Month: July 2014

Weekend: Sideshow Fringe Festival

composition-notebook-journalI don’t know about you, but lately, my life feels like a sideshow act of heightened drama and intense affect. I’m going to escape the insane realities that plague me this weekend at the Sideshow Fringe Festival. (Again, how is there so much going on in one weekend!? Coordinate, people!) 

It bills itself as a progressive performing arts festival. At four days long, it’s packed with plays, puppet shows, dance performances, and readings. If I can get up the hutzpah, I might check out the #ThrowbackThursdayLIVE event tonight and read some of my morose middle school journals in the tradition of “Cringe.” (Because I’ve been plunged into adolescent turmoil already this week, why not make it official?) Mine reads like a study in teenage substance abuse. How about yours?

How I feel right now.

How I feel right now.

Friday night, fans of The Moth might enjoy First Time Stories hosted by Vali Forrister, where people will share 5-minute stories about first time experiences, live without notes. This is followed by The Nerve, which seems to be the same thing with a different theme. I’m excited Nashville is seeing this kind of programming! 

There are other events throughout the weekend as well that you can check out on the festival’s website here. Now, break out those old love letters you never sent and meet me #TBT! 

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Poetry Sucks! Saturday Night

In typical Nashville fashion, there are too many great things to do in one night this coming Saturday. I’ve heard great reviews of Poetry Sucks!, a sporadic reading series curated by Chet Weise (an avid Star Trek fan) that includes poetry, prose, music, and art. It’s Saturday at 6:30 over in East Nashville at Fond Object. And it’s free. poetry sucks

Weekend Excursion in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN

It’s not the Hamptons, but living in Nashville offers residents a number of opportunities to get out of the city for the weekend, including Gatlinburg, TN and its neighboring Pigeon Forge, which sit at the base of the Smokey Mountains, just about three hours from home. I found the area to be high on kitsch and holly rollers, light on “culture” — but still a lot of fun.

Downtown Gatlinburg and the Smokey Mountains.

Downtown Gatlinburg and the Smokey Mountains.

Gatlinburg offers visitors a long row of shops peddling knick-knacks and tee shirts, but also an adorable and impressive salt and pepper shaker museum (more on that below), truly gorgeous scenery, and if you’re the outdoorsy type, hikes on the Smokey Mountains. Pigeon Forge is home to legend Dolly Parton, a country singer even New Yorkers have heard of, and boasts a really fantastic amusement park with awesome thrill rides; way too many mini golf courses; a weird, super religious parrot sanctuary; and an alarming number of dinner theater options. It’s a lot of good, clean family fun, so you have to go there with your tolerance for corny, touristy stuff turned way up. This might prove challenging for New Yorkers. (Even coming out of Queen of the Night last week, I resented having to walk through Times Square to get to the subway.) That said, if you’re ready for the silly, you might have a blast. Be prepared to spend on everything. It’s a tourist trap, so they’re going to squeeze you for your last dime.

Here are my highlights:

Dollywood – Pigeon Forge

The high-thrill rides are BOSS at this amusement park. I rode the Soaring Eagle twice and dangled my legs from the front row each time. It feels like flying! The park also has an extensive Dolly Parton museum, and on the way out, Dolly’s Uncle Bill Owens enthusiastically introduced himself! Just going to check out her shoes is worth it. An interesting feature of the park is a bald eagle sanctuary and some bird whisperers that have all kinds of knowledge about the patriotic vertebrates.

Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum – Gatlinburg

My precious favorite attraction was this little, family-run museum, the likes of which I’ve never encountered. The S&P Museum holds over 30,000 salt and pepper shakers, collected by a European lady who simply adores them. The proprietor is her very friendly son, who could easily win the award for nicest person ever. You’re allowed to take all the pictures you want and put your pin in the map on your way out. The little shakers are arranged thematically, and there is so much to take in. Entry fee is only $3, and for that, you can get $3 off on your own set from a neat collection in the gift shop. I bought a Kirk and Spock set, and my boyfriend picked out a neat little bird with a head that twists from salt to pepper. We even were inspired to start our own collection! Definitely don’t miss this gem, even if you’re passing through for a day!

