Archive by Author

Animating life with Terry Shipley

14 Mar

By Amy Bareham
Cultural & Community Investment Intern 

“I guess the best way to describe it is it’s very accidental…I’m an accidental artist.”

Equal parts humility and wonder light up Terry Shipley’s face when she begins talking about ceramics, a passion she discovered at age 42. A Community Supported Art participant, she considers herself living proof that it is never too late to embrace something new.

These flowers are unique to Terry Shipley and, though tedious to make, are one of her favorite projects.

These flowers are unique to Terry Shipley and, though tedious to make, are one of her favorite projects.

For Shipley, the something new was clay painting which boomed in popularity several years ago. She would spend hours at paint the bisque-ware places until her infatuation was so deep that “friends finally said stop it, go take a class.”

Those classes led to a nine year stint renting space from Clayworks as well as significant time spent at Jewish Community Center workshops. These experiences allowed for intimate clay study devoid of any intimidation. Maybe this is why Shipley speaks so fondly of clay, almost as though it’s an old friend – ceramics are a comfortable, all inclusive medium.­

The opportunity to cultivate her relationship with clay on a full-time basis came from the McColl Center for Visual Art’s Artist in Residency program. As an affiliate artist, Shipley had access to a blend of local artists who inspired and challenged.

Now, Shipley has a definitive identity as a ceramics artist, including a wild color palette, the use of flowers, and stacking – most evident in her totem pieces. Conceptually, Shipley focuses on hand-building, a method of working that enables her to connect best with the clay.

“I exclusively hand-build,” she said. “I usually start with a slab construction, flat, and make different forms I can slump clay onto or into.” Even though hand-building comes with a price, (“it’s physically demanding and the repetition can take its toll”) she forges on.

Once she bought herself a kiln, Shipley was an unstoppable clay-working force. She caters primarily to décor and says she would describe herself – her aesthetic – as decorative. This is evident when studying her art. There isn’t a centralized message; the ceramics are simply beautiful testaments to human creativity.

“It’s not social issues,” she said. “I’m not trying to make an important statement. I kind of pursue decorative form. I

Pictured here is a more sculpturally intensive work that exhibits the stacking technique.

Pictured here is a more sculpturally intensive work that exhibits the stacking technique.

read the newspaper in the morning. My voice is the alternative I want to that, I want something gentler, something happier.”

Most engaging about Shipley is her continuing desire to learn. She fosters that desire within herself, improving her painting skills thereby improving her clay-work, and within others. Her wall pieces, featured at the Levine Children’s Hospital, included the ideas of local fifth graders.

“I’m not a teacher but fifth graders are amazing,” she said. “Their enthusiasm is so strong. Little ones, they’re just wide open.”

CSA shareholders will benefit from Shipley’s dedication, receiving a painted vase with a “very lively, fabulous pattern” just in time for spring fauna’s arrival.

Fair warning: Shipley’s joie de vivre is contagious. Meet her and you will be changed, but sit with her for a while and you will realize you have dreams that have lain dormant far too long.

Click here to view more of Shipley’s work.

The poetic musings of Amy Bagwell

14 Mar

By Amy Bareham
Cultural & Community Investment Intern 

In your memory there probably exists a nasty grammar school teacher with half-moon spectacles and a fierce lecture on dangling modifiers who preached about poetry as rhyme and metaphor, parallelism and meter. Now, you run from her gravelly voice every time you stumble across a book of poetry lying innocently open in a waiting room.

And then there are English professors like Amy Bagwell, a Community Supported Art (CSA) participant and poet, who understands that life usually has one too many syllables and can get lost in figurative language. Behind Bagwell’s assemblages lies a desire to make poetry accessible and enjoyable instead of intimidating – because if we’re honest, don’t we secretly want to channel our inner John Mayer and scream say what you need to say when digesting Shakespeare?

Bagwell, who teaches at Central Piedmont Community College, has been writing poems since she was eight and began experimenting with wall art after college as an alternative to poetry readings. She believes anything that lifts poetry from the page expands its appeal to a given audience, which led to a collaborative show with close friend, Shawn L. Smith. Smith and Bagwell exhibited assemblages and poems respectively, both incorporating elements of light, water and text into their pieces.

