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Live Theater (Still) Won’t Kill You

For Steven C. Anderson, theater is about conversations. The conversation you have with your spouse on the way home. The conversation you have over drinks a week from now with your friends who saw the play with you. “The most important part of theater happens after the lights come back up,” said Anderson, the current [...]
Laura Dachenbach

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For Steven C. Anderson, theater is about conversations. The conversation you have with your spouse on the way home. The conversation you have over drinks a week from now with your friends who saw the play with you.

“The most important part of theater happens after the lights come back up,” said Anderson, the current Producing Director of CATCO (Contemporary American Theater Company), Columbus’s only resident professional theater company, which turns 30 this season. “I don’t care what it is, but that it is. That there’s thought…that’s there’s exchange. It’s an interaction that alters the way you see the world.”

Anderson, a key player in the city’s theater scene for 30 years, is passionate about the role of theater as part of the human experience and CATCO’s responsibility to share that experience with as many people as possible. Regardless of age, education, background, or demographic, “Everybody deserves the experience of coming to the theater,” he said.

CATCO was started in Columbus with Geoffrey Nelson directing a production of Mass Appeal, a play about a charming, complacent priest challenged by a young seminarian whose goal is to reform the church’s traditional views on gender and sexuality. The show began CATCO’s reputation for staging thought-provoking, edgy productions. Its slogan, “Live theater. It won’t kill you,” reflected its envelope-pushing ethos, which hung thick in the black box theater on Park Street that became CATCO’s home. In 1993, two events occurred that would significantly shape the company’s future. First, Players Theater, the only professional theater in Columbus at the time, abruptly folded just days before it was slated to open its 70th season. The public looked to CATCO, which had been hiring local talent from its inception, to fill the empty space that was professional theater.

Next, Anderson, who had been an associate producer with Players Theater at the time of its demise, founded Phoenix Theatre for Children to rise from its ashes. The Phoenix not only had the goal of producing quality children’s theater, but also of extending theater into schools and the broader community as a social act. In 2010, the two companies merged and became CATCO is Theater and CATCO is Kids. The Riffe Center on High Street is now its permanent performance space.

Finding artistic middle ground was key to CATCO’s post-merger success. Edge is still part of the CATCO formula, but comedies and musicals are more commonly produced as well. It’s a blend that diversifies the season’s offerings, provides more financial stability for the company, and gives even those who don’t normally attend theater a reason to try something different.

“It’s made this community really rich, this commingling. That’s one reason to love living in Columbus.”

Ultimately, CATCO is still about good stories well-told – stories that will speak to the community. Whether exhilarating audience members or comforting them, Anderson believes that the best plays speak to our humanity while providing a temporary escape from the real world.

“The world is a complex and strange place. [Audiences] can come to us to try to make some sense of that, or just feel better about it for a little while.”

Another result of the CATCO merger is a greater amount of collaboration with other arts organizations. The idea first came to Anderson during The Phoenix production of Linnea in Monet’s Garden, a play about a girl who meets the painter Claude Monet. He realized the Columbus Museum of Art had a number of Monet’s paintings on exhibit, and they were right up the street from the theater.

“So I called the museum and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful for the children to see a play about Monet and then see Monet’s actual work?’”

Following the success of Linnea, The Phoenix also partnered with BalletMet and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra for other children’s shows. Anderson brought the same type of partnership, again with the Columbus Museum of Art, when CATCO performed the Tony Award-winning play Red about the life of artist Mark Rothko.

“What I really thought was exciting about that was the way in which people who didn’t ordinarily come to the theater came to learn more about Rothko,” said Anderson, who credits Columbus with a unique amount of artistic collaborations. “It’s made this community really rich, this commingling. That’s one reason to love living in Columbus.”

During CATCO’s 2014-2015 season, the company will co-produce shows with Gallery Players, Opera Columbus, and SRO Theater Company. CATCO has found a way to balance itself, artistically and financially, but it doesn’t plan on relaxing any time soon. Anderson, who attends nearly every show, continues the dialogue with patrons to keep the “after the lights come up” conversation flowing.

“We’re still trying to figure out what reflects this community, and what this community’s going to respond to.”

Anderson encourages those who haven’t been to CATCO in a while to jump into that ever-evolving conversation by attending a show and connecting to CATCO’s social media to respond to what they’ve seen.

Because hey, it is live theater, and it won’t kill you.

And, Anderson added, laughing, “It will make you a better person.”

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Arts & Culture

How Bazaar: Popup arts fest shines a light on local creatives

Mike Thomas

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While cultivating a newfound sense of personal fulfillment might be as simple as picking up a paint brush or instrument, earning a living through your art is a more complicated prospect. As longtime friends, collaborators, and Columbus art-scene hustlers Dustin Bennett and Zak Biggard will tell you, making it as an artist sometimes comes down to who you know.

Having met years ago as coworkers at a local printmaking shop, Bennett and Biggard have gone on to individual success with their own creative design firms. For Bennett, part of this work entails curating the art displayed at Clintonville’s Global Gallery, a cafe and art space that is committed to promoting fair trade handcrafted products from around the world.

When an exhibition Bennett was planning for the space fell through, he reached out to Biggard to fill the vacancy with his work. The resulting show was a hit, with Biggard selling several pieces in one of Global Gallery’s most successful exhibitions to date.

Biggard and Bennett outside of Global Gallery (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

His reputation with the venue established, Biggard approached Amy Palmer, Global Gallery’s manager, with an idea for a large-scale show. She gave him the thumbs up, and Biggard again partnered with Bennett to help bring his vision to light. The result is a show spanning three weekends in the month of August that the duo have dubbed Bazaar Ritual.

