BOOM fest show­cases ex­per­i­men­tal art forms

The BOOM Char­lotte fes­ti­val, held April 26-28 in Plaza Mid­wood, of­fers up a va­ri­ety of ex­per­i­men­tal art forms, in­clud­ing one-per­son per­for­mances, po­etry and dance, for main­stream au­di­ences to sam­ple.

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Carolina Living - BY LAWRENCE TOPPMAN Arts Cor­re­spon­dent

The dif­fer­ence be­tween fans of main­stream cul­ture and fans of BOOM Char­lotte is ex­actly one punc­tu­a­tion mark.

Main­stream­ers read about “The Sacra­ment of Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion,” where au­di­ence mem­bers make bread in some­one’s home while med­i­tat­ing on their own lives, and ask, “This is art?” BOOMers re­spond, “This is art!”

Ditto for the one-per­son show by Melissa “Gangsta Care Bear” Har­ris, who tells sto­ries “through the lens of a bougie, chubby, menopausal, 50-yearold black Bud­dhist with no sex­ual gen­der pref­er­ence.” Or “Uni­corn in the For­est,” a show by Sin­er­gismo — still un­clas­si­fi­ably wild af­ter 17 years — in which trees come to life and a snag­gle-toothed uni­corn grants a run­away from mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion an ex­is­tence-chang­ing wish.

BOOM has be­come an ev­er­grow­ing tra­di­tion in its fourth year, buoyed by a three-year grant of $100,000 from the Mi­ami-based Knight Foun­da­tion and the con­vic­tion that Char­lotte needs to es­tab­lish more out­posts along its artis­tic bor­ders.

The fest will park it­self in Plaza Mid­wood again April 26-28, erect­ing its In­ter­sec­tion Stage where Thomas and Com­mon­wealth av­enues meet. There you can see free per­for­mances in a kind of out­door liv­ing room, com­plete with couches and a fire pit. You can also walk

to more than 30 per­for­mances by 19 artists or groups — the largest num­ber yet — in the BOOM Fringe, where most shows last 30 to 45 min­utes and all cost $10. Street art and pop-up per­for­mances ap­pear at five spots in this four-block won­der­land.

Wan­der around from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fri­day, 1 p.m. to mid­night Satur­day or 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sun­day, let­ting whimsy guide you. (Find the slate of per­form­ers at http://boom char­­ule/.) Or, if you’re wary, spend $40 for a Spark Tour with poet/racon­teur Boris “Bluz” Rogers, a BOOM alum. He’ll choose for you on Satur­day and Sun­day, lead­ing you through a minifest of three events plus an au­di­ence talk­back and a meet-and-greet with an artist.

Ei­ther way, you can ex­pect two things. First, you will at some point shake your head and won­der whether you un­der­stand what’s go­ing on. No prob­lem there, said fes­ti­val pro­gram­mer Camerin Wat­son. “It’s OK for an au­di­ence to get some­thing dif­fer­ent from what the artist in­tended. Au­di­ences who bring some­thing of their own to these events will en­joy the weird stuff bet­ter.” Sec­ond, you will prob­a­bly find your­self in front of a one-per­son show, a dra­matic mono­logue pos­si­bly in­ter­spersed with mu­sic or dance. The 2019 Fringe of­fers half a dozen of these (also the largest num­ber yet), and lo­cal po­ets have be­gun to pass a gen­er­a­tional torch within BOOM.

Two years ago, Bluz and Car­los Rob­son held the stage. Last year, they coun­seled and in­spired Jay Ward to do the same in “Things I Would Say,” about con­ver­sa­tions he’d like to have with his fa­ther, who died 21 years be­fore. This year, Ward drapes the man­tle over Fred­er­ick “Breeze the Poet” Eber­hardt, whose “Love Any­way” ex­plores “a black man and his re­la­tion­ships with love. Want­ing it, hav­ing it, los­ing it, chas­ing it, re­al­iz­ing he never had it in the first place, fig­ur­ing out how to ac­tu­ally ob­tain it. The will to love and the demons that pos­sess it. “

Char­lotte has pro­duced a rich crop of slam po­ets over two decades, in­clud­ing a SlamChar­lotte team that won the Na­tional Po­etry Slam last year. (Breeze and Ward both com­pete reg­u­larly.) But as Wat­son said, BOOM projects “have to be co­he­sive. The defin­ing thing is that these can’t just be shows you could do else­where.”

So al­though Ward said slam po­ets es­pouse the motto “Get Free,” free­dom at BOOM comes with unique re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. “The hard­est part for a poet is con­struct­ing a nar­ra­tive,” Ward said. “Car­los and Bluz and Q (Quentin Tal­ley) came to my liv­ing room and guided me through the process, and I wrote three drafts and seven re­vi­sions. I was tear­ing away the cal­luses that had built up over time, be­ing as hon­est as I could. It’s a con­stant un­lock­ing (of your­self).