Inspired by Smith, Bagwell considered objects and their propensity to complement her text. The installations that resulted are a fusion of vintage whimsy and modern verse, “…the object’s story and the poem…working in unison” and becoming “a greater expression”.

“Watching you Land” by Amy Bagwell. Photo credit: Taryn Rubin.

“Watching you Land” by Amy Bagwell. Photo credit: Taryn Rubin.

Bagwell used to frame her poems, simply hanging them on the wall, but using clocks, books and fish tanks as display models completely changes the aesthetic of her work.

“It went from a way to show a poem to an environment for that poem,” she said.

If encountered correctly, a poem is a living, breathing creature – the images and the sounds it contains speak to something more, something deep within the reader. Says Bagwell, “It [poetry] can fix a moment in time but it isn’t unchanging.” This is what allows poetry to come alive, and this is why Bagwell’s art makes sense – poems are meant to inhabit the spaces around us.

How does she choose the vessel for a poem?

“It always starts with the text and not the object,” she said. “I put something together and then live with it for a day. I don’t want to force it or go off of artificial motivation.”

Cutting out book pages and inserting a poem was a way of combatting the commonality of books. Any bookstore is an overwhelming mecca of immeasurable thoughts in glossy hardcover. Poetry, a rarified being, has the smallest shelf space so the book theme allowed Bagwell to conquer poetry’s inconsequence.

From an artistic perspective, Bagwell feels it is “rare in publishing” to find “a book that’s a beautiful object.” When she does alight on true works of art, she wants to create installations that showcase those objects’ potential.

Of the CSA opportunity, Bagwell says, “It’s a terrible, terrific pressure.” She is constructing 50 assemblages using unpainted, wood boxes. Inside will be one poetic segment that, when combined with the other boxes, makes one long poem. Bagwell hopes to photograph the whole poem prior to sending out the boxes and will include a printed copy of the poem in its entirety. The challenge has been establishing just where to break the poem, but, explains Amy, “What appeals to me is that each bit retains meaning even out of context.”

Shareholders receiving an assemblage have permission to interpret their poetic parcel as freely as they choose, appreciating its linguistic quality or simply its contribution to the total picture.

“Don’t all artists want to convey something?” ponders Bagwell. “But then we don’t have the power to control what we

“The Beat and John Singer" by Amy Bagwell. Photo credit: Taryn Rubin.

“The Beat and John Singer” by Amy Bagwell. Photo credit: Taryn Rubin.

convey. That’s what’s fascinating to me. Thinking about that kind of boggles my mind…there’s exponential interpretations. It’s also daunting…but that’s good.”

If you’ve abandoned poems to musty textbooks from the high school days, take a moment to give them a second chance and read Amy’s. Thou may just be pleasantly surprised.

Click here to see more of Bagwell’s work.

Let’s Dance!

13 Mar

Compiled by Bernie Petit
Communications Manager 

Now in its eighth year, the Charlotte Dance Festival presents two days of performances and classes with local and national professional dance companies and choreographers Friday and Saturday, March 14-15, for CLT Dance Weekend.

Dance Charlotte performances will run both nights of the festival at 8 p.m. at the Booth Playhouse at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, 130 N. Tryon St., Charlotte. Performances will feature a juried selection of performers and the CDF Repertory Ensemble in a new work by New York-based contemporary hip-hop choreographer Jennifer Archibald. Tickets are $7-$20.

Jennifer Archibald HSA variety of Master Classes for dancers of all ages and levels, including several for local professionals, will take place Saturday at Spirit Square, 345 N. Tryon St., Charlotte. Class offerings range from jazz and ballet to contemporary and Afro-fusion. Classes are $10-$15 per class.

At 5 p.m. Saturday, Charlotte Emerging Dance Awards (CEDA) will bring together area youth dance programs at Booth Playhouse to perform and experience a professional festival atmosphere.

For more information, visit www.charlottedancefestival.org or email info@charlottedancefestival.org.

