Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Amadeus offers a unique look at the historic rivalry surrounding some of the greatest pieces of classical music

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2018 at 10:54 AM

Amadeus - Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m., and Sundays, 4 p.m., through May 13, Ent Center for the Arts, 5225 N. Nevada Ave., $38.50-plus, theatreworkscs.org. - COURTESY THEATREWORKS
  • Courtesy TheatreWorks
  • AmadeusThursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m., and Sundays, 4 p.m., through May 13, Ent Center for the Arts, 5225 N. Nevada Ave., $38.50-plus, theatreworkscs.org.
Amadeus may be more fiction than it is history, but there’s a reason it won the 1981 Tony Award for Best Play, and a reason its film adaptation won Best Picture at the Oscars in 1984. Told from the perspective of composer Antonio Salieri, Amadeus follows Salieri’s tumultuous relationship with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, arguably one of the world’s greatest composers. A story of a success and downfall that could be dry from the perspective of Mozart alone becomes enriched by Salieri’s mixed jealousy and admiration, his two-faced treatment of his colleague, and his attempts to destroy Mozart’s career. At times sympathizing with capricious Mozart, and at times sympathizing with bitter Salieri, the audience can enjoy a unique look at the historic rivalry surrounding some of the greatest pieces of classical music ever composed. Plus, this will be the final play of TheatreWorks’ 2017-2018 season, a grand finale to be sure. Interested in more background? Check out the prologue on April 29, a panel discussion with composers, radio hosts, scholars and Mozart experts.
Event Details Amadeus
@ Ent Center for the Arts
5225 N. Nevada Ave.
Central
Colorado Springs, CO
When: Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. and Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through May 13
Price: Tickets start at $38.50
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One Nation Film Fest screening at Sun Water bridges a generational divide in native identity

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2018 at 10:48 AM

Sunwater Spa’s Monthly One Nation Film Festival Screening - April 25, 7-8 p.m., Sunwater Spa, 514 El Paso Blvd., Manitou Springs, donations requested, onenationwt.org. - ANTHONY FLOREZ
  • Anthony Florez
  • Sunwater Spa’s Monthly One Nation Film Festival ScreeningApril 25, 7-8 p.m., Sunwater Spa, 514 El Paso Blvd., Manitou Springs, donations requested, onenationwt.org.
While we always love the annual One Nation Walking Together Film Festival, which showcases films of all genres by and about Native American people, we’re equally thrilled that the festival isn’t just a once-annual celebration. Monthly, One Nation Walking Together, a nonprofit dedicated to providing resources to Native American communities, hosts a screening at Sunwater Spa, choosing from the best of the best of indigenous narrative and documentary films. Wednesday, check out two shorts: Generations and Carry the Flag. Generations explores the relationships that different generations have to their native identity, following a mother and her children on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation. Carry the Flag presents Bernard Namok Jr., the son of the man who designed the Torres Strait Islander flag, who sees the flag as a symbol of not only his people, but his relationship to his father, who passed away just a year after designing the flag 26 years ago. Both films bridge a generational divide in native identity, but from two entirely unique cultures. If you can’t catch the double feature tonight, keep an eye out for future One Nation Film Festival screenings, and the all-day festival returning next year.
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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Funky Little Theater Company and The Gallery Below stage Eternal Flamer in first collaborative performance

Posted By on Tue, Apr 24, 2018 at 4:37 PM

MISTI WALKER AND CHRIS MEDINA
  • Misti Walker and Chris Medina

Two local, diversity-minded arts groups are teaming up this weekend for an immersive production of Eternal Flamer: The Ballad of Jessie Blade, a play by New York City playwrights Tommy Jamerson and Josh Julian. Funky Little Theater Company, the theater responsible for the annual Spectrum: LGBT Play Festival, and The Gallery Below, which consistently showcases queer films, open mics and more, present "Funky Down Below," the first formal collaboration between the two groups.

April 26-28, 8:30 p.m., they’ll transport the audience to “the hottest, gayest nightclub of the 1980s,” following Jessie (played in this production by Alex Abundis). Small-town Minnesotan turned wannabe dancer, Jessie finds himself in a lavish New York City nightclub called Gomorrah, where he meets Madam, a drag queen emcee who helps him navigate his new life of dance, drugs, sex and sabotage.

