This past weekend, the Empire Arts Center hosted the first (hopefully annual) Edge New Works festival, bringing together a curated collection of new performance pieces including a table reading of a new work by GGFCT Executive Director Kathleen Coudle-King, new choreography by the Lovely Dozen Bellydancers, and more. Among the new works was a short and poignant piece by Conduit Theatre called Origami Swans. Written, directed by, and starring Conduit Theatre’s driving force, Jared Fladeland, the piece was very short (final running time was about 25 minutes) but held promise for development into a larger piece.
The show is about a clown, Arty, whose life is falling apart. His struggles with harnessing his creativity, turning to his flask and later hard drugs to escape his frustrations. The show features a variety of styles, “manifested through the form of clowning, mime, puppetry, magic, spoken word performance, and melodrama.” (This quote is from the Director’s Notes, which can be found in their entirety HERE). Small tricks and silly moments punctuate the overall descent into darkness of the piece. The piece is about failing, and about giving in to that failure. As Arty gets more and more frustrated, as he experiences more setbacks, he becomes more and more attached to his flask and the demons inside. As you might expect from a clown show, the alcohol and drugs take on some level of personification and become characters of their own, providing moments of dark humor.
Initially, Arty communicates by drawing and writing: he enters with a roll of paper on his head and draws a happy face. As he tears away the layers revealing different emoticon-style emotions, he eventually emerges, first peeking shyly through from behind the paper and then coming fully into a view with a look at the audience that is equal parts coy and hesitant (perhaps hopeful?). He writes questions to the audience in thick black marker strokes: “Are you Nice?” “Are You Sure?” and then again with the coy, asking “Are You Single?”
There were a few magic tricks that were integrated into the show very well: a small piece of paper placed in Arty’s typewriter bursts into flame; his flask is thought to be tucked away in a box later revealed to be empty, only to re-emerge from Arty’s pocket; as Arty get progressively out of control, he tries to empty his flask into a silver vase but eventually gives in and drinks that, the vase “magically” refilling itself after each drink. It makes sense that the more intricate tricks occur at the beginning of the show; a good magic trick is about controlling the audience’s attention and this show is about Arty slowly losing more and more of his control, over himself and his situation.
Towards the end, he has abandoned the flask in favor of needles; after he shoots up, with three needles still dangling from his arms, he addresses the audience to say his final goodbyes. It starts with the sort of slurry adoration that most of us have experienced from a hopelessly drunk friend at one point or another (“I love you, I love you…”) and gets progressively darker. Some of this speech feels just a touch melodramatic (in the classic damsel-tied-to-the-tracks-by-a-mustachioed-villain sort of way) but it’s rescued by the show’s climactic moment: a fart to end all farts, a fart for the ages that revives Arty and gives the story its first upward turn since the opening moments.
There is definitely work to be done: the show is very short and without a “second act” it over-indexes on the darker elements and is crying out for a hero’s redemption to feel more like a complete show. But this first version is very promising and was a great reminder that clowns are much more than simply birthday party entertainment and the stuff of Stephen King’s nightmares. We’ll be looking forward to more from this local artist and his seemingly tireless creative ambitions.
Tags: Champagne Dreams Productions, community theatre, Conduit Theater, Conduit Theatre, drag performance, Edge Festival, Edge New Works Festival, Empire Arts Center, Empire Theater, Empire Theatre, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, Jared Fladeland, Miss Jaye, Origami Swans, World of Champagne