Peruse the Internet and you’ll find one “best of 2015’ list after another — best movies, best books, best albums. It’s an easy way to reflect on the past year. Reviewing my 2015 calendar one last time, I can say there was a copious amount of exceptional arts events in Reno. Our motto is: “Reno is the SPOT for year round art” and this year truly confirmed that.
Between my business partner, Eric Brooks, theater critic Galen Watson and myself, we attended many openings, exhibits, plays and festivals. We didn’t have a strategy, just attended what interested us. There were some disappointments (and always will be), but Reno’s 2015 arts scene, for the most part, was enjoyable. I applaud those who brought newness — Off Beat Festival, Sculpture Fest and the Gateway Project. It’s events like these that allow us to confirm that Reno is filled with creative people and becoming an arts destination. I also commend Paul Baker Prindle, director of Sheppard Contemporary and University Galleries, for two notable exhibits that engaged wide and diverse audiences – “I Am My Brother’s Keeper,” and Tehching Hsieh: One Year Performance 1980 – 1981.
I’m also proud of the Midtown Mural Tour we started this year. The walk is a great way to view many artistic gems. I’m going to go all out here and say it’s the BEST mural tour in Reno.
That’s enough reflecting for me. I’ve got to start filling in my 2016 calendar. But please continue reading what Eric and Galen praised in 2015.
My New Year’s prediction (no crystal ball needed): It’s going to be a very busy 2016 in the arts!
This last weekend marks my third year anniversary as a Renoite. Thank you for having me. It has been an incredible journey, with the path just beginning. As I reflect upon the last 12 months, I am in wonder of what was shown to us. 2015 was a whirlwind of receptions, pop-up’s, new events and the community coming out to engage with the art, artists, creating unique and lasting experiences. Here are my highlights out of a stunning schedule:
“Tehching Hsieh: One Year Performance 1980 – 1981” — Sheppard Contemporary showcased one of the most engaging exhibits of the year. Only the second time to be displayed in the U.S., we had a chance to experience this incredible piece April 16 – June 21. Mr. Hsieh was on hand for an artist talk and was happy to mingle with the crowds during the reception that followed. I sat near the back of the packed auditorium, there were times when the language and his soft tone made it hard to understand, but what came through loud and clear was his dedication to his craft. To see him discussing his life’s work, his passion and attention to detail, was moving – motivating. Two weeks later I returned to the exhibit on a lonely Wed. afternoon. I was alone in the room, surrounded by his face staring at me thousands of times, from every angle. The room was alive in silence. I sat down and tried to imagine the solitude he must have felt, the power he contained to endure. Those four walls were a lesson of struggle, the ability to conquer and move forward to the next. He made me want to be an artist.
OverUnder: “Blueprint of a Mother” — The inaugural Sculpture Fest took place over Mother’s Day weekend. Along with BELIEVE sitting under the Reno Arch, more than 15 sculptures, many interactive, were placed on the ReTRAC pads downtown. The festival also featured projections from Android Jones and introduced two new murals, one from Christina Angelina and my favorite in the city, “Blueprint of a Mother.” Erik Burke is one of the most prolific muralists in town and has been responsible for national and international muralists coming to Reno. This piece, in particular, is massive — 70 feet of pure love. Love for family and for Nevada. A portrait of his wife who had just given birth to their first child. It still brings shivers when I drive south on Virginia, pause at Plaza and look up.
“Late Harvest” – Nevada Museum of Art — “The exhibition seeks to simultaneously confirm—through historically-significant wildlife paintings—and subvert—through contemporary art and photography—viewers’ preconceptions of the place of animals in culture.” That quote is from the Nevada Museum of Art website. We had 18 days in January before this spectacle closed. This exhibit was right up my alley — taxidermy of the most unique. This is one of those shows that you needed to see. When I told someone about a lion cut in half and the insides were filled with quartz, the 3-D shooting wallpaper or the large stained glass windows, which on closer inspection were butterfly wings, it just didn’t translate. That just scratches the surface. I walked those rooms a dozen times and still left with new perspectives each time. My favorite was watching students, of all ages experience the installation with a sense of awe and wonder.