This fun and campy production has been presented by Funky as a staged reading before, but will now bring all the neon lights and flashy dress of Gomorrah to the Gallery Below. They suggest dressing in your best ‘80s outfit, so this may be one of the rare times you’ll look silly if you aren’t wearing leg warmers and shoulder pads — a golden opportunity to get retro.
Event Details Eternal Flamer: The Ballad of Jessie Blade
@ The Gallery Below
718B N. Weber St.
Downtown
Colorado Springs, Colorado
When: April 26-28, 8:30 p.m.
Price: $11-$15
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Friday, April 20, 2018

Captain Kirk in Colorado Springs: A Trekkie's thoughts on William Shatner's UCCS speech

Posted By on Fri, Apr 20, 2018 at 1:30 PM

Shatner speaks to a small group of assembled media. - ALISSA SMITH
  • Alissa Smith
  • Shatner speaks to a small group of assembled media.

Let’s get this out of the way first thing: Star Trek is my life. Specifically The Original Series. Specifically, Captain James Tiberius Kirk, whom I’ve loved so dearly for so long that I now refer to him in conversation as “Jim Jam,” as if he’s an old friend. Save your snickering. Believe me, I know how ridiculous that sounds.

But hopefully that provides some context, and explains why my drive to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs on the evening of April 19 (stardate -304702.28310502286) felt more like a pilgrimage than the familiar 20-minute trek it usually is.

Because William Shatner, the original Jim Jam, was speaking at the UCCS Bachelor of Innovation program gala, presenting a keynote speech entitled “Hope and Innovation.” I had wondered since his appearance was announced what made him qualified to talk about innovation to these students and faculty. Not to disparage The Shat Man, but he's an actor whose entrepreneurial success arose less through innovation and more through his established fanbase. And while he's done wonderful things for charity and been kind to five decades of fans, I wouldn't necessarily consider him an innovator. But whether he's qualified or not, he was here in my hometown to deliver a speech. Excitement outweighed confusion in the end.

In addition to being a massive Trekkie, I also happen to be a member of the media, meaning I had a built-in excuse to spend a few minutes asking him questions, and to attend the gala without paying the $200/plate fee. Naturally, I jumped at the chance.

There were so few of us in the press pool for his 15-minute media event that before anyone asked any questions, I actually managed to share a moment of awkward eye contact with him. I wondered if he saw the mushroom clouds exploding in my pupils — if he knew that meeting him, even formally like this, was a dream come true. But I’m a professional, dammit, and I didn’t show off my 50th Anniversary Star Trek ring. I didn’t tell him that Jim Kirk is a daily inspiration to me, or ask if he could explain that one line from his 2007 novel Star Trek: Collision Course that I've been thinking about for a decade.

Instead, my fellows and I asked him about science fiction, about inspiration, innovation and immortality. For all his bluster, he came across surprisingly genuine. In discussing the hope that sci-fi can offer people, he said: “We might not be able to recover from what’s going on now. At any moment a bomb could drop and then we certainly won’t recover. At the same time, there is this extraordinary burst of innovation that’s happening, so we must try to be on the side of life.”

My heart glowed. That’s the lesson of Star Trek right there — try to be on the side of life. It was beautiful to hear it straight from my captain's mouth, and I swear I felt a tear threatening to fall out the corner of my eye. And then, you know, he followed that up with. “Innovation is good. Unless it’s bad. And then it’s bad.” Classic Shatner. It's nice to remember he's human.

But when Hannah Harvey, editor in chief of the UCCS student paper The Scribe asked about the $60,000 donation he reportedly gifted the Bachelor of Innovation program, he said simply that he didn’t want to talk about it, and didn’t want to take credit.

I never really think of "humility" and "William Shatner" as belonging in the same sentence. But he was as humble as an icon like him can be — which almost gave me the courage to ask to shake his hand as the questions came to an end. Almost.

Afterwards, I waited at UCCS for three hours for the gala to begin, sent a picture to my friends in our Star Trek group chat, basked in the glory of having such a prestigious stamp on my nerd passport, and considered all the things I wished I’d asked. I wanted to ask about "Kirk Drift," the way Kirk’s character has been so warped by pop culture as to make the popular conception of him unrecognizable from canon. I wanted to ask about Leonard Nimoy — what happened to sever their friendship? What’s it like being Captain Kirk without Spock and Bones? I wanted to ask if he knew how important Star Trek was, and is, to so many people. He has to know, doesn't he?

But he had said “It was actually just a television show,” mere minutes into the press conference, effectively breaking my heart, so I didn’t ask any of those questions, and maybe that's a good thing. It’s certainly not just a television show to the rest of us.

At the gala, UCCS Chancellor Dr. Venkat Reddy gave Shatner a heartfelt introduction, talking about how Star Trek was his favorite weekly show — the only show available in color in India during his childhood — and how he never thought he’d be sharing a table with his hero.

It was a reminder that I was far from the only person in that room who looked at William Shatner with mushroom clouds in my eyes, and who saw my captain in his smile. Nearly everyone there, about 400 people, probably had a Star Trek story. It's hard to wrap your head around how powerful that is.

