The Poets of “We Are United”

The “We Are United” Hurricane Benefit at La LUNA last Friday raised money and collected donated items to send down to people affected by the recent hurricanes. The event featured performances by musicians, comedians, and writers from the central Ohio area. Here we have collected the works of the three writers and video of their performances.

Mansfield, a Love Story by Llalan Fowler

You fall like rust off an unused warehouse, you sound like broken glass under my heel, you taste like the lead paint curling down walls in your empty Gothic homes. You scream like the trains passing through every morning at two and you are as silent as the empty storefronts whose dusty windows throw back a dirtier version of myself. Mansfield, you birthed me, you raised me, and I left you. Continue reading

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Mansfield: We Are Creating

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From an alley, Mansfield, Ohio

I visited New York City last weekend and spent enough hours wandering through the boroughs that I began to compare it to our town. We are not New York and we know this. We are not New York and are yet happy for that. We are not New York, we are Mansfield, Ohio, and we are creating.

There are parts of New York City where each breath I drew was art. It was not merely a painted canvas, a vibrating string, or an astute analogy, but a sense of ecstatic freshness. The world as I knew it was new again, shimmering. I could feel my own creativity roiling just beneath the surface of my composure, and my mind, surprised with new agility. In the presence of others’ imaginations, mine ran giddy and wild. And the people standing around me, they were ready to experience everything I had to give, absorb my offerings and further the cycle of ideas.

In Mansfield, we artists breathe rust. We breathe poverty and establishment and someone else’s idea of what our town should be. When we experience the moment of collaborative elation, we have worked damn hard to get there. We work in factories and gas stations and chain retail stores where we lock our art in the break room and keep it to ourselves until we clock out. Art is not an employer, but not a hobby either — it is an unstoppable drive we have, the one that reminds us we’re alive, the one we must have to stay alive. Continue reading

When Swing Was King

After the February 18 Mansfield Symphony Orchestra Pops Concert

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Carl Topilow and the MSO

Carl Topilow, in red coat with red clarinet, leads the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra with his knees and shoulders, bobbing on the podium to the music as he plays along. The conductor leans with a sidelong glance to the drummer and, as one, the group moves toward the end of the piece, finishing on one blue note of a dime. Tonight, at the MSO’s “When Swing Was King” pops concert, Topilow is not Topilow. He’s Benny Goodman, he’s Artie Shaw. He and his bright  red clarinet lead a big band and it’s 1944 and the audience is young again.

At the introduction to each song the crowd murmurs appreciatively. Next to me my grandmother hums along. Everyone of a certain age has a memory that corresponds with each song. A piece of their youth, of the early years with their spouse, of their time serving their country.

The songs Topilow picks range from Gershwin excerpts to Glen Miller to an entire patriotic piece fitted around a bugle solo. Before I had thought of swing as swing, but now I begin to think of the complete range of sweet to sultry to stars and stripes.

The sweet songs inspire my grandmother to turn to me and tell me memories of her courtship with my grandfather. She uses the word courtship, and it occurs to me that I’ve only ever heard this word from someone of her generation, and also that I’ve never been courted. Stardust, Moonlight Serenade, Night & Day — a sweetness and innocence that I cannot fathom, but desperately want to know. Continue reading

The Art of Orie Rush

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Poor Power Supply

Orie Rush’s show in the Book Loft Gallery opened two weeks ago to a crowd of friends, family, and total strangers. It is Rush’s first solo show, though you wouldn’t know by the huge group gathered in the loft of my bookstore. For a solid two hours, Rush is pinned behind a table on which his sketchbooks and prints sit, entertaining one admirer after another.

The show consists of twenty-plus drawings, paintings, pieces of digital art, and piles of prints plus a selection of Rush’s sketchbooks. For those of us not well-versed in the techniques of visual art, it was difficult to distinguish one style from another save by the title cards. Micron, digital, watercolor, acrylic: all stand together in the delicate precision of their execution as well as the question they pose to the viewer — can you tell my story?

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A selection of digital prints

Though the subject matter varies wildly — sleek samurais and geisha, art deco-like figure studies, whimsical critters in watercolor — the thread that remains consistent is that of wonder. By wonder, I mean the power to create questions and curiosity, to create stories in the viewers’ minds. A triumvirate of wizened heads, a hand like a firecracker, a startled creature — part potted plant, part octopus…one cannot help but insert their own stories and create their own worlds. From gritty to dreamy and rough to flawlessly clean, these works demonstrate the fecund, twisty wilderness of Rush’s imagination. Continue reading

The Ghost of Ballets Past

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Renaissance Theatre Chandelier

I hear the oboe whine its A in the orchestra pit, and it dawns on me how incredible this is. I’m living in a medium-sized Rust Belt town that actually has its own orchestra and a dance troupe and a grand old theatre that has drawn well over 700 people to see a ballet. The turnout to tonight’s cultural event echoes a different Mansfield, Ohio, an earlier, livelier version. Tonight, my Mansfield is out on the town.

Bobby Wesner, the artistic director of Neos Dance Theatre, has set tonight’s Nutcracker in 1940s Mansfield, and uses projection mapping and other technology I don’t understand to turn the stage into a snowy, glowing, palpable nostalgia of wartime Mansfield. A place I have never seen, that may not have existed, but that I am still homesick for.

I am seated up front in our iconic Renaissance Theatre. Plush red seats, an extravagant crystal chandelier, generous gold trim. The woman behind me gasps when the red velvet curtains part and the set is revealed. For me it’s not the set but the dancers who inspire awe. I watch the woman playing Marie, the main character. Her body occupies the space around her with the grace that makes movement art. The grace that makes humans human. The smile on her face is both sweet and somehow industrial — a part of her machine that will never fail. Continue reading