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Ringling International Arts Festival
Ringling Museum of Art

Also see Bill's review of Into the Woods

Moses, the Puppet
The Ringling International Arts Festival has come, and by the time this is posted, gone for this year. This marks the 6th incarnation of an event originally a collaboration between Ringling Museum of Art and Mikhail Baryshnikov's Art Center, a sort of small fringe festival. Premiering in 2009, the plan was for a bi-annual event, but the first year was such a huge success that it has become annual. Now produced by Ringling Museum alone, it sort of marks the beginning of the fall arts season in the region.

This year's festival began on Wednesday October 16 with a community Bolero, choreographed by Larry Keigwin, featuring volunteer dancers from the area. This concept has been used in several other places, with each dance different. By all reports, Sarasota's version was a big hit with audiences and performers. Other performances I was unable to see include Tangram, a mixture of juggling and modern dance, Duo Amal, an Israeli/Palestinian Piano Duo, The Pedro Martinez Group, Afro-Cuban Rumba, Keigwin + Company, modern dance Vijay Iyer Trio, an updating of the classic Piano Jazz Trio.

I was able to attend two events, the first being The Table by Blind Summit Theatre, stripped theater down to the bare essentials. Three puppeteers worked a Bunraku style puppet, head made of corrugated cardboard, body of cloth with plastic hands and feet. Five minutes into the performance the puppet playing Moses from the Bible became the reality. It is impossible to describe how vividly theatrical this 70-minute performance became, as the character slipped in and out of the Moses identity, often as a puppet talking to his audience and other existential transformations. The audience seemed to adore what they saw, my companion who is not always as easy to please as I am told a friend of ours on the phone to please forgive him because he was in pain from laughing so hard, and I completely concurred. This show seemed well on its way to being the hit of the festival. Although it is probably superfluous to mention this, Mark Down was the voice of Moses and all the other puppet characters, as well as operating the head and left arm; Sean Garratt operated the right arm and rear end; and Laura Caldow operated the feet. I must tell you that, except for Mark Down's narration, I believe the show would have gone on just as well without the human cast—Moses only pretended to need them.

The second show I attended was The Intergalactic Nemesis Book 1: Target Earth. This event was a multimedia piece attempting to dramatize a graphic novel. The elements consisted of projections, the visualization of the graphic novel, three actors playing all the various parts, radio theater style, a pianist improvising on previously composed themes, and a foley sound effects artist in view of the audience. I found the show overall to be dazzlingly entertaining but a bit over the top. First, the sound levels were quite high. The whole package was tied up in 1930s-style costuming and acting, but certainly not the graphic novel visuals, which were in sort of a 1980s style.

Rachel Landon appeared as all the female characters, principally the heroine Molly Sloan. She brought a great sense of a '30s career woman, tough but womanly. Brock England as her side-kick Timmy Mendez and several other roles brought the perfect aw-shucks sensibility to his performance. Jeffrey Mills played all of the bad guys and a few partially good guys as well. He is a character actor par excellence, each character distinctly different to the ear. All three brought great presence and made me believe in them as radio actors. Harlan Hodges was at the piano and Cami Alys, complete with a 1930s usher's pillbox hat was the foley sound effects artiste.

The show was written by Chad Nichols and Jason Neulander, adapted and directed by Mr. Neulander. I found it wonderfully zany and entertaining.

Hopefully, the Ringling International Arts Festival succeeded financially as well as artistically.

Ringling International Arts Festival, produced by Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bay Shore Road Sarasota, FL 34243 1-800-660-4278 (Box Office), or

Photo: Blind Summit Theatre

--William S. Oser

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