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New Blockfort Studios Assemble an Artistic Powerhouse

614now

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New Blockfort Studios Assemble an Artistic Powerhouse

By Matt Monta


Everyone knows “a guy”: someone who is well connected, makes things happen, and can get you set up with anything you may need. For the Columbus arts community, Adam Brouillette is that “guy.” For over 15 years, Brouillette has been earning his reputation as not only an accomplished artist but also an arts organizer and workhorse who “gets things done.” He has been a leading, central, or influential figure in great arts projects in the city, including the once-iconic Junctionview Studios (2004-2013) and its Agora festival, Junctionview’s offshoot Tacocat Studios (2013-2016), and the Independent’s Day Music Festival (2007-present). Now he is set to unveil his latest endeavor, Blockfort, officially opening this Saturday, February 25 at 12 PM.

Blockfort, a project spearheaded and financed entirely by Brouillette and his wife and fellow artist, Megan Brouillette, works toward a different objective than past spaces. Brouillette recalled, “We had this sort of insurgent mentality [with Junctionview and Tacocat] that we were going to create arts in a grassroots way to collectively flood Columbus with artistic talent.”

Now, he seeks a more focused challenge with higher aspirations. Blockfort’s mission, in Brouillette’s eyes, is to drive a cohesive team of artists who are ready, or even just enthusiastic, to take their art to the next level. “I look at it like this: Yeah, you can make some great art and get it on people’s walls at home,” he added, “but how do you get it in the museum?”

Blockfort houses a team of 21 artists and six businesses including Stinkybomb Soap and the FieldWerks. This unique crew was curated through interviews by Brouillette, chosen not only for their ability to create quality pieces, but also consistent work ethic and their potential to develop as artists. This special ops team has sculptors, painters, mixed media masters, entrepreneurs, designers, and more. Some of the tenants were former Junctionview and Tacocat alum while others are new to the scene, Columbus, or to Brouillette himself. “We have a diverse group with different backgrounds and spheres of involvement,” he explained. “That helps us all stay honest in our art—the discussions, disagreements, and understandings built by such close quarters only improves our work.”

The space, previously a NAPA Auto Parts Store near 6th and Spring Streets downtown, has been extensively reconfigured to serve the purpose of the tight-knit collective. One important addition to the building was ADA accessibility options. “It was very expensive, but it’s important for all of us to walk-the-walk when we talk about freedom, inclusivity, and understanding,” he explained. “Worth every penny.” The restrooms are also gender-neutral, labeled “Anybody Restrooms”

Last week’s preview party provided a glimpse of what the future may hold for Blockfort.

The front-house gallery, with its fresh drywall and new lighting, displayed pieces from the resident artists, which purely showcased the Blockfort team’s strong personalities and remarkable talent. Platform Brewing beer, wine, and a buffet of gourmet nachos and a variety of sweet treats welcomed visitors. Through a doorway on the back wall, a hallway extends to the end of the building, flanked on both sides by studio doors decorated uniquely by their respective artists.

Blockfort’s mission, in Brouillette’s eyes, is to drive a cohesive team of artists who are ready, or even just enthusiastic, to take their art to the next level.

Among the first artists I encountered were Jen Wrubleski, a Junctionview and Tacocat alum who specializes in joyously cheeky illustrations of cats, woodland creatures, and vegetables, and Jamie Sommer, a performer, mixed-media artist and Drag King (Jamz Dean) who performs semi-regularly at the Shadowbox Bistro. The three of us discussed the idea of Sommers doing a Guy Fieri/Smashmouth routine, but she adamantly refused to even consider such an act. Understandably so.

Down the hall, I came to the studios of Marshall Shorts and David Butler, two African-American artists whose combined entrepreneurial spirit has borne such fruits as the Creative Control Fest, the Brush Experience, and Iron Pixel. Marshall shared with me their interest in connecting creators of color and building more opportunities to break down racial disparities. We bonded over the intrinsic relationship between music and art, something that he makes efforts to incorporate in his work.

Next, I popped into the studio of Sherleelah Jones, a digital designer and CCAD grad. She displayed evocative photographic and illustrative collages that she created using Photoshop and Illustrator. Her involvement arose by responding to Blockfort’s open call for artist applications—she had never known Adam nor any of the other alums. She proudly noted that this space will serve as her first official studio outside of her home office.

Near the end of the hall, I met Lucie Shearer, an illustrator who creates delicate pencil drawings ripped from childhood memories and reimagined in 21st century terms. She explained that her focus was taking a thing of beauty, specifically the female form, and juxtaposing it with a disturbing or surreal quality, such as severed limbs, to evoke a visceral reaction in the viewer.

