“The only connective,” says Jon Palmer Claridge, when asked what links the avant-garde acts he’s booked into Arlington’s five-week Innovators Festival, “is that everything’s cheap, and the groups are all doing something a little different.”
Cheap as in a top price of $10, and a festival pass good for all 20 festival attractions for 50 bucks (so that’s $2.50 each for the stalwart who sees them all).
Different as in The Buddy Performance: Two Cowboy Gynecologists in Search of the Male Grail (Sept. 21), which is billed as “a mix of Abbott and Costello rants, be-bop riffs, koto drumming on office furniture in loincloths, vaudeville, fertility dances, yodeling, sports averages, and elaborate experiments using Play-Doh and lots of latex.” One of its two titular buddies is the oddly monikered William Pope .L—an African-American performance artist who found himself heading the latest NEA controversy list after the Washington Times reported that in a performance piece about racial and sexual stereotyping, he strapped on a 14-foot-long “white” penis. He won’t be doing that at Gunston’s Theater Two, but both he and fellow buddy Jim Calder will reportedly be clad only in lab coats and duct tape.
Also different as in Michael A. Carson, the bald, seemingly one-legged dancer in a tutu whose specialty is “movement essays” that satirize everything from dance pretensions to the grant-review process. Or Bimbetta, the five increasingly celebrated self-described babes (three sopranos, one cellist, and a harpsichordist) who go for baroque mixing madrigals with C&W, pop, and soul.
Or different as in Wanted: X-Cheerleaders, a troupe of women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and even 50s, who strut their pompoms and form pyramids in a pro-woman pep rally (sample cheer: Oh (inhale) my dear (sigh)/The man I want is queer (whhaaa)/No he’s not bi, can’t catch his eye/ What am I doing here?). Also on hand are (is?) Interventions, the pair of mysterious, Latino “saints” who’ll make unannounced secular visitations throughout the festival on the streets of Arlington.
Arlington is hosting 20 groups of innovators in all, spread over five weeks at several locations, beginning this weekend with a pair of open-air, “no risk” events (meaning there’s no fixed admission, they just pass the hat). On Saturday, Steven Guyer’s Evolution, a performance-rock group that dabbles in everything from operetta to dance, will perform Instinct vs. Society (Lubber Run Amphitheater, 8:30 p.m.). The next afternoon, the movement-
theater troupe Membrane will
present Time Temple II (Rosslyn’s Gateway Park, 5 p.m.), an evening in which a large luminous egg descends toward a group of body-painted guides who then see it to its final resting place in a weird metal structure. Adapted from the troupe’s site-specific performance last year at Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors in Manhattan, the piece is a blend of everything from architecture to pop sociology.
After the first weekend, most of the events—which range from dance to film, from poetry to the visual arts—will be held at the Gunston Arts Center (a call to (703) 358-6960 will get you an elaborate, very descriptive brochure listing dates, prices, and venues). As in years past, the acts have been culled from hundreds that Claridge sees in alternative arts consortiums, showcases in Greenwich Village, and from stuff that just crosses his desk and seems interesting. Also as in years past, the groups he selects are likely to show up at the Kennedy Center, Lisner Auditorium, and other venues within a few seasons, at far higher prices.
“We can take the gambles here,” notes Claridge. “This is risk-taking stuff.” Which is not to say he hasn’t minimized the risk for audiences, with some tickets cheap enough to make moviegoing a comparatively pricey alternative. “We want people to come,” Claridge says simply. “We know Arlington is unfamiliar territory for some people.” Still, the theater crowd has been coming in sufficient numbers to allow Signature Theatre and the Washington Shakespeare Company to sign long-term leases on a couple of the county’s abandoned warehouses. And the Innovators Festival has evidently been filling a need, since it’s grown from five days to five weeks in just five years.
“We’ve been doing innovators in one form or another since we brought Blondell Cummings here in 1991,” says Claridge. “This was a niche that wasn’t being served.”CP