The week leading up to the 24-Hour Project at Court Square Theater, I only worked one day. It was a teacher workday – we were finishing up first semester grades and planning for the second semester. I had a most productive day. I finished my grading and made a couple weeks’ worth of shiny, pristine, gorgeous lesson plans.
As usual, when I get ahead at work, we get a snowstorm, because the Universe can’t allow me to be fully and confidently prepared for tomorrow. So, we missed school the rest of the week. And each day, I thought, “Surely we’ll go back to school tomorrow,” so I made sure to be AS LAZY AS POSSIBLE that day, staying in bed as late as possible, returning to bed as often as possible, exerting as little effort as HUMANLY POSSIBLE. If I had known, lol, that I’d have a whole week off – man! I would’ve accomplished sooooo much more. I would have cleaned out the fridge, painted my kitchen cabinets, and laundered the linens on all five beds. Instead I ate Cheez-its, drooled on my pillow, and junked up on Dr. Phil. My mind grew as soft as the Playdoh my kids had dropped all over the family room carpet. Meh.
But Friday, January 24, I showered. I dressed. I did the hair and makeup. And I met Brandy at Capital Ale House for a sip before we embarked on the 24-Hour Project. Did we make it the whole 24 hours? Pffffffft. Heck no. For one, we got started a couple hours late. Two, I’d reverted to such an infantile condition that week that I worried what might happen if I wasn’t back in bed with a Binky by 11pm. So… this is a recount of what we actually saw.
When we got to the Capital Ale House that evening, the bartender immediately asked if we were responsible for “those love notes.” Did you see any of those? Someone (and no, it wasn’t us) sent love notes to local businesses. We could tell – based on handwriting and content analysis – that the notes came from a group of people. Creative people. People who could write a love note using the phrase “bloodless corpse” (Midtowne Market’s note). Dragonflies Toys and the Yellow Button also received notes, among other businesses. And Capital Ale House got this one:
More evidence of Burg love: the attendance of and participation in that evening’s main event. The 24-Hour Project welcomed 46 acts (more than 200 performers!) who gave of their talents and time to put the Harrisonburg arts community to an “endurance test.” Could a theater stay open for 24 hours straight, managing back-to-back performances, patrons who arrived at all hours, and their own sleep deprivation? Yes. Could artists of all kinds get themselves to the theater and deliver a quality performances at any ungodly hour? Yes. Would patrons be so excited by the variety of performances that they would stay awake and attend the event for 24 full hours? Yes. And this 24-hour period is merely a microcosm of our arts community and the endurance needed to continually promote it and grow it.
We arrived at the theater, got a couple beverages, and found empty seats on the front row. I leafed through the program and read the descriptions of the performers. Some were quite intriguing, like Chris Howdyshell’s invitation to take a shower. Or Akota Chase: “the place you find yourself after drinking just enough to realize you’ve been conversing with the devil.” Or Crab Action, who managed to include “corpse paint,” “space opera,” and “uplifting” in their 40-word description.
First up for us was the JMU Horn Society, who for thirty minutes soothed and entertained us with several French horn pieces… from Handel’s Watermusik to a more playful number, “Hide and Seek.” In fact, JMU was quite involved with the Project, contributing eight performances and more than three hours of entertainment.
Next was Angela Carter who read some of her poetry. I took notes furiously during the first one, “Hotel Song,” which nostalgically (and horrifically) recalls the hot afternoons of the speaker’s childhood, spent mostly in motels – “our weekend homes… Bibles in the drawer” – and beside the motel pool, a sitation which might sound like fun to many kids but was instead unpredictable and…unsafe. “Our Names Are…” examines the many labels we assign and carry: liar, weirdo, bully, pageant queen, drunk, gossiper… and the realization that we’re all defined by our many names, and that “the more names we have, the more we are helping everyone else to survive.”