Before departing I had the chance to visit the Alison Rose t-shirt studio, a full-blown production area that replaces their previous storefront on Indianola Avenue in Clintonville. I caught a glimpse of a captivating work by Logan Schmitt that I can best describe as “woodland esoterica.” I also took a moment to admire Cat Sheridan and Lisa McLymont’s “Powerful Women” portraits, which included fictional characters like Leslie Knope and Jillian Holtzman, local musician Counterfeit Madison, and historical figures like African-American activist Shirley Chisolm.

If the talent, hospitality, and attention to detail displayed at the preview party is any indication of what is to come, I believe we’ll be seeing a great deal of innovative and influential art emerging from those big brick walls.

Blockfort is holding its grand opening this Saturday, February 25 from Noon to 7 PM. Take the opportunity to meet the artists and see their work first hand. More info can be found at http://blockfortcolumbus.com/

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Arts & Music

Serenity now! 614 interviews Jason Alexander ahead of Cbus performance

Mike Thomas

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If you’re expecting a stand-up comedy routine from a frumpily-dressed Jason Alexander full of jokes about soup and shrinkage and Festivus, move on.

Alexander’s still getting laughs. But, they’re a different kind as he returns to his roots as a Broadway show performer, taking his singing, dancing, piano-playing, storytelling routine across the country with a pops-style show that will arrive in Columbus this month. Alexander will join the Columbus Symphony Orchestra to tell the story of his life on the screen and stage.

(614) recently had the delightful opportunity to speak with the Tony Award-winning actor about the show, his love of poker, and the influence of George Costanza on our culture in 2019.  

(614): “An Evening With Jason Alexander” comes to the Ohio Theatre on April 27. What can our readers expect from
the performance?

JA: (Chuckling.) I’m only laughing because I’ve been doing this for about three years, and that’s always the first question! So “An Evening With” is a pop show that I’ve been doing for about three years all around the country. I know most people may not immediately think of me as a singer if they know me from my roles on television, but it is a more-or-less autobiographical journey through my love affair with music from the Broadway stage.

Some of it is things that I’ve performed on Broadway, some of it is not. A lot of it is very funny. A lot of it is just great music. It’s a slightly different show in that, although there’s a symphony orchestra up there, it does feel like an intimate evening. There’s lots of storytelling, and at one point in the show I bring about seven people up on the stage—and they are truly not plants, I pick them at random—and they wind up performing a number with me.

How does preparing for a role like this where you’re appearing as yourself differ from a performance where you’re appearing in character?

The preparation is all emotional. I went into performing because I was a really shy kid, so I was able to hide in plain sight. I could be with people, be out in front of people, and I was always more or less hiding behind some character. I’ve always said the five worst words for me in the English language are, “Ladies and gentlemen—Jason Alexander.” That usually scares the hell out of me! That means I have to go out there and be myself. 

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The beautiful thing about this show is the preparation was all in creating the show. If you’re going to go in front of people and take their time and present yourself as an entertainer, what story or stories do you want to share, and how do you want to play with an audience so they have a
very full and very rewarding time? That was all the hard part. In the actually getting up and doing it, I’ve been pretty lucky that I’ve been playing with some of the best orchestras in the country, so when I’m up there I’m generally having a pretty good time. If I’m not, something’s gone terribly wrong. 

You’ve made a name for yourself in the competitive poker world, even appearing in the main event at the World Series of Poker. How did your interest in poker begin?

Almost everybody in my business bumps into poker at some point, because if you do theater and movies, there’s a lot of down time. More often than not, somebody will say, “Hey, let’s play some poker.” But it was around the time that the celebrity poker shows started in the early 2000’s that I remember being invited to be a player on a televised poker thing, and my publicist represented [professional Poker player] Phil Hellmuth at the time, and he said “Hey, I represent this professional poker player, would you like a lesson?” And I said, “What the hell. The guy calls himself a professional poker player. Let me go see who he is.” After about ten minutes my head was spinning. I realized there was so much about this game I did not understand, never knew, would never understand. But I became fascinated with it. 

It is such a rich game in that there are so many ways you can play it. You can play it as a mathematical player, you can play it as an instinctual player. It is an actor’s game because you are always making impressions about yourself at the table, always trying to understand the impression other players are making. I’m so fascinated by the game, but my fascination does not, unfortunately, mean that I am good at it. I am entertaining at the table, I generally know right from wrong, but sometimes right doesn’t work, and even knowing wrong I have proceeded to do the wrong thing time and time again. It’s kind of like life, you never stop being surprised and learning more about it. 

