Bumbershoot 2012: Beyond the Music
While Seattleites tend to think of Bumbershoot as a great music festival, about half the events on the schedule are non-musical in nature, including comedy, symposia, theatre, film, visual arts, and items less easy to classify. This year, the visual arts were as good a reason as any to get to Bumbershoot, while the theatre provided well-timed respite from standing in the sun.
Highlights of the visual art included the exhibition of atmospheric urban landscapes by the late Christopher Martin Hoff. Vast wastelands of highway, dereliction, and construction alternately assume hard clarity and hazy intangibility on his canvas. Precise lines of color leap out of the beige in pieces such as the Floating Worlds series, while features fade into a blurry taupe in others such as the Infrastructure paintings. Altogether they feel cold, empty, and foreboding. A series on Ground Zero construction captures the sacred attention in the context of emotionless reconstruction.
In the memorial project of this exhibit, a few unfinished pieces stood out, including depictions of the demolition of the Viaduct and the Elwha Dam. These gave a sense of Hoff’s body of work as a sound suddenly cut off–even while the music from the Tune-in Stage filtered in through the open garage doors. With so many pieces focused on memorial, the context of Hoff’s sudden death took prominence in the hushed conversations of viewers. The one downside to the exhibit was that too much was crammed into the space, making some pieces and their explanatory notes impossible to view without endangering other pieces.
An adjacent exhibit focused on studio glass. Here two of the most striking displays were by Edison Osorio Zapata. These featured blown glass objects etched and used as printing surfaces, displayed next to sheets of heavy paper covered in their prints. “Gringo Graffiti” has a conventional-looking roller with a glass cylinder, metal handle, and an all-over print, like wallpaper, while “Lagrimas de Marfil” features a teardrop-shaped roller. This “ivory tear” is covered in etchings which print onto its accompanying paper in a pattern that appears random and organic, sometimes narrow, other times wide, always meandering.
The accompanying description noted the artist’ss interest in investigating the fractured and prismatic nature of communication across cultures, especially in the context of the immigrant experience. The medium seems a natural fit for such investigations, and Zapata heightens this quality by the pursuit of traditionally simple, straight-forward forms such as printing. Displaying both object and print highlights the distance source and expression.
The crowd favorite of the visual arts–outside of Flatstock, the rock music poster exhibition on the main floor of the Armory–was an exhibit linked to the Next Fifty celebrations in which artists tied their work to the same spirit of skyward futurism as the 1962 World’s Fair. Along with some interactive light and sound installations there were a couple of witty pieces that inspired the wonder created by that event. Most prominent among these were the silver animal automata of Cathy McCarthy, which unceasingly performed their little actions under plexiglass domes on cardboard mushroom pedestals that felt perfectly Jetsons.
As for theatre, the overall impression is that Bumbershoot did a fine job connecting events to audience. For the several young families at Seattle Center in the early afternoon of Saturday ACT’s youth theatre presentation of an abridged version of the theatre’s upcoming Ramayana (October 12-November 11) was a good fit. The instructors of this group have done an excellent job teaching mask technique and the basics of traditional dance. One hopes they’ll give more attention to the puppetry side of the production before they get to their official presentation, as its inclusion felt perfunctory in this performance. Nonetheless, this is clearly an excellent opportunity for these students and their families.
Wing-It Productions’ Election Show offered another preview of a soon-to-open run (September 6-November 2). A packed house watched comics enact a long-form improvisation that clothed the form in the tropes of the election season. Audience participation was managed with extraordinary care and a bit of humor. The cast also took pains to create a mostly de-politicized environment of Whigs versus the Bull Moose Party. The variations of theme and structure often came off as no more than repetitious, and there was nothing revelatory about this piece. People who like improv will enjoy this show; those who do not will find no reason to change their opinions.
As the crowd turned decidedly more adult and The Heavy brought a sustainable groove to Saturday’s anemic music offerings, the Washington Ensemble Theatre staged a brief revival of their summer offering, Bed Snake, to a packed house with some diversity of age and race.
Whether that diversity remained after the mid-show exodus–Hannah Victoria Franklin, as Kry$tal, led the actors in their triumphant response to this–one cannot say. A hip-hop Faust with a romantic twist, Bed Snake has greater ambitions than achievements, and these achievements were all the more muted, given the Center House Theatre’s abysmal sight lines. Still, the dancers did great work with a limited vocabulary, the acting was committed, and the projections were excellent (for those who could see them).
While it makes sense to stage this pop music-immersed show at Bumbershoot, the production suffers in comparison. The original rhymes in the piece are to hip-hop as Frank Wildhorne is to pop-rock: one can see that there’s a relationship, but in both form and, especially, quality there is a vast difference. Still, one hopes there will be more in this vein that crosses boundaries of form—more new theatre that takes its cue from the culture and vibe of Bumbershoot.