Thursday, November 15, 2012
Can Can, A 1940's Style Floor Show, The Exchange Artists at Palm Door, November 13 and 15
by Dr. David Glen Robinson
I picked my way through the new development and blocked streets of downtown Austin to find this new bar I’d never heard of, the Palm Door. After hiking blocks, I saw it—it was the building formerly occupied by City Grille, once the best seafood restaurant in Austin. The address is 401 Sabine Street, immediately across the street east of the convention center. I want everyone to find it more easily than I did because the Exchange Artists’ performance there is well worth it.
The show is Can Can: A 1940s Floor Show. It's a composite of 1940s musical theatre and movie song and dance routines, finished with Romulus Linney’s exquisite one-act play Can Can. The play is a history of two relationships right after VE day.
The evening of performance is the second in a series of plays in bars mounted by Exchange Artists, one of the most creative groups in the Austin theatre community. They recently staged The Man Who Planted Trees in Sparky Park in central Austin. Surely one of their most notable traits is their seemingly unflagging ability to produce laudable productions in non-traditional performance spaces. And they do it in very short turnaround time—in this case within two months.
The lead producer this time was Bridget Farr, and Katie Richter directed the show. There I was, sitting in a room that looked like an old 1940s barracks with its open ceiling, expecting light entertainment, and suddenly I received a knock-down, lights-out stage dance performance by triple-threat performers Michelle Keffer, Bridget Farr, Cassie Stewart and Will Brittain. They were led by the terrific Jonathan Itchon, a recent B. Iden Payne nominee. Sing (like the Andrews Sisters), dance, act—this group can do it all.
And guiding us through it all was Emcee Noel Gaulin, with his two-day turnaround from Paper Chairs’ Boom for Real (likewise Michelle Keffer). Gaulin’s surprise was a stand-up routine that was a knock-off of 70s comic Andy Kaufman. Gaulin gave us a very close approach to Kaufman, and it gave the audience that queasy, I-don’t-know-if-I-like-this feeling and several icky question marks in the mind about the performer’s mental health. Pay special attention to the punch line “I got vaccinated.”
If all this wasn’t enough, the Tapestry, Too dance troupe performed classic period tap dance numbers. They are the adult student company of Tapestry Dance. They gave us the virtuoso performance of continuing to perform well when the soundtrack music unexpectedly quit. They did well, but paid in performance stress for the inevitable quirks and kinks presented by a non-traditional venue.
Exchange Artists remains true to its huge creative energies, and everything it produces offers beautiful gifts to its audiences. Performers Bridget Farr, Michelle Keffer, Noel Gaulin and Jonathan Itchon seem to hone their talents continually, and they certainly deserve greater attention and higher paychecks. I’ve singled out these few, but all the performers lit up from within when they hit the stage. It is satisfying to see people following their bliss.
Promoting and building the performance communities in Austin is one of my commitments, as it is for AustinLiveTheatre.com. And Exchange Artists is one of about a half-dozen small companies I follow that are exceptionally deserving of growth and greater attention within the community. Much of their work is of short duration and in venues somewhat harder to find than the average theatre. But their ticket prices, for their greater effort in production and your greater effort in finding them, are no higher than anybody else’s. A percentage of their ticket revenue always goes to charity. For slightly more than the price of a movie ticket you can receive much more in art and entertainment. Exchange Artists—remember the name, seek them out; the rewards are huge.