Now, if I shed a few tears during Shatner’s speech, it was probably due more to the fact that I was there listening to him talk, rather than what he was actually saying. His speech reminded me of his famous spoken-word song covers — I’m sure you’ve heard “Rocket Man” — as he listed important innovations in science with all the oomph of a slam poem for 10 whole minutes. I don’t know if everyone in the audience was as lost as I was while he hopped topics from Vikings to fusion reactors to dark matter, but, hey, it was soothing to hear him speak if nothing else.

A rare moment looking away from the teleprompter. - ALISSA SMITH
  • Alissa Smith
  • A rare moment looking away from the teleprompter.

Thankfully, the list didn’t last too long, and he edged into sentimental territory. He talked about the unkindness of the world, and the promise he sees in these students of innovation. “If you students take your diploma and scroll it up and look through it, as if it were a telescope, and fixate on points of light, you might see something different. You might see hope.”

Okay, yes, it’s philosophical and needlessly romantic, but that's exactly what I would want and expect in a speech by William Shatner. He went on, saying that technology is moving at a breakneck pace. The world is changing around us all the time. “The one thing that doesn’t seem to change, or at least moves with tectonic slowness, is human nature," he said. "And that’s the final frontier. Human nature needs to change.”

There was a lot going on in that speech — a lot — but the lesson I took from it was one of hope, excitement and possibility. He spoke for nearly 40 minutes with an air of enthusiasm that made me forget that he was 87 years old. Though he graciously reminded me every time he referred to Twitter as “the social media.”

Eighty-seven years old. It’s hard to believe. I had asked him during the media event about something he said recently, after a hoax about his death had circulated on Facebook: “I’m not planning to die.” He laughed at my question about his secret to immortality, but in all seriousness if anyone were to live forever, it would probably be William Shatner. At this point, I’m convinced he will. If nothing else, a part of him will.

And as he wrapped up his speech with a message of hope, it hit me. That is why he is qualified to talk to the Bachelor of Innovation students. It isn’t so much Shatner himself as what he represents — the hope that the future can be better, that it can be wonderful. And that we can make it happen. Any one of us.

Think about it. Jim Kirk was a bookish nerd from Iowa, who survived an incredible ordeal on Tarsus IV, turned that trauma into tenderness, and went on to save the galaxy (multiple times, mind you). William Shatner is just an actor, sure. But he’s Jim Kirk, too. And that means any one of us can be Jim Kirk.

Hopefully, amid Shatner’s rambling, poetic meditations on chimpanzees and war, that message sank in for some of the students in the audience that night. Any one of us, including this guy up on stage, can be Jim Kirk. And what a wonderful, hopeful feeling that is.

The whiteboard I keep next to my desk here at the Indy office, where I rotate inspirational Jim Kirk quotes and doodle the Enterprise. - ALISSA SMITH
  • Alissa Smith
  • The whiteboard I keep next to my desk here at the Indy office, where I rotate inspirational Jim Kirk quotes and doodle the Enterprise.

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Colorado Vocal Arts Ensemble celebrates 25 years of artistic collaboration

Posted By on Thu, Apr 19, 2018 at 1:00 AM

Immortal Fire: A 25th Anniversary Celebration, April 22, 3 p.m., Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 631 N. Tejon St., - donations requested, cvae.org. - ANTHONY GRAHAM
  • Anthony Graham
  • Immortal Fire: A 25th Anniversary Celebration, April 22, 3 p.m., Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 631 N. Tejon St., donations requested, cvae.org.
When Deborah Jenkins Teske founded the Colorado Vocal Arts Ensemble, our local chamber music a cappella group, a mentor told her: “Well anybody can start a choir. It’s keeping it going that’s hard.” Twenty-five years later, she says that warning advice has turned out to be incredibly true. But CVAE has only grown, even flourished, while remaining true to its mission, “which was to really focus on this smaller repertoire and still feel like we were growing or expanding or challenging ourselves,” Teske says, “without the pressure of needing to change or turn into something else. ... We are what we are. We’re rooted here.” CVAE now boasts 34 members, compared to its original 14, and a wide variety of personalities and professions that Teske believes enriches the choir as a whole. “We just have such an amazing mix of people,” she says. “We have rocket scientists, and professional singers, and teachers, and they all bring their world of experience in the door with them, and it’s part of what makes us great.”

And CVAE boasts an unusually large number of solo singers. While each of them functions beautifully in an ensemble, they also bring power to a performance when it’s needed, as well as what Teske calls a “range of color” in their voices.

