Archive for the 'Published in Arts Perspective' Category

Breaking Through Shells

Photo by Heather Leavitt

By Kinsee Morlan, originally published in Arts Perspective Magazine 7/1/2009

When Alma Schneider sat down to put words to her post-college dilemma of wanting to either buck all responsibility and travel to South America or return to the peanut-butter-and-jelly comforts of her family’s home in Southern California, she wrote Gastropod.

A somewhat dark, but mostly humorous and cerebral, multimedia performance piece ostensibly about two snails (but really about a person’s often conflicting inner selves), Gastropod will go from print-on-paper to actual live stage production when it makes its world premiere at Durango’s Abbey Theatre June 16 through 18. If all goes well, Alma and the Heart Hustle theatrical cooperative she works with will then hit the road, taking the production on a nationwide tour.

And that’s all thanks to the decision Alma made after graduating from Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts last year. “This is my priority,” says Alma decidedly, pushing back her dark hair from her dark eyes and readjusting in her seat at a café.

The ambitious 23-year-old didn’t end up trotting off to South America after all. Instead, Alma moved back to San Diego, got a job as a live-in nanny, took the money she’d set aside for the trip, plus the money she saved by not paying rent, and used it to fund Gastropod, her first official out-of-school original production, which she’ll also be directing.

“So, gastropod,” Alma says, eager to talk about her brainchild, “is the scientific name for snails or slugs. It’s the class, and what it literally means is ‘belly foot,’ or ‘belly footed.’ I found that out and I became obsessed with this concept of having your belly and your foot operate as the same organ and what the human implications of that are — what the embodied implications of that are. You know, if your foot is in your belly, can you ever stop moving, or can you move at all? The idea that movement is a sense in your gut and, at the same time, to have your home on your back — that kind of just sprouted this thing of this creature that never really leaves or never arrives.”

The script itself is still changing, but the characters in the two-woman show are crystal clear. Alma wrote the play specifically with two actresses in mind. “Karina and Amanda are hilarious together,” Alma says with a smile.

Karina Wolfe, a native of Durango who says she’s the one who persistently pestered the owner of the Abbey Theatre until he agreed to put Gastropod on the bill, and Amanda Raleigh, an actress living in New York, are the two young performers. They both helped Alma and a few others start Heart Hustle, the mostly female collective of now-nationwide artists who met in high school or college, and have a straight-forward goal of producing diverse, experimental performance art, making sure it’s both accessible and relevant. Gastropod is the cooperative’s first official collaborative project.

The set of Gastropod will be fairly simple, with the production relying more on dialogue, video projections, choreography, and beats and raps (as in rhyming), rather than elaborate set design. Wolfe and Raleigh will be in skin-tight, nude-colored bodysuits. Raleigh will be more mobile, representing the restless side of human nature. Wolfe will be the lethargic one, poking fun at the side of us that would rather just sit on the couch eating Cheetos than do anything.

“Really, they’re two parts of the same person,” explains Alma. “That’s what they’re meant to represent. It’s very Waiting for Godot,” she adds, immediately and modestly recanting, saying, “Not that I’m comparing myself to Samuel Becket but, you know. . . .”

What Alma meant by invoking Godot is that Gastropod is a dialogue-driven exploration of life, growth and decisions that leaves much to be interpreted and figured out by the audience. The play is funny and intense, with a touch of oddity.

“I’d say it’s more absurdist theater,” says the brunette, blue-eyed actress, Wolfe, from behind a pint at Carver Brewing Co. in Durango. “It brings tears to my eyes every time I read it. I guess you could call it a coming-of-age story, too.”

The two characters in the play mature and eventually reach a point of forced change.

“At first they try to fight it off,” explains Alma. “Their relationship comes to a boiling point, and they eventually have to get out of there, but they go where no other gastropod has gone before and they . . . ”

Let’s not spoil the end.

Gastropod plays the Abbey June 16 through June 18; $10 for adults, $7 for students. Purchase tickets at the Abbey or Southwest Sound, 922 Main Avenue, Durango. Contact Alma at alma8_6@yahoo.com.

The Abbey Theatre is located at 128 East College Drive, Durango; http://www.abbeytheatre.com, and is under the new ownership of Chuck Kuehn and Doug Sitter.

Kinsee Morlan is an alternative art gallery owner, an arts writer and collector, and a major art fag in general. She currently works at a public library, a public radio station, and she freelances when she finds the time.

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