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Dancing With Dickens

Ilove happy endings,” says Eric Johnston, my jovial guide to a new retelling of the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge. I mean, it’s no spoiler alert that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, in any variation, lands on a joyful note, but I quickly gain the impression that the Scrooge story I’m about to encounter will be [...]
Laura Dachenbach

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Ilove happy endings,” says Eric Johnston, my jovial guide to a new retelling of the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge.

I mean, it’s no spoiler alert that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, in any variation, lands on a joyful note, but I quickly gain the impression that the Scrooge story I’m about to encounter will be quite different indeed. Now switching gears, Johnston launches into a true recollection of a Christmas that wasn’t all carols, gifts, and figgy pudding to prepare his audience for their own holiday reflection and thoughts of change.

Dickens may have been the first author to place his humanitarian concerns in the context of a holiday fable. However, Good Medicine Productions and director Kristie Koehler Vuocolo seek to personalize those concerns with Uptown Scrooge, an interactive, improv-based performance/walking tour of ten businesses in Uptown Westerville where the audience collectively takes upon the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, introspection and all.

“It’s one of my favorite stories because of the moment—the happy ending,” Koehler Vuocolo confesses. “But in order for an audience to really get there, I want them to experience it. I think to feel that joy you have to go through the journey with the actors. That’s the unique style of this piece and our aesthetic.”

Raising a hand into a coil and rotating it, Koehler Vuocolo explains what Uptown Scrooge is. “That’s what we’re trying to do with A Christmas Carol. Dickens is our umbrella, and we take that story and we twist it and twirl it and make it our own.”

Koehler Vuocolo, a Westerville native, made a recent return to Columbus to be with family after spending two decades in the Chicago improv comedy scene working with groups such as Chicago’s Neofuturists and Barrel of Monkeys, a sketch comedy writing project for students in Chicago’s urban schools. She was also a member of the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit, an ensemble that uses improv and clown performance to uplift the ill. However, shortly after returning to Columbus, the birth of her son and the unexpected death of her mother left Vuocolo questioning her purpose.

“For a while, I was in this fog here, missing my art community in Chicago—in a fog of grief and a new baby kind of thing. And then last December I started listening to Hamilton the musical and it opened up something inside me.”

In Koehler Vuocolo’s Christmas stocking that December was a note from her husband that said, “Kristie, don’t ever feel stuck. Go see Hamilton and make some art in 2016.” It was accompanied by a ticket to see Hamilton on January 23, 2016.

That date unfortunately happened to coincide with a blizzard that shut down the entire New York theater district, so a group of Vuocolo’s friends pooled together enough money to buy her a replacement ticket for the fourth row of the show. The pilgrimage became her creative unblocking.

“It was all for the sake of art. No one died. It was like love and art, and it was a really moving experience,” she explained. “I felt that when it was done, I had a duty to create something here.”

Koehler Vuocolo took her background in improv and creative nonfiction and began to write a script that would bring together both spontaneity and transformation. During Uptown Scrooge, Scrooge (as played by the audience) is taken on a journey. They encounter Bob Cratchit at a coffee shop furiously typing away on a laptop; join the Fezziwigs in the cha-cha slide at the entryway of 8 State Bistro; and finally, they face the Ghost of Christmas Future (and redemption) at The Parlor—a holistic and metaphysical center. All the while fending off volunteers from the Westerville Area Resource Ministry (WARM) as they ask for donations, with a “Bah Humbug!” or two along the way.

WARM serves Westerville residents in need year-round, providing material assistance and paths to self-sufficiency through education and mentoring. While ticket sales will go to Good Medicine Productions, Vuocolo hopes that the experience of stepping into Ebenezer Scrooge’s shoes will encourage the audience to consider a donation to WARM as well.

Uptown Scrooge is interactive, but introverts shouldn’t be worried about having a “singing waiter” moment—good actors read the room and support each individual’s desired level of participation. Koehler Vuocolo hopes that both children and adults will find a certain magic in caroling on the streets.

“That’s where our improvisation comes—taking audience reaction and celebrating whatever they give us.”

Uptown Scrooge will run Saturday and Sunday afternoons through December 18. A portion of proceeds directly benefit the signature programming of Good Medicine, which serves pediatric and senior living  facilities.

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Arts & Culture

Arts Fest Preview: See BalletMet live outdoors!

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BalletMet’s Friday night’s headline performance at 8:30 p.m. at the Arts Festival is sure to be a highlight of weekend. One of the nation’s top 20 largest professional companies, BalletMet consists of dancers hailing from across the nation and the world and boasts a premiere academy for aspiring professional dancers, one that’s been recognized as an institution of local and national stature.

Since 1978, BalletMet has brought incredible dance to theaters in Central Ohio and beyond and their commitment to bringing dance to the Columbus community, especially in underserved areas, is unparalleled.

