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A Performance About POTUS From Artists' Imperative


Published May 31, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated May 31, 2017 at 11:59 a.m.


After the election of Donald Trump last November, artists — and many others —wondered: How do I respond? The 95,369 people who voted for Trump in Vermont (according to the New York Times) likely celebrated. But, back in December, Seven Days staff wrote about responses from a few artists who were less than ecstatic with the outcome. Their works ranged from vagina-themed T-shirts to sprawling street art.

The artistic impulse to address the current tumultuous political state has hardly abated. A new entry, Artists' Imperative, is an event series intended to continue the collective commentary. This Friday, June 2, the inaugural affair — titled "Tweet!" — takes place at Maglianero in Burlington.

Film producer Marc Wennberg is the primary instigator of Artists' Imperative. The 51-year-old artist says, "[After the election,] I just felt like it was important for me to do something, important to my soul." Not wanting to go it alone, Wennberg reached out to choreographer Clare Byrne and musician Alec Julien for help.

"I had the initial idea," Wennberg says, "but then I spoke with Clare, and she really helped to shape it into what it is now, which is quarterly events organized around a theme where we invite different artists to share work on that theme."

Byrne was a good choice. The University of Vermont dance professor has experience organizing ongoing events: For eight years, she's been bringing artists and performers together for Eat My Art Out, an intimate, thrice-yearly event that showcases works in progress and invites performers and audience members to give feedback.

The title of Friday's performance is a double entendre that references both the president's social media fixation and the chirp of birds, a reminder of environmental concerns made more pressing by the administration's dismissive approach to climate change. And while the content will surely be political, the organizers hope it will also be playful.

One of the main tenets of the series is a motto of Wennberg's: "More sandbox than soapbox." Byrne says she interprets that as, "Let's not speak from a preaching position; let's encourage people to play with the theme."

Wennberg concurs. "We didn't want to be heavy-handed," he says. "We want people to come and be able to enjoy themselves at the performance, and raise awareness on some level. But we didn't provide a lot of guidance to the artists [about] what we want — just a few cues, and [it's] up to them to show what they want to show."

How that will play out remains to be seen. For her part, Byrne plans on portraying an iteration of her long-standing White Witch alter ego, a goddess archetype with varied manifestations. Last year, Byrne performed as the White Witch in the collective Dance Tramp at the FlynnSpace. That version of the character executed "a horsey ballet," Byrne told Seven Days at the time.

She hints that this version of White Witch might present as male. "I'll be manifesting White Witch to deal pretty directly with the Oval Office," Byrne says. "She gets done what needs to get done."

She also hints that the piece, with accompanying music by Julien, will have an ecological bent. "[The White Witch is] a pruner [in this performance]," Byrne says with a sly smile.

The audience can expect the character to be dramatic. Byrne calls the White Witch a destroyer and creator similar to the Hindu goddess Kali, known as both a demon killer and a liberator of souls.

For his act, Julien is pulling together an improvisatory musical trio. "The bass player, Jeremy Harlos, and I have a background in free jazz, and we'll be drawing on that to create an interesting canvas for the spoken-word talents of Patricia Julien," the guitar player and typographer says.

Patricia, a University of Vermont professor, jazz flutist and Julien's wife, will read selected posts from the president's Twitter account. "We'll be trying to bridge the gap between scary and funny," she remarks, "which is something many of us are doing on a daily basis while trying to deal with the Trump presidency."

Wennberg says he won't perform at this event but likely will in the future. "I'm just helping pull it all together," he says, noting that the next theme will probably be immigration.

Other performers in "Tweet!" include Byrne's former student Sarah MacDonald, acoustic rock outfit the Brevity Thing, Seth Jarvis, and comedy musical duo Fish and Chips. Although the event is free, donations will benefit Audubon Vermont.

"The point of the evening," Alec Julien concludes, "isn't so much to bemoan what's wrong with the world but to make art that gets us all talking about what's wrong with the world, what's right with the world and how we can make the world a more beautiful place."

The original print version of this article was headlined "Local Artists Address Their Concerns About Trump in 'Tweet!'"

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