IN THIS ISSUE: MATT MILLER / COMEDIANS OF NWA / ROCK CITY TIMES / DON’T STOP PLEASE
CELEBRATING THE ARTS IN ARKANSAS / WINTER 2014
Comedians of NWA
10 Comedians: In their words 12 Rock City Times 14 Building a Comedy Scene
PHOTO / COLLEY BAILEY
26 homegrown Writer/director Kim Swink bings her dream project Valley Inn to life with a little help from her friends (and family).
16 A Coversation with Matt Besser
20 trapping time Fayetteville artist Matt Miller talks confidence, inspiration and narrowly escaping a life in finance. 4
40 pulp returns Batesville-based publisher Pro Se Press is spearheading the pulp fiction revival.
A PUBLICATION OF
RIOT ACT MEDIA, LLC Photo by Colley Bailey
We made it! It’s been a year since we launched our print edition. Many late nights (even as I write this) and many long days combined with a a few panic attacks and binges of comfort food, but we’ve officially knocked out four issues. It feels good. It feels strange. It feels tiring. But we’re just getting started. Over the last few months, we’ve received a great reception from across the state. I can tell that people are hungry for the kind of coverage that we’re providing. In the last few weeks, I’ve had several people tell me, “You guys actually write stories.” To those individuals, I say, “We try. And we’ll keep trying.” This is our comedy issue. Over the last few years, a wellspring of comedy - be it stand-up, theatre or improv - has erupted across our state. We tried to focus on many of the players, although I know we’re just scratching the surface. If we missed you, email us. We’ve got a website too. As always, thanks to our sponsors and thanks to our readers. Without either of you, we’d be talking to an empty room. And a big thanks to my editorial staff and contributors for making this a fantastic year. See you all in 2014. Kody Ford Editor/Publisher
P.O. Box 4853 Fayetteville, AR 72702 firstname.lastname@example.org EDITOR/PUBLISHER Kody Ford MANAGING EDITOR Andrew McClain CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Marty Shutter Katie Wyatt EDITOR-AT-LARGE Jeremy Glover CONTRIBUTORS Chad Arnold Colley Bailey Claire Brankin Melissa Brawner Gypsie Collins Randy DeWitt Gabe Gentry Farris Gerard Adam Hogg Jaime Holland Louie Land Lauren McCormick Brandon Otto Amy Pannell Susan Porter Beth Post Benjamin Del Shreve Jessica Williams
Cover by Matt Miller
JUST FOR LAUGHS COMEDIANS OF NWA brings stand up to the Ozarks, one joke at a time. WORDS / ANDREW MCCLAIN
PHOTOS / COLLEY BAILEY
COMEDY, AS A FORM OF EXPRESSION, is an ancient institution dating back to medieval court jesters, who were permitted to say anything they wanted about royalty without fear of punishment. Older than that, even, were traveling bards and comic characters who would do things like ride horses backwards; a literal public demonstration of what not to do. Stand-up comedy, as a modern art form, is still relatively young, only going back to the 1950s, and a distinctly American one at that. The 1980s saw stand-up comedy blossom into an institution, and very quickly we saw comedy clubs spring up in every American city of a certain size, many of which were franchises. This is now referred to as the “Comedy Boom,” because every boom has a corresponding bust. Comedy clubs typically have a very strict structure. This usually involves bringing in a touring comedian for Thursday, Friday, Saturday and sometimes Sunday, (give or take) and put them up in a condo that the club owns. When people come to clubs, there’s often a two-drink minimum. One comic opens, one is a “middle” and one is a headliner (give or take). When you run comedy as a business, the goal for comics becomes to get laughs at all costs so that they can return, and it’s easy to see the tension between those who view comedy as an art form and those who enjoy the structured business aspect. A good number of professional comics are still able to make a living without necessarily being famous by traveling in this circuit, affectionately called “the road.” Some people like this model, some think that it stifles growth. Whatever the case, interest in comedy clubs began to wane after a while on the part of audiences and performers. For the past 15 years or so, comics all over the country have been taking their shows into their own hands, breathing new life into comedy. It’s a hard task that calls for a certain level of organization, and Comedians of NWA have stepped up. Formed three years ago, Comedians of NWA is a loosely-organized group of comedians who perform and promote comedy in the region.
