Saturday, March 4, 2017

Pies and Thighs

Call it just another laid-back Friday in the city, but don't call it casual.

A girl could be forgiven for wishing that casual Friday was just the slippery slope that finally leads to a four-day workweek, but the pragmatist in me has to accept that's it's become no more than an automatic default when describing the last day of the workweek.

The four VCU students bursting with Friday energy and spilling out of a house on Marshall Street when I walked by  (yes, walked, despite the cold and wind because my day in the country meant I'd had no walk today) had no interest in anything except yelling f*ck in various phrases (it, you, that, -in' A) to demonstrate how ready they were - or not - for the weekend.

Studied casual, personified.

The Richmond Symphony, on the other hand, was definitely trying to be with Dominion Casual Fridays - a dreadful moniker for several reasons - a great chance to see the Symphony on the cheap and still have your whole Friday night ahead of you.

To acquaint an atypical symphony audience with Stravinsky's ballet score "Petrouchka," conductor Stephen Smith took the time to explain the story of the ballet, demonstrate which instruments represented each of the three characters in the ballet and share how drums would mean "end of scene."

The ballet's first scene was set during - wait for it - the Shrovetide Fair, which I now know means pancake-eating Fat Tuesday and the two days before.

Leave it to art to teach me about religion while listening to the dulcet tones of contra-bassoon and bassoon.

Walking down Grace Street afterward, I overheard a young woman telling her date how much she'd been able to imagine the ballet dancers after the conductor explained the story and instrumentation. Her date asked if she'd ever been to the ballet. "No, but now I want to go," she said aspirationally.

Well done there, Richmond Symphony.

Because it was First Friday, there was no reason not to return to Candela Gallery and see the rest of "Chop Shop," the digitally-manipulated photography show I hadn't had time to see all of last night. Seeing it again, my brain struggled just as hard to read the images with an eye for truth and once again gave up in frustration.

Headed to the door, I ran into a photographer friend and dove immediately down the rabbit hole of process-focused photography, deciding that it was our age that precluded us accepting the images without seeing them as untruths.

Fact is, "Chop Shop" is the kind of photography show that starts conversations as people react and compare impressions, whether accepting or rejecting what they're seeing.

I slid into Gallery 5 briefly to check out the print sale before moving over to Big Secret to see the poster reveal for April's Mozart Festival. The Shepard Fairey-like red, white and blue image of Mozart will make an excellent reminder of the dark days after we lost the noble President pictured in the original poster.

A fellow Jackson Ward neighbor and I talked about his adjustment to living with his girlfriend and composting, two challenging but worthwhile efforts for a man who'll turn 37 years old tomorrow. When I found out he's also part of Team Mozart, I put in my vote for Nate's Bagels as part of the event.

Big Secret's owner asked if I'd had Nate's black sesame bagel yet (claims it's a religious experience and says he's Jewish so he knows) - um, no - only to admit that it's a minuscule number that are made and held for certain very special individuals.

As for people like you and me, my friend, we'll never even lay eyes on a black sesame bagel.

Richmond Comedy Coalition was offering "Casual Friday with RVA Tonight" - another god-awful label - for the late show featuring the cast and crew of the fake news show with big guests (Senator Tim Kaine, Governor Terry McAuliffe) telling stories and improvising on them.

Before the show even began, a stellar slide show was projected with images from RVA Tonight sketches, panels and guest interviews. So it was that I recognized a photo of Mayor Levar Stoney in his red and white Christmas sweater showing off the Levar Stoney socks his "team" had given him (familiar since I'd been at the original show), Beau Cribbs with Nutsy the Squirrel, Tim Kaine cracking up at something.

Over a dozen cast and crew members took the stage, sitting down in chairs to reminisce about favorite guests (McAuliffe is apparently hilariously inappropriate), sketches they pitched that never made it on to the show, moments gone wrong onstage and anything else they cared to bring up.

Josh told of a sci-fi sketch he pitched repeatedly that was rejected repeatedly, so Beau suggested he try pitching it to the audience. Most looked bored while one guy laughed. One.

"I write niche, artisanal jokes," Josh said sarcastically, trying to explain his limited appeal. I found him laugh out loud-worthy when he played a hapless male poet with no clue about women, saying things such as, "How do I convey the vastness of my sorrow! With rhymes!"

Grace, who's responsible for costumes and wigs, recalled one sketch that called for a voice-over but they'd forgotten to write it, and the sketch made no sense without it. Another time, the entire cast had forgotten they needed a turkey costume until 20 minutes before show time and then had to scramble.

During a sketch where McAuliffe's aide tells him, "Okay, Governor, today we're going to go over good touch and bad touch," and promptly grabs the Governor by his lower thigh, Beau as McAuliffe whines, "Being governor is hard!"

But being an audience member was informative. Beau told the audience that a past show's research had proven that the Comedy Coalition building had originally been a horse hospital (naturally abbreviated to "horse-pital" for the sake of comedy), a bit of neighborhood lore I'd never heard.

The cast talked about "refillable bits," sketches that could be dragged back out and refreshed for a second or third round of laughs.

When Beau reminded Matt that he'd said that his family used to own Frederick Douglass, Matt was outraged. "I did not say that!" and here he paused for dramatic effect. "I said my family once owned Booker T. Washington!" And so the comedy goes.

When the guy who does the graphic work for RVA Tonight mentioned how he liked to slide in sly asides and insider jokes "to reward our regulars," Beau laughed out loud. "Both of them!"

They all remembered the frustration of performing in the Science Museum's IMAX Dome because the dome's design means that sound travels only from the stage to the seats and not vice versa. So it was that the improv team did an hour and a half show without ever hearing a single laugh.

Not because the audience wasn't laughing, just because the sound wasn't reaching their ears. Ouch.

After one of her first performances, Lauren recalled being complimented by a fellow cast member for how well she'd acted out a panic attack onstage, which of course had been real.

That led to a seriously hysterical hall-of-mirrors type sketch where a couple happens on a woman having an anxiety attack and think it's performance art. Someone else seems them arguing about it and presumes they're street theater. Another couple spots them from across the street and wonders if it's a notable guerrilla theater performance group. And on and on...

No one takes anything happening in the real world as reality. Say, that sounds an awful lot like looking at photographs of people and things that never actually existed but were documented as if they did.

Casual Friday is perhaps the ultimate niche, artisanal joke.

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