Monday, December 3, 2012

Along The Way You Get Brave

Bronze by Bill Knight, A Wintry View of Marquand, Missouri from The Gallery

What a blast the forty or so art revelers that gathered Saturday afternoon at The Gallery in Marquand had celebrating the opening of Angela and Bill Knight's sculpture exhibit—Carved in Stone. It was a rare chance to experience world class museum-quality artworks in an intimate setting, and spend an early December afternoon in brilliant and invigorating company. Juli Von Zur Muehlen of Jewett said it best: “I'm here because I love art, I love my friends, and I love my friends who are artists. And... also the stone—the smoothness, the permanence, the organic-ness and the sculptures' not-so-subtle sexual messages...Angela, the feminine, Bill, the masculine, each artist only ever portraying themselves.”

 Adam in Cast Resin by Angela Hunter Knight

Having spoken at length with Bill about his work with indigenous stones—"relics prospected from the Missouri landscape"—earlier this year, it was my turn to have a tête-à-tête with Angela. Readers of The Madison County Crier may remember Angela's stirring and soaring words to last year's graduating class at Crossroads College Prep in Issue 3.5 (p. 11): With Humility All Things Are Possible. In the cozy inner salon redolent of hot apple cider, we stole a few moments to sit side-by-side on the chintz sofa to talk about what we both love best: ART.

FM: When did you begin sculpting?

Angela Hunter Knight: I began sculpting in earnest when I began teaching; if you want to teach sculpture you should do it. I'd studied sculpture at Fontbonne under Rudy Torrini—a whole community of artists were taught by him. The other impetus was Bill; he was having such a good time sculpting, I took a stab at it. The challenge attracted me, it seemed a new way to draw but in three dimensions. At a professional development course in Marble, Colorado, I attempted my first large-scale carving. In eight days I finished roughing out a 300-pound sculpture.

A Venus by Angela Hunter Knight

FM: How is that you came to focus on Venus?

Angela Hunter Knight: In many ways I am a Classicist, and I enjoy the many characters of Venus. I attribute to her a joyous, even whimsical persona. I show her in various states of womanhood. I hope to redefine her, I've enjoyed messing with her—exposing the parts of her that are teasing, playful, that exhibit reckless abandon. Breaking her out of a box that history has put her in. That's not fair, she needs to be set free!

FM: Can you please talk a bit about your process, how you approach a new work; and if it has, how it has changed over time?

Angela Hunter Knight: In the past I started with drawing, then created a maquette, and then proceeded to the stone. Now I'm starting with the stone, then I do a drawing, and finally the maquette. It's a different process of discovery—finding the way, instead of knowing the way. A means of trusting your instincts more. I've become more confident about carving, handling the materials, the tools. There's so much to learn about what each tool does. Errors are okay. I look for the errors, you're forced to make a decision. For instance after working on one of my Venus pieces, I discovered a huge crack all the way in.

FM: What did you do, Angela?

Angela Hunter Knight: I decided to take a hammer to it and break it along the crack. Part of the work is finished, polished, and part is unfinished. When I looked at the result I thought that's perfect! In sculpture there's a constant conversation with the materials.

FM: I got a chance to take in the Federico Barocci exhibit last week at the St. Louis Art Museum and loved how each painting was hung in a constellation of its studies, shining a curatorial light on process and the revelation of Barocci's choices: hand up, hand down, foot turned in or out. I suppose those choices are even more stark and immediate in sculpture...?

Angela Hunter Knight: Yes! At the Barocci exhibit I barely glanced at the paintings, but the drawings blew me away. During the Renaissance, paper was at a premium. He used every square inch of it, and his sense of composition is extraordinary.

In Colorado I thought I can't do this, it's too hard, I'll never be able to do this. Day One, I was crying, facing something that I knew was the most difficult thing, wondering maybe I wasn't cut out for it. But then I started chopping, drawing, selecting a strategy, grinding, and I found out, along the way you get brave. By Day Two I saw I was getting somewhere. I'm very organized. I never stop one day unless I know where I'm going to start the next day. 

Strange Fruit

I work mostly on large pieces in Colorado Yule marble. It's very fine-grained, crystalline, with great luminosity. It's honest in its workability, you can get along with it, you know what to expect. Other pieces are carved from alabaster. Strange Fruit for instance, which is not a reference to the Billy Holiday song; it's based on an avocado, much more literal. If you look at it from the side it looks like an avocado, if you look at it from the front/back, like a female. It's very colorful and I love it for that reason. White outside, tawny inside.

