What's the recipe for a great night of theatre? Whatever your answer, I'll bet it usually doesn’t begin with, "First, head over to an art gallery in downtown Knoxville." But, after the Moving Theatre's March 3rd production of the short comedy: Beer Girl, don't be surprised if you see more companies in town looking at non-traditional venues to produce their shows. What made it work? Well, a lot of things actually: A veteran cast of skilled comedic actors, a solid design concept that incorporated the entire venue, a trans-medial local multi-artist exhibit (say that three times fast), and free beer with free beer related accessories (food).
Written by Walter Wykes, Beer Girl is a ten minute comedy about Bob, (Billy Kyle Roach), his nagging girlfriend Flo (Sara Gaddis), and Beer Girl (Crystal Braeuner) a female golem that Bob assembles out of beer cans who (spoiler alert) magically comes to life and sacrifices a part of herself (literally) in order to drive the wayward couple back into each other's arms. Beer Girl is entirely lighthearted tongue in cheek fun, with the whole cast delivering well-crafted humor from start to finish. The ensemble hits the ground running with rhythm and intensity that doesn't let up until the final moment of the show, even as they navigate outlandish situations and bits of dialogue that, in less capable hands might have fallen flat. In the performance I attended (the second out of three that evening) the audience of perhaps thirty-five or so was lively, engaged, and obviously having a good time. That alone would constitute a success by any producer's estimation, but what really set this particular production apart is that the show itself became the central aspect of a larger event.
The venue, A1 Lab Arts will be known to anyone familiar with the Knoxville visual arts scene or First Friday Art Crawl. It's an excellent space in a convenient location capable of supporting various exhibits and classes, and it certainly worked well for the Moving Theatre's unique blend of performance and visual art. The play served as a centerpiece to an entire evening of visual art presented by not just one or two, but nine artists working in a variety of fields. This gathering of mediums included the macabre sculptures and oddities of Eric “Creature Seeker” Brown, portraiture of visual artist Cynthia Tipton, hair and makeup artists Kaleb Allison, Amanda Kirchner, and Lilly Winburn of Chop Shop Hair Studio, John Coleman of The Book Eddy, metalwork sculpture from Gregory Tune at Metal Art From Greg's Garage, and clothing and jewelry design by Erin Fowler and Pamela Clanton of Charlotte Couture.
It's was an eclectic mix to be sure, one that could have easily become disjointed and shapeless. But, director, event curator, and Moving Theatre founder Lara Leah Hitchcock and company producer Carolyn Corley strike a perfect balance, seamlessly intertwining the set, props, costumes, makeup and hair, with the more traditionally displayed visual art and jewelry. In fact, the layout of the space was so seamless in its visual continuity that, as I made my way around the gallery, I accidentally wandered into the playing space before realizing that the items I was looking at were actually set dressing rather than stand alone artwork.
The production of theatre relies on so many other art forms that it is sometimes hard to tell where one discipline stops and another begins. This event, featuring not only an excellent piece of live theatre, but also simultaneously showcasing the craft of individual designers and artists whose work sometimes goes unrecognized by audiences and critics, was ultimately the great success of the evening... And of course the free beer too, provided by Crafty Bastard Brewing Co, because nothing compliments a night of great art so much as a cold pint.
You'll definitely want to keep an eye out for more innovative productions from the Moving Theatre as they head into their second season. They are a local company with both a unique vision for theatre in Knoxville, and the practical skill to make that vision a reality.
JP Schuffman is a theatre producer and occasional critic. You can find his reviews in the Burning Theatre Blog hosted by Knoxville Theatre Club.