Multiply this by 12 and that's how any salt and pepper shakers are there.

Multiply this by 12 and that’s how any salt and pepper shakers are there.

Weird set that I don't understand but that I'm sure was made in the South.

Weird set that I don’t understand but that I’m sure was made in the South.

Tiny shakers.

Tiny shakers.

Smokey Mountain Alpine Coaster – Pigeon Forge 

As we approached the mountain slide, I said I wouldn’t do it. It’s the longest sled ride in the U.S. with over a mile of track. You get strapped in to a little car (smaller than a go-cart!), hooked onto a moving cable system, and slowly pulled up the mountain. I was expecting the ride up to be long and boring, but it was actually very relaxing. When you get to the top, the speed control is up to you! Even though I was scared waiting in line, I floored it and didn’t slow down the entire ride. It goes up to 27 mph but feels much, much faster. Tip: as your sled starts boarding, ask the attendant to give you an extra minute as the person before you ascends. Since riders control the speed, the person in front of you could be a slow poke, forcing a traffic jam on the way down.

Pigeon Forge from the Wonders of Flight ballon ride--not really worth doing unless you're really into taking pictures like this. If you are, do it!

Pigeon Forge from the Wonders of Flight ballon ride–not really worth doing unless you’re really into taking pictures like this. If you are, do it!

Ripley’s Believe it or Not? – Gatlinburg 

Gatlinburg offers package deals for five or so attractions owned by Ripley’s.  We went for Ripley’s Believe It or Not?, the Aquarium, and the Haunted House. Believe It or Not? is a kitschy blast through Robert Ripley’s collection of bizarro artifacts from around the world. A calf with two heads. John Dillinger’s death mask. Charles Manson’s prison shirt. A medieval iron maiden. There’s plenty of opportunity to play in the optical illusion rooms. A tip: Halfway through the tour, there are restrooms. Check all the doors. You’ll see why.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies – Gatlinburg

For me, a good aquarium brings an unparalleled sense of tranquility and wonder. Save this for the afternoon when you’re feeling a little tired of the hyper-stimulating main strip and crave the cool, dark mystery of the sea.  It’s voted #1 U.S. aquarium by Trip Advisor and has some rare species, like the mesmerizing sea dragons that cost over $10,000 each. I was too entranced to even take a picture. A tip: Check out their schedule beforehand so you can catch the mermaids and see the penguins get fed. We missed both.

Me and the clownfish.

I liked seeing the clownfish.

This stunning jellyfish.

Even my camera could capture the stunning jellyfish.

Please Don’t Bother 

Please don’t bother with Dolly’s Dixie Stampede Dinner Theater. With the exception of Biscuit, the pretty awesome banjo player in the pre-show, the dinner theater is a far cry from entertainment. You sit in a huge arena on benches that circle a pit of sand. Here, you’re served your meal with factory-style precision by a team of cheerful waiters (who were by far the best part) as you watch people ride around on horses in scenes that are just slightly strung together to resemble some kind of narrative the of settlement in the New World. The opening act of Indians complete with a day-glow headdress and bird costume, dancing around with horses nearly made me click together my ruby slippers. It was followed by a herd of terrified bison making a quick cameo, further reminding us of the rape of the this land. I didn’t have time to dwell on history though because a hoard of white people driving covered wagons came onto the scene, and some hillbilly shenanigans ensued. The event is made further bizarre by a North vs. South theme. One side of the auditorium (mine, for what it’s worth) was dubbed the North, and the other side, the South. The states battled relentlessly all night long, as pigs ran amok and people hid in barrels. While I’ve always found Civil War themes to be quite fetching, I simply couldn’t embrace the spirit of competition. The final irony came when — just as dinner was served — some children were invited to chase chickens around the circle in a contest, during which time, a little girl picked up a large hen and carried it about 100 feet. My neighbors laughed uproariously, spewing bits of their chicken dinner everywhere. I played with my vegetarian dish: cold noodles with corn and ketchup.