For small-scale works there are tools that we use, industrial tools. Large pieces are so physical, you're using your whole body when you work, and I like using my whole body. With small pieces, you're using your hands. I don't micro as well as I macro. I connect smaller pieces to writing. Sometimes, however, a small piece manages to have a great presence; that's where I'm going next.

Photo by Russ Middleton

FM: What advice do you have for novice sculptors?

Angela Hunter Knight: Don't kid yourself: there will be tears. You will lose your fingerprints; you have to be strong both physically and mentally, but don't give up. It is hard, there's nothing easy about it. I have an inner need, I have to do sculpture to sustain me, I'm always making art. When I retire from teaching, in my grand finale, my grand design is to always find myself there, creating. But it has to work organically with everything else I do—my horses, the dogs, running.

Bill and Angela Knight, Photo by Russ Middleton
 FM: What are you working on right now?

Angela Hunter Knight: A model for a metal sculpture; it's an abstraction of herons. A commissioned piece for the garden at the school where I teach.

Art lover and maker Norah Von Zur Muehlen, age 8, holding one of Bill's pieces. Behind her is Venus Whimsy, her sister Ellen's favorite piece in the show. When I asked Ellen, age 15, why that was, she replied: "It appeals to the same part of me that enjoys daydreams, or reading fantasy fiction novels."

I asked Norah to please ask Angela one final question, and she kindly agreed.

Norah: Angela, where do you get the ideas to make your stuff?

Angela Hunter Knight: I'm a thematic person. A theme is like an umbrella, it covers a lot of things, the figure and the abstraction of the figure. My Venus series, for instance, which grows progressively more abstract. My first Venus was Rational Venus, she was based on ideal beauty, the next was Venus of Mirth, then Venus Whimsy, and so on...After spending all this time with Venus, now I need a new umbrella!

Carved in Stone will be on display throughout December and January, 2013. The address of The Gallery is 101 East Pinckney Street in Marquand, Missouri 63655 (just off Whitener Street behind The Reagan Hotel.) The Gallery's hours are Friday, Saturday and Sunday: 12-5 pm. Or call Dorothy Kelley at 573-783-5609 for other showing times by appointment.

Bill Knight and Marquand vintner Jay Hansmann holding a piece by Bill. Jay is owner of Durso Hills Winery where we all repaired after the opening for a fabulous post-gallery repast. We couldn't help ourselves, we ordered a second bottle of the oaky Norton 2005 with dinner!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Where Human Growth Happens

A profile in courage: a pensive Kerry Smith before the show at Regional Arts on Delmar

My friend Kerry Smith walked the runway for Glitterfly Apparel at the Second Annual Style in the Loop fashion show, and I was there to ooh and ahh and clap and cheer, not only for Kerry but for designers Noelle Wagner (Flat River) and Michelle Swane (Ironton)--a happy to be alive night! Though not a professional model, in fact this was to be the first time she ever wore stilettos, Kerry did us all proud. But it wasn't the shoes that made Kerry grow in stature right before my eyes, it was the risk taking, the throwing herself into something new, not knowing how it would turn out, but giving it her all.

Though not captured in my pics, my favorite moment of the whole show was when Kerry, so serious about appropriately repping Glitterfly with a certain command and dignity, so determined not to totter or sway on those high heels, got to the end of the runway and saucily threw the photographers a kiss. It was a perfectly loving gesture to salute the clothes themselves and the way they made her feel that fabulous night. Weeks later when I asked her to offer a few adjectives about the Glitterfly collection with the very first words that popped into her head, she fired back with "sexpot, free-spirit!" Absolutely right. If you weren't there for a once in a lifetime chance to see Kerry and Glitterfly take a huge leap future forward, here's part of what you missed. 

Because it was a first modeling experience for Kerry, I asked her to please tell us in what ways it felt like new experience, and how her participation helped her in breaking new ground personally?
"Oh, I felt my experience with the fashion was special because it was able to connect me to people that have similar interests. Gave me an inside look behind the scenes at the perks, nerves, work, and excitement others don't see. I embraced the chance to plunge into something new, something unfamiliar, because I recognize that's where human growth happens. I've always felt I'm socially awkward, sometimes more than others, and this gave me a chance to throw myself into a bunch of people I didn't know. I was testing myself, the test was: can you make friends easily? By the end of the night I was dancing with 3 girls backstage and laughing about all sorts. It gave me more energy too and confidence. Before, I said: I only wanna walk once, I don't think I can even handle that with my nerves. Then, after walking, when I got backstage I thought I wanna walk every time. Moreover ladies I'm taking your spot. Even more so than that feeling, I wanted to be the designer. For sure! The creator, the brains. It's so much more fulfilling for me, I think." 

