‘Caress of Progress’ at the Space: intoxicatingly original 

Shine Shed’s performance piece was a much-needed reminder that refreshingly new art and ideas are incubating in Orlando

click to enlarge PHOTO BY SETH KUBERSKY

I’m always receiving invitations announcing another new performance, attraction or exhibit, each promising to be a groundbreaking work that will “move Orlando forward,” playing on our collective anxiety about falling behind other cities with more adventurous arts scenes. Is all this effort actually advancing us, I sometimes wonder, or are we just chasing our own tails?

So when a project explicitly dealing with this issue landed in my Facebook inbox last week, my interest was piqued. For starters, the name of the event – “The Caress of Progress” – was an unsubtle nod to “The Carousel of Progress,” one of my favorite vintage Disney attractions, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Furthermore, the description of the evening was just obscure enough to intrigue:

“An hour and a half show that blends live music, storytelling and theater into a singular illusion that you will never forget ... an interactive ride starring YOU. All complete with interactive sets and illusions.”

The show was happening at The Space, the new venue above Anthony’s Pizza on Colonial Drive. I had yet to visit the Space, and after parking behind the building shortly before the scheduled midnight start, I had to stroll around the block just to make sure I was in the right place. The crowd smoking and drinking in the parking lot looked more like they were there for an underground rock show rather than experimental art. (It’s a rare and wonderful surprise when I barely recognize any fellow attendees at a local arts event.) Arkie and Winter Calkins – who presented the evening through their Shine Shed artists collective – were on hand to greet the crowd and hand out bottled water, which should have been my clue to ditch my jacket; without air conditioning inside, we were in for a steamy night.

Word had apparently spread about this four-performances-only engagement; attendance was advertised as limited to only 20, but nearly twice that number squeezed into a narrow laser-illuminated stairwell at showtime. Our host, who turned out to be fellow Orlando Weekly contributor Dave Plotkin underneath a psychedelically illuminated suit, started by reciting some Dahlian doggerel (“Now line up, right here, on the stairs / poor sheep, arriving unawares. / You’ll soon discover and surmise / That past this door, your progress cares! / Not The Jetsons, no flying cars/ We’ll just settle, shoot for the bars. / You’ll love your future, no surprise, / Just ask our friendly billionaires.”) before demanding we sign an epic disclaimer of legal gobbledygook.

Creeping through cramped corridors covered in plastic sheeting, we emerged into the first environment, where a fake campfire crackled in the room’s center. The audience was handed drumsticks and encouraged to bang on random metal objects affixed to the walls, as musician Logan Quarles improvised a guitar riff that evolved from new-agey to funky, while accompanying himself on a MacBook-based sequencer. It could have been pure cacophony, but the crowd slowly synched up with Logan’s groove, resulting in a hypnotically tribal polyrhythm.

Soon we were escorted to a brief intermission in the Hall of Ads, a room festooned with promotions for fictional products like Marlboro LSD, where our host attempted to get attendees who hadn’t prepaid to cough up a $5 donation toward the venue (a sadly small number complied). Next stop was the living room, where Frank Friend played live synthesizers to a spoken-word soundtrack of statements about progress: “Convenience comes at a cost ... more music is being created than ever before, by people with nothing new to say.” The result resembled early EPCOT Center songs as redone by Daft Punk, but I was distracted by the mysterious woman in a yellow raincoat standing outside the window, gesturing wildly at me. (I never learned if she was part of the show or a heat-induced hallucination.)

For part three, we packed into the smallest space yet for Brian Kasper’s multimedia assault of droning drum tracks and distorted stock footage, with enough incessant stuttering to drive Max Headroom mad. I was intrigued by Kasper’s use of Ableton Max for Live software to manipulate video in real time, but between the facile juxtaposition of iPhone ads with Nazi propaganda, and my mounting claustrophobia, I mentally checked out halfway through.

Fortunately, the fourth and final segment brought us full circle back to organic humanity, as exotic acoustic-flavored trio Afeefa and the Boy (with Kevin Ohr) performed a haunting lullaby inspired by lead singer Afeefa Ayube’s daughter. Too soon, the carousel ceased spinning and we were sent out to debate what we had just experienced. Though the illusions were somewhat oversold and I would have appreciated more elbow room, the evening was intoxicatingly original, leaving me eager to see what these artists can come up with next. “Is THIS progress? This IS progress!”

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