Troy Gittings, Zach Slusher, Brian Spence and Brett Robinson formed Comedians of NWA three years ago at a general (not specifically comedy) open mic at Drifters, a Fayetteville bar on Highway 62. Regarding the general open mic experience, comedian Sam Letchworth says, “Those were tough crowds. So you’ve got four guys who are all playing their own rendition of ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’ on the acoustic guitar and then, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for the next act, a stand-up comedian!’ It became apparent that we needed our own stage, our own crowd, a crowd that was there for a comedy show.” In 2011, Gittings secured a spot at the West End, a Fayetteville bar. The crowd began to grow at the location. In January 2012, comedian and manager of the UARK Bowl Roger Haak brought the open mic to the UARK Bowll, and Haak began working to bring comedy headliners to that venue and grow a scene out of there. After Haak, Letchworth also managed the UARK Bowl, and between the two of them, they brought in several well-known headliners for comedy shows there, including Doug Stanhope, Tom Green, Ralphie May, Carlos Mencia and Rory Scovel. When the UARK Bowl was no longer a viable option for comedians, the open mic moved to Dickson Street Theater. The open mic has produced a number of excellent comics, several of whom have been able to go on the road while based out of Fayetteville. As for what makes the comedy scene in Fayetteville unique, there’s a spirit of inclusion that comes along with comedy. “I have never viewed art as a competition,” says Gittings. “That said, the scene itself is unique because of the diversity of our performers. We all have worked together in some capacity and there is a mutual respect for each other. And anyone is allowed to perform at the open mic. Hell, I even let my ex-wife perform. How’s that for inclusion?”
We all have worked together in some capacity and there is a mutual respect for each other. And anyone is allowed to perform at the open mic. Hell, I even let my ex-wife perform. How’s that for inclusion?
Upper left: Troy Gittings & Zac Slusher Upper right: Kevin Byrum Lower left: Roger Haak, Whitney Wasson & Jonathan Shannon
The difficulty of getting onstage and commanding a small crowd is something that creates a strong bond of mutual respect among comedians, regardless of how much they may or may not enjoy one another’s work, and this seems to be true throughout the comedy world at large. The primary challenge the group faces working outside of comedy clubs is obviously the issue of not having their own venue, so the story of Comedians of NWA is one of constant relocation from venue to venue. The open mic they put on has had many homes in the past three years as the comedians search for a perfect room for comedy - not just any old bar will work well for comedy, depending on where
people tend to congregate to chat or how many televisions are mounted on the wall - comedy doesn’t thrive in noisy areas with distractions, which is what most bars specialize in. Even a room like Dickson Street Theater with no televisions is a little too dark and cavernous for a smaller crowd to really engage with a comedian. After a series of open mics at Dickson Street Theater this fall, the open mic has moved to Speakeasy in Fayetteville. Upon this fourth move in three years, it seems apparent that this group of comics will become a Fayetteville fixture no matter where they’re housed.
GREG HENDERSON of Rock City Times isn’t afraid to take on the Natural State. Or the Fourth Estate. WORDS / JEREMY GLOVER PHOTO / GABE GENTRY
IN THE AGE OF THE INTERNET, information overload is nigh unavoidable, especially with a news cycle that is now constant, unrelenting and frequently wrong on all counts. The popularity and effectiveness of satire as a way to cut through the morass of disinformation and deflate the pompous, ignorant and self-righteous should come as no surprise. Arkansas is a proud Southern state with outsized characters of all stripes, from small town eccentrics to those that have pushed through to the national and international stage, such as the Clintons and Huckabees. It’s a state where reality is a foreign concept when it comes to our college football team and our current crop of congressmen and senators. Greg Henderson has seized upon the target rich environment of The Natural State with his online publication Rock City Times, a website that bills itself as, “Arkansas 2nd most unreliable news source.” “Satire is basically an analogy: you are taking a situation and retelling it in a different light to show it some other way than it’s just being told on the surface,“ Henderson says. “I piss off as many people as I make happy I’m sure.” A lot of what Henderson wants to do through Rock City Times and his other ventures, including the more straightforward Rock City Eats, comes from his experience doing marketing in the manufacturing field. “I would get into industries that were pretty stale, pretty
stagnant,” he says. “So what I would do there is try to break the mold, try to break everything that’s going on and really engage the people and see what they want. Disrupt whatever the norm was - throw the norm out the window and try to rebuild it based on what people are showing me and what they are telling me.” The most immediate and easy comparison for Rock City Times is The Onion, yet Henderson sees a difference in the more generic content of The Onion and the very localized coverage of his website. “I try to take a very local media style feel to all the writing so it doesn’t feel out of place as a release on KATV or Channel 4 or in the Dem-Gaz or something like that. I try not to make it feel out of place in one of those and I think that contributes to people believing it,” he says. “I like things to connect back with people.” In what would be a damning critique if it wasn’t so commonplace these days, a couple of Rock City Times articles been reported by national and even international press as