But, my pen stopped moving at “Science Class.” The one where the science teacher, Mr. D, asks the speaker a question about mollusks, a question she can’t answer because it sounds too much like “molest.” Of course, the teacher doesn’t know this, and instead lectures her about failing the class, calling her a “bright kid,” saying she “hung out with the wrong crowd and was throwing my life away…I could be somebody, if I tried.” And I thought of all my students who have potential (“you have such potential… why won’t you just try?” “Such a smart kid, but so lazy!”) and how blind I’m sure I have been to the REAL reason school is hard… the REAL reason they don’t “work to their potential.” I sat frozen in my seat with this ugly truth, praying I would remember next time I was at school that I DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING. I don’t know the crippling forces at work in peoples’ lives.
I guess I can say I was affected by her performance. I hope permanently. Angela’s got a book coming out called Memory Chose a Woman’s Body.
Bourbon Barrel Congress hit the stage next, and if you haven’t seen these guys perform, you need to find out when you can and make arrangements. THEY ARE SO GOOD. Ethan Hawkins’ voice made me want to sob during the first number… sadness tinged with a weeeee bit of anger/vengeance/romantic tension: “I want you so bad… I want you so bad.” But then Chris Davis sang. Lordy. “I put some whiskey into my whiskey, I put some heartbreak in my heart” and that whole mournful thang. JUST STOP IT. We were mildly confused when they sang “Nothing Gets You Down Like Your Hometown”… Brandy pointed out that they must be from Staunton. Wamp! Good one!
Luke Gibson and friends were… well, hilarious. I laughed continuously for their 15-minute set, even during the “uncomfortable silence” advertised in the program. At times he stood, at times he sat, at times other people came on stage… he joked about the stress of having to perform, his math teacher who sells drugs (it’s a JOKE, people), and delayed sentiments leading to heartache… None of that sounds funny as I read over it now. I guess you had to be there.
I probably won’t adequately express how, ahem, funny Ivan Christo was, either, during his stand-up routine. He joked about how Virginia is just North Carolina upside down, what if hats could talk, and how some jokes only make sense in Wilmington, and his props (a piece of neon green poster board) added a much-needed element of awkwardness :) Punchlines included “drop your drawers,” “bald beagle,” and “it’s freakin meowt.”
Dead Professional (aka John Harouff, aka the guy who’s also in Cinnamon Band) is just awesome. He does this thing with drum loops and two vocal tracks and his guitar. He harmonizes with himself. It’s part trickeration and part sheer talent… except it’s no trick: he’s responsible for all the sounds… playing music with his hands and feet and heart and lungs, all by himself.
It was getting kinda late and my Playdoh mind was wandering. Do musicians ever, during a performance, just get tired of singing? I mean, I love to sing, but I never sing for ninety minutes because I run out of hot water after like thirty. I also sing in the car while my kids cringe in the backseat. And even that’s never longer than thirty minutes or so… and even still I find myself saying, “Man, singing makes me tired!” Maybe I’m just doing it wrong.
The last performance I saw on Friday night was Medicine Calf. They are the loudest two people I’ve ever heard. And I mean that in the best of ways. The drummer played with those giant Q-tip things, and the brushy things – I love that sound. I loved their complicated rhythms and tempos; I heard tones of Pink Floyd and Radiohead at times, and at other times, I’m not exactly sure what happened. But they were phenomenal.
I got in the car. I was bushed. I thought about the many long hours ahead for the theater staff, volunteers, and performers. I thought how committed and caffeinated they must be. I resolved to return the next day, kids and all. There was too much good stuff; I didn’t want to miss more than I had to.
Growing an arts community isn’t easy. Many people have forgotten that art is a natural part of daily life. It brings depth and meaning to the rest of life. It softens the demands of work. The stress of family. The pinch of finances. Art suspends time, and that suspension is about as good for the soul as anything. After a long day of work, it’s sometimes hard to go back out just to see a couple paintings or a performance. But once there, you are infused with such energy that you want to return soon for more. And that’s why, after a week of Cheez-its and Dr. Phil, I NEEDED to get into that theater for an infusion. The arts cannot be looked upon as extra-curricular, as something one enjoys on a special occasion, or something reserved for those of a particular class. Harrisonburg works hard to provide regular, affordable access to all forms of art, and that work – the constant fundraising and promotion and creation – takes a level of endurance many communities just don’t have. Thankfully, our community does have it.
Stay tuned for the story of Saturday’s performances at Court Square Theater.
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