Caruso

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet / Maria Caruso

Dance Charlotte! Performers
Bodiography Contemporary Ballet / Maria Caruso (Pittsburgh, Pa.)

d a n a h b e l l a DanceWorks (Pulaski, Va.)

THE MARK/Arlynn Zachary (Charlotte)

Linda Thompson (Charlotte) – 48 Hour Project Winner

Warped Dance Co. (Sheboygan, Wis.)

CDF Rep Ensemble / Jennifer Archibald (Charlotte/New York)

4thright dance company (Charlotte)

 

 

CDF Repertory Ensemble Dancers

Audrey Baran, Caroline Calouche, Amanda Floyd, Val Ifill, Alex Lieberman, Elizabeth Sanford, Mackenzie Smith, Ashlea Sovetts and Britney Stevenson

Her job? Igniting wonder in the world around us

6 Mar

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager 

Megan York has the greatest job in the world.

Or at least she likes to think so.

Megan L1006769As an informal educator at Discovery Place, “I get to dress up in costume and blow stuff up,” she said. “I mean, really? I won the job lottery. Not everybody would like it, but it’s exactly perfect for me.”

Her job combines her two passions – science and theater. York attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics her last two years of high school before earning a degree in physics at Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia and teaching middle school science for six years in Cabarrus County.

She’s been involved in theater since she was 13 years old, recently appearing in the Citizens of the Universe local production of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

“I’ve just always been this way,” York said. “My report card from second grade would say things like ‘Megan loves reading aloud. She loves doing character voices for the kids and she loves our science lessons.’”

She’s still doing the same things, only now it’s not part of her permanent record. To accompany the “101 Inventions That Changed the World” exhibit at Discovery Place, York created the steampunk character Necessity, i.e. “the mother of invention,” as a way to interact with guests and enhance the exhibit experience.

As Necessity, York gets guests at the science center talking about deep-thinking questions, like “Is all change good?” and “Why are there no women on the list?” – the latter being a reason she created her character.

“Technically, there is no inventor of duct tape,” York said, “but the person you can most credit it to is a woman named Vesta Stoudt.”

Stoudt developed a method that allowed for tape to be torn rather than cut.

“So she’s not considered the inventor of duct tape,” she said, before whispering, “but we all know she is.”

One of the cultural sector contributors featured in 2014 Arts & Science Council Annual Fund Drive campaign materials, York joined Discovery Place fulltime in September 2013 after working in its summer camp program for two years. Discovery Place is one of more than 20 cultural organizations in Mecklenburg County that receives unrestricted operating support through ASC.

Discovery Place, she said, exists to ignite wonder. And being a part of that is the most important thing that she can do in the world.

“I want to surprise people and amaze people and the way that works for me – it’s the same motivation a magician would have or a singer would have,” she said. “I want to evoke in other people these feelings of awe and wonder and interest and fascination and joy because to me all those things are very joyful and I think that those are very important emotions for people to have.”

ASC is You & Me using science to help kids and adults better connect to the massive curiosity of the world we’re all born with.

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Saturdays are for dancing

4 Mar

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager 

Like most of us, Fraxedy Gomez looks forward to the weekend.

But not because she gets to sleep in.

Fraxedy Gomez.

Fraxedy Gomez.

Her Saturdays are spent in the dance studio, learning folkloric Latin dance – along with cultural and historic-related content – as a member of the Carolinas Latin Dance Company, supported in part by a $2,500 Arts & Science Council (ASC) Cultural & Community Investment Grant

“Dance has been pretty much my life since I was little,” said Gomez, who has danced with the company since she was 7 years old. “On Mondays I would go to school and I would be excited for dance and would tell myself ‘I’m going to dance on Saturday.’

“‘After Saturday practice, I would be like, ‘aww, I’m done with dance – go to school again and come back.’”

This year, she’s also teaching beginning dancers that are about the same age she was when she started 11 years ago.

“It’s been a new experience because usually I’m the one that’s getting taught,” said Gomez, an 18-year-old senior at Butler High School. “I like seeing how little girls are interested in dancing and hopefully they can do it for as long as I have.”

