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September 29, 1995 - Image 19

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1995-09-29

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The Michigan Daily - Weee, etc. - Thursday, October 5, 1995 - 58

Basement Arts uses low-budget sets to put on high-quality productions.

U' ventures into Basement

Busmnt Arts FaN 190$
Season (* denotes new play):
"AWlJ' it heWcls byLe
*ws4t tOab Ah' ioet- oo l
nated by Aric Knuth; October 19-21
"j ndependence" by Lee Biessingt
0ctober 26-28-
* ThEtmre Cafe" by Robert
Mac adaeg; November 2-4
."F sttolafd" by William Finn
and James Laplne; November 9-12
* "Devil Love" by K(. Masters;
November 16-18}
"American Buffelo" by Davi'd
Mamet; November 3O-December 2
"'Once in Doubt" by Raymond. I.
Barry; December 7-9
ity can flourish."
The focus on process rather than prod-
uct is something that Greenfield and his
co-director, BFA seniorBrandondEpand,
have highlighted since taking the reins
this September. Their goal this year is to
take Basement Arts to a new level of
production. Theyhopetoaccomplishthis
by creating a director/designer/actor-
friendly environment-one which gives
each member of the production the secu-
rity of knowing they can try whatever
they'd like, without fear of failure. Much
like the off off-Broadway scene in New
York, they hope this arrangement will
producemoredaring, exciting andcharged
To aid in the attainment oftheir goals,
Epland and Greenfield have selected a
diverse and exciting season of chal-
lenging plays. Three brand-new plays
are being produced, along with David
Mamet's"American Buffalo,""A Walk
in the Woods" and "Independence" by
Lee Blessing, "Once in Doubt" by
Raymond J. Barry, and the James
Lapine-William Finn musical
"Falsettoland." While each show is dis-
tinct in its own right, what they have in
common is that each one will stretch the
directors' and performers' limits.
"We have a commitment to new
work," said Greenfield. "I think that it's
important to support and take part in the
arts thatyourcommunityproduces. The
Basement season is also another ex-
ample of what the University of Michi-
gan student body has accomplished in
the arts."
Epland and Greenfield hope that this
kind of open venue will attract not only
a large group of students hoping to
work on these productions but also a
largeaudiencefollowing. Performances
generally run Thursday through Satur-
day, beginning at 5 p.m. The first show
of the season begins October12, and
from that point on a new show will be
produced every weekend through fi-
nals (with the exception of the Thanks-
giving break). Entrance to all shows is
free, and all seating is general admis-
sion. If everything goes as Epland and
Greenfield plan, this season should
prove to be an exciting and inexpensive
entertainment option for those brave
students who venture down into the

By J. David Berry
For the Daily
Hidden beneath the boards of the
Trueblood Theater stage lies one of the
University's most unique and unknown
theatrical treasures:Basement Arts. Since
:its inceptioninthe fall of'87, this student-
run theater organization has been produc-
ing new and innovative work and pre-
senting it to the public free of charge.
Basement Arts provides student direc-
tors, playwrights, and any other student
with a vision an opportunity to have their
voices heard.
Working under the auspices of the
School of Music and Department of The-
ater and Drama, Basement Arts produces
up to 11 student works a semester, rang-
ing from new, student-written plays to
performance artto Shakespeare. All works
are produced in the Arena Theater, a
small and versatile black box that allows
directors a wide range of possibilities
when presenting their work.
Because the Basement provides many
students with their first directing expe-
rience, the focus leans toward the pro-
cess and development ofthe piece, rather
than a polished final product. It is a
workshop enviornment that encourages
experimentation and bold production
choices, without the pressure of reviews
or profit.
.Unlike many other theatrical opportu-
nities at the University, Basement Arts is
open to the entire campus for proposals,
direction, and even performers. There are
no restrictions for the proposition of

projects, and most auditions are open to
anyone with a student ID. This creates a
strong sense of diversity in production
choices, andallowsmany differentvoices
to be heard.
Naturally, there are certain pitfalls in-
herent in an entirely student-run com-
pany. One ofthe largest difficulties comes
from a simple lack of production experi-
ence. While University Productions al-
lows Basement Arts to utilize its cos-
tume, set, prop and lighting resources, it is
often difficult for a first-time director to
coordinate all of those elements in the
relatively short rehearsal period (gener-
ally four to five weeks).
Financial resources are very limited as
well. Basment Arts can only afford to
give each production a budget of 100
dollars. Any expenses beyond that must
come from outside sources or out of the
director's own pocket (which is more
often the case). Considering that even the
most pared-down show on Broadway
can't be produced for under halfa million
dollars,thismimimal budget stretches the
director's creativity and ingenuity. At the
same time, it forces the productions to be
simple and focused on the actual work
being presented.
"I think it's an excellent opportunity
for all members of the student body to
produce theater in a workshop
enviornment," said Adam Greenfield,
junior in the Department of Theater and
Drama and co-director of the Basement
Arts board. "We just want to create a
better, open enviomment where creativ-

