Keep St. Pete Lit’s showcase spotlights collaborative works of visual art, literature and performance.
Derived from Greek, ekphrasisinvolves the verbal, often dramatic interpretation of a visual work of art. The archaic form of expression goes back to the days of Plato and Aristotle, reincarnating occasionally via contemporary arts events.
A few years ago, the ol’ Greek muse sparked the imagination of Keep St. Pete Lit Director Maureen McDole, who coordinated the annual event Fantastic Ekphrastic from a strong desire to “merge theater, visual art and literature in a collaborative environment.” The poet-artist strove to provide an antidote to the one-note delivery of literary readings, a motivation that fuels her nonprofit organization. KSPL’s mission: “to bring an approachable, engaging literary component to St. Petersburg’s vibrant arts community.”
“I feel emotional tonight,” McDole conceded during her introduction to the final performance of the third annual Fantastic Ekphrastic at Soft Water Studios. She added that a hundred-person effort made it all a reality, from the volunteer bartenders to the ticket-takers to the artists, performers and writers.
McDole also shared details about the upcoming SunLit Festival, which Keep St. Pete Lit has taken over and will be presenting for two weeks in April. She added that proceeds from the Fantastic Ekphrastic will help fund an international writer residency. This year, the organization will bring poet Allison Stone.
McDole corralled a diverse group of artists, writers and actors for the event. Artists who’ve shown works in museums and high-profile galleries, including Mark Mitchell, Mark Aeling and Ya La’ford, provided all manner of visual templates to inspire writers whose works would be interpreted by local thespians. The pool of talent included award-winning actors and performers dressed smartly in black. They included Mimi Rice and Becca McCoy, as well as writers and editors at local publications: Creative Loafing Managing Editor Scott Harrell, who submitted one of the most eloquent pieces of the night, and the Tampa Bay Times’ former food columnist Janet Keeler, who actually didn’t write for the show but performed one of the pieces. Like Aeling, Keeler did a crack job of stepping outside her usual milieu.
“The writers were given the choice to write about whichever artwork they wanted,” McDole said. “The performers were cast by [The Studio@620 Executive Artistic Director] Bob Devin Jones.”
McDole distributed programs with ballots that invited audience members to vote for their favorite collaboration. Tallied across the show’s four performances, the most votes went to a satirical take on the soul suck of cubicle life. Mitchell’s contemporary diptych, a completely hand-painted acrylic on canvas, “The Daily Grind” was blessed with a droll Office Space-like interpretation by writer Lisa Spencer, and Mark Aeling — who’s known primarily as a large-scale sculptor — performed the piece with such verve that Lee Strasberg himself might have taken notice. Click here for a video of the performance.
Works and their inspired text can still be seen at Soft Water Studios through March 11. Here’s a look back at collaborations that covered a wide range of moods and styles, as well as visual art media:
Mark Aeling performing “Handy Man” written by Brooks Peters and inspired by the artwork “Working Class Man.” (See below.) Photo by Daniel Veintimilla.
“Working Class Man” by John Pendygraft. Photo by Tim Arruda.
Erica Sutherlin reads “It Takes a Village” by Jalessa Blackshear, based on Zulu Painter’s work of the same name. Photo by Daniel Veintimilla.
Photo by Daniel Veintimilla.
Sabrina Dalla Valle and Mimi Rice perform the evocative, allegorical verse of Joe Hamilton’s “The Dancer” based on the painting by the same name by Bob Canning. Photo by Daniel Veintimilla.
Janet Keeler reads a piece by Heather Sellers based on Duncan McClellan’s “Alchemist’s Dream” (left of Keeler). Photo by Daniel Veintimilla.
Erica Sutherlin effectively conveyed the beauty of Julia Polonyi’s “The Aunties,” inspired a thoughtfully relatable and amusing break-up missive by Adrien Julious.
Lisa Lippincott performs an introspective piece about the whirlwind of emotions that come with young love, titled “In Just 3 Days,” by Tracy Kennard. The piece gets its inspiration from “Fire Flower and the Pearl” by Jenipher Chancley, above right. To Lippincott’s left is the artwork used for the event’s promotional materials, “White Raven Speaks — the Second Horizon” by D. Yael Kelley. Photo by Daniel Veintimilla.
Mike Elwell’s multifaceted steam-punk-ish metallic vessel, “The Dreadnaught” — one of the most eye-catching pieces in the showcase — elicited a nostalgic, futuristic memory piece by Scott Harrell, titled “What Kept Them Up.” Actor Bob Heitman provides a reading. Photo by Daniel Veintimilla.
From left, Maya Asato, Angela Bond and Vickie Daignault perform a touching play by Elizabeth Brincklow, based on “White Raven Speaks — the Second Horizon” by D. Yael Kelley. Photo by Daniel Veintimilla.
Curtain call with, from left, Lisa Lippincott, Becca McCoy,Sabrina Dalla Valle and Mark Aeling. Photo by Daniel Veitimilla.
*Creative Pinellas welcomes submissions from practicing artists for publication in our artists directory. To submit, please fill out the form here. Such publication does not constitute on endorsement by Creative Pinellas and does not imply a judgement about the quality of the work or the participating artist.