Please don’t go to Three Bears General Store, otherwise known as the sad, sad bear pit. It’s a horrendous spectacle in Pigeon Forge that I did not patronize and you shouldn’t either.

From what I hear, Parrot Mountain is not worth the money, and from reading Trip Advisor, I got the feeling that only the most religious zealots enjoyed their experience in this Christian bird land. But the owner’s replies to negative ratings are a hoot.

Lodging

We researched our options pretty thoroughly before booking. I was rooting for a romantic cabin, but my boyfriend, forever logical, pointed out that there probably wouldn’t be anyone around to, say, fix the a/c if it broke. We stayed at the Econo Lodge in Pigeon Forge. It’s on the main strip, had an excellent Trip Advisor rating, and was super cheap at about $80 a night. It included a really good breakfast (with eggs!), a clean pool and hot tub, a comfy bed with fluffy pillows, and a friendly, helpful staff. The Wifi worked great and we had cable! I usually think that talking to people is overrated, but I kind of liked chatting with folks pool-side. It’s just 15 minutes to Gatlinburg, so you’re close enough to everything.

The Only Thing…

Here’s where my northeastern predisposition for the secular made me bristle. Be prepared for some serious Christian kitsch. Jesus Saves signage is posted everywhere. Even the magician Terry Evanswood at Wonderworks lectured the audience about God, claiming that he “couldn’t stand here in arrogance and ignorance and not give credit where it’s due to the Lord our God” RIGHT AFTER explaining that as a magician, he must constantly be rooted in reality while the audience gets to enjoy illusion. I don’t know. To me his words were out of place, but everyone else seemed gung-ho, as applause and supportive cheers followed his sermon. He was a decent magician and did excellent slight of hand, but it totally killed the mood for me. I even wondered if he believed it himself or just knew how to placate the southern crowd.

Okay, the only TWO things that irked me. For being in the South, the area is super homogenous. As a New Yorker, I am used to seeing people from all over the world when I walk down the street, hearing a chorus of languages I don’t understand, and being exposed to cultures I otherwise would have no knowledge of. It was a predominantly white crowd. What’s with that, South? Maybe it’s because Pigeon Forge includes very little diversity in its attractions and programming, or because any depictions of people of color are tokenized, stereotypical, or — let’s just say it –downright racist. This is something about Tennessee life with which I may never find peace. I’ll write more on that in the future.

Photographically, I’d like to represent these opinions with *just a few examples* of Duck Dynasty merchandise I saw while in East Tennessee.

At Dollywood.

At Dollywood.

In an arcade in Pigeon Forge.

In an arcade in Pigeon Forge.

In a candy store.

In a candy store.

But overall, a good time was had by all. If I ever find my way back to East Tennessee AKA “God’s Country,” I’ll probably do some hiking and stay away from the strip malls. To see it once was enough.

s&p farrah creature

Friday Night Happenings

There’s lots to do Friday night! I know I don’t cover music here very much on NYCnash. It’s really my boyfriend Tony Youngblood’s thing. Let him be your guide by heading over to Theater Intangible, where he’s got all the details on two fantastic shows happening tonight. abrasiveMedia, which I wrote about a while back, has Suzanne Thorpe and Bonnie Jones as part of Southern Girls Rock Camp, as well as The Voight-Kampff Duo. Soon after, FMRL presents at Emma, Inc.

Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m., Cult Fiction Underground has The Temptress, featuring a live score by Ricko Donovan @ Logue’s Black Raven Emporium2915 .

To top it off, at midnight, The Belcourt has Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with an intro and Q&A with John Dugan, who played Grandpa, at 11:30. And if you haven’t seen Obvious Child yet, please go before it’s too late. Preview below. It’s great! Enjoy your weekend, kids!

Dispatch from NY: Queen of the Night

“I lost my boyfriend,” I said to the man. He had just completed two backflips, landed in the lap of another man, and pirouetted over to me to get his jacket, which I was somehow holding.

