In The Counterculture:
Kindling Arts Festival 2023
Kindling Arts, self-described as “Nashville’s home for radically unique and independent artists,” had their 6th Annual Festival this July exploring the theme “Counterculture.” The 4-day performance festival featured 17 new works by local artists showcased at OZ Arts Nashville, The Darkhorse Theater, Nashville School for the Aerial Arts, The Barbershop Theater, and Global Education Center. Music City Review was able to send three reviewers to 4 performances this year: East Nashville Facebook Page: The Musical, Taboo, Silver Platter, and Bar Fight.
East Nashville Facebook Page: The Musical
What got me to pick this event from the many Kindling Arts Festival events was the name: East Nashville Facebook Page: The Musical. My only concern was that I’ve never lived in East Nashville, so I might end up being on the outside of all the jokes, not getting clever but esoteric references.
I had no need to worry. Nothing is as universal as locals complaining about other locals, and Emma Supica and Cherry Bomb gave each musical skit context, picking moments that were innately funny and aided by the projector, which showed screenshots of posts, photos, and a clip from the local news when needed.
The songs were a lot of fun. My favorite’s chorus went “When you want to start drama, go to Jerry’s Artarama,” and was an argument between three local graffiti artists as they bought spray paint. Others included a duel between two taco shops, a trio of grocery stores singing to a shopper trying to get supplies during a winter storm rush, and a ballad ruminating on their hatred and love for the Facebook page, ending in a patriotic salute to the page admins.
In between each musical number they did musical roulette, spinning a wheel and handing a random post to ensemble member Seth Green, who then sang the post in an improvised song with Alex Dolezal, the musical director, whose keyboard playing was impressive and versatile. This was the only time when I wished the projector wasn’t being used; they showed the post on screen and it stole some of the thunder from Green’s hilarious performance.
I saw the Sunday matinee show, and we were asked to share a favorite post from the East Nashville Page that they hadn’t covered. A woman in the audience handed up a witty, angry post by someone who got yelled at while dog walking because a homeowner assumed she was going to let her dog poop in the yard without picking it up. It was in the following musical sketch that their improvisational and ensemble skills really revealed themselves, their dance moves quickly adopted by all members of the group, each actor with a ready joke given the space to take over. Much of the singing was excellent, and the ensemble members that didn’t have the strongest voices more than made up for it with their witty lyrics and sheer enthusiasm.
Each sketch was a good length, tailored to fit the joke, and avoided the common error of stretching things out to try and hit some arbitrary performance length. They nailed that “you had to be there” energy of live improv.
We laughed a lot, and when the show was over I was surprised that time had passed so quickly. Kindling Arts Festival not only provided an excellent lineup, but also exposed the audience to local talent doing live performances in our city. Although they didn’t advertise another performance of this musical, Cherry Bomb performs fully improv shows multiple times a month at Third Coast Comedy Club here in Nashville. Cherry Bomb – Third Coast Comedy Club. – GT
I saw Suspended Gravity’s last performance of Taboo on Saturday, July 29th at the Nashville School for the Aerial Arts. In 13 acts over 90 minutes, the aerial and circus company explored the idea of what society considers taboo and how one can overcome the weight of society’s expectations with dance, music, aerial rope, silks, the lyra, and an aerial hammock. The venue was small and intimate, with chairs surrounding the performance area (closer to a ring than a stage). While the closeness of the artists was exciting, if you weren’t sitting in the front row, it was impossible to see the parts of the dance that were on the ground. Some of the performances were empowering, some light and funny, and others somber, but each contained a message for the audience about acceptance of others and acceptance of self.
