“Sprout” Theater Dinner Brings Together Artists Community to Discuss Performance in Public Space
Somerville, MA - On an otherwise ordinary warm spring night, about 40 people gathered for free spaghetti, socializing and learning at Sprout, a community learning space at 339R Summer Street near Davis Square. Sprout seeks to actively engage the public with an interactive and broad form of science education. Continuing with its monthly spaghetti dinner, on Wednesday evening the space hosted four performance artists who presented their versions of “Performance in a Public Space.”
John Bell, puppeteer, co-founder of the annual HONK! Parade and co-organizer of the dinners gave a slideshow presentation on the differences between extravagant parades such as the annual Carnival de Viareggio, and Obama’s comparatively low-key inauguration festivities.
Ending his presentation, Bell insisted that “even though it’s not modern technology,” traditional parades, with large floats and massive crowds could still be an interesting and captivating use of public space.
The second presenter was Kanarinka, a.k.a. Catherine D’Ignazio , a RISD professor, founding member of the performance group The Institute for Infinitely Small Things and co-director of experimental curatorial group iKatun. Her slideshow included selected pieces such as “It takes 154,000 breaths to evacuate Boston,” a project in which she created a video of herself running Boston’s entire evacuation route.
Kanarinka’s presentation, which focused on the concept of fear in public spaces, sparked a lively discussion. Audience members discussed the Department of Homeland Security, its perceived role in creating this element of fear and the possibility of opening better dialogue between the organization and the public.
“Maybe there’s not an intended conspiracy, but there’s a lot of things that look very suspicious in terms of creating a climate of fear,” Kanarinka said during the discussion.
A spontaneous monologue by another local performance artist followed, which explored interactions in public parks.
Milan Kohout, a Tufts professor originally from the Czech Republic and a participant in the former Communist country’s “Second Culture” movement, closed off the evening with a history of Czech dissidents, his experiences coming to America and his highly political performance pieces.
As a member of the Mobius Artists Group, Kohout’s work focuses on various contemporary issues and human rights struggles. Pieces presented included the artist washing the ground in Tiananmen Square during Olympic Games preparations, and putting himself in a cage in Boston’s South Station and giving satirical pronouncements on capitalism. In early 2008, Kohout stood trial for holding a “Nooses For Sale” sign with nooses outside of a Bank of America near Government Center, his take on the economic crisis.
In discussing the Tiananmen Square piece, Kohout expressed frustration at the idea of “performance art becoming a part of mainstream culture.”
The idea for the monthly spaghetti dinner came from John Bell’s NYC-based theater group Great Small Works, which continues to host the event. According to Sprout co-founder Shaunalynn Duffy, she and Bell come with up each month’s theme and work to gather a diverse group of presenters. Duffy sees the dinners as a way of promoting interactive learning and finding middle ground between the two most frequent types of social interactions.
“There aren’t a lot of opportunities for people to socialize in a way that is neither prescribed or totally undirected,” she said.
Sprout started as a non-profit organization in August 2009 and the spaghetti dinners began the following month. Since January, the local Food Not Bombs chapter has cooked and served the meals.