Monday, November 2, 2009

Know No Stranger Presents Optical Popsicle

Last Friday and Saturday, everyone who attended Know No Stranger's Optical Popsicle was treated to a visual feast. It was advertised as a visual variety show, and it did not disappoint. Comprised of a wide variety of seemingly disparate skits and vignettes, Optical Popsicle left the viewer with a sense of unity and empathy with the human experience. The show felt very contemporary in its scope of thematic material while maintaining a deeply ingrained sense of nostalgia. The skits were evocative of National Film Board of Canada Vignettes in the sense of being short, lighthearted and whimsical bursts of creative energy. It was a lo-fi look at a hi-fi life, evoking the feeling of facing current life issues through the guise of warm, fuzzy memories and "technology" (think projectors) that has become so outdated that it is nostalgic. There was lots of optical trickery incorporating overhead projectors, and although simple it was amazingly fun and effective in stimulating viewers. I have tried to illustrate some of what went on through my photographs, and there is also a link to some video snippets courtesy of Know No Stranger. I can't remember how many sheets of messy notes written on transparencies I've copied from overhead projectors throughout my life as a student, how many times I've closed my eyes as I stepped in front of them so as not to be blinded, but in recent years they have given way to the Powerpoint. I never thought overhead projectors would become endearingly nostalgic!

I recently had the chance to catch up with Know No Stranger's Michael Runge to discuss the show and what lies ahead for No Know Stranger.

Human relations seemed to be the biggest underlying theme that pulsed throughout each skit of Optical Popsicle. The tone was very sober and authentic in conveying the awkwardness and fleeting nature of many social interactions and relationships. It never felt sappy or contrived and there was always a candid, confessional sentiment. “I feel like relationships was the big theme, especially for the Friday show," Runge explains. " I think anybody can identify with that kind of stuff and anybody can relate; everybody has some experience with a relationship." Despite the very personal nature of some of the skits, they were presented in a way that had relevance to everyone. They maintained a lighthearted appeal while seeming to hold a message or epiphany just below the surface. Runge elaborates on the personal/impersonal nature of storytelling:

"The more specific of a story that you tell, and the more individualized you make it, it seems like the more people can relate to it since it’s more sincere, it’s more heartfelt; you know people are going to identify with that rather than trying to make something that reaches everybody. You just try to make something that’s true to yourself and being true to yourself is what’s going to reach people. (The skits) are specific in a way because they’re my individual experience, but they’re vague enough because everyone can relate to them, and I think that’s really powerful. That’s what made it enjoyable for me, something that I was into and something that I felt I needed to express, so that gave me more energy and I think that came through in the actual pieces."

A large aim of Optical Popsicle was to inspire creativity and curtail negativity, specifically regarding the perceived lack of things to do in Indianapolis. Friday's performance ended with Runge beckoning the crowd to stop complaining about Indianapolis. “I think that people think there’s nothing going on," he reasons. "I think there’s just a lack of community; it’s not easy to meet new people and it’s not easy to hang out and develop those really strong friendships in Indianapolis. That’s something that I’ve been trying to fight for a while. (Know No Stranger aims) to connect people to things going on, but also to connect people to each other.”

Using the vignette-style format of short skits proved to be very effective for Know No Stranger both in granting different artists the chance to show their material and in holding the audience's attention. Runge reflects on the format:

"I wanted it to be immediately accessible to the viewer, and they appreciate it right away rather than having to dwell on it and analyse it. It’s almost like watching TV in a way, the cuts were really quick, and you’re immediately satisfied. I guess when I compare it to TV that sounds really disgusting, but I think a lot of people are used to viewing that way, and so bringing them an art source that kind of caters to that kind of mentality, I think we were able to capture the attention of a lot more people because we gave them the art in a way that they were used to…in a museum, you see usual fine arts, it takes a lot of time, you have to really reflect on it, and really kind of analyze yourself and the piece and it sometimes takes a long time for you to get anything back from the piece. I was interested in doing something that was a little quicker."

Ideally, Optical Popsicle will become an annual event. Runge hopes to receive some strong submissions for next year's show as well as apply for grants and search for artists from other places who can contribute to the show, hopefully on a paid basis. The future will also see Know No Stranger placing emphasis on interacting with the local community. Next spring, there will be a partnership with Big Car including activities in downtown Indianapolis and on the Eastside. “I’d like (Know No Stranger) to be a place where we can actualize people’s ideas. That’s what I’d like to see Know No Stranger become: the source to make things happen,” Runge says.

Runge stresses that anyone can be creative and make things happen for other people to enjoy. “Since it was cheap and simple to put together, the only thing that we really needed was our creativity,” he says regarding Optical Popsicle. “It’s fun that we just made it up; none of us had ever done that before and it’s just something that we wanted to do. It was a really big learning experience for all of us, but it was not impossible. We just had the courage to put ourselves out there and make it happen, just step off that ledge and hope that there’s something there." And there most definitely was something there!

Look out for an upcoming DVD of Optical Popsicle (see attached video).

Teaser for Optical Popsicle DVDs coming soon from KNOW NO STRANGER on Vimeo.

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