I also meet amazing people at the poker table, fascinating people that I would never otherwise meet. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 30 years and I work in the entertainment business, so I don’t often meet guys who are driving buses in Cleveland, Ohio, or work in accounting firms in Wyoming, but at the poker table you meet people from every walk of life.

For nine seasons in the 90s, you played the iconic role of George Costanza on the classic sitcom Seinfeld. What lessons can George teach us in 2019, or where in our modern culture do you see the character’s influence?

Well, if I am to believe social media, the president is making a lot of George-isms. The one that keeps being tweeted at me is, people believe the president may be subscribing to the Costanza philosophy of “it’s not a lie if you believe it.” I am afraid, unfortunately if you want to be serious, that the sort of selfishness and short-sightedness and narcissism that George Costanza was certainly guilty of may have infected a lot of our modern culture right now, and to nobody’s good, I’m afraid.

Jason Alexander will perform at the Ohio Theater on April 27th at 8 p.m. For tickets information, visit columbussymphony.com/events.

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Arts & Music

You can sit with us: 6 fan favorites coming to Broadway in Columbus stage

Laura Dachenbach

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Six incredible shows including Columbus premieres, revivals, and long-running favorites, make up the 2019-2020 Broadway in Columbus series season.

In an exciting reveal last night, coupled with performances from local and Broadway performers, CAPA announced its 2019-2020 PNC Broadway in Columbus series in what looks to be an especially exciting lineup of shows.

The series will kick off with two shows that deal with the difficulties of adolescence. The critically-acclaimed Dear Evan Hansen (Sept. 17-22) tells the story of a private letter that shouldn’t have been read publicly, its tragic results, and the complexities of fitting in, while Mean Girls, (Oct. 22-27) written by former high school theater nerd and SNL writer Tina Fey and her husband Jeff Richmond, is a musical adaptation of the film of the same name that looks at cliques and Queen bees. Mean Girls comes to Columbus straight from its Broadway run.

In November, Les Misérables (Nov. 19-24) continues its “One Day More” in its almost 35 years of existence. This touring version will be freshly staged and its updated look is inspired by the little-known paintings of Victor Hugo that have been converted into backdrop projections.

Les Misérables

The New Year will kick off with another film adaptation, Anastasia (Jan. 29-Feb. 2). The stage version maintains your favorites tunes such as “Journey to the Past” and “Once Upon a December” while adding 16 new songs. This version of the last Romanov daughter, written by Terrence McNally, happily says “do svidanya” (goodbye) to Bartok the Bat and the zombie version of Rasputin and replaces them with a conniving secret police officer.

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Anastasia

My Fair Lady (Mar. 11-15), the musical that launched Julie Andrews into Broadway prominence, is sometimes called “the most perfect musical of all time.” A social commentary about language and society, My Fair Lady features a lineup of perennial Broadway favorites such as “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” And “On The Street Where You Live.”

My Fair Lady

Wrapping up the subscriber season is Miss Saigon (June 9-14), the love story of an American GI and a young Vietnamese woman who bears his child, is written by the same creative team as Les Misérables. This revival contains additional Vietnamese lyrics and exceptionally spectacular stage effects.

Miss Saigon

Jersey Boys (Jan. 10-11) and the ever-“Popular” Wicked (Apr. 22-May 17) are optional subscriber package add-ons to the season. CAPA also announced that Come From Away, a musical about true events during the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks will be included in the 2020-2021 season.

To renew your season subscription or to become a subscriber, visit broadwayincolumbus.com.  You can also call (800-294-1892) or just stop in at the CAPA Ticket Center at 39 E State St. It’s a season you really won’t want to miss!

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Arts & Music

You won’t have to go “On the Road Again” for this Willie Nelson music Festival

Mike Thomas

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Look out all you Highwaymen, the Red Headed Stranger is coming to town – and he’s bringing a few friends with him.

American music legend, activist, and all-around badass Willie Nelson will bring his “Outlaw Musical Festival” tour to Columbus’ Nationwide arena on June 23. The festival will make stops in 10 cities this summer, with the Columbus leg featuring support from The Avett Brothers, Alison Krauss, Old Crow Medicine Show, Dawes, and an opener TBD.

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Each stop on the tour will feature an “Outlaw Village,” showcasing crafts from local artisans as well as festival attractions and local food and drink offerings.

Tickets for the festival’s Columbus show go on sale Friday, March 8th. Presale will begin Wednesday, March 6 at 10am and go through Thursday, March 7 at 10pm or while supplies last. Enter offer Code ARENA.

For more information, visit the tour website.

In the meantime, please enjoy this fantastically weird tune from the pre-Shotgun Willie days.

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