesome! With this book, I tried to create terrible parents, who took things to such an extreme they were ruining their children. While I relate to them in some ways, they’re probably the least fit people to have children.
Are your parents still alive, and if so, what’d they think of the book?
Both my parents are still alive—in fact, Dad is on the book tour with me. He rides with me whenever I do a book tour. They’re savvy enough to separate themselves from the characters in the story, and to recognize that this is a family that is similar to us in some ways and in other ways completely different. They really liked it—I think this is the first thing I’ve written where they really, totally gave their whole heart over to the story.
Dad and I drive in the car together and stay in the same motel rooms. He gets a kick out of going on these things more than I do—after every signing he pulls the bookstore manager aside and thanks them in such a sincere way that I feel like a Make-A-Wish kid and my dad has arranged all this without my knowledge.
Speaking from personal experience, I can say if you and your dad can take a trip together with that level of closeness and still be speaking at the end, you’re not only better off than the Fangs, but most parents and children, period.
I think it works because I am pretty much anxious 100 percent of the time, while my dad is one of the most calm, upbeat, optimistic people I’ve ever met. So in many ways, he’s like medication for me.
It’s very calming to be around him. Three people will show up for a reading and I feel like the biggest loser in the world, and my dad is wanting to take pictures of me with the three people. He’s happy all the time, and in a lot of ways, that keeps me from going crazy.
What type of research did you do for the book?
I think E.L. Doctorow said, “You do the least amount of research possible—enough to get away with it.” That’s what I try to do. Research is a black hole for me—I’ll keep going and going down the rabbit hole and never write.
I remembered things like Chris Burden, the performance artist, and the Fluxus movement, and I went back and did some cursory research to remind me of it. I did some research into music that I thought the Fangs would listen to that I would listen to, but I mostly stayed away from research because the Fangs are so absurd that I don’t think that doing too much research would be beneficial for creating that family. They need to be separate from the real world in some ways.
Although summer doesn’t end until the fall equinox in late September, August’s Third Friday in Durham uses the public impatience with the season as a springboard into fall. Tom Elrod already described some of the bounty of visual arts in an earlier post, but that was only the half of it.
Whiteside uses a large vocabulary of lines, forms and gestures to construct his unpopulated scenes in india ink. Sometimes his images are wrought, almost etched; in other pieces a layered wash and contour approaches watercolor technique.
“The Duck Blind” depicts a still pond reflecting its perimeter of cattails and an ominous, obtrusive blind. Neither hunters nor prey are visible; only the tangled, empty scrub trees along the shoreline. But the tangles more than step forward as the subject. A wilderness of leaves and growth rendered as hectic curlicues, the dense undergrowth sums to an animate complaint against the hunters’ presence.
In Durham Friday night at the Stedman Center, Irish artist Susan MacWilliam presented some of her latest work in a lecture entitled “My Adventures in the Supernormal.” She developed her most recent work while in residency the Rhine Research Center in Durham this summer. MacWilliam has been working for more than 10 years on subjects surrounding the “paranormal” and “parapsychology.” Her interest, she says, is not so much the paranormal per se but the people who study it and the many types of apparatus they've created in order to run tests or communicate with the dead. Thus, skepticism or “proving” that ghosts exist is hardly the point of MacWilliam's work.
MacWilliam began the lecture by explaining and showing some of her past work, which intentionally sets out to distort and garble sensory perception: films which are sped up to simulate the overflow of information in a Parisian paranormal laboratory; devices which require the viewer to stand in strange, awkward poses to look inside them; interviews with overlapping, almost incomprehensible dialogue suddenly made silent by the unintentional appearance of the subject's cat. MacWilliam's work is subtly witty, as much an anthropological study of paranormal investigators and their unique technology than anything else.
The Rhine Center, founded by famed parapsychology researcher J.B. Rhine, was noted for applying the techniques and methods of early 20th-century behavioral psychology to paranormal research. Its immense archive includes the results of laboratory experiments, newspaper clippings, personal correspondence between Rhine and other noted researchers and much more. MacWilliam's films, which have come out of her residency, reflect the more scientific and academic surroundings of the Rhine.
One film which she premiered was a simulated a lab experiment, featuring no video but only a number of stills: The cutting was rapid but repetitive, as a researcher went over the tests and the data again and again; the soundtrack was quiet, featuring only the crackle of a tape deck and some distant, faint horns; the overall effect was of a more sterile, controlled environment than some of the chaos she exhibited with the amateur researchers.
MacWilliam has built a body of work around a topic which disinterests respectable scientists but fascinates a lot of ordinary people. The tension between parapsychology's supposed mysteries and the artificiality of so much of it underlines her work and ultimately allows for a humanist exploration of an interesting but not well understood subculture.
Also in Durham Friday night was Meg Stein's art installation, “The World's Only Piano,” at The Space, located at 715 Washington St. In a room lined with white sheets, a piano, crafted out of paper, sits atop a hill of sand. Behind it is projected a running horse, but the image is partially blocked by a chandelier of broken mirrors, which reflect slivers of the horse around the room. There is a low, unsettling musical accompaniment, and visitors were allowed to fill a small vial with some of the sand beneath the piano. The post-apocalyptic vibe of the installation, and the encouragement to literally take some of it with you (and presumably, bring the piano crashing down) was an eerie follow-up to MacWilliam's investigations, as it felt like walking into a paranormal nightmare space which was itself was falling apart.
