By the time you read this, the wrapping will have been ripped off your gifts, and you'll probably be deep into yet another post-turkey coma. But here are a few last- minute arts stocking stuffers that I couldn't cram in last week's column.
When Will's Pub, the beloved watering hole and important independent music venue on Mills Avenue, was torn down to make way for yet another unnecessary commercial development, I found it to be emblematic of the ongoing death of anything authentic in Orlando — anything that's still left, anyway. Now that Will's has been reborn in a location a few blocks south of the old, might a renaissance for Orlando underground culture follow in its wake?
It's too soon to say for sure; Will's digs have big potential, but it'll take time for that "new bar" smell to be consumed by the glorious bouquet of spilled beer and stale smoke. One thing that speaks well for the born-again bar's future is the newfound emphasis on art. I'm not talking about the entryway's impressive collection of vintage pinups (appropriate, as my first visit was on the day of Betty Page's death), or the graffiti that will inevitably inundate the bathroom walls. I mean actual original artwork, exhibited on a monthly basis by curator Heidi Kneisl.
On Dec. 13, Will's kicked off its art-gallery experiment with the debut of The Four Whores, Man, of the Apopka-lypse by painter Tramaine Dion. Tra's bold, provocative imagery hits you in the face like a canvas-covered lead pipe (and I mean that as a compliment). The titular quadtych consists of four outsized images featuring Terminator-esque terrors, venomous vixens and trucker babes with toothy vajayjays. They look like movie posters for the craziest drive-in flicks never made; little wonder, since the artist says he is inspired by images from his own unproduced genre screenplays.
Dion, a Vermont transplant, lists the horror/action flicks, comics and toys of the 1980s as major influences, which practically makes him my long-lost twin. I was intrigued by his production method, which mixes new-school tools (Photoshop collages filtered through "posterizing" effects) with old-school hand-painting. I slid out before the bands (Junior Bruce, Six Dead Horses, Apocalypse-a-Go-Go and Tug) took the stage, but I look forward to coming back for more of Will's blend of edgy art, eclectic music and reasonably priced beer.
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to speak to some students on the subject of theater criticism. I figured it would probably involve answering asinine questions from community college kids, but at least I might get a free lunch out of it. Turns out I was wrong on every account. The bad news is that I went hungry; the good news is that my audience was even hungrier — for knowledge. For more than two hours, I and my fellow panelists — including Michael Freeman (The Ledger, Lakeland), Beth Marshall (Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival), Bob Dolan (Orlando Shakespeare Theatre) and Jennifer Jones Cavenaugh (Rollins College) — fielded questions on the purpose of arts reviews from an audience as thoughtful and engaged as any I've seen. The most amazing part is that they weren't college-age adults, as I assumed, but high-school students.
The discussion, the first in an ongoing series, was organized by Checkerboard Productions. The company was founded this past summer by Dominique Minor, a former participant in the Florida Theatrical Association's defunct Class Act youth program, and fellow Paul J. Hagerty High School students Adwoa Manu and Regina Postrekhina. Wanting a venue for "dispelling the myths of youth theatre being typical and mediocre," they formed Checkerboard as an "entirely youth funded and operated" company. Their first outing was last October's Something Old, Something New cabaret fundraiser, and they'll be following it up with a musical revue benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS for the upcoming Fringe festival.
I have several friends who are current or former arts educators, and I've become numb to their horror stories about the state of public education in the state of Florida. So it was a wonderful holiday gift to spend time with young people as gifted and engaged as I like to pretend I was at that age. I can't think of a worse time to try to launch an arts career, but these kids' drive and ambition speaks well of their odds for success.
Finally, I got late word that Brian Feldman and family will hold their performance art— holiday dinner experience this year, courtesy of the fledgling Orlando Jewish Theater troupe. The completely unsanctioned Cracker Barrel® Old Country Chanukah will invade local outlets of the redneck restaurant chain for four festive meals over Dec. 21-26 (twitter.com/orlandojewish); I'll be there on Dec. 22, trying to figure out exactly why fried catfish isn't email@example.com