“Tiny Gems: A Series of Fleeting Experiences” — How about a show that takes place all over town and lasts only one night and it is highly interactive? Yes! Yes, as many times as you can ask me. Last July, Holland Project coordinated an evening of fleeting experiences, combining music, painting, writing, performance art, music, movement and a sense of magic. The experience started at the Planetarium then moved on to Chapel of the Bells, Old Post Office, Midtown Yoga and finished at Spectre. I joined the procession at the Old Post Office and was WOWED!! Yes, two exclamation points. There were piñatas to be smashed, tiny poems in a quiet, otherwise empty room for the taking, an intricate sign painted down a 20-foot hallway declaring, “I’m Going To Fall In Love With You One Day.” There was experimental music, bodies swaying in a perfect jilted texture to match the sounds bouncing around the dark concrete capsule we were sitting in. The evening continued to Midtown Yoga where glowing gowns lit one room and a bubble wrapped impromptu concert hall where everyone was offered a bottle of bubbles to fill the air. The best part of the evening was the look on every face I encountered – sheer joy. Not a sense of happiness or fun, it was joy, and I felt it for days after the event.
It has been a marvelous year for Reno Community Theater but ‘All good things must come to an end,’ wrote the father of English literature Geoffrey Chaucer in his poem “Troilus and Criseyde.” As this year marches inevitably to the conclusion of its own dramatic run, it seems appropriate for those of us who critique theater to pay homage to the dramatic arts. So, too, should we honor theaters, playwrights, casts, crews and those who work so hard to produce performances that inspire, provoke, amuse and entertain us.
This year, Reno Little Theater offered up Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize winning “Clybourne Park” that provoked audiences with issues of race and gentrification, and questioned the meaning of community. And Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” tickled audiences as a thought-provoking comedy about cults of celebrity and the people we turn into rock stars: scientists, artists and even con men.
Over at Good Luck Macbeth Theatre Company, Chris Daniel’s “Last Call at the Old Southwest” explored LGBT history and the struggle for mainstream acceptance. Christian Durso’s “Shiner” was an ode to teen angst, hopelessness and the influence of Seattle Grunge rocker Kurt Cobain on a generation. George Brant’s off-Broadway play “Grounded” tackled the drone war, its moral dilemmas and the devastating effect on pilots who mete out death and destruction via a joystick.
Meanwhile at Brüka Theatre of the Sierra, the Broadway musical version of the British movie “The Full Monty” showed just how far a father would go for his son — even down to his birthday suit. David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People” spun a tale about choices in poverty-stricken South Philly: those who have them and those who give up theirs for the one they love. Finally, “Buttcracker 6: Underland” is a Brüka original holiday season ballet of the absurd – a parody of “The Nutcracker” and “Alice in Wonderland.” The “Buttcracker” series is sure to be Reno’s favorite alternative holiday show.
One of the reasons I love live theater is that it’s interactive. Actors communicate to the audience and the audience reacts in real time with joy, amazement, shock, sadness, introspection, glee or perhaps an epiphany or two. Every single one of the productions I critiqued spoke to me on some level. But now it’s time to choose my two favorites — not an easy task because there were many terrific productions and superb performances.
Good Luck Macbeth Theatre’s “Grounded” was truly a one-woman tour de force. Ashley James swaggered around the stage in a trim flight suit, exulting, pronouncing, sermonizing, reflecting, lamenting, and despairing as her character evolved during the one-hour-plus performance. She mesmerized the audience, circling and pacing like a predator on the hunt ,while a screen at the rear of the stage projected her deteriorating sanity. The solo show was timely, compelling, and powerful.
Brüka Theatre’s American version of “The Full Monty” was simply a superbly realized production. A splendid, nine-piece band rocked David Yazbek’s musical score from the loft, led by Music Director Tony Degeiso. The audience was treated to jazz, blues, rock and more from these professional cool cats while the actors sang, strutted their stuff and danced their pants off, literally. The performers were talented, poignant and honest. They left me uplifted and tapping my toes. I gave the production a resounding 5 G-strings.
There you have it, the theater year in review. This wasn’t all of the fine performances that played this year; rather, they’re the ones we had the privilege to critique. So ring the curtain down on 2015 and we hope to see all of you in 2016 at one of Reno’s theaters.
Your Art Spot Team