It is always interesting and often exciting to attend the New Original Works Festival at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) each year. Except for Paul Outlaw’s BBC (Big Black Cockroach), “interesting” best describes the second weekend of the NOW Festival 2019 – curious but not groundbreaking. One of the works did not live up to the artists’ program notes and the other simply overstayed its welcome until it sadly faded away into a non-ending conclusion.

Choreographer/visual artist Kate Watson-Wallace, artist, composer and performer HPrizm and cultural historian and visual artist Verónica Casado Hernández collaborated to create KIM, a primarily inconsistent and self-indulgent examination of living in the age of technology, its effects on women and the privileged few who have the time to be bored and lounging in superficial luxury.

Haylee Nichele and Jessica Emmanuel are first seen exercising on treadmills set atop a large black area rug. Julia Eichten soon joins them by crawling in underneath a rug, like a fur lined caterpillar. The three women endlessly walk and crawl around the space twirling their long locks of hair as if this is somehow exciting to sit in the audience and observe. They take off and then don different types of shoes and shiny knee-high boots and battle with wads of tensile. The best part of KIM takes place during the final five minutes as Emmanuel begins a dialogue about not ever having enough time. This section had substance, direction and humor – ingredients lacking in the rest of the work.

HPrizm’s music was appropriate for this piece, but again, nothing new or exciting. It was basically electronic dance music with a few sound effects performed live. The Set Design was by Kate Watson-Wallace and Styling and Costume Design was by Julia Eichten.

Paul Outlaw is a powerful actor and performer who has written a gut-wrenching one-man drama that was as raw to watch as it is to listen to Billie Holiday sing “Strange Fruit”. Beautifully directed by Sara Lyons and enhanced by the severely stark and aggressive lighting by Chu-hsuan Chang, Outlaw confronts and exposes both white and black stereotypes, fears of “the other” and common racist statements made by people who think of themselves as non-racist or bigoted.

Describing the poignant and in-your-face BBC (BIG BLACK COCKROACH) would simply weaken it for future viewers. The subjects Outlaw investigates are sadly not new, but very old and past the time this country to have an open discussion about, but it is the way Outlaw presents these subjects, the directness of his theatrical tools, and, again, the rawness and un-decorated honesty with which he turns the mirror around for us to see ourselves. I hope that Outlaw continues to perform this work and that I am there to see it mature even further.

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NOW Festival 2019 - Jessica Emmanuel, Haylee Nichele in KIM - Photo by Vanessa Crocini

POPULAR REVOLT showed potential, but in the end failed to deliver. Created by visual artist Amy Ruhl and interdisciplinary artist Alexandro Segade, POPULAR REVOLT aimed to be a satirical poke at corporate American’s focus groups. Ruhl and Segade succeeded in many areas but the work was weakened by computer video feed problems and the plain fact that the excellent writing that opened the piece ran out of steam.

A premise of the work was a focus group hired at $35 an hour with no benefits to help create a cell phone application. Ruhl and Segade tried using every cliché in the book incorporating two women and one man from varying ethnic backgrounds. Even the use of audience participation to help answer polled questions such as would you take the job at $35 an hour with no benefits or not, finally rang hollow. The work could, however, be salvaged with some very artistic re-examination and editing.

The excellent cast included Vishal Judgeo, Sophia Le Fraga, Amira Nader, Amy Ruhl, and Alexandro Segade.

The New Original Works Festival 2019 will continue Thursday through Saturday, August 8 -10 at 8:30PM.  The works that will be presented are Source Material: A Thousand Tongues; Austyn Rich: BL**DY SPAGHETTI; and Jesse Bonnell: Paradise Island.  For more information and tickets, click here.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle, August 3, 2019.

Featured Image: NOW Festival 2019 – Cast of Popular Revolt – Photo by Vanessa Crocini