Oooh! Patrick wore this shirt so well, more pictures of him here
I want this to be the official Written Word, Spoken Word cardigan!

Noelle told me: "My clothing lines depend a lot on what kinds of fabrics come through the studio door; 90% of the fabric comes from seamstresses no longer sewing, remnants from an upholstery/drapery company in St.Louis, thrift stores, and garage sales. Occasionally, I'll be at a fabric store picking up zippers and whatnot and will see a bolt of something that I can't resist. The designs are based on styles and cuts that have traditionally flattered the female figure: high-waisted pencil skirts, princess seams, a-line, etc."

She also passed along this statement submitted as part of the application by Glitterfly to Style in the Loop:
Glitterfly Apparel is the creation of Noelle Wagner & Michelle Swane. For years we costumed many for Halloween, theatre productions, and well, just for the fun of it. We also gifted friends and family with enough of our handiwork to make their closet doors bulge. Then folks we didn't know began to take notice and seek out our wares; a librarian quickly transforms into a Dewey Decimal diva, the folk singer becomes a frock star, etc. We've primarily sold our duds at festivals, shows, and the occasional open studio sale. We're starting to branch out but we still relish the person-to-person show sale.
Neither of us have any formal fashion/design training. Rather, we both sat below our grannies while they stitched, learned basics in 1980's home economics class, and then began years of learning through trial and error. Then our skills were perfected by challenges we brought unto ourselves. Inspiration often comes from nature, dreams, and a slightly distorted idea of normalcy. 
A portion of the company is dedicated to the upcycling of vintage pieces with unique appliqué designs: alien women, poison ivy, flies, balloon dogs, and beets to name a few. A specialty of ours is the western shirts & polyester western suits a la Nudie Cohn, but with more appliqué, less sequins. Besides Nudie, Little Edie and each other provide inspiration.
Another side of our company sews series of one-of-a-kind, retro inspired women's apparel. The series is sewn from the same design in various sizes; the series limited to 25-50 per series. And although it is a series, each one is unique in fabric & embellishment making each genuinely a one-of-a-kind piece. Some even receive their own title. For the cooler months ahead, I've sketches for the 9 to 5 series inspired by the 80's flick of the same name. It will include sexy pencil skirts and bow blouses to rock way after 5:00. All of the garments are carefully made incorporating hand stitching and details, just as Granny insisted!
Opening up the possibilities in wedding garb. Makes every other wedding dress I've ever seen pale by comparison.

This collection is so hot; it's only a matter of time before it spreads like wildfire!
Feeling good after the show, even before the after-party
Kerry's grandma Tessie (who's teaching her to sew) and mom Kelly who drove up from Fredericktown after a long work week to be there for Kerry
Kerry back in her own stylish vintage duds (notice her lion necklace, for courage she confessed)  in the embrace of one pleased fashion designer. And why not? Several items were sold off the mannequins before the doors even opened, snapped up by the other designers. What better compliment and endorsement of her creative vision?
One beautiful talented lady--Glitterfly designer Noelle Wagner at the end of the happy (and successful!) event
From everyone in southeast Missouri--we're so impressed and excited for you, ladies! If there ever was, there's no stopping you now.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Joke From God*

" fossils have ever been found to substantiate evolution, which would certainly be strange if evolution was true, because a lot of fossils have been found, and more every day."
--Jennie Whitmer, the Democrat News, October 10, 2012

The above editorial appeared in the Democrat News, a Lee Enterprises newspaper, published in Fredericktown, Missouri, in the October 10th issue. That's October 10, 2012, for those who might be wondering.

I only mention it because amazingly there were no outraged comments left on the newspaper's site (one mild one), no scandalized townspeople rose up to demand that the paper be shut down, that its editors be fired. No one threatened to spit in the publisher's face, show 'em the county line, send them back to Iowa. No science teachers either from the public school system or the community college extension organized to confront the Democrat News' advertisers, to threaten boycott and otherwise hold them responsible for this outrage to common sense, the public good, and most especially their own job security.