”You pay at­ten­tion to this au­di­ence dif­fer­ently than at a slam. You’re able to im­pro­vise. You can say some­thing ran­dom, and if you get a re­sponse, you go with it. I’d say some­thing I thought was mildly funny and get a big laugh. Then I’d say some­thing I thought was re­ally funny, and they wouldn’t laugh as much.”

Breeze lis­tened and learned, yet he said Ward has mainly been help­ful in pro­vid­ing “the sup­port and con­fir­ma­tion that I could do this. There’s been a lot of sec­ondguess­ing and soul-search­ing, be­cause I never thought I could pull to­gether this event.

“When you speak a poem, you’re not play­ing a char­ac­ter. In this show, the char­ac­ter is me. I have to cre­ate a story around him, and I’ll play other peo­ple as well. I al­ready had the po­ems in my head, but con­nect­ing them was tough. Run­ning through my mind was, ‘My mom’s not go­ing to like this!’ I want no lay­ers be­tween me and the au­di­ence. I’m telling the truth about love.”

Wat­son said self-rev­e­la­tory, one-per­son shows have be­come a trend among fringe fes­ti­vals ev­ery­where, even the grand­daddy of them all in Ed­in­burgh, Scot­land. (There’s a U.S. As­so­ci­a­tion of Fringe Fes­ti­vals that BOOM hasn’t yet joined.)

Though she and the other pro­gram­mers had to in­vite artists for the first two years, they’ve got­ten “a ton of fab­u­lous sub­mis­sions in 2018 and 2019.” They try to bal­ance gen­res, and their job’s a gam­ble: Ap­ply­ing artists sub­mit a 200-word de­scrip­tion of their projects and sam­ples of pre­vi­ous pieces, yet Wat­son and crew know they’ll prob­a­bly cre­ate some­thing new for BOOM.

“Of­ten, we’re not sure if some­thing will work,” Wat­son ad­mit­ted. “This year’s ‘Threads and Shad­ows’ is a dance mash-up be­tween a chore­og­ra­pher from Greens­boro (Alexan­dra Joye War­ren) and one from Char­lotte (Sarah Coun­cil) who’ve never met be­fore. It’s im­por­tant to treat this as an ex­per­i­ment.” (The web­site says the piece “takes Alexan­dra War­ren’s ‘Slay­ing Ghosts’ and Sarah Coun­cil’s ‘A History of Dirt’ and de­con­structs them be­fore weav­ing them back to­gether as a di­verse whole.”)

The 32 free per­form­ers at the In­ter­sec­tion stage are of­ten but not al­ways more con­ven­tional. That’s where the Tosco Mu­sic Party, Char­lotte Sym­phony and One Voice Cho­rus have a pres­ence, though not al­ways the kind you’d ex­pect: Opera Carolina will model the work of de­sign­ers who re­cy­cle printed mar­ket­ing ma­te­rial into cou­ture fash­ion. (So far, claims the pub­lic­ity sheet, 36,000 pages have been saved from land­fills.)

There you’ll see Lund­gren Street Cir­cus per­form “Myth­i­cal Char­lotte,” Soca Fit USA teach you to “wind your waist” with Caribbean Car­ni­val-style moves, or Artist Uni­verse “ven­ture into the world of pho­tog­ra­phy, videog­ra­phy, body paint­ing and dance.”

BOOM peren­ni­ally serves a palate-stretch­ing tapas plate be­cause it wants to at­tract ev­ery­one from fam­i­lies with tod­dlers to hard-core avant­gardists. It of­fers a preview party April 25 from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at NODA Brew­ing (2921 N. Tryon St.) to ease new­com­ers into the con­cept.

And it keeps a tight rein on prices: $10 not only for Fringe per­for­mances but also af­ter-par­ties at Snug Har­bor, Pe­tra’s Bar, Open Door Stu­dio, Rab­bit Hole and Coal­trane’s.

“You’re not pay­ing $100 to see a show or giv­ing up two hours for one per­for­mance,” Wat­son said. “We want peo­ple to sam­ple as much as they can.”


Dancers Dy­lan Red­dish, left, and Claire Brin­ley prac­tice in ad­vance of BOOM Char­lotte. BOOM has be­come an ever-grow­ing tra­di­tion in its fourth year, buoyed by a three-year grant of $100,000 from the Mi­ami-based Knight Foun­da­tion.


Dancers Sam Sal­vato, left, and Han­nah Ni­chols prac­tice ahead of the BOOM Char­lotte fes­ti­val, to be held in Plaza Mid­wood April 26-28. Street art and pop-up per­for­mances will ap­pear at sev­eral spots.

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