One of the cultural sector contributors featured in 2014 ASC Annual Fund Drive campaign materials, Gomez said she loves to dance the salsa.

“You get to put your own flair to it – more emotion, more style,” she said. “Salsa is just something you can express yourself in.”

She especially likes performing on stage and making people aware of the Latin American culture found in Charlotte (both of her parents are from Nicaragua). She also appreciates the structure dance provides her.

“It puts you in the right mindset for school and activities and it opens up more opportunities,” she said. “It keeps you busy instead of going off doing other things and not being responsible. It teaches you how to be responsible.”

ASC is You & Me giving everyone in our community something to cultural to do on the weekend – and every day of the week.

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A world of possibilities easy to see behind a camera

3 Mar

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager 

Dustyn Brigham never touched a camera until he arrived at Studio 345 – not in any meaningful way, at least.

Dustyn Brigham.

Dustyn Brigham.

But, as one of the dozens of students that enrolled in the Arts & Science Council (ASC) program’s inaugural trimester in the fall of 2012, Brigham’s world was opened by his experiences behind the camera.

“It’s given me a chance to explore different things,” he said. “Without that freedom to explore, I wouldn’t be able to understand certain things about myself and so this is really helping me find my path.”

Inspired by the nonprofit Manchester Bidwell Corporation in Pittsburgh, Studio 345 uses digital photography and multimedia arts to educate and inspire students to stay in school, graduate, and pursue goals beyond high school. The program is open to all high school students in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and participants are taught and mentored by professional working artists.

A program fixture since the beginning, Brigham, a 17-year-old junior at Independence High School, naturally gravitated towards filmmaking.

“I felt like film would take me places,” he said. “There are lots of interesting people out there and I thought that I would meet them through film and I have.”

Like the girl and guy he thought were interesting looking from a distance in uptown Charlotte. He approached them with his camera and learned they were passing through town on a cross-country tour.

If he spots you, be ready to answer his favorite question to ask folks on camera: What are the three most valuable lessons you’ve learned throughout your life?

“One guy told me, ‘Say yes as much as possible, say no only when necessary and to just love, love unconditionally,’” Brigham said. “I just meet interesting people that have done the things I want to do one day.”

One of the featured cultural contributors in 2014 ASC Annual Fund Drive campaign materials, Brigham isn’t sure what career path he wants to travel when he is older.

But he knows what he is learning about film and about life at Studio 345 will help get him to where he needs to be.

“It’s like an avenue I took that will open up so many other avenues,” he said. “I just want to experience a lot of different things and I feel like film has given me and will continue to give me that opportunity.”

ASC is You & Me providing students with the freedom to find their way through the arts.

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A Living Canvas – Introducing Mark Stephenson

28 Feb

By Amy Bareham
Cultural & Community Investment Intern

Art is remarkably accommodating.

Somewhere along the way, we decided we could only approach her wearing the hat of artist, historian, scholar, elitist – but she waits for us regardless of our background, beckoning us to please, come as we are.

Perhaps that’s why many of our Community Supported Art participants are so candid about their own complex art journeys. Mark Stephenson is one such participant. Currently residing in Salisbury, Stephenson admits painting was never actually the plan.

With degrees in engineering and music from Pfeiffer University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, he originally wanted to pursue a career as an opera singer. After relocating to New York City in the 90’s he discovered the Art Students League. Shortly thereafter Stephenson’s career as a painter took off.

“Johna Edmonds, Miss North Carolina 2013” by Mark Stephenson.

“Johna Edmonds, Miss North Carolina 2013” by Mark Stephenson.

“I’ve been drawing since I could pick up something to draw with…that’s an ubiquitous explanation, but it’s true,” said Stephenson, who dedicates most of his time to portrait painting because he finds people and their mannerisms interesting. It is engaging, he explained, to see someone in repose and feel a sudden urge to capture that.

Surprisingly, when sitting for a portrait it isn’t all stiff smiles and a neck ache. Stephenson prefers it when a subject allows his or her character to shine through. Then, a vivacious composition emerges.