No one started a thread on Topix or called the publisher a dumb bitch. No wives of scientists rushed to science's side regretting they or science itself had ever been previously mentioned in the newspaper. Nine days later the paper's points of distribution seem to have remained unperturbed. No reports of vandalizing the newspaper as a result of publishing Jennie Whitmer's column have reached my ears and certainly no bellicose shouts of “Burn It!” or “Shut it Down.” No one on the Democrat News' writing team has resigned from fear of negative association, boycott or other retribution, as unfortunately was the case with several quislings on The Crier's masthead. As far as I can tell the Ad Rep hasn't cut his ties and slithered away. No one has attacked Ms. Whitmer's sanity, questioned her motives, tried to shame her for her disrespect to human intelligence, or crowed about wanting to put her happy ass on a plane to Afghanistan. Letters to the Editors did not pour over the paper's transom on South Main; no abusive phone calls were received by the DN's local staff or at corporate headquarters in Davenport.

Even with no sidebar attributing this woman's point of view to a wishful fantasy in an alternative universe, no local loudmouth boutique owners, renowned slumlords, or other disagreeable members of prominent Fredericktown families have distanced themselves from the newspaper. Nor have they risen to the defense of human reason, or publicly apologized to their children for allowing outside influences to confuse them momentarily with an anti-science viewpoint. No self-appointed town leaders have gone on their Facebook spewing vitriol towards those that allowed Lee Enterprises to set up shop in Madison County in the first place. No reporters from Cape Girardeau have schlepped up to Fredericktown to get the "convoluted story" straight and "demand answers." No seasoned corporate media columnist from Chicago has devoted his column and a supplemental blogpost to analysis of its content. No astonishingly lazy reporter from the Riverfront Times in St. Louis has spiced up a rehash of something she gleaned secondhand from the Chicago media columnist, getting numerous details flat out wrong.

The city's Zoning and Planning Commission has not put it to a vote not to allow interviews to go forward with the Democrat News about its citizen survey and 20-year plan as a result of the scandalous ignorance demonstrated by Ms. Whitmer (assuming they would trouble themselves to report on it). The corporate newspaper has not been craftily banned from having a table at a community business event. Local county and city elected officials are not stonewalling, refusing interviews, hanging up on DN personnel when contacted for interviews, etc.

Why not? I mean fair is fair. From what I can tell Jennie Whitmer attended a program somewhere called “Stories of Evolution” and then presented the stories not as they were presented to her, but without asking anyone's permission, offered her own take on those stories. How "unimaginably disrespectful" to the accomplishments of the stories' originators, some of who may have been marines or who may know a marine or may have at one time talked to a marine! So why the difference in response, why is the one met with apoplectic hysteria and another with calm resignation, even amusement or a perverse pride ("only in Fredericktown!")?

I really hadn't planned or desired to devote even one more pixel on this blog to my newspaper's encounter with mob rule in Fredericktown, Missouri. But when God (*greater ontological dignity) hands you a joke so rich, it's downright heretical not to publish the punch line.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Poetic, A Place of Passion

Painting by John DeBold, Image by Steve Hull

What a brilliant party last Saturday night at Poetic Skate Shop in Farmington where a buoyant crowd gathered to fund raise for a new half moon pipe to be installed in the back room. Half moon pipe to be installed in the back room! The pipe will be tucked in between two walls, so there will be a “wall ride” as owner Adrian Ware termed it, where they just might do the occasional “sticker slap” contest (the winner's whoever slaps the sticker highest).

Adrian explained to me that the pipe will be fabricated from pool coping which is like marble, ergo “there's more stuff to skate on it, and it sounds better when you grind it. Kids can come in here, especially when it's raining, learn some new tricks and then take them out to the streets. And it's free, whenever the shop's open the kids can come back here and skate. Helmets and waivers for the kids under 21. They're always welcome to skate here.”

Adrian Ware
 (Image courtesy of Farmington Chamber of Commerce)

I asked guest Rusty Brotherton what skating meant to him. “It means everything! I've been doing it since I was 5 or 6 years old, it's what I'm all about. It's hard to put it into words. It's a lifestyle, I found it, I enjoyed it, loved it and have never looked back at anything else. I love all of it, the freedom, the true freedom, zig-zagging back and forth, and having fun. You can go as fast as you want down a hill. You can go to any random place and have a conversation with another skater, a stranger, and it's an instant connection. It's like a brotherhood.”

Cody Hardie, 17, goes to Central High School and lives in Park Hills, and says he's been at the shop every single day since it's opened. Having had a back injury in the past he gravitated to skate boarding. “I'm not worried about injuries in skating,” he explained. “You set goals, but you're not competing with other people, you're besting yourself. It's one of the most peaceful sports.”

I asked Cody what it means to have a shop like this in the area. “It's fantastic! We don't have to get cheap knock-offs at Walmart. It's a great relief to have access to top-of-the-line merchandise. Adrian's a cool guy. He orders the best stuff, goes out of the way to get the stuff for you.” Rusty added that “Adrian's opening up professional skating opportunities. He got me out there to the point where certain companies will say I want this dude to ride for me. He does this for other kids too.” Cody said the shop's “a cool place to meet other people. When it rains, people come from all over. Today there were some kids up here from Poplar Bluff.”

We all came out of the back room where we'd gathered to watch painter John DeBold put the finishing touches on his wall art, Pop Art-inflected images he'd created for Poetic of a screamin' red rooster and a cupcake skull named Sweet Tooth. The main room, where more of John's artworks hung, had filled up with stylish young people, and even before the musicians played the energy was charged. “Skateboarding, art and music go together like peanut butter and jelly,” Adrian quipped. He's planning on having bi-weekly evenings at the shop where people can hang out and talk and see a new art show like the current solo show featuring John's paintings and drawings, maybe listen to some live music. “I want to bring the kids here the best things I've experienced with skateboarding in the city. So far, we've got two kids sponsored from a company in New Jersey.”

Poetic Skate Shop in Farmington, MO, Photo by Steve Hull
Spirited groups of three, four, and five mostly young men were actively looking at and talking about John's work, moving up and down the exhibit, pointing back and forth to various images, animatedly discussing what they were seeing. How many Dumbo and Chelsea gallery shows have I been to where people don't extend even more than a cursory glance to what's before them on the walls, like the art is besides the point? At Poetic Skate Shop in Farmington, Missouri, they were reaching for it!

I shared with Adrian the thought that young people don't really need all this discipline frustrated adults were always looking to impose on them. Rather they need challenge; and if challenged, they'll happily discipline themselves. To which he immediately replied, “Exactly. These kids have got each other's backs. If one kid needs something for his skateboard but he's short a few bucks, out come the wallets.”

There was talk that the next show just might include Steve Hull's photographs matched musically with a reggae dub. Everyone's welcome, especially men my own age in need of reminding what the exuberance of spine-tingling freedom feels like in zig-zagging motion. And please feel free to reach into your own wallets and peel off a couple of freshly-minted twenties for the cause--installing the half moon pipe in the back room at Poetic, and putting some sweet and toothy smiles on some random kids' faces.

Poetic Skate Shop is located at 1 North Jefferson Street in Farmington, MO. Soloists, bands, artists and shoppers can reach proprietor Adrian Ware at 636-359-1325.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Wow! Look what Fredericktown, Missouri can do when it puts its mind to solving a “problem.” Within hours of the offending issue of my newspaper The Madison County Crier, radical activists organized to put me out of business (as if you can put a labor of love out of business). Advertisers and points of distribution were confronted, the newspaper itself was vandalized, I received a few phone calls calling me an idiot, demands were made for an apology to the Killians both via letters to the editor and telephone calls, and all in all a river of stenching pus flowed on Facebook and Topix (a local message board) to the point where one of the corporate media outlets in Cape Girardeau roused itself to schlepp up and around town to “get the story.” In my experience, when corporate media gets involved they're often trying to divert you from something even more significant. I've racked my brains as to what that might be, and the only thing I can come up with is the Fredericktown Zoning Commission citizen survey sham.

Fredericktown's Zoning and Planning Commission is putting together a 20-year plan. Now, everyone whose been involved in anything civic over the years knows that when governments start “planning” odds are 50-50 or better that something's going to get stolen right out from under the nose of the people. In NYC when Bloomberg put together his Vision 20:20 plan for the Manhattan waterfront, coincidentally bed bugs spread in the public housing projects that ring the waterfront, surveillance cameras were installed in some housing projects and now there's a press to install surveillance cameras in the projects without them (for their own protection, naturally, based on the results of what else? a citizen survey!). It's common knowledge that apartments have been warehoused for years (not rented out to new tenants when people left), and just watch how this "reform" effort plays out. The Manhattan real estate interests would give their left nut for a chance to sell the waterfront again, and Bloomberg, who thinks nothing of hijacking public lands and resources for personal gain or just pleasure, let them know via his “plan” that the waterfront boondoggle was on. Using the illusion of transparency and citizen input, he diverts the energy and focus of interested citizens who are tricked into feeling that they have been consulted and provided with an opportunity via hearings and meetings to provide “input.” Meanwhile the world within the world is turning.

In Fredericktown they don't go to that much trouble to get community “buy-in.” Somebody designed a survey, not worth the paper it's printed on, which nobody much knows about (the deadline has passed) to use as cover later to show that the people were consulted; even a few high school seniors were cynically used as decoration to show they “reached out to the youth.” They're relying on “apathy,” a constant ingredient in any civic project in Fredericktown, which the leaders have cultivated over the years by a variety of methods, most especially boring people do death with meetings in airless, flourescent-lit rooms, and starting a bunch of initiatives that never go anywhere. That's how the "leaders" do it, like taking candy from a baby. (And does it come as any kind of surprise to learn that one of the biggest decriers of the newspaper, a “leader” who has been on Facebook admonishing the people who brought me to Fredericktown, is also a mover and shaker on the Zoning Commission?)

So when it turns out that The Crier is not just about decorating their efforts, but really is asserting itself as a change vehicle, helping to empower people with critical thinking skills (asking tough questions) its credibility must be destroyed. Enter the “disrespect” brouhaha. But weirdly, it's not working this time, the people aren't allowing themselves to be fooled and manipulated so easily. It's true that some people had a big emotional reaction, but now that the outrage has subsided they're not so quick to want to let go of The Crier it turns out. And what is also becoming apparent even to the bullies and the bullied cowards who "support" them, if they win, they too lose; they lose the chance to find out what opportunities could come next that are bigger and better and bolder than anything they can conceive of from the heart of their limitations.

I can sense the deep and rising undercurrent of support, and consequently am taking the following actions: I'm changing the publication date from Wednesday to Friday (so that in future issues I have the option of pointing out in a timely manner the things that the local corporate paper has not pointed out); I am increasing circulation from 1,500 to 1,800; and I'm expanding distribution outside of Frederictown while constricting it inside of Fredericktown. The paper will only be available at a single outlet, where it will be given out one copy at a time and is guaranteed not to be vandalized by the very same adults who cluelessly wonder why their kids are so destructive defacing the doors and stalls in public bathrooms, and the like.

So why did I call this blogpost “Checkmate?” Because at a fundamental level the many people who don't carve the pie and never get to “participate” in the spoils well know that if they allow either through inaction, inattention, or stubborn wrongheadedness the powers that be to go forward unchallenged with their 20-year rape and pillage fest of the commonweal, that they will pretty much lose everything that's left to lose, everything that's not already nailed down by those same "powers." So here we are. Fredericktown either shakes off its emotionalism-induced stupor and braces itself for its much needed growth spurt with the support and guidance of the many voices in their very own free alternative community newspaper, The Madison County Crier, or it continues to die a slow and agonizing death, with the vultures gleefully feeding off the carrion of the roadkill of the townspeople.   

A final note to the business owners who have clandestinely offered us money to keep The Crier going. Stand up and be counted, otherwise your money is worthless to us, as worthless as your flattery. To everyone else, especially those who wish to remain neutral (there is no such thing in this scenario), Find your own way to use your outrage to help you find your courage, it's in there somewhere; locate it and then stick to it, with full knowledge that we've already won. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Six Little Issues

“We live in a culture of disrespect.” “How can we stop the bullies?” These were the messages I took away from my first encounter with Fredericktown, Missouri last January, so it was with absolutely no illusions that I decided to work there.

For the past three months I've been humping around Madison County, Missouri, which is filled with natural beauty and plenty of wonderful people, establishing a free alternative community newspaper, or more accurately, reviving one that had gone defunct...twice. It's been a lot of hard work, not particularly remunerative, and frankly, has soon grown tiresome, at least the part walking on eggshells trying not to piss off the local bullies, who are numerous, and who themselves live to be pissed off. Then they know that something has happened to them, and they feel alive. They do a pile on, quickly quashing whatever possibility of alterity or dissent that might be in the air or building on the ground, and that's a good day. They have many good days. 

Fredericktown, which is the county seat, is somewhat tragic; the people are largely there by default, and it's one of those “communities” that have been completely written off by the power brokers. Local U.S. Congresswoman JoAnn Emerson brought exactly zero dollars in earmarks back to Madison County in the last congress, yet they seem to adore her. She manipulates them with demagoguery 101 on the gun control issue and they buy it hook, line and sinker while she delivers nothing, zero. Cape Girardeau flourishes relatively speaking from her largesse, Farmington too, but not Madison County. There's no need to give Madison County anything; they wouldn't confront power if their lives depended on it (which they do), though there's every kind of privation. That is one of The Crier's crimes to be sure, bringing those privations to the attention of the readers, as well as her indifference to them.