The group has performed at the Green Box Arts Festival and Colorado College’s Summer Music Festival, and collaborated with Chamber Orchestra of the Springs and the Colorado Springs Children’s Chorale, among others. Next year, they’re looking forward to a collaborative performance with the Colorado Ballet Society. These collaborations not only keep CVAE involved and active in the greater community, but also help them develop their own sound, constantly challenging themselves.

The April 22 performance, in celebration of CVAE’s 25th anniversary, builds on that legacy of collaboration and personal challenge with a program of a few old favorites and some new-to-the-ensemble pieces. Teske calls the program’s main piece, Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia, “a 12-minute masterpiece,” an “amazing poem that is itself about artistic inspiration, and where it comes from.” In addition to that, the group will perform English and Latvian folk songs, lighthearted Italian and French Renaissance madrigals, and some heavier selections to balance out the show. They’ll be singing in six languages, covering six centuries and three continents.

Stick around after the show for a reception to congratulate the ensemble on 25 successful years, and many more to come.
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Art Aloud 2018 honors National Poetry Month in a variety of media

Posted By on Thu, Apr 19, 2018 at 1:00 AM

Art Aloud 2018, April 20, 4-8 p.m., through April 30, Academy Art & Frame Company, 7560 N. Academy Blvd., academyframesco.com. - MARI MOORE
  • Mari Moore
  • Art Aloud 2018, April 20, 4-8 p.m., through April 30, Academy Art & Frame Company, 7560 N. Academy Blvd., academyframesco.com.
This 11th annual, multi-venue exhibition promises high-quality work in both visual art and the written word. In honor of National Poetry Month, Academy Art & Frame Company hosts a call for entries every year for artwork inspired by the written word and vice versa. That means poetry, fiction, or even quotes, exhibited alongside connected artwork in a variety of media. Co-hosting with Hooked on Books (12 E. Bijou St.) and Sand Creek Library (1821 S. Academy Blvd.), Academy Art & Frame has spread Art Aloud across the city to make it more widely accessible, and to draw interested attendees to some fresh destinations. Enjoy a reception at the original location April 20, with live readings, refreshments and the other awesome art on display at the shop.
Event Details Art Aloud 2018
@ Academy Art and Frame Company
7560 N. Academy Blvd.
Academy (North)
Colorado Springs, CO
When: Through April 30
265-6694
Art Exhibits, Art Events and Literary Events
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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Rocky Mountain Women's Film Institute's Shorts Night returns with more award-winning stories

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Shorts Night, April 21, 7:30 p.m., Stargazers, 10 S. Parkside Drive, rmwfilmfest.org. - FRANK DION
  • Frank Dion
  • Shorts Night, April 21, 7:30 p.m., Stargazers, 10 S. Parkside Drive, rmwfilmfest.org.
Short films aren’t just about catering to an audience’s short attention span (though admittedly that’s an unintended bonus). No, shorts set out to tell a condensed story, presenting a snapshot of a life or a unique narrative, and providing only exactly what the viewer needs to see. Some filmmakers do that incredibly well, and I’m not talking about the geniuses behind Vine (RiP). The Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Institute has, as it does every year, selected some of the best of the best in recent short films, collecting nine award-winning shorts of all genres to screen April 21 at Stargazers. Enjoy animation, documentary and narrative shorts that explore themes from mental health to pornography to racial tension — even one, In a Nutshell, that attempts to condense the world into five minutes, “from a seed to war, from meat to love, from indifference to apocalypse.” This event is known to sell out, so be sure to get on getting tickets. Fast.
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The Trojan Women is 2,500 year-old play that's still relevant today

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2018 at 9:13 AM

The Trojan Women, April 19-21, 7:30 p.m., and April 21, 2 p.m., PPCC Centennial Theater, ppcc.edu. - SARAH SHAVER
  • Sarah Shaver
  • The Trojan Women, April 19-21, 7:30 p.m., and April 21, 2 p.m., PPCC Centennial Theater, ppcc.edu.
It’s always valuable to view history, and historical works of art, through a contemporary lens, to best digest the lessons humanity has or (often) hasn’t learned. The Trojan Women, a play written nearly 2,500 years ago by Euripides, still addresses relevant themes, and director Sarah Shaver has added “a modern twist” to call attention to what it has to say. With five female leads and an all-female chorus in this PPCC student production, the power of the story comes more fully to light, speaking to the dehumanization of women that has plagued society for thousands of years, as well as the often ignored collateral damage of war. The Trojan Women looks at the aftermath of war without any of the glory or nationalism, and from the point of view of the conquered. The premise: At the end of the Trojan War, with the men of Troy largely slaughtered by the invading Greeks, the survivors grieve together and await their fate. Many of these women will become slaves to the Greek army. Attendees at the April 21 matinée are invited to a talk-back with the director and the cast, which includes some combat veterans and active service members who can speak personally to its themes.
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Friday, April 13, 2018