“Our mind is a movie camera, we mold all these images into one visual sensation – if you’re capturing that with paint, they’re living and moving and breathing,” he said. “You’re creating a living thing on canvas…if you get the essence of what’s there, you capture life.”

Simply put, a portrait is not a photograph.

We’re accustomed to seeing the world through photos, but a painting is a work in and of itself, and an artist looking at the totality of a subject will focus more on depicting spirit than anatomy. This might seem dicey, but Stephenson believes “a good painting has an element of risk to it.”

In conjunction with portraits, Stephenson enjoys landscape painting. His proposal for the CSA project was a series

“Sand path Early morning” by Mark Stephenson.

“Sand path Early morning” by Mark Stephenson.

of rural images painted on recycled materials. He will complete 50 12-x-12 landscapes on wood from an old barn, part of a North Carolina property believed to originate from around 1850.

While it isn’t exactly easy to sketch on wood, the roughness lends the pieces distinct character. As an artist Stephenson said he is still branching out, but he’s excited about the dynamism of Charlotte.

“You’ve gotta have a thriving arts community,” he said. “It’s a barometer of the health of a region, an area. Diversity is a great thing in every way, otherwise we stagnate.”

To see Stephenson’s gallery, click here.

Molding Charlotte’s Art Scene

28 Feb

By Amy Bareham
Cultural & Community Investment Intern

To those of you who chose the math or science track and feel condemned to an un-artsy existence, find hope in Amy Sanders, a potter selected for the Arts & Science Council’s Community Supported Art program.

Originally at school for biology, Sanders took a ceramics class during her sophomore year and caught the art bug. She went on to receive a BA in art and a certification in secondary education.

After serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer for two years with Habitat for Humanity, Sanders and her husband settled. A lack of studio space meant that she took a brief hiatus from pottery, sewing for a while instead. When she returned to the ceramics scene, Sanders was trading labor for space at Clayworks. Teaching lessons provided access to art.

These mugs bear Amy Sanders’ individual appliques.

These mugs bear Amy Sanders’ individual appliques.

“The chunk of time that I was sewing for my creative outlet started breathing life into my ceramics,” Sanders said. Essentially, texture, trim and color from the sewing days imprint themselves in her clay pieces and give depth to each surface.

Sanders makes these pieces in a studio she and her husband constructed in the backyard, a place where she can experiment with pattern and shape. Because Sanders has two young boys, she works primarily at night to remain active in the clay field, although she still continues to teach.

“I love…inspiring other people…keeping my feet wet in the art community without having to produce a lot of work,” she said.

How does a potter with kids on the run protect her creative time?

By combining efficiency and talent and using hand-made stamps in the design process. Sanders does this using small pieces of bisque fired clay (the kind of firing that makes the clay hard, pre-glaze). Using stamps “gives me a visual vocabulary,” she said. “I’m getting texture that is personal and does have meaning.”

Furthermore, the space between the designs “becomes really interesting as well.” Stamps alleviate the pressure of Sanders having to draw a pattern, but still provide a sense of intricacy.

Right now, Sanders is playing with molds, trying to mark both the inside and the outside of pieces.

“I’m a more is more gal,” she explained, adding that she ultimately wants buyers to discover more on the item after their initial first-glance.

For the CSA program, she is delivering 50 serving bowls. These are the perfect size for individual use (read: one

Amy Sanders has found her niche combining functionality with art as seen here.

Amy Sanders has found her niche combining functionality with art as seen here.

incredibly hearty bowl of soup), or can be used as side dishes. They’re dishwasher safe and will feature appliques that Sanders stamps into thin clay and then attaches.

Said Sanders: “I love the idea of having something beautiful that’s also functional…things from your life bleed into your art so often.”

Clay is a friendly medium anyway, but bowls make art even more approachable because everybody eats therefore everybody needs something from which to eat. CSA shareholders dig out your cook books and prepare for your little piece of Amy Sanders – coming soon!

Click here to view more of Amy’s work.

Library Acts of Culture bring surprise performances to local patrons

28 Feb

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager 

A Sign of the Times of the Carolinas musician and band leader Tyrone Jefferson leads  the group's jazz ensemble in a Library Acts of Culture performance at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library West Boulevard branch.