Composed of, yes, footage found of some Norwegian college students (Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Mørck, Glenn Erland Tosterud) making a documentary about bear poaching, the narrative unfolds across the overcast skies and chilly forests of Norway as they discover the potential poacher Hans (Otto Jespersen) is after something slightly bigger than bears.
The trolls aren’t developed much more than large (and large-nosed) creatures with odd weaknesses and a curiously specific skill at sniffing out Christians, but writer-director André Øvredal makes the most of their limited screen time with oddball designs reminiscent of old fairy tale illustrations.
The story mostly barrels along through a series of troll confrontations as Hans tries to figure out what’s causing this troll activity, but the most amusing part of the film—one that could use more development—is how Hans isn’t so much a bad-ass hunter but an underfunded, increasingly wary government employee annoyed at the dirty work he’s gotten into. That leads to a few scenes satirizing the Norwegian government’s cover-up of the trolls and how they fit into the country’s landscape, an idea that’s at times more entertaining than the battle scenes.
Trollhunter isn’t as rip-roaring as it wants to be, but it does achieve more with its low budget than most American horror films, and gets a few good laughs in to boot. As you might have guessed, there’s already plans for an American remake, though perhaps this one is best left as a Norwegian number—its setting and look contribute to much of its odd sense of humor.
Cows. E. coli bacteria. Intestinal worms. Corn, rice and wheat. Man-eating tigers. Lice, crabs, fleas, ticks, and (shiver) bed bugs.
These are some of the living things whose fates have been bound up most closely with our own in an ages-long dance of survival. They dwell in our cities and countrysides, in our houses, in and on our very bodies, and sometimes vestigially in our minds. Now consider the list above: If you were playing Noah (and to a great extent, as a species, we are, albeit clumsily), which species would you toss off the ark?
As N.C. State professor of biology Rob Dunn explains in his new book, The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today, in a world of interconnected organisms, it’s not always easy to distinguish friend from enemy (or, in some cases, “frenemy”).
Take, for instance, intestinal worms. They’ve been largely eliminated in wealthy countries, which seems like a clear-cut victory for modern medicine and hygiene. But one increasingly tenable theory holds that the disproportionate prevalence of a spectrum of disorders in affluent nations—from allergies and asthma to diabetes and Crohn’s disease—may be because we miss our worms.
As Dunn relates, our immune system evolved in concert with the life-forms that took up residence in us; without them, the system sometimes goes haywire and attacks itself. To be sure, not every mud-borne parasite is a benign symbiont. But the past decade has seen remarkable results from a new treatment for bad cases of bowel disease: a tall glass of Gatorade filled with worm eggs.
Of course, patients who enroll in these studies have to overcome the “ick” factor to down their vermicious libations. A revulsion for parasites doubtless conferred survival advantages on our ancestors (and, to be sure, Dunn doesn’t suggest we roll out a welcome mat for lice, bed bugs and other blood-suckers, but he does interestingly connect them with the development of hairlessness, nomadism and xenophobia). But a morbid, out-of-control “ick” response can do more harm than good—witness the indiscriminate, and dangerous, larding of consumer products with antibiotics.
Perhaps the ultimate example of biophobia was the work of one James Reyniers, a researcher whose story Dunn tells in a fascinating early chapter. As a 19-year-old machinist and undergraduate biology student at Notre Dame, he undertook to create the first entirely germ-free lab animal. In 1935, after seven years of painstaking progress, he succeeded, and so, apparently did his guinea pigs—“They seemed hungrier and more active than those on the outside with microbes... The animals in the chambers seemed to live longer, too, and they never developed tooth decay.”
These animals were invaluable to research, and they captured the imagination of a scientific establishment, and a public, entranced by the idea of a germ-free future. It turned out, however, that they needed special diets to survive. The microbes that normally flourish in their (and our) guts are essential to survival in the real world, providing them with valuable vitamins, enzymes and defense against harmful invaders.
“We imagine ourselves besieged by germs, but this is a mistake,” Dunn writes. “Our bodies are integrated with the microbes. ... While this new view of our lives is foreign to the medical community, to ecologists it is familiar.”
[UPDATED MONDAY, AUG. 8 WITH VIDEO AT BOTTOM OF POST.]
North Carolina-based actress Melissa Lozoff runs filmmaking classes and workshops for kids at Movie-Makers, a project she founded in 2001. Fans of reality TV can get a glimpse of her teaching process on Monday, Aug. 8, at 9:30 p.m. on the TLC channel.
"I basically make films with kids," Lozoff says. In fact, she's in the middle of giving classes and summer camp with kids right now at her property in Orange County. She also just got finished with some acting work on One Tree Hill in Wilmington.
"The kids help come up with the ideas for the script," Lozoff describes Movie-Makers. "They basically learn the aspects of filmmaking, and then they get to star in their own movie."