“The idea was a bazaar, this sort of Middle-Eastern marketplace where you walk in and it’s just a feast for the senses,” says Biggard. “All of these different sights, sounds, smells—everything packed together.”

As mutually beneficial as their collaborations had been, the Bennett and Biggard hope to open the doors of opportunity wide to other artists. Through this new exhibition/festival, the two aim to shed a light on creators who may not know how to navigate the sometimes complicated process of getting work into a conventional art show.

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“Most of these people have never been involved in the gallery scene or never been able to show their work off,” Biggard explains. “They are just so excited to be a part of something, and the stuff I’ve been seeing from people, I just can’t wait to have everything together in one place.”

When the exhibitors do come together for the popup-style event on August 3rd, 17th, and 31st, they will bring with them works across a diverse range of media.

“We’ve got people who make jewelry, clothing, glass blowers, painters and performance artists,” says Biggard. “It’s really the diversity of the work that’s the theme.”

As diverse as the work on display in the show will be, the exhibitors themselves hail from various disparate walks of life—everyone from nurses to dog walkers, printmakers to salespeople, as Bennett explains. In addition to the work shown during the recurring weekend events, each artist in Bazaar Ritual will have the opportunity to display one piece in Global Gallery throughout the month of August. Artists will keep 100% of the proceeds sold throughout the month and during the weekend events.

Along with providing a platform, the Bennett and Biggard hope that Bazaar Ritual will serve as a networking hub where creatives can meet and form collaborations of their own. Response from artists interested in taking part has already been building organically, with those involved telling their friends, those friends bringing more friends, and so on.

In addition to the prospect of hanging out with artists and perusing the exhibitions, the organizers of Bazaar Ritual have a number of surprises in store for attendees. Food trucks will be on hand, as well as live local music on Global Gallery’s spacious patio.

Though Bennett and Bigard are working diligently to bring this fledgling event to fruition, the two seem calm in the lead up to the show. Their artist-first approach lends a communal feel to the event, with creatives joining forces to put on an organized yet laid-back experience that shirks the corporate mold of some traditional gallery settings.

“We’re trying to do what art is meant to do and bring people together,” says Bennett. “We’re trying to bring together as many friends and strangers as we can—motleys and misfits alike.”

Global Gallery is located at 3535 N High St, in Clintonville. You can visit Bazaar Ritual there from 1:00 PM to 8:00 PM on the 3rd, the 17th, and the 31st of August. For more information, check out @bazaarritual on Instagram.

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Arts & Culture

Arts Fest Preview: Kate Morgan, 2D mixed media artist

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Kate Morgan began developing her ghostly, layered two-dimensional portraits after going back to school at the Columbus College of Art & Design in 2005. She already had some background in visual arts through her work in fashion and commercial photography, so the transition to drawing and painting was organic.

Morgan’s textured collages are inspired by folklore, mythology and a variety of artistic periods — especially Byzantine art. The 2011 Columbus Arts Festival Emerging Artist alum and 2019 exhibiting artist welcomes a wide array of complex themes into her pieces — including symbolic, cultural, historical and spiritual themes — while utilizing layers of vintage paper and original drawings to create visual depth and a sense of mystery.

Her pieces are purposely vague, leaning toward more minimalistic ideas to allow for wider interpretation by audiences. Largely her art depicts the female form, with as many layers and stories to tell as that of every human being. This is done with an eclectic assortment of materials — including sheet music, German Biblical pages, newspaper and maps — to add detail in both a topical and textural sense.

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And yet, Morgan still continues to look for a challenge. From venturing away from her familiar blue hues to exploring different mediums like ceramics, her work knows no creative limits.

Morgan has exhibited at the Columbus Arts Festival nearly every year since 2011. She has gone on to win two jurors’ choice awards in the 2D category at the Columbus Arts Festival, as well as sell and have work juried at other major festivals across the country. In Columbus, her work can be seen as part of the Columbus Makes Art and Donatos Pizza collaborative mural “Every Piece Is Important” at the John Glenn Columbus International Airport.

Morgan has a BFA from CCAD and currently works out of her Franklinton studio in Columbus. Experience this stunning work first hand when you visit her at booth M572 on the Main Street Bridge during the Columbus Arts Festival from June 7-9 at the downtown riverfront.

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Arts & Culture

Be Square: Changes coming to arts community at 400 W Rich

Mike Thomas

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If you haven’t visited the thriving arts community at 400 West Rich street in awhile, you might be surprised to see how much things have changed. Now, the minds behind the city’s hub for the arts are changing things up to better reflect the area’s evolution.

400 Square is the new collective moniker for the array of concepts that currently occupy the buildings on the 400 block of Rich street in Franklinton. The rebrand seeks to unify the community of artistic innovators who call the area developed by Urban Smart Growth their creative home.

Promo art for 400 Square by Anthony Damico

Spaces encompassed in the rebrand include Strongwater, The Vanderelli Room, and Chromedge Studios, and of course, the studios at 400 W. Rich. While the name may be changing, the group remains committed to providing and sustaining a thriving hub for creatives through education, resources, and entertainment opportunities in the area.

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With the launch of 400 Square, Urban Smart Growth Director of Operations Seth Stout has led his team to develop new offerings for each of the growing spaces. Food and Beverage Director Lauren Conrath and Events Director Molly Blundred have taken the lead with changes to the Strongwater brand, while Community Director Stephanie McGlone and Art Director AJ Vanderelli are facilitating programming for all ages and abilities on the artist side.

Through all of the changes on the way, the staff at 400 Square are committed to bringing the public the same high quality of workshops, events, exhibitions, and more that have always been part of their unique creative community.

Stay tuned for more info—the new 400 Square officially rolls out during the weekend of Columbus Arts Fest 2019, June 7-9.

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