Philharmonic's Afternoon at the Ballet offers a special treat this weekend

Posted By on Fri, Apr 13, 2018 at 11:15 AM

An Afternoon at the Ballet: Great Orchestral Works, April 15, 3 p.m., pre-concert lecture at 2:15 p.m., First United Methodist Church, 420 N. Nevada Ave., $5-$10, pikespeakphil.org - COURTESY PIKES PEAK PHILHARMONIC
  • Courtesy Pikes Peak Philharmonic
  • An Afternoon at the Ballet: Great Orchestral Works, April 15, 3 p.m., pre-concert lecture at 2:15 p.m., First United Methodist Church, 420 N. Nevada Ave., $5-$10, pikespeakphil.org
In the warm sanctuary of First United Methodist Church, Pikes Peak Philharmonic concerts offer intimate musical experiences, and pre-concert lectures presented by Maestro Luciano Silvestri provide historical and musical context that enriches the work. The Pikes Peak Philharmonic’s current season, themed “An Afternoon at the Ballet,” has seen some well loved pieces from well loved composers, but this weekend’s performance will be a special treat. In addition to playing music by Prokofiev and Saint-Saens, the orchestra will be joined by the Colorado Springs Children’s Chorale for Sartori and Quarantotto’s “Con te partirò” (originally performed by Andrea Bocelli) in a moving collaboration. What’s more, Emma Johnson, the winner of the Pikes Peak Philharmonic’s annual youth concerto competition, will be a featured performer.
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Sustain-A-Fest is a great way to celebrate Earth Month

Posted By on Fri, Apr 13, 2018 at 1:00 AM

Sustain-A-Fest, April 14, noon to 6 p.m., Colorado Springs Center for Sustainability, 704 E. Boulder St., free, facebook.com/COSSustainability. - SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
  • Sustain-A-Fest, April 14, noon to 6 p.m., Colorado Springs Center for Sustainability, 704 E. Boulder St., free, facebook.com/COSSustainability.
Celebrate Earth Month with those who know how to treat our planet right. The Colorado Springs Center for Sustainability (or Sustainacenter) is home to multiple nonprofits, as well as the Colorado Springs Office of Innovation & Sustainability — folks in this city who have an eye on keeping our community green. You can browse booths and vendors such as Pikes Peak Urban Gardens, the Colorado Springs Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Colorado Springs Food Rescue, The Pikes Peak Children’s Museum and more. Plus, live music from Suga’ Bear & The Show Time Band, Tenderfoot Bluegrass Band, The Verdict and Travis Duncan & The Sustainers will turn this into just as much party as it is an educational opportunity. Families are welcome.
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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Art as Transformation shows the honest and heartfelt expression of trauma on the path to healing

Posted By on Thu, Apr 12, 2018 at 11:06 AM

Art as Transformation, April 14, noon to 4 p.m., on display through May 1, Cottonwood Center for the Arts, 427 E. Colorado Ave., findingourvoicescs.org. - COURTESY FINDING OUR VOICES
  • Courtesy Finding Our Voices
  • Art as Transformation, April 14, noon to 4 p.m., on display through May 1, Cottonwood Center for the Arts, 427 E. Colorado Ave., findingourvoicescs.org.
Art created through trauma can have healing effects not just on the artist, but the viewer as well. Every April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, local nonprofit Finding Our Voices presents an art show of work by its members. The group offers art workshops that promote safe self-expression year-round, to ensure survivors feel supported as they work toward recovery. Today, at the official opening reception of Art as Transformation, meet some of the artists who have taken to creation to overcome their pain, and view the honest and heartfelt expression of trauma on the path to healing. 
Event Details Art as Transformation
@ Cottonwood Center for the Arts
427 E. Colorado Ave.
Downtown
Colorado Springs, CO
When: Through May 1
520-1899
Art Exhibits, Art Events and Support Groups
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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

