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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

Watch: “World’s largest mural” in Short North is more than meets the eye

Regina Fox

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At a glance, "The Journey AR Mural" adorning the Graduate Columbus hotel in Short North is stunning. Look a little harder, and it actually comes to life.

Standing at over 107 feet tall and over 11,000 square feet of augmented reality, "The Journey AR Mural," is the world's largest AR mural, offering technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.

The gaily-painted snapdragons, hibiscus, Easter lilies, and hummingbirds bloom and fly when viewed through the Journey AR Mural app (free for iPhone and Android). Watch the murals come to life in the video below.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B7PRvBxpBkI/

Los Angeles-based artists Ryan Sarfati and Eric Skotnes (going by “Yanoe” and “Zoueh," respectively) are the creatives behind the project.

In an interview with Short North Arts District, Skotnes revealed he was inspired to take on the project after learning that Columbus is home to the second largest population of Somali immigrants in the country—he hopes the murals symbolize strength and prosperity for its viewers.

To learn more about The Journey AR Mural, visit shortnorth.org.

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Undercover: Unique music festival showcases Columbus music talent this weekend

Mike Thomas

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Since beginning in 2018, Columbus Covers Columbus (CCC) has grown into a signature event in the thriving local music scene. Now in its third year, this unique festival is centered on the concept of local musicians playing sets comprised entirely of music from other local acts.

CCC is the brainchild of Columbus music promoter Tony Casa, who wanted to create a showcase for a supportive community of local artists to share their mutual admiration for each other's music.

As entertaining as the event is for spectators, CCC doubles as a valuable networking opportunity for local entertainers and creatives.

"There are great local merchants, games, and tons of networking opportunities for everyone in the community," says Casa. "This isn’t just a great show, it’s like a proper festival—but in the winter."

Since its inception, the event has expanded to include stand-up comedy, poetry readings, burlesque performances, live podcast recordings, and more, all in the spirit of promoting and celebrating the Columbus creative community.

CCC will take place from January 17-19 at Classics Victory Live at 543 S High St. The event is 18+, with tickets available at the door for $10. For more info including a full list of artists and vendors, visit Columbus Covers Columbus on Facebook.

Cover photo by Catherine Lindsay photography.

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Columbus band snarls is bursting with promise on debut LP

Mike Thomas

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As the decade that birthed the fidget spinner and basically nothing else of note drew to a close, music blogs large and small dedicated astonishing amounts of digital ink to their inevitable “album/song/artist of the decade” rankings.

Usually restrained to a totally undaunting 100 items, these lists surveyed the topography of a ten year span that saw the legacy of rock music as we know it (straight, male, and horny) continue its gradual and unceremonious slide into irrelevance.

From relative newcomers like Courtney Barnett, Snail Mail, and Julien Baker, to established voices such as the Breeders, St. Vincent, and Sleater-Kinney, rock music in the 2010s was revitalized by female artists who enjoyed a larger portion of the spotlight in this decade than ever before.

Columbus-based alt-rockers snarls are firmly situated on this new wave, but the rapid success the group has enjoyed since forming in 2017 is entirely due to their own hard work and astonishing creative powers. Consisting of Chlo White on guitar and lead vocals, Riley Dean on bass and vocals, and sibling duo Mick and Max Martinez on guitar and drums respectively, snarls is the capital city’s contribution to the future of rock—and they won’t be contained to the 614 for long.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

Originating in the local DIY scene, snarls got their start playing house shows, eventually moving on to established venues throughout the city. The group’s sound incorporates influences from ‘90s grunge, to the emo stylings of bands like American Football, to the pop sensibilities of Halsey and Kesha. The result, as White puts it, is music that coalesces into a “melting pot of teenage angst.”

In the summer of 2019, snarls was propelled to a new level of notoriety when the video for the group’s single, “Walk in the Woods”—a glittering anthem of unrequited love sung over chorused-out guitars and with a hook more infectious than meningitis—premiered on the music blog Stereogum. The track also made the cut for the site’s “100 Favorite Songs of 2019” roundup.

“We didn’t even have a tripod, the camera was set on like four books and the backdrops kept fucking falling,” White recalls of filming the video, which the group self-produced.

“That song not only has given us more streaming, but has brought us so much press and cool shows,” Mick says of the track, which has accrued almost 40,000 streams on Spotify at the time of this writing. “I don’t think the Sleater-Kinney thing would ever have happened if that song wasn’t out. It’s crazy that just that one song alone has brought us so much opportunity.”

The Sleater-Kinney thing? That would be snarls opening for the legendary Pacific Northwest rockers at the Newport Music Hall on their recent tour stop in Columbus. While it was easily the biggest show in the young group’s career thus far in terms of profile and audience size, the members of snarls were up to the challenge.

“For me, it’s easy to switch between playing a house venue and playing the Newport,” Dean says confidently of the band’s milestone moment. “It’s still just a stage. It’s still just people watching me play my music. One’s just bigger.”

If the release of the group’s breakthrough single is any indication of snarls’ trajectory, it’s safe to assume big things are on the horizon. “Walk in the Woods” is just a taste of the group’s first full-length LP, titled Burst, which is planned for a Spring 2020 release. To help achieve their artistic vision for the album, snarls tapped Jon Fintel of Relay Recording to handle production duties.

“Jon has played a really important role,” Mick says of Fintel’s contributions to the recording process. “Not only does everything sound high-quality because of him, but even when we brought demos to him, it was like ‘let’s scrap this song because it doesn’t quite fit in, and I know that you guys can do something better.’ And then we wrote one of our favorite songs.”

For established fans, the description that snarls teases for their new release should come as no surprise: expect a long emotional arc cast across tracks that alternate between “perfect for dancing,” and others better suited to crying. For snarls, the completion of the recording provides a profound sense of accomplishment.

“I make a lot of art. I’m always making a photo, or doodling, or writing. But this is one of my—our—finer- crafted pieces of art that I am just really proud of, regardless of what happens with it, or if it goes anywhere,” says White. “If it just sits in a dark corner for the rest of my life, I’m still content. I’m just really proud of all the work that we collected in this little ten song record.”

Find snarls on all major streaming platforms. For tour dates, merch, and more, visit snarlsmusic.com

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