Those classes and summer camps always take place on her Orange County property, with one recent exception—the movie project she did with the Gosselin kids at the family's Pennsylvania compound for this Monday's second episode of TLC's Kate Plus 8. (The first episode airs at 9.)
Lozoff's brief involvement in the reality TV show came about because of a longstanding North Carolina connection to the show. The original incarnation of the series, Jon & Kate Plus 8, was created by Advanced Medical Production (later known as Figure 8 Films) in 2007, back when Jon and Kate were still a couple whose experiment with fertility treatments yielded twins, then sextuplets. (That version of the show ended when Jon's infidelities nixed the marriage.)
Lozoff taught filmmaking to the daughter of one of the producers at Figure 8, Kirk Streb, a few years ago, and he fondly remembered the experience when the Figure 8 staff were brainstorming ideas for upcoming episodes.
He also knew that one of the 10-year-old Gosselin twins, Mady, really likes putting on little plays. So Figure 8 flew Lozoff to Pennsylvania in March to make a "cute little movie with the Gosselin kids."
"They're comfortable in front of the camera, but all of that acting and blocking—that was brand new," Lozoff says, adding that, otherwise: "They're basically like all the other kids that I've worked with."
Lozoff went back to Pennsylvania in late May/ early June for the "premiere" of the film in the family's basement. That was the first time that the mom saw the mini-movie, according to Lozoff.
"Kate wasn't really around while we were making the movie, because they wanted it to be a surprise for her," she says. "We rented a red carpet and sort of decorated their basement and did their little premiere."
That's typical of Lozoff's process with her Movie-Makers camp kids. After the films are made, she'll spend a few weeks editing and then will rent out a venue to show her kids the finished products. Most recently, she rented out The Varsity on Franklin Street.
She also has "an advanced group" that makes more professional-caliber films to submit to film festivals.
Another particular she's not allowed to talk about much is Kate Gosselin, the fiery star of the show (which, interestingly, is not on the fall schedule recently announced by TLC).
"She was always very gracious with me," Lozoff says, and leaves it at that.
Melissa Lozoff has appeared in numerous films, TV shows including The Young and The Restless and Days of Our Lives, and theater productions with the Common Ground and Ghost & Spice companies. In 2010, she won for Best Actress at the Carrboro Film Festival for her work in Nic Beery's Twelve. To find out more about Movie-Makers, go to www.movie-makers.net.
THE SERPENT'S EGG runs Fridays through Sundays through Sept. 5 at UNC's Forest Theatre, and Sept. 9-11 at the N.C. Museum of Art. A musical pre-show begins at 6:20 p.m. The performance starts at 7. Admission is a suggested donation of $12/adults and $8/children at the door, but the company stresses that no one is ever turned away for lack of funds.
Four sequels and one 2001 remake later, Rise of the Planet of the Apes pays dutiful homage to the 1968 original, from a smattering of Charlton Heston’s unforgettable lines (e.g., “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”) to a TV news clip showing the launch of the Icarus manned Mars expedition, the rocket that would ultimately land Heston’s Colonel Taylor on a simian-dominated world. Yet, the real inspirations behind British filmmaker Rupert Wyatt’s capable revival reside elsewhere.
Will Rodman (James Franco) is a San Francisco-based research scientist whose experimentation on apes during his development of a cure for Alzheimer’s and other brain-related maladies goes awry. Forced to put down his lab primates, Will rescues a newborn chimp that Will’s own dementia-suffering, Shakespeare-quoting father (John Lithgow) names “Caesar.” Will also soon discovers that Caesar inherited the neural stimulation triggered by a serum Will tested on Caesar’s late mother.
The early stages of Rise of the Planet of the Apes closely resemble the true story of Nim Chimpsky, recently told in James Marsh’s superb documentary Project Nim. In both, enterprising academics raise a chimpanzee from infancy in a strictly human setting. Like Nim, Caesar displays a grasp of communication, notably sign language, and an affinity for his human handlers until its innate ape instincts make him volatile and dangerous. Both are eventually abandoned and placed in cruel animal shelters.
The remainder of the film actually remakes 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, in which a super-intelligent chimp—also named Caesar—leads his ape brethren to rise up against their human oppressors. Rise of the Planet of the Apes updates for contemporary concerns over bioethics and the possible perilous consequences of genetic experimentation (replacing the original’s rebuke of atomic irresponsibility), which here spawn both smart apes and man’s eventual demise—a closing credits kicker recalls the manner a deadly virus spread worldwide in 12 Monkeys, ironically.
Wyatt maintains a methodical pace that actually inures the story’s realism and heightens the disquieting tension. He also benefits from the biggest quantum leap in the cinematic depiction of primates since 2001: A Space Odyssey, using performance capture technology headlined by a surprisingly emotive rendering of Caesar by Andy Serkis (previously the model for such digital avatars as Gollum in Lord of the Rings and Peter Jackson’s King Kong). One of Caesar’s slow-burn stares carries more apprehension than an entire Roland Emmerich apocalyptic extravaganza.