The year in arts…
Derby Dames bouts
Shrieking bystanders, outrageous costumes, and women racing along a track: The local roller derby league blends Halloween, NASCAR, and ’70s nostalgia in one. Charlottesville’s first and only skater-run, flat-track roller derby team, the Derby Dames are made up of approximately 80 women with names like Bruta Liza and Bashin Robbin, who plow around raucous and head-spinning circles in teams of five against five.
The women attempt to propel their scoring player in laps ahead of the competition while (often literally) taking down the enemy. Bumps, bruises, and the occasional broken bone are to be expected, but if the Dames feel fear, they never show it. After 66 meetings, 276 practices, and $2,113.35 in proceeds donated this year, these fierce athletes rush on the floor as if each time is the first.
Volunteer hours logged at Live Arts
When the do-gooder bug bites and you decide to volunteer, you might consider soup kitchens, student mentoring, or house building. You might not consider that your local arts theater subsists almost entirely on volunteer hours, but in Live Arts’ case, it does.
With a roster of 1,133 volunteers collectively clocking 10,684 hours in 2013, the nonprofit estimates the value of this unpaid work (based on the 2013 estimate of one volunteer hour at $22.60) at a staggering $241,458.40.
Over the theater’s 23-year history, a wellspring of artistic energy has grown to support productions of new, edgy, and well-loved works alike. From Legally Blonde to In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), each six-show season and summer musical depends on actors, directors, stage managers, and designers for sets, sound, lighting, and costumes who do their work for love, not pay. So if you’ve ever wondered about life on stage, remember that Live Arts’ mission of “forging theater and community” starts with people just like you.
Notes sung during the Oratorio Society’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” at the Paramount
The 83-member chorus, formed in 1966 and currently conducted by Michael Slon, is Charlottesville’s longest-running community choir, and its annual “Christmas at the Paramount” show on December 21 hit all the right notes.
NC-17 film at the Virginia Film Festival
When Blue is the Warmest Color made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, it met with immediate critical acclaim—and the Palme d’Or—for its sensitive portrayal of two teenagers in a lesbian relationship. Positive reviews didn’t prevent the MPAA’s NC-17 rating, but Wesley Harris, programmer for the Virginia Film Festival, wasn’t worried. “Many of these films will never receive ratings,” he said, acknowledging that Blue was not the only explicit film in the Festival’s 2013 program.
Another sexually explicit film was Interior. Leather Bar., a thought experiment directed by James Franco that “got pretty meta pretty quick” but also “aimed to be controversial,” according to Harris. When William Friedkin, director of The French Connection and The Exorcist, made a film called Cruising, he cut a segment of explicit gay S&M footage to avoid an X rating. Franco’s docufiction reimagined those lost 40 minutes.
Two more unrated and violently explicit films at the Festival were Blue Ruin, a tense and terse revenge film directed by Central Virginia resident Jeremy Saulnier and the first film to be picked up for distribution by the Weinstein Company after its premiere at Cannes, and Child of God, an adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name. “I was careful to literally include the term necrophilia in my program write-up,” Harris said. “It was absolutely some of the best lead acting I’ve ever seen, and it still kind of haunts me in a way, because it makes you feel complicit with the schizophrenic psychopath on the screen.”
If movies give us a chance to escape the humdrum thrum of everyday life, unrated fringe films pull us away like tornados. Shocked into attention, clutching our hearts, we’re lifted away from all that we know. The MPAA thinks we deserve warnings, but programmers like Harris don’t fear the unknown. He has brought and will keep bringing extreme works to our town precisely because of their strangeness. It’s his job, after all, to provide “both unique and early opportunities for audiences to experience these things.”
Bands that identify as “indie” that played our stages
The insider cool of a small set of good, but less well-known music acts is called into perspective by our count of over 900 indie bands listed in the C-VILLE Weekly arts calendar this year. From all those folksy and Americana singer-songwriters to funky Brooklyn-based hipsters incorporating electronic beats, the indie tagline covers a broad range of music (and film) these days, spurring festivals, spin-offs, and raking in loads of cash. And just like the local food label, it’s lost its meaning.
What began as a way for bands to characterize an individual sound and style has become a mainstream buzzword tacked on to PR cuts for everyone from The Meat Puppets and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to Fall Out Boy and Arcade Fire.
The exhaustion of the indie title has given way to hundreds of sub-genres, like DIY, neo fill-in-the-blank, noise, Emo, traditional, authentic, contemporary, old-time, newgrass, roots, and the primitive bandwagon is quickly picking up speed.
Even though “independent” might be a bit of a misnomer at this point, it’s never been a better time to be the little guy. Bands like The Antlers, The Anatomy of Frank, and Jukebox the Ghost play the popular genre with an abnormal attitude. The intertwining vocal choruses of the Sweater Set mimes the electronic choral choruses of Walk the Moon. The acoustic guitar riffs on the Freelance Whales tracks connect them to a similar approach from Yarn and Brooke Annibale. And while the rhythms, instruments, and styles vary between bands, it seems the plaintive vocals and narcissistic songwriting presents itself across the board, perhaps making way for the embryonic genre.
Backstage meals for fun.
On September 26, the good-time band fun. rolled in with a rockstar carbon footprint. Encompassing the backside of the Pavilion with five semitrucks and seven buses, the band with three permanent members pulled into town with the largest entourage the venue has hosted since it opened in 2005. With its arrival came a big request: 80 meals for the band and its crew.
The grown-up boy band has blown up since hitting the charts in 2011 with Some Nights and the sold-out Pav show was one of 2013’s most anticipated concerts. The band dominated this year’s Grammy Awards and the just-released 2014 nominations included nods for songwriting work by lead singer Nate Ruess, and the member who is extra famous for dating Lena Dunham, Jack Antonoff. Which all sounds like a lot of…fun.
Bowls of soup to nourish the arts
Collaboration comes naturally within the arts community, so when Maureen Brondyke, Victoria Long, and Brooke Ray launched Charlottesville SOUP in January, a seasonal dinner series to fund an arts grant, they were met with a swell of support and a clamoring for tickets.
The democracy-in-action-style fundraiser presents a list of artist’s projects and the audience listens to each, then casts a vote, all while communing over bowls of soup and other wholesome eats. The winner takes home the funds raised through dinner tickets (the $10 ticket includes one vote), and the attendees get the soul-nourishing experience of a well-sourced meal and participation in the local arts community.
Three sold-out events, and 382 servings later, the SOUP winners have collected over $4,000 and the grants awarded will help further the creative efforts of a textile co-op, photography work, and a string quartet’s mission for a local school music curriculum. Mmm mmm, good.
Years of indie films
Since 1976, Vinegar Hill Theatre brought independent and art-house films to the Charlottesville community with its one screen and 219 seats. But competition with Regal Cinemas forced a closure in early July despite the efforts of Staunton-based Visulite Cinemas, which bought the biz from Ann Porotti in 2008.
In its final five years, the theater screened 151 feature films (not counting festivals, one-time events, or programs of short films), including Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, which ran for 14 weeks beginning Christmas 2008, often selling out all four shows a day for weeks at a time. (The runners-up are 2005’s March of the Penguins and 1998’s Life is Beautiful, which ran for 13 and 12 weeks, respectively.)
Even a tech upgrade this past February (approximately $50,000 for a digital projection system) couldn’t save it, and Vinegar Hill’s small stake in the local market proved no match for the competitive booking practices of the nation’s largest theater chain. Only one number matters now—$1.2 million, the number on the price tag of the now-vacant building.