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Dreams of the Big Screen

Meshach Malley adjusted the knot of his friend’s tie as the rest of the group inspected each other for oversights in their outfits. No detail was too small for his personal attention. Their parents huddled together, clutching their cameras, carrying the anxiety of the evening on their faces. This close clique of teenagers was all [...]
J.R. McMillan

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Meshach Malley adjusted the knot of his friend’s tie as the rest of the group inspected each other for oversights in their outfits. No detail was too small for his personal attention.

Their parents huddled together, clutching their cameras, carrying the anxiety of the evening on their faces. This close clique of teenagers was all grown up, and all dressed up—mostly in a mix of modest suits, with one ruffled tuxedo that favored nostalgia over convention. The fear was pervasive, but no one was brave enough to say it aloud.

After all this fuss, would they be stood up?

But this wasn’t some school dance these students had been strong-armed into attending, worried their dates might never arrive. It was a movie premiere—their movie premiere. All that was missing was the audience.

Imagine the bookish charm of a boyish Benedict Cumberbatch and you have Meshach Malley—right down to the slim blue suit and narrow necktie. An uncommon name isn’t the only thing Malley shares with the BBC sleuth turned Star Trek villain. His passion and personality are equally magnetic—so much so, he managed to write, direct, and star in his first feature film before most of his peers were old enough for a driver’s license.

“I started making movies when I was nine-years-old. My parents were pretty strict about what movies and TV shows I could watch, so I decided to make my own,” explained Malley, whose early stop-motion efforts with LEGOs and clay characters quickly evolved to live action projects.

Malley’s film, The Red Crystal, was inspired in part by another group of fearless filmmakers his age. Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation was a shot-for-shot remake made entirely by teenagers, over several years in the early 80s. It was an underground legend that eventually earned the attention and admiration of Spielberg himself before making the rounds at art houses and film festivals.

“There was a screening at the Wexner Center, and several friends and I met the filmmakers afterward,” noted Malley. “We decided if they could do it, so could we.”

But Meshach (16) has always been a bit of a storyteller. His parents, Michael and Ali, recalled how early he could recite entire nursery rhymes from memory. The Red Crystal was a story before it was a film, one that he’d revisited and revised over several years. Meshach is homeschooled, where creative writing and practical problem solving are priorities. His parents were both elementary school teachers since before he was born, so immersive education has been a constant for the entire family.

“My parents were very committed to me finishing the film and they even made it part of my curriculum,” he explained. “I think having more time to think and work creatively was definitely a big reason why we decided to make it. The home-school schedule was the only way I could have finished the project.”

Filmmaking is predicated on the suspension of disbelief, and The Red Crystal is no exception. The thematic influences are as apparent as the technical aspirations are ambitious. Beneath the archetype of a boy learning his otherworldly origin story are the intrigue, espionage, and Saturday matinee swashbuckling of classic American cinema.

The result is an ensemble of amateurs with a bootstrap budget who somehow produced a family friendly film with techniques ranging from hand-drawn illustration to digital animation. Sure, there were shortcomings on sound, which is actually quite common with many independent films.

But The Red Crystal is far less derivative than George Lucas’ science fiction remake of Seven Samurai, and far more accessible than the self-indulgent THX 1138. Better yet, Malley is surprisingly self-aware and committed to improving his craft.

“We had trouble with on-set sound at times. If I had it to do all over again, I would try to improve the sound quality,” Malley admitted. “I love coming up with stories, and I think it is something that comes naturally to me. The challenge is to translate that to the screen.”

In stark contrast to several of Speilberg’s films, The Red Crystal isn’t a story about reckless youth and absentee parents. It’s about finding purpose with the guidance of elders. Though most of the actors and actresses are still too young to buy a ticket to an R-rated movie, Malley marshaled a supporting cast of grown-ups on- and off-screen as well.

This isn’t Malley’s first foray directing a cast of characters, balancing a budget, and honing interest into enterprise. His parents revealed Meshach had thrice—at ages 10, 12, and 14—turned their home into a pizza restaurant, with their consent.

Not some overgrown lemonade stand either. He and his friends planned the menu, contacted distributors, grew ingredients, connected with local farmers, created advertising, learned safe kitchen practices, prepared the food, even cleaned the dishes. The third time out they had more than a hundred customers and earned in excess of $1500. Not a blockbuster weekend by film standards, but a lot of dough for a bunch of kids making pizza.

That’s exactly the kind of infectious force of will it takes to make it in the movie business. And yet, Meshach Malley seems to have tempered the arrogance of adolescence and audacity of art into something novel in an industry and generation that both value sameness over substance.

By the way, that audience everyone wasn’t sure was going to arrive? They did, even exceeding the expectations of the Gateway Film Center, and perhaps the kids and parents who wondered whether the The Red Crystal would ever see the big screen after years in the making.

If Malley had any doubts, it didn’t show. He was as cool and calm as his slim blue suit—another skill that will serve him well should he decide filmmaking is in his future.

“If it is economically feasible for me to be making movies or online video content when I’m 26, I would really like to be doing that,” he admitted. “Entertainment and story creation are things I’m very passionate about. If that can be the way I make a living, that would be fantastic.”

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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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