Keep St. Pete Lit’s showcase spotlights collaborative worksæofævisual art, literature and performance.
Derived from Greek,æekphrasisinvolves theæverbal, often dramatic interpretation of a visual work of art.æThe archaicæform of expression goes back to the days of Plato and Aristotle, reincarnating occasionally via contemporaryæarts events.
A few years ago, the ol’ Greek museæsparked the imagination ofæKeep St. Pete Lit Director Maureen McDole,æwho coordinated the annual eventæFantastic Ekphrasticæfromæa strong desire to “merge theater, visual art and literature in a collaborative environment.” The poet-artist strove to provide an antidote toætheæone-note delivery of literary readings, aæmotivation thatæfuels her nonprofit organization. KSPL’sæmission: “toæbring an approachable, engaging literary component to St. Petersburgäó»s vibrant arts community.”
“I feel emotional tonight,” McDole concededæduring her introduction to the final performance of the third annual Fantastic Ekphrastic at Soft Water Studios. She added that aæhundred-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 fundæan 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, includingæMark 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 talentæincluded award-winning actors and performers dressed smartly in black. They included Mimi Rice and Becca McCoy, as well as writers and editors atælocal 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, Keelerædid 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@620æExecutive 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. æMitchell’s contemporary diptych, aæcompletely hand-painted acrylic on canvas, “The Daily Grind” was blessed with a drollæOffice Space-likeæinterpretation by writer Lisa Spencer, and Mark Aeling — who’s known primarily as a large-scale sculptor — performed the piece with such verveæthat Lee Strasberg himself might have taken notice.æClick 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: