Review: Arts Collective @ HCC’s ‘W.I.G.nition: Actors and Writers Fire It Up’

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On Friday, April 8, 2016, the fourth and final performance this season of W.I.G., (“What Improv Group?!”) – the improvisational group that is part of Howard Community College’s Arts Collective – performed W.I.G.nition: Actors and Writers Fire It Up at the Smith Theatre.

Jeremiah Anderson performs his spoken word poem "Retrospective", Tara Hart responds (along with 7 other writers and actors); Steve Mandes III's poem "Forgotten Poem", WIG actor, Apryl Motley responds; Shawn Fournier's story "I Hate Being a Twin". (Bottom row: Left to Right) WIG actors Autumn Kramer and Diego Esmolo responds; Darcy Rollow's poem "Flipside", WIG co-director and actor Daniel Johnston responds; Sophia Hirrel's poem "SLAM", WIG actor, and Douglas Beatty responds. Photo by St. Johnn Blondell.
In Act 1: Jeremiah Anderson performs his spoken word poem “Retrospective”, Tara Hart responds (along with 7 other writers and actors); Steve Mandes III’s poem “Forgotten Poem”, WIG actor, Apryl Motley responds; Shawn Fournier’s story “I Hate Being a Twin”. (Bottom row: Left to Right). WIG actors Autumn Kramer and Diego Esmolo responds; Darcy Rollow’s poem “Flipside”, WIG co-director and actor Daniel Johnston responds; Sophia Hirrel’s poem “SLAM”, WIG actor, and Douglas Beatty responds. Photo by St. Johnn Blondell.

Friday night’s show was produced in collaboration with HCC’s Creative Writers and the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, known as HoCoPoLitSo, a forty year old not-for-profit literary arts organization and represented by their Co-Chair, Tara J. Hart.

In Friday night’s production the improvising was connected to the original work written and read by HCC students, staff, HoCoPoLitSo members, and guest artists.

Illustration by Emma K. McDonnell.
Illustration by Emma K. McDonnell.

The night started with a provocative original spoken word poem, “Retrospective,” written and read by Jeremiah Anderson, which was followed by a group of both actors and writers who responded to Mr. Anderson’s work in a similar style. It was followed by a poem named “Forgotten Poem” by Steve Mandes III. After Mr. Mandes’ reading, the imaginative and talented improvisers took off.

This season’s W.I.G. group has been together since summer 2015, and I could see how much they have all grown as artists: Douglas Beatty, Diego Esmolo, Doug Goodin, Daniel Johnston, Autumn Kramer, Thomas Matera, Apryl Motley, and Sierra Young.

This performance included two special “secret” guests: former WIG members Noah Bird, who recently moved to California, and Emma K. McDonnell, who lives in New York City. Both showed up for one piece via Skype and and a video recording shown on two large screens onstage. The two responded simultaneously to the non-fiction piece – Ryna May’s very funny and touching memoir “The Phantom Balls.” This idea is a new and interesting concept. It worked well in this format thanks to Stage Manager Linwood Milan.

With S.G. Kramer, Daniel Johnston, and Tara Hart.
With S.G. Kramer, Daniel Johnston, and Tara Hart.

Co-Directors Daniel Johnston and Sue Kramer have encouraged the learning of improvisation. The ability to improvise is one of the key steps to being a great actor. It allows you to make the characters you portray distinctively your own interpretations. It has also become an art form of its own, and it’s not surprising that many of our great actors like Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Steve Carell, and Tina Fey and many of our great comedic performers, like Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee, all came out of improvisational groups.

My favorite was a bit that had Esmolo along with clever Tom Matera do a piece on art. “Art has no rules,” Matera tells Esmolo as they pose without clothing (they left their pants on.) As Matera stripped spontaneously – so did Esmolo. It was very funny and creative. Somehow, this was inspired by Nsikan Akpan’s impassioned story “The Blind Truth.”

There were two totally improvisational pieces unconnected to the writing, including a new format designed by Johnston called “Plot Points” and at the end audience members paired off to do a small bit with each cast member depicting an ‘impromptu how-to’ tutorial.

(Top Row: Left to Right) Ryna May's memoir "The Phantom Balls", Noah Bird responds via Skype; Nsikan Akpan's story "The Blind Truth", WIG actors Thomas Matera and Diego Esmolo responds.(Bottom row: Left to Right): Torie Costa's story "Piggy Blaze and the Drug Pig", Douglas Goodin and Sierra Young responds; Ingrid Nuttle's memoir "How I Got Banned from Evan and Evan's Apartment", WIG actor Autumn Kramer responds. Photo by St. Johnn Blondell.
In Act 2: (Top Row: Left to Right): Ryna May’s memoir “The Phantom Balls”, Noah Bird responds via Skype; Nsikan Akpan’s story “The Blind Truth”, WIG actors Thomas Matera and Diego Esmolo responds.(Bottom row: Left to Right): Torie Costa’s story “Piggy Blaze”, Douglas Goodin and Sierra Young responds; Ingrid Nuttle’s memoir “How I Got Banned from Evan and Evan’s Apartment”, and WIG actor Autumn Kramer responds. Photo by St. Johnn Blondell.

However, the night belonged to the writers who opened their souls to us for a few minutes in some brilliant pieces of writing.

In addition to the pieces mentioned the following writers read their original works in front of the audience, some for the first time:

Shawn Fournier’s story “I Hate Being a Twin” and Torie Costa’s “Piggy Blaze” were so believable the audience expressed amazement at the talkback after the performance that both were fiction. Ingrid Nuttle’s sometimes funny sometimes shocking memoir “How I Got Banned from Evan and Evan’s Apartment” recalled an intimate glimpse into her life.

The poetry of Darcy Rollow’s “Flipside” inspired a wig change round-robin and Sophia Hirrel’s “SLAM” prompted an improvised poetry slam with a host and three actors as contestants.

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Howard Community College’s Arts Collective will be presenting one more production this year, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee on May 19-June 5, 2016. You buy tickets at the box office by calling (433) 518-1500, or by purchasing them online.

For more information about HoCoPoLitSo, go to their website.

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Check out an album of pictures from the show.

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