Artists create beauty from emptiness

By Emily Lambed
Daily Fine Arts Editor
The artists involved in the Felch Street
project had no intention of ever showing
anyone what they created. It was art for
the sake of art, and art for the sake of the
artists. The weathered railroad shed on
the North side of town was not public
In 1993, a group of local artists drew
numbers to determine their placement in
a unique undertaking. For two weeks at a
time, in rain, snow, ice or shine, each
artist had use of the drafty storage space.
The 54 by 29 square foot room hat light
but no heat or water. The parameters:
Objects brought in must be removed.
Anything painted, walls, floor or ceiling
included, did not have to be stripped or
returned to neutral. After two weeks, an
artist left the area and his or her successor
inherited a different visual area to work
Within these conditions and out of
public scrutiny, the 15 involved had great
artistic freedom. The criticisms and reac-
tions that accompany public viewing
didn't exist in the Felch Street Space. The
space was privately funded and access
was restricted. Each artist had a key and
could bring guests to the shed if they
Bruno David, Corporate Art Advisor
of Ann Arbor's Alexa Lee Gallery, heard
of the project in progress. "I happened to
go into the space and said 'My God, this
is great. People have to see this. You
cannot hide this,"'he said last week.
Despite the artists' initial reservations,
David recreated the Felch Street Space
through an exhibition of photographs.
Some of the artists had documented their
work on camera. Friends and family had
taken snapshots. In one case, an artist had
videotaped his work. A frame from the
video was mounted for the show.
On the white walls of the Alexa Lee
Gallery hang 15 photographs, one from
each artist's work. The photos were
cropped to best capture the beauty and
feeling of each instillation. The images
are as varied as their creators: Ben Upton,
Ruth Green, Kathy Constantinides,
Michael Luchs, Ann Mikolowsky, Paul
Stewart, Kathryn Brackett Luchs, Sarah
Innes, Larry Cressman, Michael Tho-
mas, Jeff Sommers, Rick Burns, Mat-
thew DeGenaro, John Tormey and Nancy
Each creator approached his or her
installation differently. One artist treated
the space as a walk-in studio, bringing
wood, saws and othermaterials with him.
A colleague with differing motivations
and perspectives rearranged available el-
ements to transform the scene. The shed
accumulated a "visual history," encom-
passing the 19 months the group of artists
spent working on the innovative project.
In "Electric Light Atmosphere," by
Rick Burns, a clear plastic curtain hangs
from a fluorescent lamp, giving the scene

an ethereal, cosmic effect. DeGenaro's
"Boxes People" shows a confrontation
between two towering cardboard figures.
During one night of Ruth Green's instal-
What: Felch Street Group
Where: Alexa Lee Gallery
When: Sept. 8 through Oct. 14
The result was a beautiful trail of candles
standing in the crevices.
Pick a creation and follow its rem-
nants for several installations until it
has been covered or contorted beyond
distinction. "They each had to build
with what the prior artist had left," said
David, pointing to previously created

drawings still showing in Paul Stewart's
"Bridges." "Between each work there's
abridge. Every time it looks different."
The Felch Street exhibit is beautiful,
touching contemporary art. The display
is accessible in location as well. The
Alexa Lee Gallery is across from street
from campus, at 201 Nickels Arcade.
Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Tuesday through Saturday. The exhibi-
tion will be up until October 14, after
which the show will travel to galleries
at several universities. Each photograph
will be available in a limited edition of
This presentation was not planned by
the artists who contributed to the project.
It is a rare public glimpse into the results
of private, introspective artistry. Out of
their love for art, 15 passionate individu-
als dedicated two weeks each to creating
beauty in a seemingly empty place.

The box people trampled through Alexa Lee Gallery last weekend.

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