A Sign of the Times of the Carolinas musician and band leader Tyrone Jefferson leads the group’s jazz ensemble in a Library Acts of Culture performance at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library West Boulevard branch.

People throughout Mecklenburg County are leaving their local libraries with more than just the books they’re checking out.

They’re leaving having been surprised by an unexpected cultural experience.

The Arts & Science Council (ASC), Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation are partnering to bring unannounced cultural performances to every county library branch through Library Acts of Culture.

Singers from Opera Carolina and dancers from Martha Connerton/Kinetic Works Dance Company performed together during a Library Acts of Culture visit to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Scaleybark branch, where delighted patrons broke out their smartphones to record the performance.

Singers from Opera Carolina and dancers from Martha Connerton/Kinetic Works Dance Company performed together during a Library Acts of Culture visit to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Scaleybark branch, where delighted patrons broke out their smartphones to record the performance.

So far, 12 Charlotte Mecklenburg Library branches have received a Library Acts of Culture visit; all 20 branches will have received a surprise performance by the end of March.

“The library now in 2014 is more than just books and computers,” said Charlotte Mecklenburg Library representative David Sniffin. “We do so much more serving patrons in all kinds of capacities and this is just another way we can expose them to the culture available at the library and the library’s partners.”

Over the past two weeks, surprised library patrons and staff have reached for their smartphones to record the pop-up performances, which have included the A Sign of the Times of the Carolinas jazz quartet, singers from Opera Carolina and performers from Martha Connerton/Kinetic Works Dance Company.

People broke out into dance at the West Boulevard branch, where the performance provided a special birthday treat for one visitor. A mesmerized toddler walked straight up to the flautist at the Mountain Island branch at the onset of the jazz quartet’s performance, enjoying a performance she thought was meant just for her.

A senior at the Davidson branch was moved to tears by Xela Pinkerton’s and Martin Schreiner’s operatic performance of “O mio babbino caro” (“Oh My Beloved Father”) from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” and “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” (“Let’s drink from the joyful cup”) from Verdi’s “La traviata” (“The Fallen Woman”).

“It’s always interesting to see the variety of ways in which people respond to the performances,” said Ryan Deal,

Ryan Deal, ASC associate vice president of cultural & community investment.

Ryan Deal, ASC associate vice president of cultural & community investment.

ASC associate vice president of cultural & community investment. “What makes it all worth it is when you find those positive responses of people that willingly drop what they’re doing to engage in the performance, grin from ear to ear, even tear up, and then seek us out after the performance is over to thank us for what we’re doing for the community.”

Library Acts of Culture bring performances from traditional venues to libraries across Charlotte-Mecklenburg, providing access to the arts in unexpected ways. They delight adults, but they also expose kids to the power of the arts, A Sign of the Times jazz vocalist Toni Tupponce told Fox 46 Carolinas.

“It’s important to me as a singer and as a performer because the earlier you can start children in seeing their dreams to perhaps perform or to be involved in the arts and see opportunities in that, it just widens their world,” Tupponce said. “And just seeing their eyes light up, it’s fantastic.”

Singers from Opera Carolina and dancers from Martha Connerton/Kinetic Works Dance Company performed together during a Library Acts of Culture visit to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library ImaginOn location.

Singers from Opera Carolina and dancers from Martha Connerton/Kinetic Works Dance Company performed together during a Library Acts of Culture visit to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library ImaginOn location.

ASC Cultural Project Grant helps Taproot Ensemble dig deep, get dirty

28 Feb

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

Taproot Ensemble members Camerin Watson and Alexander Lieberman perform.

Taproot Ensemble members Camerin Watson and Alexander Lieberman perform. Photo by Kevin Beaty.

They’re not the flowers of the Charlotte arts scene.

But the work Taproot Ensemble members produce is necessary – and just as beautiful in its own way.

Brianna Smith.

Brianna Smith.