straight news stories. It’s glaringly obvious that gullibility is a trait of our times when Henderson published “Local Weathermen Arrested After Fight Breaks Out Over Rain Chances For This Weekend,” an article that pitted Jeff Baskin of Fox 16 against Keith Monahan of KARK in disagreement that degenerated into schoolyard fight at the flagpole. Baskin thought it was pretty funny, especially the part about “having mascara applied,” but says he didn’t think any more of it until people began calling the newsroom. “I think what happened was people just started sharing the headline without reading the article. I would think that anyone that read far enough into it that got to the parts about the ‘Anchorman’ style gang fight or the positioning of a camera between two adjacent jail cells to deliver the weather live that night would get it,” Baskin says. “Apparently, Inside Edition called Pulaski County to try to confirm if Keith Monahan and I were actually in jail. Hey, at least they did that. Sirius XM Morning Mash Up and various radio stations across the country just ran the story as if it were true without attempting to verify any of it.” Another story, “Local Man In Coma After Eating 413 Red Lobster Biscuits,” was picked up by major British tabloids without any verification and sourcing, and from there it spread to Australia, Canada, Europe and back through the U.S. “At that point it went really absolutely nuts,” Henderson says. “I spent the whole week on the phone with just about every major media outlet you could name that has a serious name behind it - MSNBC, CNN, Huffington Post, which is the one I’m proud of - it was huge.” Of course, Henderson responded to the highly sensationalized British tabloids pushing his fake story on a man overdosing on cheese biscuits by skewering their famous lack of legitimate sources and credibility with a not so subtle article titled, “British Tabloid Daily Mirror Outsources Writing To Arkansas Satire News Site.” Henderson has also gained the attention of the state’s media, with feature articles in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette and Arkansas Times as well as tweets and retweets from local members of the media, including KATV news anchor and state personality Craig O’Neill who recently tweeted, “Arkansan of the Day: Greg Henderson @RockCityTimes Who knew satire in Arkansas would work so well.”
Henderson does not shy away from his opinion that most journalism in Arkansas is nothing more than “fluff” and that it’s “dull as hell.” “So you get people where they try not to offend anybody because the state’s so crazy that you are going to offend somebody with anything you do,” he says. Operating from “who cares” perspective has spurred on many writers over the years with Henderson being no different, except he does seem to care about local businesses. “I want it to be a little bit edgy, but at the same time, the whole goal all along was to always help small businesses,” he says. “A lot of the times I’m highlighting businesses that are up and coming, maybe somebody doesn’t know about. I’ll sneak them into articles to paint them in some kind of positive light when I can.” Before Rock City Times became more known as a satire website, Henderson would receive press releases from a variety of businesses. A local pizza chain opening a new restaurant in the northwest part of the state sent him a press release that he then tweaked to make the expansion based on the demand of potheads. He then received a call from the restaurant owner who was impressed, which lead to a deal to do some creative advertising on Rock City Times. Since then he has been doing both funny and straightforward ads while cutting deals for small businesses owners who want to advertise. While Henderson describes Rock City Times as just a hobby that got bigger than he ever imagined, he did just recently sign an advertiser that put him at even for the monthly expenses of running the website. Yet, in talking to Henderson, it’s easy to get a sense of why he created the website and what remains the driving force behind his satire: it’s fun. “Just watching people’s comments, watching how the story progresses, it makes for a very interesting day,” he says. “It really is some of the most fun I’ve ever had.”
Regardless of the end product, the open mic has been a fixture of any comedy scene since the dawn of the hand-buzzer. Established comedy scenes thrive in cities where venues and people are plenty, but what about the rest of us beyond the bright lights? What can we do in our own communities to establish appreciation for comedy while providing an outlet for talent to grow? The Idle Class spoke with three members of Fayetteville’s comedy scene to glean what they have learned about creating a scene. Mark Landon Smith is a founding member of the popular short-form improv troupe Phun Bags. Whitney Wasson regularly performs stand-up comedy and is a driving force behind the Comedians of NWA’s weekly open mic. Nick Brothers is editor of the University of Arkansas’ newspaper, The Traveler, and an alumnus of The Portable Zoo, an improv group in Northwest Arkansas. Define your format. Are you hosting? How many performers? How much time are you giving them? Is this show only happening once, or do you want to have a run?
