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7/28/2010

The Arts

Seasonal Work
What local artists are up to in the off-season

 

Summer months aren’t as much fun when you’re a responsible adult and still have to pay the bills; even artistic types have to figure out a way to hang on during the slow months until the fall season picks up. While the bulk of Orlando’s creative types bang away at day jobs (if they are lucky) and set the A/C higher at home, a handful of area artists are using the heat to cook up something new – taking shows on the road for the season or inventing something to keep the juices flowing. Here are what four prolific performers and artists are doing during the hot months that may influence what you’ll see in galleries and theaters during Orlando’s 2010-2011 arts season. Come take a vicarious vacation with these visionaries.

Doug Rhodehamel You should remember him from his plethora of paper bag mushroom installations, or you may have seen his Migration installations, featuring herds of clay badgers and matchstick giraffes. But you probably didn’t pay a dime to see most of Rhodehamel’s work. That’s because, like many impoverished artistes, Rhodehamel focuses on following his artistic muse first; commercial considerations come after, which can get sticky in a sucky economy. 

Confronting a housing deficit but not wanting “to just be couch surfing again,” Rhodehamel took the cliché about “living in a cardboard box” and turned it into inspiration for his latest project. Cheekily titled Artist in Residence, the open-ended experiment involves Rhodehamel bringing his 6 by 3-foot “discardboard” (discarded cardboard) sleeping structure to a patron’s house and setting it up in a living room or whatever works. During his tenure, Rhodehamel creates colorful “bewilderbeasts” out of discardboard or other décor for his hosts. Since June 16, a half-dozen people opened their doors to the project, and he has hosts lined up through August. 

Rhodehamel’s recent “housewarming” party at Stardust Video & Coffee allowed the curious to crawl inside his cozy abode, which has been tricked out with screen windows and flower boxes. He swears he never cheats by sleeping anywhere but inside his cast-off casa and insists it’s “actually very comfortable” and provides “a little bit of privacy.” 

After the project ends (hopefully by fall when he finds a permanent residence), Rhodehamel plans to reunite the discardboard house and the beasts he’s built for a retrospective gallery show. So far his hosts have been at least casual acquaintances, because as Rhodehamel says, “The whole stranger thing is kind of scary.” But if you’re itching to donate your domicile to the experiment (or just need a reliable house-sitter) or to see his photo journal, visit dougrhodehamel.wordpress.com.

Brian Feldman For a change, Orlando’s deep-thinking performance artist extraordinaire isn’t sleeping in a box, jumping off a ladder or starting a pillow fight this summer. Instead, he took his act on the road to South Dakota. But Feldman wants it made clear that he wasn’t there on vacation: “Vacation from what?” On July 17 Feldman staged Photo Trade: Mount Rushmore, in which he and accomplice Helen Henny (a former Orlando artist and Stetson grad who recently moved to Rapid City, S.D.) spent five hours taking pictures of, and being photographed by, complete strangers at the foot of the plus-sized presidential monument. 

“It’s mainly about how we chose to share our vacation experiences with people we care about, but we place the capture of those moments in the hands of strangers,” he told me. “[Then] we lie saying, ‘It’s fine, it’s fine,’ when they cut our heads off.” 

Feldman went west without planning exactly what project he wanted to do, and “It wasn’t until we were in the Badlands doing photo trades that I realized we had to go back to Mount Rushmore,” he says. He now plans to turn Photo Trade into an ongoing series, starting with a session at Disney’s Cinderella’s Castle in October, following his upcoming experiments in dosa-eating on Aug. 15, Indian Independence Day (when that country became independent from British rule) and chair-sitting marathon Aug. 28 at the Red Chair Affair gala at Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, as he has done in the past.

Beth Marshall Widely known as producer of the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival (voted Best Festival in Orlando Weekly’s 2010 Best of Orlando readers’ poll), the longest-running such event in the United States. Just when the Fringe ends after Memorial Day weekend, the Canadian Fringe Festival circuit season gets into gear. Several shows from the 2010 Orlando Fringe have had healthy afterlives this summer: Jeff Jones’ Hell Freezes Over played the Parliament House, and Chase Padgett’s 6 Guitars returns Aug. 6-8 to the Lowndes Shakespeare Center. Longtime Fringe favorites Toxic Audio returned the a capella group’s magic downtown for a show last week. 

But no recent Fringe act has gone further this year than Wayburn Sassy, the offensive octogenarian alter-ego of Orlando actor Dewey Chaffee. Chaffee, along with Douglas McGeoch as Sassy’s sidekick Didi Panache, have been performing their profane and popular Screw You Revue under the “Beth Marshall Presents” banner for our Northern neighbors. By all reports they’re knocking ‘em dead, eh? While Marshall was in Manitoba, wrapping up Sassy’s run at the Winnipeg Fringe, she said the experience “rocks!” and that it’s her “fav Fringe next to ours.” At June’s London Fringe (Ontario, not England), which Marshall calls “fab”, they picked up numerous accolades, including the Audience Choice, Producer’s Pick and Impresario awards. She reports that Canadian crowds react to Wayburn’s foulmouthed xenophobia “the same” as Floridians, but that “the straight boys want to do Didi.” 

The next stop is back in the States at the Indianapolis Fringe Festival Aug. 20-29, before returning in time for Orlando Fringe’s fall fundraising blitz. Finally, rumor has it Vegas talent scouts were snooping around Sassy’s last local show, which was reportedly his final stand at Orlando Fringe in May. Who knows – this foulmouthed old fart may become the city’s biggest export since ‘N Sync. 

John DiDonna Considering his seemingly unending stream of projects, John DiDonna may unofficially be known as the busiest man in Orlando theater. You haven’t seen him around local stages this summer, however, and it isn’t because he’s in hiding after his third-place finish (behind Peg O’Keef and Brian Feldman) in the Best of Orlando’s Best Thespian category. He’s been off teaching drama at the Atlanta Workshop Players, an intensive performing arts summer camp based at Oglethorpe University and founded by artistic director Lynn Stallings. DiDonna has taught summer classes there for the past three years, but this year is his first direction of a full show: 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee with a cast of 8- to 18-year-olds, rehearsed and performed in a single week. “This is where I come to get revitalized each summer,” he says.

Despite the high-pressure schedule, DiDonna praises the professionalism of the staff and students, many of whom work in the film and entertainment industry. He’ll return to town next month with more than just good vibes: He’s been spending his off hours at Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts, picking up techniques from head puppeteer Julie Dansby Scarborough that he’ll be employing in October for Phantasmagoria, a multimedia spook show slated for IBEX Puppetry’s annual Orlando Puppet Festival.

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