"Ekphrastic" sounds like a name Kodak might have ginned up, back in the '50s, for a brand of photographic paper. Actually, the word dates back to ancient Greece. Its definition: a description that captures the essence of a person, thing or experience. More recently, the term has referred to a tricky form of artistic representation: the translation of a painting or sculpture into another art form that still contains the essence of the original.
But, as is so often the case, it takes an old Rod Stewart song to really break the concept down. If every picture tells a story (don't it?), ekphrastic theater puts that story on a stage. In Activated Art, UNC's Ackland Art Museum has hooked up a distinguished quartet of writers with five works from the permanent collection for an intimate evening of 10-minute plays, performed in the galleries next to the works that inspired them. Daniel Wallace (Big Fish) got to wondering what two adjacent 200-year-old portraits might have said to one another. Clyde Edgerton (The Night Train) took on a dramatic classical sculpture titled "Wisdom Supporting Liberty." Marianne Gingher (Adventures in Pen Land) drew on a 19th-century painting of washer women, while project curator Dana Coen ( producer of Bones, JAG) investigated a Milton Avery nude from 1962.
"I expected that the plays would just be acting out what you can see," says museum coordinator Allison Portnow, "but each piece accesses the works in a different way." Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. through March 4. Seating is limited to 25 for each showing. —Byron Woods