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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Mini Review: The Spectrum Festival of Devised Works

Or: Such stuff as dreams are made on.

I’m rather distrustful of devised works. The stone-soup process (let’s add a bit o’everything and see where it gets us) grates upon my curmudgeon’s sense of order. But others love it and not even I can deny that sometimes a group of artists given a thorny issue and a deadline can create something palatable and even downright tasty. Be it an exploration of personal identity, a social commentary on the threads and labels we weave about and stick on each other, or a 50’s era science fiction thriller/lesbian love-tragedy, they all offer some special for us to engross in and some story or thorny thought to gum upon.

The Story of You: by Justin Shannin

The small brave ensemble of Elise Ammandson, Gordon Burkhart, Alex Kohanski, Alice Yin and Shaina Wagener lead us by the hand through various ideas of identify, no small thing in a world and culture were we judge people by their profile pictures and what kind of magical creature they are assigned by a internet quiz algorithm. Slowly opening themselves up to us, the ensemble bare as much as is deemed decent; the spot on this earth where there souls become untethered, their doubts and insecurities, the armor (figurative and literal) they have made for themselves. Shannin intermingles these gifts with a number of witty scenes and vignettes, experiments and data, and while the wriggling handful of thoughts can overload the senses it always remains fresh, honest and open for us to sift through.

(comes true.): by Nikki Rosengren

When a pioneering sleep scientist (Melanie Vitaterna) a rarity of the white washed, wholesome world of the 1950’s, premieres her new “dream machine” on national television for a smarmy television personality (Nathan Lamp) she little expects the monsters that arise from the black lagoon of the subconscious of a model housewife, a precocious little girl, and her own lab assistant (Catilin Medina). Rosengren’s cast excel in the dissonant jokes that plant stepford smiles on all our faces, though Vitaterna and Lamp are particularly adapt at the conversational judo and skirt-and-cuff semaphore that were the pinnacle of communication at the time. While never venturing out beyond the confines of a B-horror plot, Rosengren and co. coax the evolving story through beats of horror and humor so that it all comes to one seamless swoop of discomfort, disturbance and yes, tragic sapphic romance.

Hello My Name Is....: by Maggie Monahan

A rather confusing but ultimately humbling exploration of how words can shackle us to one image, one idea, discount whole human beings. In a series of vignettes, confessions and illustrations, punctuated by the apparently obligatory shirt painting element of a devising festival, Monahan’s cast take us through various stereotypes, complimentary or degrading, and the harm that they cause. With some daring confessions by Tom Cui, Maddy Kelly and Katelyn Buchta, among others, ‘Hello My Name is....” finds anchorage in the slake of its subject matter and brings its nets in form its audience full of sympathetic winces and flopping fresh regret that we are so shallow and so base.

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