An Outrage explores lynching history, and offers an opportunity for action

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2018 at 1:00 PM

An Outrage, April 12, 7:15 p.m., UCCS’ Centennial Hall Auditorium, 1420 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., an-outrage.com. - COURTESY FIELD STUDIO
  • Courtesy Field Studio
  • An Outrage, April 12, 7:15 p.m., UCCS’ Centennial Hall Auditorium, 1420 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., an-outrage.com.
This aptly named documentary, filmed on location at six lynching sites, explores a long and horrifying history. Lynching, the often public execution of black people carried out in the warped name of vigilante justice, plagued America for decades, especially in the post-Civil War South. While many in modern society tend to think of lynching as something from the far-distant past, the fact is that the push for federal anti-lynching laws didn’t occur until 1946, and even when its public practice tapered off in the ‘50s, racists continued these executions on a smaller scale. As they say in An Outrage, some of these people, the perpetrators of this horrific practice, are still alive. Produced by Field Studios, and circulated to nearly 50,000 teachers by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2017, An Outrage explores this history, with testimony from historians, activists and the descendants of victims. More than a unique historical perspective, An Outrage offers an opportunity for action. When SPLC picked up the film for distribution, co-director Lance Warren (who directed alongside Hannah Ayers) said: “Our principal goal is to spur needed conversations that lead to real change.” There will be a Q&A with the filmmakers after the screening.
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Howard Cruse talks comics history and the diversity of underground comics

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2018 at 9:54 AM

From Stuck Rubber Baby. - HOWARD CRUSE
  • Howard Cruse
  • From Stuck Rubber Baby.

Denver's independent comic and art expo, DiNK, celebrates its third annual event April 14-15. With a wide variety of exhibitors and speakers, DiNK's focus on diversity draws artists of all kinds to share their experiences, their works and their insight. One such artist, Howard Cruse (whom we profile in more depth in this week's Queer & There) has been drawing for almost 70 years, and has seen eras of comics come and go.

We spoke with Cruse, 73, about his extensive history in comics, and his perspective on the cultural shifts that have shaped the industry.
Indy: I’d love to know more about your history in your own words — how you started creating comics, and why.

Cruse: I’m just somebody who grew up drawing from the time I was 5. And I discovered comic books around that time. I would read the newspaper strips and I enjoyed making up stories. So comics was kind of a natural form for me to fall into. Sometime around when I was 8 or so ... my father told me that cartooning was something people actually did for a living, and that was a very attractive idea for me. I was growing up in a rural southern town, where most people were farmers, and all my classmates came from farm towns, and I would go visit them. I saw how hard farmers have to work, and I thought, “Gee, it would be nice to be able to draw pictures and make a living instead of plow fields.”

[After high school] I began to get things published — little things here and there in some magazines. In the early ‘70s, I discovered underground comic books, and that’s where I really felt like I fit in, because the idea there was to draw things from your heart, or uncensored, that were about things that were real to you, rather than escapism [or] fantasy. ...

Then, the gay magazine, The Advocate. ... I sort of pitched them the idea of doing a regular comic strip, for them, and so I wound up doing this comic strip called Wendel. This was about the title character and his circle of gay friends, and his parents, and it was a main activity of mine during the 1980s. And then in 1990 ... I wound up spending four years doing this graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby. It’s about growing up gay in the South during the Civil Rights era. It’s not strictly autobiography. It’s a novel, fiction, but it drew on my experiences growing up in Alabama, during that time. 
From Wendel. - HOWARD CRUSE
  • Howard Cruse
  • From Wendel.
It’s interesting to hear the flow through your career, because you’re describing decades. I’m curious how the culture as a whole has shifted over these decades, and how that has affected your work and your motivation.

When I was just starting out, it was a given that, if you were gay, that would be compartmentalized in the private side of your life because you couldn’t be openly gay and have a cartooning career. And I always assumed that that’s the way it would be, until the gay liberation movement happened in the late ‘60s and through the ‘70s. I became aware that it was important not to be hiding part of myself if I wanted to do stuff that really was truthful and came from the heart. And so I gradually began to use the gay side of myself in my work, but I also had a big desire not to be totally pigeonholed on that topic, so I’ve also done comics on a variety of other things.

But I’m very oriented toward comics that reflect the full range of the world, not just sex, but the values of the culture. So one of the main motivators for doing this graphic novel [Stuck Rubber Baby] was my distress over the backsliding that America did after the 1960s. It looked like we were really moving toward human rights and all sorts of liberation, aside from gay liberation, and then the ‘80s just turned into this materialistic period that revered wealth — basically kind of like it is now. And I was very anxious to sort of pay tribute to the genuine heroism and un-cynical approaches to life that were prominent during the 1960s.

And so that’s been a main motivator for me, is just being real. I’ve just never been very interested in superhero comics or fantasy comics. And that’s the reason I was so glad that the underground comics scene came along, and it was possible to not have to be part of the superhero machine.

It seems like what was once the underground comic scene — the diversity of both represented identities and stories— is now a facet of mainstream comics. Can you tell me about that shift?

A lot of the openness and freedom of comics, particularly the independent branch of comics, grew out of underground in that it was about cartoonists owning their own work, and not turning it over to some company, and being as free as possible. A big difference is that, during the birth of the underground comics, we started in the 1960s. Essentially, there was a community that was ready to be the audience, which was the counterculture, the hippie community. It was a movement for liberation on a whole lot of different fronts.

