Unsophisticated Art Review: 10 by 10

I imagine a lot of art pieces start with a single good idea and get expanded with supporting content that isn’t as good as the original idea. In the “10 by 10” format, each of the ten plays is only ten minutes long, so there’s no time for supporting content — you just get the good idea. It seemed like that way at the Ten by Ten in the Triangle show we saw at the Carrboro Arts Center last week.

Technically, most of the plays ran a few minutes more than ten minutes, but no one was complaining as the quality was good throughout. The entire show of ten plays and intermission took 150 minutes. The set changes between plays was very fast, often less than a minute when they just had to move a couple of chairs. The minimal sets did forgo the extra dimension of set design in the presentation.

Speed Mating was probably my favorite. Written by a mathematician, it featured four cicadas in their brief emergence to mate after 17 years underground. The actors made the most of their wings and bug eyes to capture the stages of cicada activity.

Dead Cat was also notable just because it seemed like an exercise in how much can we put into a ten minute play. Narration was mixed with “live” scenes and flashbacks. It all went together seamlessly, but I don’t remember the message.

Unsophisticated Art Review: Red Stick Ramblers

Red Stick RamblersI can definitely recommend the Red Stick Ramblers from New Orleans after seeing them play Saturday night at the Carrboro Arts Center. They put on a very lively show with many original songs plus a few standards. The crowd was small (100+) but enthusiastic with a dozen or so filling the dance floor for most songs. I’m told there was a good mix of waltzes and two-steps, but I wouldn’t know the difference.

Every band member excelled with their playing skills and vocals, but I thought fiddler Kevin Wimmer really stood out with some very smooth sounds coming from his fiddle. Guitarist Chas Justus was interesting to watch because of his perpetual friendly grimace. It was a treat to see a fiddlesticks performance, which was new to me.

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More Tie Dye

The extra ten t-shirts weren’t going to hold up for long with the soda ash on them, and fortunately Beth opened up her tie-dye studio/kitchen for a marathon dying session. It takes longer than expected to fold and tie the shirts and mix and apply the dye. I got 10 shirts done in about 6 hours, though I had to keep the patterns basic in the interest of time (and fatigue). 9 of the shirts came out pretty well.

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The bottom three are my favorites. The yellow and periwinkle work pretty well together in the spiral, so my attempt at making orange by mixing red and yellow in situ didn’t quite work out.

I guess I’ll be wearing a lot of tie-dye this year.

Tie Dye Lesson

Saturday, Beth and I traveled to Saxapahaw for a tie-dying session with fabric artist Jean Cerasani who teaches classes at the local Carrboro ArtsCenter among other places. I learned quite a bit and dyed four shirts, three of which turned out pretty good.

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I was hoping that Jean would have some magical tie-dye tricks and came in wanted to do something out of the Mandelbrot set. The spiral was as close as I could get, using this Wikipedia image as inspiration. The middle shirt is supposed to be a sunflower — not bad, but room for improvement.

I like the third shirt best. The bottom dye was from dipping, so it’s more solid than usual. I was looking for a way to add some texture to it and Jean suggested thin dark stripes along the folds, which became dots when the shirt was unfolded.

The only problem is I still have ten more shirts treated with soda ash and ready for dye…

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Unsophisticated Art Review – Steven Wright

Comic Steven Wright performed at Durham’s Carolina Theatre last week as part of his When the Leaves Blow Away tour. I’ve been a fan for a long time and saw him perform in Chapel Hill about 20 years ago. His style is still the same, and about half the content was familiar.

This show was about two hours of constant humor, with one short, witty observation after another. A few longer sequences and mini-songs were the only relief for the smile stuck on my face. A couple samples: “the Earth is bipolar” and “what has Jesus ever done for Santa Claus’s birthday?”

After the show I could barely remember any of the jokes, but I know many are still in my brain because they surface into my consciousness when jogged. For instance, yesterday someone was talking about ballet, and I remembered Wright’s observation that the ballet should just get taller ballerinas so they wouldn’t have to dance on their toes.

My only complaint with the performance was that his borderline-mumbling, deadpan delivery sometimes crossed the line and was unintelligible from where I was sitting. If only those other people would stop laughing!

Unsophisticated Art Review – Helvetica

I saw Helvetica, the documentary film, at the Full Frame Documentary Festival in Durham. The festival, in its tenth year, may have gotten too big for its own good. There were too many films for all of them to be shown in the Carolina Theatre, so some pieces, including Helvetica were shown in ballrooms of the adjacent hotel. Unfortunately, sitting in those fixed, armless chairs for so long was an unpleasant experience making it hard to enjoy the film.

As a long time Mac developer including a stint writing printer drivers, I’m probably more conscious of fonts than most people. Maybe that’s why I didn’t find so interesting the plethora of shots showing the pervasiveness of Helvetica in the world, especially signs and advertising. I did appreciate seeing interviews with lots of font designers who showed great passion about their work, including those involved with it from its beginnings in the late 1950s.

The style of the film emulates the style of the font itself. Helvetica the font is known for its neutrality. Some love the neutrality because it lets the content deliver the message alone. Others hate it because the neutrality gives up the opportunity to communicate on another level. The film is little more than a collection of interviews and shots of the font’s usage in the real world with little commentary provided to guide the viewer, which seems fitting to mirror the neutrality of the font.

American Airlines logoTidbit: the designer of the American Airlines logo spoke proudly of his work noting that AA is the only airline not to redesign their logo in the past 40 years and that the logo was the first public usage of what programmers call “camelCase”, — that is, two or more capitalized words joined together without intervening spaces.

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Unsophisticated Art Review – Rent

Bonnie and I saw the musical Rent at UNC’s Memorial Hall, but never quite figured out that the hype was all about. It may have just been us (and the MIT art reviewer) because everyone else in the theater acted like it was the best thing ever. There was even anticipatory cheering when some scenes started, reminiscent of fan reactions during The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The crowd was noticeably younger than usual for the Performing Arts series (it’s the first time I’ve noticed that student tickets had sold out), and perhaps they identified with the young characters.

Maybe I needed a prequel to build interest in the characters, but I couldn’t feel too sympathetic about a bunch of squatters being evicted from an abandoned building. Otherwise, I was able to enjoy the music and the interesting choreography. The set was impressive with multiple levels and entrances. The writing had some nice symmetries without feeling too contrived.

Some technical artifacts made it hard for me to follow along at times. All the actors wore microphones which made it difficult to tell who was singing at first when there were a dozen actors on the stage (since the sound came from the audio equipment, not the actor). And in spite of the microphones, some actors still crossed the line from singing to yelling at times, both losing the pitch and making the words unintelligible (or maybe the audio equipment was to blame).

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