Art of War Photo by Jen Zmuda

From in-school programs to theater field trips, scholarships and free performances, the company is dedicated to making dance accessible to all. More than 10,000 children attend the company’s Morning at the Ballet field trip performances each year. And thanks to a grant from PNC Arts Alive, BalletMet’s second company, BalletMet 2, has performed at free events at the King Arts Complex, Franklin Park Conservatory and more, throughout the 2018-19 season.

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In addition to the free performance at the Arts Festival BalletMet will perform at Dance on Dakota on Friday, May 10, from 5 to 8 p.m. in Franklinton. This performance is also free.

Dance on Dakota, co-hosted by Franklinton Arts District, is part of a weekend-long block party in Franklinton and features free food and drink and a collaborative performance with TRANSIT ARTS. The event will take place at Dakota Ave. and Town St.

Dancers Grace Anne Powers and William Newton Photo by Jen Zmuda

BalletMet’s Columbus Arts Festival performance will include a mixed repertoire of shorter pieces from its past productions and will be preceded by music from DJ Donnie M. of Damn Girl.

And if these performances capture your interest, the company recently announced its 2019-20 season, which includes ALICE, based on the later stories of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, Twisted 3, a collaboration with the Columbus Symphony and Opera Columbus, and, of course, The Nutcracker.

More info at www.balletmet.org. For all your Arts Festival details visit www.colubmusartsfestival.org

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Arts Fest Preview: You wood hate to miss local crafter

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Woodworker and Art Makes Columbus featured artist Devon Palmer has been working with his hands since his upbringing in northeast Indiana. His mother a wood carver and his father a carpenter and cabinet maker, Palmer took a more mechanical route by obtaining his pilot’s license and attending Purdue University to pursue a career as an airplane mechanic.

But as his career transitioned from maintenance to the tech field, he yearned to work with his hands again. Originally he considered pottery, before a class he planned to attend got canceled. But a trip home the weekend before Thanksgiving led to his father introducing him to woodturning.

That was more than 15 years ago. And though he is largely self-taught, Palmer also credits local woodturners from the Central Ohio Woodturners (a chapter of the American Association of Woodturners) for taking him under their wing. In 2005, he opened his first studio just north of Downtown, and in 2007 he began teaching woodturning at Woodcraft Columbus.

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Today, Palmer does a bit of mentoring of his own. He teaches classes in blade and bowl turning, resin cast pen turning and more advanced projects like hollow vessel turning in his studio at the Idea Foundry. He is also adding a series of LGBTQ date night pen turning classes to his growing schedule of classes, shows and demonstrations.

Palmer says his work represents “family and connectedness” with work ranging from salad bowls and laser engraved pens to funerary urns and ornaments. The details in his hand-crafted tableware and home goods manage to invoke a warm sense of community, fellowship, and hospitality.

Devon Palmer works in internet technology and is also a pianist and ordained minister.

Make your own wood turned pen with Devon Palmer at the Columbus Arts Festival, June 7-9, at the Big Local Art Village located at the Festival’s Franklinton entrance. Learn more about Devon at www.columbusmakesart.com/stories/devon-palmer and get all your Arts Festival details at www.columbusartsfestival.org

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Arts Festival Preview: Dr. E uses voice to overcome adversity

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Dr. E, singer-songwriter and author Cleveland-born singer-songwriter Dr. Elaine Richardson — known by her stage name Dr. E — has used her voice to detail the incredible circumstances she encountered while overcoming great adversity. Born to a musician father and Jamaican immigrant mother, Dr. E begun tapping into her talent while singing in church, her school’s choir, and in girl groups.

Dr. E continued to sing despite the difficult path she faced. As a teen, she became a sex trafficking victim and fell into addiction. In her recovery, she pursued higher education at Cleveland State University and Michigan State University. During this time Dr. E also began performing as the frontwoman for a number of cover bands and placing her original music on various TV shows. She recorded her first album, “Elevated,” in 2010.

Dr. E’s introspective song lyrics reflect the often difficult process of healing while defending those who share her experiences or face exploitation and discrimination in other ways.

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On her sophomore album, 2017’s “Songs for the Struggle,” she gives a soulful retelling of her journey from sex trafficking survivor to university professor, Ph.D., author and advocate. Blending elements of soul, rock, funk, rhythm and blues, and jazz, Dr. E sings with an astonishing amount of hope and positivity; Though the album details the trauma and exploitation experienced by Dr. E during her teen years, her power message ultimately expresses affirmations of self-love and acceptance employed with an equally powerful and joyous voice.

Dr. E is currently a professor of literacy studies in the College of Education at The Ohio State University. She has written a number of books on African American literature as well as a memoir, “PHD to Ph.D.: How Education Saved My Life.”

See Dr. E. perform at the Columbus Arts Festival, Saturday, June 8 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on the Big Local Stage on Rich St.

For hours, artist listing and all Festival information go to www.columbusartsfestival.org

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