In one performance titled “All Mirrors,” the artist is able to fling away what makes them “beautiful” according to society by discarding curlers, clothes, and makeup to just be themselves. In another performance titled “Gender Bent,” a man in a pink apron dances with a woman wearing a suit jacket. They remove these items and are left in matching black outfits, subverting gender norms, allowing themselves to be both, or perhaps neither, gender. In the last piece, two women run from typical expectations of everyday life, and find freedom up in the air as they twirl and flip together. As if the gods themselves were watching, the end of the show was punctuated with booms of thunder as a storm raged outside. It gave me the feeling that while the storm of expectations was waiting out there, in the aerial tent, I was safe and accepted. –BM
Amm Skellars, Nashville’s “only 100% Human Theater Company” opened the first festival evening on July 28th at OzArts Nashville, performing their smart, riotous, and hilarious, Silver Platter. A multimedia extravaganza, it is a kind of Baroque, hoop-and-wig pop musical that tells a Cinderella story in sneakers—the wig substituted for the glass slipper—you’d have to see it to understand. As advertised, it featured splendid gowns, a guillotine, a gavotte, and 5 great Jennys, but don’t be distracted by the gimmickry, there were real entertainment chops on display. Importantly, Amm Skellars has been characterized as a crew “of accidental theater kids who met through music but actively try each other’s disciplines on for size.” The result here is the kind of fresh, interesting innovations that often emerge from thoughtful collaborations between inspired artists.
As the lead “Wench Jenny” (our Cinderella), Hannah Dorfman (who also made the wigs) portrayed a charming charisma and sweet naivete that gave her that special little something. She was an excellent foil to her evil sisters right from the opening number “Jenny Say Caw” all the way through the symbolist lyrics of “Mr. Híbachí.” (Did I hear a dies irae in there somewhere?) If her acting and singing were right on point, her betrothal was to a Prince with excellent dance moves, played by a charming Mary Elizabeth Roberts. The Priest/Executioner (Ryan Wood) was dreadfully serious in a Benny Hill sort of way. The post-modern choreography, created by “Pole Jenny” (Ally Baker), carried the comedy deeply into the physical. For example, at one point, just at the mention of the potential of being Queen, the courtly dance shifted to Choko’s pelvic thrust. The awfully intense “Bad Jenny” (Mia Soza), the mysterious “Drum Jenny” (Rita Pfeiffer) and enchanting “Bass Jenny” (Camille Faulkner) filled out the fun, cheeky, hard-working and ridiculous quintet of Jennies–and I don’t mean mules!
Finally, I’d like to thank Cater Waiter 2 “Neil Maclean” for my Cheezit, it was crunchy. -JM
Next up was something completely different: Rabbit Effect’s Bar Fight! 2666: Broken Vows (Let the Bodies Hit the Floor), described as a “karaoke sci-fi opera set to 90s nu-metal featuring epic stage combat and a rockstar cast,” but I don’t think that tells it all either. Imagine if Frank-N-Furter from Rocky Horror grabbed up Alice Cooper and took him into future hell to perform heavy metal tunes as they watched the Orfeo and Euridice myth acted out in a World Wrestling Ring. Well, that doesn’t really do this show justice either. In any case, as Master of Ceremonies, Wanda Amanda Creech was striking, outdone only somewhat by Blake “Head in a Box…literally” Holliday. Their narration of events was part Southern Baptist preacher and part ring announcer. The beloved couple Eve Petty and Diego Gomez were endearingly naïve, sincere and rough-hewn; the perfect underdogs to the antagonist wrestlers Tavius Marshall and Justin Harvey. The fight choreography, by Harvey, Gomez and Lenin Fernandez was just great—funny, scary, and ridiculous all at once. Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva’s performance as “Mother Death” (“Mother Death does not FUCK with Forever!”) was chilling and masterful—protecting the production from falling into the realm of simple camp.
Overall, there was an operatic organization to the production. The drama would proceed (pushed forward by Mother Death or the Head in a Box), leading to some kind of choreographed fight. Then, the scene would end with a soliloquy, as expressed by the performance of a 90s metal anthem. Standout performances included the ensemble’s crowd rallying performance of Drowning Pool’s “Bodies,” Gomez’s intimate performance of Nine Inch Nail’s “Hurt,” all of which was tied very nicely in a bow with Perry’s nearly over-the-top rendition of Evanescence, “Bring Me to Life” to close this amazing event. Afterwards, everyone went on down to the Cackleberry County fair for some victuals and to “Milk the Mayor” or vote for the “cutest Cackleberry.” In all it was a great night. -JM
Counterculture may be the theme for this year’s festival, but I think it could be said that it’s the theme for Kindling Arts, itself. Founded in 2018, Kindling Arts empowers diverse creators by providing a space for artists that are not part of the Nashville mainstream and allowing them to collaborate and share audiences. It is incredible how much this program is able to do with limited resources. It has been growing for six years, reaching larger audiences as it continues to push against the expectations of society. Music City Review is certainly looking forward to next year’s festival!