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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: 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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Arts & Culture

Arts Fest Preview: Cousin Simple to wow crowd with energy, passion

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As a young up-and-coming band, Cousin Simple is excited to play at this year’s Columbus Art’s Festival. In their two years as a band, they have already done a lot of really cool things, such as making a single with L.A. multi-platinum music producer David Kershenbaum, playing at Vans Warped Tour at Blossom Music Center, and selling out shows at the A&R Bar, the Basement and The Big Room Bar. But there is much more they want to accomplish including recording more music, making a music video and playing more shows in and out of Columbus.

The band members are all Columbus born and raised. Four members currently attend The Ohio State University, while their drummer Joel is finishing up his junior year at New Albany high School. Cousin Simple brings an energy and passion to the stage and gives everything they have to their performances, regardless of the crowd size. They just released a new single in February called Honeybee, available on iTunes and Spotify and have a single set to release May 10 titled “Star Destroyers.”

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Columbus is a great city for musicians. Whether you’re in the indie, rock, or hip hop scene, there are other musicians and music industry people willing to help you out. Columbus also takes a great sense of pride in its “local gems.” People love to see musicians who are doing well in their hometown and are willing to support them in many ways.

There are so many organizations that have taken this to heart and are helping bands get great opportunities. CD102.5, WCBE 90.5, PromoWest Productions and the Columbus Music Commission have helped Cousin Simple get airtime, shows and support. When it comes to music cities, Columbus may not be the first place that comes to mind, but there are so many bands and musicians doing exciting things it’s making the future bright for them and the Columbus music scene.

But Cousin Simple recognizes that none of this would be possible without the support of their family, friends and FANS that come to each and every show. They are humbled and motivated by their audiences who energize them to make every performance an experience their fans won’t forget. 

Cousin Simple will perform on the Big Local Music Stage on Rich Street on Friday night, June 7 at 7:45 p.m.

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