By Bernie Petit
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.
“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.
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.