“We’re the thing that’s trying to dig deep into what’s happening in this community,” said founding artistic director Brianna Smith. “We’re the thing that’s trying to bring what is life-giving to the surface so that it can feed people and it can sustain us and it can build community.

“You don’t sustain life by eating sugar all the time – and sugar is a wonderful thing that we all love – but you also have to have your vegetables.”

And, culturally speaking, Taproot wants us to eat our vegetables.

To the ensemble, that means creating original, cross-disciplinary work that tackles social justice and social issues, such as its latest piece, “Ophelos.” The devised performance piece, based on the Scandinavian folk tale that formed the basis of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” revolves around a young man who must deal candidly with the broken household and violent nation in which he lives when confronted with the murder of his father. The young woman who loves him challenges the cycle of violence that threatens to draw him in.

“The idea that if you have a young man raised in a household where his first response to tragedy is violence, how do you equip that young man with the tools necessary to break that cycle?” Smith said. “It doesn’t have to be heavy-handed to explore that issue and it doesn’t have to be poor performance quality to explore that issue. We think it can be something that is aesthetically pleasing and something that is engaging and interesting and community-oriented and also that has something real to say in every moment.”

The artists collective – Smith, Camerin Watson and Alexander Lieberman – received a $5,000 Cultural Project

Taproot Ensemble's Camerin Watson.

Taproot Ensemble’s Camerin Watson.

Grant from the Arts & Science Council to tour the work throughout northern Mecklenburg County after community-based collaboration during final phase of development.

In March, Taproot will present selections from the show at community feedback sessions to hear from the public what’s working and what’s not before full-length productions in April.

Such feedback is critical, Smith said, because it lets the collective know if its message is being received by the audience. It also makes audience members who aren’t intimately involved in the arts feel as though they have a place in the cultural community outside of just being someone who purchases a ticket.

“Everyone has an artistic mind, everyone has something to bring to the table” Smith said. “It’s one of the reasons one of our focuses is bringing in people who are not theatergoers and getting them an opportunity to not only enjoy the show but to be vested in it in a way that they may not feel in other situations.”

Feedback from past audiences at Pecha Kucha Night Charlotte, the Atlanta Fringe Festival, Upstage in NoDa and the Greensboro Fringe Festival allowed Taproot to develop the piece to this point.

Upcoming community sessions will help the ensemble prepare for its April productions of “Ophelos.” Throughout the process, Taproot wants to get people talking about the idea of turning towards forgiveness and away from vengeance.

“We live in a culture that, by and large, wants to say, ‘They did it to us, we’re going to do it back to them.’ It’s vengeance and reciprocity in the worst way,” Smith said.

“There is a potential for something more fulfilling and something more beautiful, something more satisfying through forgiveness, and that is not an easy process but it is an essential process.”

It’s a beautiful thought, one worthy of a cultural flower.

If only that were Taproot’s function.

“Our main focus is creating something that challenges and digs deep, gets dirty,” Smith said. “Digs deep, gets dirty into the world around us and brings up things that need to be brought up.”

It’s why Taproot isn’t the flower of our arts community, because it’s what’s needed to help those flowers bloom.

Want to Go? Want to Share Your Opinion First?

Taproot Ensemble will present “Ophelos,” about a young man challenged by the woman who loves him to break the cycle of violence threatening to draw him in after the murder of his father, at 8 p.m. April 5-6 at Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church, 9704 Mallard Creek Road, Charlotte; at 8 p.m. April 10 and 13 and 9 p.m. April 11 at Studio Kadi Fit, 19725 Oak Street, Cornelius; and at 8 p.m. April 25-27 at UpStage, 3306 N. Davidson Street, Charlotte.

In March, Taproot Ensemble will present selections from the show at community collaboration sessions to receive public feedback about the piece. Sessions include a March 22 showing at the Incubator series at Packard Place, 222 S. Church Street, Charlotte; a March 29 workshop at Grand Central Academy of Performing Arts, 19826 N. Cove Road, Cornelius; and another March 29 showing at Bella Love Live at the historic Oak Street Mill in downtown Cornelius.

For more information about Taproot Ensemble, visit its website, www.digdeepgetdirty.com.

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