People in Fredericktown are fond of talking about community pride, you hear it all the time, but seem to spend most of their waking hours canceling out each other's efforts, so little real progress is ever made. A predatory lender comes to town, they rent one of the prettiest buildings in the historic downtown and the local Chamber of Commerce hosts a ribbon-cutting. It's a death knell for the town, they know it, and they celebrate it because “at least the building's not empty any more.” One resale shop closes, a new junk store opens. Oh look the buildings are filling up! The few stores with quality merchandise beg for custom, while bling and kitsch rule. They commence the Fredericktown Revival Initiative, bore everyone to death with endless meetings, and take little action achieving a pittance of forward movement, completely disproportionate to the effort and time invested. They create a wonderful social space gallery called The Loft, and few people come, the walls where artworks used to hang are now empty, and so on.

We were hitting it out of the park with the paper, each issue finer than the previous one, but ad dollars were stagnant; we had the appearance of growth (new ads each issue) but no actual growth because just as many would “take a break.” Frustrating, and a lens that got my attention. Meanwhile, I was increasing circulation (warranted by the demand), translating articles into Spanish, planning extraordinary community events (now canceled because of the brouhaha). We lavished our intelligence and creativity on our readers, offered every kind of beauty and made many people smile. People got out their dictionaries, dusting them off, they told me so. That made me smile.

But the bullies, the miserable self-defeating bullies, were just biding their time. Could they ever really be open to the project of growth, which requires tolerance of and respect for diversity of opinion and modes of expression, or were they just waiting to pounce? I had begun to wonder. It very much felt like the latter. A mere toenail over the line, their line of military sacrosanctness, and we're finding out. Every other place I've ever lived parents organize to prevent military recruiters from preying on their youngsters. In Fredericktown they organize against the paper for suggesting that they should. In other places, parents simply don't allow the military to reach into their schools to indoctrinate their children. In Fredericktown they applied for it! and the JROTC program is considered to be just another club for the kids to choose from in the high school. Question its value in the newspaper and the very idea is met with outrage, advertisers are called by the high school drill sergeant, I'm told, threatened with boycotts. “High school drill sergeant” what a chilling collection of words to my ears. In Fredericktown it's completely accepted as normal, and no alternative perspective is allowed, period, the end.

The other grave offense. A young marine graduates from boot camp, to even suggest a wish for a safer way forward is viewed universally as “disrespect.” Much is made of the fact that I didn't ask permission of those who submitted the announcement to alter it with a message of peace and love. I wasn't a good girl, I didn't ask mommy and daddy. The bullies didn't much like that, hierarchy and power relations (masked as manners) must not be upset. No new currents of thought can be introduced, it's not polite! Very big word around there, disrespect; they're always on the lookout for it, and always manage to find it when confronting a situation that might otherwise require thought, or action, most especially change. Hiding behind the outrage of offense to avoid confronting the possibility that other less violence-filled futures are possible, and even desirable. Good work, Fredericktown! (with an all-too-predictable assist from Bonne Terre, another foresaken hamlet that is answering its own question of to be or not to be? with a shrug and a Jagermeister).

Friends in Farmington had warned me that it was useless to try anything even remotely progressive in Fredericktown, that they were 100% committed to their downhill trajectory. “Fredericktown is Fredericktown,” people here say. “It'll never change. It's why they don't prosper.” Even before the first issue was ever printed a friend down thataway told me that revitalizing the paper “would be like putting jet fuel in a lawnmower.” I heard them but I like the tough cases, I learn the most from them. And to tell you the truth I still have some hope for Fredericktown, though I have to say it's not looking very good for The Crier's continuation at this moment, to say the least. On our own Facebook page I've been called a cunt, even worse, a “bloomberg cunt” (a reference to the mayor of New York City for those who are wondering). That one especially made me laugh. Even so, I am happy to continue the paper if it would be possible to do so, to continue to bring intelligence and reason, variety and diversity to the readers. But I am not willing for my efforts and the efforts of the amazing writers assembled under The Crier's masthead to merely decorate a town unwilling to truly support the paper, which would mean occasionally holding up their long and sacredly held beliefs to the light of day to see if they're in still intact.

Everyone knows what really happened, even if they prefer not to admit it. I challenged them on something vitally important (their children's lives and futures) and when they tried to blow me away with their collective outrage rather than consider the substance of the challenge, I didn't flinch. Not backing down, they wanted me to apologize for wishing for peace on this young man and all the other young men and women who might chance upon the announcement. Along with their town's dignity, they can count the paper, if it goes that way, as yet another of their losses. Whether they value it or not, it's theirs.

