Whatcom drama asks: ‘But Is It Art’

By Evan Leahy

The Whatcom Community College Department of Visual and Performing Arts presented their Winter 2016 performance of “But Is It Art?” at Heiner Theater March 4 and 5th, successfully selling out both performances again this year. This composite performance featured WCC’s Drama, Music Dance and Art Departments and the performance was organized by Gerry Large’s Theatre Production class.

The performances lasted a little over two hours, beginning at 7:30 p.m. each night. Thirty-one dramatic and musical pieces were presented in four parts, questioning the nature of art and the roles of performer and audience. The Director’s Notes found in the performances program states “During the 20th century, particularly from the 1920s through the 1960s, artists not only strived to expand their respective forms, they questioned the very nature of their art itself.”

La Monte Youngs’s “Composition 1960 #6,” John Cage’s “Five” and Mark Applebaum’s “S-Tog” were included musical pieces performed by WCC’s Contemporary Music Ensemble and Collegiate Choirs. Audience members were even invited to join the performers on stage for the performance of La Monte Young’s “Composition 1960 #6” at the end of part two. The program says the Composition 1960 set of works “examines and challenges various assumptions that are typically made about music itself,” including some assumptions about the roles of performers and audience and their respective places in the performance space.

The dramatic scenes began and ended with an interpretation of F.T. Martinelli, Emilio Settimelli and Bruno Corr’s manifesto, “The Futurist Synthetic Theatre,” beginning with cast members standing from the audience and, while taking the stage, collectively announcing that “our Futurist Theatre will be synthetic. That is, very brief. To compress into a few minutes, into a few words and gestures, innumerable situations, sensibilities, ideas, sensations, facts, and symbols.” The following scenes stayed true to that theme in being very brief, open to interpretation and rich in symbols rather than explanations. The scenes bore titles like “There Is No Dog,” “Face with the Infinite,” “Madness” and “Dissonance and Education,” with some only lasting a minute or so. Some had no words, while other scenes had a clear plot but no defined characters.

Gerry Large says he will be teaching another Theatre Production class Spring 2016 quarter that will feature “student directed plays by well-known, published playwrights.”

Large also encouraged students who may not normally be inclined to do so to try an arts class. “A common myth in the arts is that you have to be ‘good’ in order to take an arts class.  This simply isn’t true.  […For example, a] student who believes they have no aptitude for acting will find that they get a lot out of the class as it includes creative thinking, voice/body projection and empathy.”

The Music Department’s Spring Concert “Ancient Faces of Night” will be held June 9th at Heiner Theater and more information about WCC’s arts programs is available at www.whatcom.edu/art.

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