“Forget about him. Do you know why I chose you?” His eyes were a deep blue, defined by black eye liner and glitter. He took my hand. He smelled like sweat, like lavendar.

“No,” I heard myself say.

“I chose you because you’re beautiful,” he said, and drew a small capital Q on my hand, right above my thumb. “You’ll find out what this means later.”

“There are a lot of beautiful people here,” I said.

“Not like you.” He gave the palm of my hand a final stroke and took an arabesque, dancing away. I had no time to reflect: a woman in a nude bodysuit was hanging upside down from a trapeze, three feet away.

Image courtesy of Wall Street Journal.

Image courtesy of Wall Street Journal.

Such spontaneous, intimate interactions are part of the Queen of the Night experience. It’s a variety show, a ball, and a rock ‘n roll ballet. It’s a gymnasium, a burlesque performance, an opera, and a feast. Frequently mentioned with Sleep No More, Punchdrunk’s expansive, acclaimed adaptation of MacBeth, Queen gives viewers an immersive theater experience like no other. It’s set in Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe Supper Club in the Paramount Hotel’s basement, which brought theater go-ers song, dance, and pleasure in the ’40s. The theater, while lavish, has a decayed quality about it. Producer Randy Weiner told Vanity Fair, “The paint’s peeling, the walls are chipped, the floor has scuff marks all over it. That’s a feeling we really wanted to retain. It’s the feeling I had when I walked into this space, going down this empty place that feels almost haunted because of all the history.”

Image courtesy of Zagat.

Image courtesy of Zagat.

The stage is truly the entire room, from the hanging trapezes to the center podium to your dinner table, where cast members will land, dance, and intertwine. Every detail is choreographed, every corner carefully set. The door knobs are iron hands that reach for your own. A butler asks you to turn your chair around, just in time for three cast members to deposit a woman into your lap. Around the corner, you find a naked woman shaving her legs in a milk bath. The show itself has a simple yet engaging narrative arc (very loosely based on Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”), but the plot is really secondary to the drama of live performances of skilled acrobats, ballerinas, and vaudevillian stars and starlets. For dinner, your table will be served lobsters from a cage, a whole suckling pig on a spit, or beef ribs. You’ll be told to trade with other tables, which makes for some fun bartering. A steam-punky bar can be found in the back to keep you sated, but I recommend not getting drunk — it’s too likely you’ll miss something.

Image courtesy of NY Post.

Image courtesy of NY Post.

The whole idea behind this immersive theater is to push patrons past their comfort zones — but not so far that they feel uncomfortable. They’re aiming for a sweet spot you find when you take a leap and do something that scares you — a roller coaster ride, for example, or performing on stage — and which proves to be totally worth it. The performers convince you that you are special, important even, that they are there for everyone but are really there just for you. The final act is something you personally take part in, and I won’t spoil it. A staff member told us that there is an entire floor of rooms above the banquet hall that we didn’t even see. Cast members escort guests at random, and they might ask you to tell your deepest secret, or give you a love letter written to you by your own mother. Yes, they’re that thorough. 011514Queen9TB

Some advice: dress up. An inside source told us that patrons who are dressed sharp get more attention. You’ll also feel much more like you’re part of it if you look great. I wore a black cocktail dress and heels, and my partner donned a black suit and tie; it was perfect. Don’t stick by the bar during the first hour when you’re told to “explore” and “mingle.” Be bold, wander around, don’t be afraid to lose the other people in your party for a bit: you’ll find each other later. If you’re a vegetarian, don’t fret. Just grab a waiter or cast member and let her know when the food is brought out. You’ll be guided to the veggie table for some yummy mushroom risotto and gigantic cauliflower. Most of all, don’t try to have a plan. Be curious and open doors. You might end up in the kitchen, like we did, but the cast will gently guide you out.

Image courtesy of NY Post.

Image courtesy of NY Post.