To the serious and dedicated people down there working tirelessly for years, decades, to improve things, and there are many of them, I may have stumbled upon the answer to their question: How to revive Fredericktown? Piss them off! Their indignation seems to be the only thing that really gets them going; (they're hurting so much) it's the only thing they can believe in.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Public Domain Theatre Casting Call

Public Domain Theatre Casting Call

The inaugural production of Madison County's Public Domain Theatre will be Jean Paul Sartre's scorching existentialist philosophical classic No Exit, from which his most famous quote is derived: “Hell isother people.”  

An audition for the parts of Garcin (adult male) and Estelle (adult woman) will be held on Saturday, September 15th at 11:00 am. at The Loft, upstairs at 120 West Main Street (above the Chamber of Commerce office) in Fredericktown, and if necessary on Saturday, September 22nd at 11:00 a.m. The roles of Inez and The Valet have already been cast.

Please come prepared to tell us about your performance experience (if any) and to do a cold reading from the play. Rehearsals will be held in Fredericktown in the evenings and weekends, and performances will be held Thursday through Sundays in late November/early December.

We are also seeking designers—set, costume, lighting and music—and a stage manager and prop master to crew the show. Public Domain Theatre aims to perform high quality copyright and royalty-free dramatic works for the stage. 

One of the more appealing aspects of life in rural Missouri is that if one is to have a cultural life at all, one has to create it oneself. There are few cultural events available for consumption and the majority of those few are not worth attending, as I learned the hard way last year at Opera Iowa's very unmagical flute (with no flute). The very absence of credible opera, theatre (other than student productions which can be quite good), orchestral music, art museums and bookstores forces one to dig deep to uncover latent talents and bring them to the fore.

While we do have a local arts council that puts together monthly programs, fall to spring, its offerings are to be located somewhere on the spectrum between risible and out-and-out snore fest. They just announced this year's lineup and it would not be unfair to say that the concerts, films, lectures and other entertainments in my mother's nursing home in Sydney Australia were more inventive and rousing.

"The 2012-2013 Season is underway and season tickets are flying off the shelves! The first show is Sept. 22, True Men is an accapella choir from Truman University. Also this season you will see the acclaimed Branson troupe, Liverpool Legends, performing music of the Beatles...Wizard of Oz, a family friendly theatre production...and back by popular demand, 2nd annual Arts & Flowers, artwork paired with floral interpretations....just to name a few!"

The Mineral Area Council on the Arts specializes in missing opportunities to bring stimulation, joy, complexity and energy to this region. I suppose it's so that people can remain in a half brain-dead stupor while the likes of Kevin Engler and JoAnn Emerson help legislate the transfer of wealth out of the commonweal. It's a serious problem for this region's survival and flourishing. So I am going to try my hand at directing Jean Paul Sartre's No Exit this fall. Even if I fail miserably at least I won't be baaaaing like a sheep in the audience at the Centene Center, or the voting booth for that matter.

I think it's going to be a blast, and I can't wait to see the audience reaction to a drama about a baby-killer, military coward, and cold-blooded lesbian shooting the existential merde in hell's drawing room, here in the Bible Belt. Provocative characters aside, I really am eager to have the questions Sartre raises in the play considered by people around here, possibly for the very first time. (Also, a PhD in philosophy somehow dropped out of the sky in Fredericktown, and may serve as dramaturg to the production. If so, the program notes themselves will be an education in existentialist thought, and I hope he'll consider giving some public talks in conjunction with the production.)

So why start a theatre of works in the public domain? To save royalty fees because it will be a poor theatre? Yes, but more than that, it's about not wanting to deliver via original innovative works any more narrative tricks for power to use against us in their media campaigns and political theatre. About 8 years ago an old friend of mine was hired by the Pew Foundation to conduct a nationwide survey on the state of American theatre. I found that very suspect, that Pew was suddenly interested in supporting new plays. But when you consider that in Manufacturing Consent Noam Chomsky reminded us that power rules through propaganda and indoctrination it made sense that, on the cheap I assure you, they could get the credulous playwrights (with my friend as Pied Piper) to deliver fresh modes of narrative persuasion, the improbable but “true” plot twists, and so on.

I'll have none of that. I refuse to wittingly deliver any tricks of the trade to power for their nefarious purposes. Besides it's not necessary for my honorable purposes—awakening, invigorating, refreshing, stimulating, jump starting imagination and creativity, delivering vocabulary, the art of conversation, how to think, problem-solve, if only to offer a countervailing force to language impoverishment—that alone! As it is there's plenty of material, most of the theatrical oeuvre I would venture, that will be daisy fresh to audiences in the 573. After Sartre, I want to stage Genet's The Maids. After Genet, Chekhov, O'Neill, Ibsen, commonplaces elsewhere, but rarities here. But first, No Exit.