It was a wonderful whirl of a Saturday evening for the visual and performing arts in Flagler County. You’d have been well served if you had clones to take it all in.
Begin on the stage of the Flagler Auditorium, which may have drawn the smallest audience of the evening but had the biggest hearts and show of grit by far: Flagler Palm Coast High School’s Drama Club performance of “Aesop’s (Oh So Slightly) Updated Fables.”
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In case you’ve been ensconced under a rock in Maycomb, Ala., this is the troupe that had been three weeks into its rehearsals of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in October when the principal and the superintendent, aided by one of those hasty harebrained hind-quarter-covering committees, pulled the play out of fear that audiences might be too immature to handle the use of the word nigger on stage. (That embarrassing decision is under review by another committee Monday and, we hope, will be reversed).
Director Ed Koczergo’s 25 actors and crew had scheduled four performances of Mockingbird this weekend. Rather than retreat under a rock of their own, they scrambled, came up with a replacement play–what else: fables–rehearsed at hare-and-turtle speed in the two weeks they had left to pull it off, and did just that: they had their first performance Friday, two more performances Saturday, and will have one last one today, at 2 p.m. at the Flagler Auditorium.
Go see them–not only to give them your support, but because the performance is worth it in and of itself: it’s airy, funny, literally engaging (the performers delve into the audience and interact throughout) and even, on occasion, instructive: fables’ punch-lines have the added caffeine of a moral kick without the side-effects of being didactic. You’ll see Shawn-Michael Manniel as the most hysterical (in every sense of the word) butcher in recent memory, Eddie Green, the veteran of the crew, in a trio of roles as angular and reaching as his frame, Patrick Farris as Lord, Dog and a few other incarnations, the wryly funny Ryan Mateo, and of course the Terri Garr-nutty Leana Gardella, whose gun-toting soap-opera dramatics end with that proverbial bang. Along the way the cast drops innumerable surprises, visual puns and self-deprecating jokes to keep things moving. There’s even a bizarrely entertaining and threadless video inspired by Saturday Night Live’s digital shorts, minus the rap. “I was,” as one of the performers says at one point, “as giddy as Hugh Hefner.” I really was.
Some 60 seats were filled in the auditorium, not nearly enough for the effort, though the intimacy of the crowd–and its enthusiasm along the way–only enhanced the players’ interactions.
A couple of weeks ago Evie Shellenberger, the outgoing school board member, in an admonishing tone, said that if anything should come out of the Mockingbird controversy, more attention and support for the two high schools’ drama performances should be it. She’s right. But she should also recognize that maybe the schools’ own barriers are the obstacle to these plays being seen as an integral part of the larger community’s art scene, especially when the district presumes to control them as much as it does, or ban them. Doing so sends the wrong message: it’s the district that’s segregating its performers from the community, not the other way around.
Did I mention that “Aesop’s Fables” is on again at 2 p.m. today (Sunday)?
At the same time as last night’s performance, in the same parking lot as the auditorium’s, FPC had its annual fall festival (to raise money for the school’s athletics). And three miles away, the Flagler Playhouse was ending its three-week run of “Jesus Christ Superstar” to a sold-out audience. “Superstar” “is officially the highest grossing show in Flagler Playhouse history,” according to Christ himself (actor Ryan Dineen).
Here’s another show that has its share of daring and that could have drawn the ire of small minds, what with Mary Magdalen pulling a Courtney Love on Jesus and Christ himself being put through a couple of vaudeville acts on his way to his 70s-beat crucifixion. But John Sbordone (like Ed Koczergo, incidentally) directs plays, not correctness. Give us more of them and less of their detractors–and remember the sold-out audiences: this county craves these things, and will support them.
Next up for the Playhouse is its three-performance holiday special (“Miracle at the Crossroads,” Dec. 10-12), followed by “Hairspray” in February, for which it’s holding auditions on Wednesday, Nov. 17.
Back to Saturday evening: up the road in Palm Coast, in the city’s newest, most artistic corner — City Market Place, formerly known as City Walk — JJ Graham’s Hollingsworth Gallery and the Flagler County Art League had their latest, simultaneous show openings, drawing some 300 to 400 people between 6 and 9 p.m., including Vice Mayor Holsey Moorman, who offered up a proclamation about art’s growing role in the city.
The new show at Hollingsworth is actually the Gargiulo Art Foundation’s 11th annual “Artist of the Year-Affordable Art & Poetry Show,” which this year celebrates Edson Beckett as the Artist of the Year. Beckett teaches art at FPC. The gallery’s walls were ecstatically jammed with works, most of them made to fit the show’s theme this year: “Work Created in 15 Minutes or Less.” The show is one of the Gargiulo Foundation’s fund-raisers. It’ll be at the gallery for the next two months, with an encore opening in a month.
A few doors down the Flagler County Art League had its own opening, “Sunday Afternoon With the Artists,” an annual show that this year opened neither on Sunday nor in the afternoon, but kept its brand name for poetry’s sake. The art league is in a bit of turmoil this week with the resignation of its president, Weldon Ryan, last Thursday, though Ryan was there last night too, shuttling between the two galleries, as visitors did most of the evening, taking in what has turned into creatively fascinating polar opposites, not to mention what should be productive rivalries (and jealousies): JJ Graham’s take-no-prisoner approach makes the art league’s more staid eminences nervous. But it’s also unquestionable that if the city’s art scene is finally on the map, it owes it to Graham’s energetic cartography.
Last night’s openings showed why. Something very good is happening to the idea of art in Palm Coast–art not just as something you hang on your wall, see in a museum or champion in occasional bursts at isolated events, but as a rolling movement that helps define this community’s identity. The Gargiulo Art Foundation has been around for years, but at Hollingsworth it gains the visibility it deserves. The art league has been around since the 1970s, but never in a home of its own until recently, or in a place as visible as its home at City Market Place until August. Whether its members want to admit it or not, it owes that renewed visibility in good measure to Hollingsworth. The Flagler Playhouse has been an enduring treasure rarely heralded in proportion to its value, but that’s changing too with the Playhouse becoming a fixture in its permanent home in Bunnell. The Flagler Auditorium has been the county’s cultural workhorse, toiling year after year like those Medieval scribes who slaved to keep a measure of classical civilization alive through the Dark Ages.
Flagler’s dark ages are over: Cities are not made of commerce alone, but of culture–active, challenging culture that goes beyond the visual Muzak of decorative comforts. Graham’s gallery is becoming a necessary hub, breaking ground and walls and making our cultural environment richer. But every cultural organization is playing a vital role–including the high schools’ drama departments.
That, I think is what the school district didn’t recognize when it yanked Mockingbird out of that talented crew’s hands, and why the decision, put up against the kind of rich evening Flagler had Saturday, looks so blinkered. This isn’t an immature community. FPC’s students, whether they’re on stage or in the audience, aren’t the sheep needing protection the district is making them out to be. They’re relevant. They have their own brand of energy, as resonant and necessary in its own way as the energy spilling out of the Hollingsworth Gallery and the Flagler Playhouse, or even the auditorium’s professional shows. It’s all of a piece.
The walls are coming down. Cultural organizations, including the school district–the most powerful definer of our local culture–can either help tear down the walls or thicken them up with thicker skulls. There were no walls in sight Saturday evening. Let’s keep it that way.