Whereas counterculture, as such, kind of dissipated at the end of the ‘70s, and cartoonists who wanted to draw in the same kind of free way — they were more on their own to find an audience. One thing that ended the underground comics era was the government went on the attack against head shops, which was a place where many underground comics were sold. Then as part of the crusade against drugs, the prosecutors targeted these head shops for anything they could get them on.

And underground comics — one reason they could be totally free and free of censorship was that they were not sold on newsstands. Newsstands had become self-policing [thanks to] the Comics Code Authority, which was an industry creation in response to the fact that comics came under attack in the 1950s as being bad for children. Essentially you had very stringent rules to get sold on newsstands. But because the underground comics were adults only, they were able to ignore the comics code authority, and have this kind of freedom. ...

I think the independent comics [culture], as I say, it doesn’t see itself quite as a movement in the same way that the counterculture saw itself as a movement. But the cartoonists who really followed their creative lights in independent comics, in their own way, that was its own kind of quieter movement. ...

When I was a kid, before the big superhero boom, you had every kind of topic in regular mainstream comics. Unlike undergrounds they were for kids, and you couldn’t have any sex or drugs or heavy politics, but you had cowboy comics and space comics and spinoffs of every popular TV show, and it was a wonderful variety of comics that was very inspiring. Whereas once all of a sudden the big Marvel boom happened during the ‘60s, it just essentially squeezed out all these other kinds. Because superheroes are where the money was. It’s like movies now. ... Most of the really fine movies that are made these days are made by independent filmmakers, not Hollywood, and that’s kind of a parallel to what happened in the world of comics.
Another thing that has obviously changed is the internet ... I’m curious your perspective on the incredibly wide accessibility that people, especially young gay people figuring out their identities, have to all these diverse storylines.

The internet is a very paradoxical animal. It’s kind of a golden age for creativity. Anyone, no matter how oddball their idea is or what their orientation is, or in what way they may not be considered mainstream themselves — they can find an audience. Anywhere in the world. And that’s a wonderful thing, and there’s some great creative stuff happening in all forms, including comics online.

But there’s a downside, which is the readership of content online has become accustomed to the feeling that everything should be free. ... I don’t envy young cartoonists trying to start out their careers now, because in the old days, in the world of print, it was not that hard to find places that would pay something, at least, even if it was the local alternative paper. And once you began to build a career, build an audience and learn your skills, you could get real professional rates for doing stuff for print.

I, myself, basically supported myself doing humorous illustrations for mainstream magazines like American Health and Bananas Magazine. There were a number of magazines that used me regularly, and I could do my underground comics without worrying about the fact that the page rate for drawing underground comics was very low. Not because the publishers were cheap, but simply because the audience for them was not widespread enough to make it feasible from a business standpoint to pay large rates. ...

It’s very hard, this phenomenon, with print having sort of been eclipsed by the internet, it’s a real dilemma for people who don’t want to just do comics or cartoons for fun, but want to be professionals. It’s very hard to be a professional these days, and I’m not sure what the answer is for that.
From Stuck Rubber Baby. - HOWARD CRUSE
  • Howard Cruse
  • From Stuck Rubber Baby.

Events like DiNK [Denver’s Independent Art and Comic Expo] for instance — were those kinds of conventions as valuable back in the day as they are today?


They’ve always been great for cartoonists to meet other cartoonists. Because cartooning is a very isolating profession. You tend to work by yourself in a little studio. ... Gatherings like that allow people to build up a circle of colleagues and friends — that’s always been true. I didn’t become interested in going to conventions until they began to be interested in things beyond superheroes. But in time, and during the ‘80s, more and more of the conventions were interested in independent comics, and in cartoonists with unusual interests and ambitions. That was a place where fans of comics would go and they would run into comics they might not see easily in their hometowns, and their awareness would be expanded of what you could do with a comic form. ...

Meeting readers is very enjoyable. It’s one of my favorite things about the internet. It’s very easy for people who read my stuff to make contact with me directly. Whereas when I was a kid if you were a fan of some author or something, the best you could do was send a letter care of their publisher, and it might or might not reach them.

And I’m sure that some comics people don’t want to be bothered with interacting with their readers, but I personally find it good for my morale to know that there are people out there who are interested in what I’m doing.