All of this doesn’t come cheap, as you may expect of New York City. It’s $140 a ticket, but considering you get fed (quite literally!) and the show lasts three hours, it’s really worth it. (And people will pay $60 for dinner-theater at Chaffin’s Barn in Nashville for high school musical-quality entertainment, so please, suck it up and go!)

Just like a high thrill roller coaster ride, as soon as it was over, I thought, “I want to do it again!” One beauty of interactive theater is that every time will be different, so theater go-ers can delight again and again and again.

On my way to the subway, my boyfriend and I talked about whether something like this will ever make it to Nashville. (We experienced Chaffin’s earlier this summer, with some dismay.) “No,” I say, “too scandalous.” “And not enough theater-people,” he agrees. Which is why I’ll always love New York.

 

 

Jeff Ross at Zanies this Weekend

I love going back to New York with my boyfriend because he always wants to do things that, living there, I either never thought to do, I’d think were touristy, or I couldn’t afford. On Monday, we went to the Comedy Cellar for stand-up and were treated not only to the hilarious Dave Attell but also the Roast Master General himself, Jeff Ross. While the burns were deep, it was done in a good-natured spirit, and one 22-year old NYU student burned Dave Attell so badly that he was speechless. 

Ross will be at Zanies in Nashville this weekend. Zanies has a great atmosphere, staff is competent and friendly, and the laughs are abundant. The Scene has more details about Ross here, and you can buy tickets here. Shows are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 & 9:45. 

Image courtesy of Real Detroit Weekly.

Image courtesy of Real Detroit Weekly.

Who to Watch in Nashville

Yesterday, 12th & Broad published a long list of Nashvillians who are leaders in their respective industries. 12th & Broad has kicked off “Next Gen Nashville,” a happy hour series for emerging talent. The September 18th focuses on writers and bloggers. Should I go? 

Anyway, check out the list. Even if you don’t know all the names, it’s a great resource for knowing who to watch! 

Dispatch from Brooklyn

I’m in New York. Here’s what I see.

Brooklyn Museum is hosting a retrospective of Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei that has left me numb for days. For two decades, Ai Weiwei’s multidisciplinary art has been a critical, subversive voice in Chinese culture. Brooklyn is showing forty of his works including photography, sculpture, film, installation, and carpentry, the first of these easy to miss, even though you’ll walk by it as you enter the museum. These pieces called “S.A.C.R.E.D” show the narrow world of his detainment when in 2011 he was held by Chinese authorities for criticizing the government’s stance on democracy and human rights. Ai was held for 81 days and was struck on the head by police so forcefully that it caused a brain hemorrhage. You can see the x-ray at Ai Weiwei: According to What? through August 10.

Background: Ai Weiwei smashes Hahn Dynasty vase. Foreground: Painted Hahn Dynasty vases.

Background: “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn.”  Foreground: “Painted Vases.”

moon

“Moon Chest”

20140709_140641

“Straight.”

His “Citizen’s Investigation” catalogues nearly 5,000 school children who were killed in the 2008 earthquake. Unwilling to answer questions about the schools which so easily collapsed, the government procrastinated in releasing the names of the dead, sweeping them under the rug. Their lives were not only rubbed out, but their names nearly forgotten. Ai Weiwei lists their names, addresses, and schools along a massive wall, and a recording of volunteers speaking the names continuously plays with quiet insistence. Ai sifted through the schools’ wreckage with his team, many of whom were detained in the process, collecting the rebar steel rods that did not manage to protect the children inside. They straightened them, one at a time, and laid them out in varying heights like a blanket. They form a structure that is 20 feet wide and 58 feet long. Ai calls this piece “Straight.”

There’s so much more to see in this exhibition, and even more to explore online — Ai Weiwei’s online activism is a rabbit hold worthy of exploration.  Tony Youngblood took these fantastic photos of the exhibit.

20140709_132811

“China Log.”

Installation in lobby of Brooklyn Museum.

“Stacked.” Installation in lobby of Brooklyn Museum.

20140709_152209