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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Vail Film Festival continues with challenging, topical films

Posted By on Sun, Apr 8, 2018 at 11:34 AM

Diane Bell's Of Dust and Bones premiered at the Vail Film Festival. - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Diane Bell's Of Dust and Bones premiered at the Vail Film Festival.
Feeding myself on budget in Vail has been tricky — all too many places in this resort town charge $15-plus dollars a plate, too rich for my meager journalistic means. Bless the heavens above for La Cantina, a little Mexican joint on the third floor of the Vail Transportation Center with a full bar and some of the only sub-$10 entrées I've seen in town, and with complimentary chips and a diverse salsa bar, it's been a lifesaver for eating on a budget.

Saturday's daytime highlight from the Vail Film Festival was the "Shoot from the Heart" workshop, taught by Diane Bell — she's a native of Scotland currently living in the Denver area, and her third film, Of Dust and Bones, had its world premier at the festival. She outlined the 16-step method she used to make both Of Dust and Bones and her debut film, Obselidia, from revising the script to shopping for distribution opportunities. She teaches a two-day workshop that goes into detail about budgeting, networking and more through her production/training company, Rebel Heart Film.

Later that afternoon, festival-goers saw the results of Bell's methods with the debut of Of Dust and Bones (not to be confused with Denver death metal crew Of Feather And Bone). It's hard to be objective about the narrative in Of Dust and Bones as a journalist — the film evokes the filmed execution of journalist James Foley in Syria in 2014.

After the death of her husband, war photojournalist Bryan (played by David Zaugh), Clio (played by Gaynor Howe) lives in monastic solitude in the desert somewhere outside of Pioneertown, California. She's visited by Alex (played by Michael Piccirilli), a news producer and friend of Bryan, who wants Bryan's last photos to get out into the world, continuing the work he did in life. It's a slow film with a lot of space and silence, burning slow and exploring heavy themes of how we deal with grief and suffering in Western culture. Hell, co-lead Clio's first line comes well past the 30-minute mark. But it's an interesting film, to be sure, and all the acting's well done. And for anyone who's spent time in the desert, the atmosphere's on point.

Of Dust and Bones will likely spend the next year on the film festival circuit. Expect it to show up on streaming services like Vimeo and Amazon sometime in 2019 — details are still to be determined.


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Vail Film Festival day two was as exciting as the weather

Posted By on Sun, Apr 8, 2018 at 11:32 AM

SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
Day two of the Vail Film Festival, Friday, April 6, was ruled by cool, wet weather in Vail and the surrounding area, though the weather hit hardest after dark. A traffic collision caused local authorities to close at least one on-ramp; it's been an exciting evening.

I spoke with playwright-turned-screenwriter Carolyn Kras, a Chicago native living in Los Angeles, and producer Jon Diack of Centennial, Colorado. Kras won Best Comedy at the Vail FIlm Festival screenplay contest for her film, New Reality, which was originally commissioned by Diack and mutual friend/co-producer Rachel Fowler. It's a cross-cultural workplace romantic comedy — the main character's tech company is replacing her and her department with workers from overseas. She's torn between sabotaging the man she's training to replace her and slowly falling in love with him. Currently, they're working on funding the film — it's hard to say how long it will be before it's ready to screen.

Diack raised concerns about funding film in Colorado, as well. A mid-2017 audit revealed widespread misspending by the Colorado Film Office-administered film incentive program which allows the state to offer a 20 percent tax rebate and loans to finance up to 20 percent of a qualifying film's budget. Denver Business Journal reporter Ed Sealover reports that the conversation in the State Legislature has shifted away from canceling the program to keeping its funding flat, but it's hard to say what would happen to the program and to the Colorado Film Office's leadership should any inappropriately appropriated funding be discovered in future audits.

One of the night's stand-out films was 2017's Alaska Is A Drag, directed by Shaz Bennett and featuring comedian Margaret Cho and Hawaii Five-0 actor/Lilo & Stitch voice actor Jason Scott Lee in supporting roles. The story follows Leo (played by Martin L. Washington Jr.), an aspiring drag queen working at a fish canning factory somewhere in Alaska. The film's anchored less to an easily-summarized plot and more a series of events, starting with the arrival of new cannery worker Declan (played by Matt Dallas), cannery boss Diego (played by Lee) offering to train Leo as a boxer and an upcoming drag competition at "the only gay bar in 100 miles," owned by Jan (played by Cho). The story explores themes of strength, self-deception and the gulf between dreaming and making dreams come true.

There are a few moments of gorgeous post-production play with lighting and dandelion fluff that adds a dreamlike whimsy to the film's often-heavy elements of homophobia and abandonment. But while the acting's on point and the characters are at turns charming and tragic, the less-than-cohesive plot makes them bear much of the burden of engagement, especially when it doesn't feel like most of what happens has consequences. That said, it's a heartwarming film with a memorable cast of characters — and let's be honest, the number of boxing drag queens in film is too damn low.


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