Photo by Jaime Holland
how to build a scene All across Arkansas, comedy is catching fire. But starting a group is not the only part. Finding an audience is when things get tricky. WORDS / MARTY SHUTTER
PHOTO / JAIME HOLLAND
IMPROV AND STAND-UP ARE STRANGE bedfellows. They both take practice, dedication and preparedness. When an improviser takes the stage, they abandon the preparedness for the exploration of the moment. The stand-up comedian hones all of that preparation into a routine. 14
Develop the brand and be consistent. Nick Brothers says, “Branding yourself like a business, this is a thing you can expect, that we can provide a service. It starts with good content, but then making people aware that there is good content.” Have a logo. Have an image, build up the necessary websites for linking your show and hosting the times and locations. Find a venue. Mark notes, “The great thing about producing in this part of the country is that you have such an enormous amount of support for space. It allows us to produce. If we had to pay market value for space, we wouldn’t be able to do it.” Explaining to property owners the benefit of hosting a show is key as well, of the UARK Bowl, a venue in Fayetteville, Mark says, “90% of our audience had no idea that place existed, that just creates awareness for that space as a venue for weddings and private parties and corporate functions that otherwise people wouldn’t be aware of.” It’s not always feasible to begin your show in an established theater, but don’t let that stop you. Smith says, “Looking for alternative venues like restaurants is just a win-win situation because what you’re saying is we’ll come into do a show, we’ll keep the ticket price or give you a percentage of that, you keep all the bar and food (sales), it’s a win-win situation. No one’s losing in this at
Photo courtesy of Mark Landon Smith
Phunbags Comedy Improv (Above); The Portable Zoo (Opposite Page) all.” Ask for whoever usually schedules bands or acts and work with them. Tell them your goals for the show, your background and what a show might look like. Talk money. How does the door work, do they provide someone to take money? Talk sound and lights. Do they have a board, and a soundman, or is it up to you? Once you’ve come up with the format you’d like to start with, have developed a brand and built the infrastructure for social networking and have secured a theater. Begin the promotion and build your audience. Wasson says, “The biggest thing is consistency. You have to have a show every week, and you have to have a show in the same place. It takes a while for them to be aware of it. You can put on one great show once, but as far as getting people involved, and getting more people, and having a group of people to pull from, you have to consistently do something and you have to band together in a communal way to do it.” She continues, “Encourage your fellow performers, you shouldn’t be in any kind of competition.” Promotion. Everyone agrees that social media is an effective and mostly free method of promoting your show, what’s not obvious however? Smith says, “I post something about a Phun Bags event, a person who is one of our friends on our page shares it on their page, they’ve got 800 friends, 800 friends who are not our friends who may not be of the area, who may be in the area, but we got 800 more points of awareness, and if four people do that because our stuff is shared all the time, you’re creating 3,200 points of awareness, with absolutely no cost and no effort whatsoever with just a click, which is pretty incredible.” Highlight the unique elements of your show. Use clear, non-cluttered posters that either point to a website, or artfully give all relevant information to the show (ie. time, location, price, format, drink specials, age limits etc.) Distribute posters and activate the social media machine.
Run the show. The showman develops the nuances that make him great or mediocre over the course of his shows. Brothers offers, “The most infectious thing is an energy,” and what takes time is, “finding how to get that.” But here are a few tips. Take care of your performers. Let them know when they are performing, let them know where they can relax, buy them a drink if you can. You want to create in the them the sense you want in the room that night. If you want a nervous, flighty crowd, let on to the performers how nervous you are, or rushed. Be fun, available and kind to your performers and they will perform in their comfort zones, which is best for everyone. Deal with the theater. Be forthcoming about any glitches or needs of the owners. Be respectful of the space you are performing in and be upfront and on time regarding any monetary compensation or transactions. Go have a drink. As Chicago Improv guru Mick Napier says, don’t talk about the show. Sit with the people who helped you later and go over what you like sure, but don’t overthink it. (When Mick says this, he is talking more about improvisors, who shouldn’t ever give each other a note, and should not analyze the show.) Building a show in a burgeoning scene is work. “My friends and I keep complaining that doing stand-up is like a full time job that you do for free.” says Wasson. But it is beautiful work, it is passion in action, comedy is a medicine, and it brings people together. By laughing at the truths we are exposed to in a comedic way, we are gaining a greater understanding of our own humanity. Perhaps the most noble aspect of performing comedy is that it comes, often, from a desire to lighten the world with what has lightened us. Brothers speaks to this most basic aspect. He says, “Everything [performers] do is cause we like to do it, and that’s what it takes.”
Little Rock native and Upright Citizens Brigade co-founder MATT BESSER talks improv, creating a comedy scene & why the Razorbacks are his religion. WORDS / ANDREW MCCLAIN
PHOTO / COLLEY BAILEY
ONE EVENING EARLIER THIS YEAR, Arkansan Matt Besser was entering the Upright Citizens Brigade theater when he heard a “Woo Pig Sooie!” come from the line of comedy fans that nightly stretches down Franklin Avenue in Los Angeles. Besser, who cofounded the UCB with several other sketch comics and improvisors, wheeled around to find whoever was calling the Hogs at him. While Besser isn’t unfriendly, he’s probably been called a curmudgeon once or twice, but he said, “I’ll talk to anyone who calls the Hogs at me in Los Angeles.” Besser, who grew up in Little Rock, can be seen in the 2007 documentary Towncraft, where he speaks about his involvement in the ‘zine culture surrounding the Little Rock punk scene at the time. He left Arkansas for college in Amherst, Massachusetts, then to Chicago, where he discovered improv. Modern improvisational theater began as a method for writing sketch comedy and has been used in acting classes for years, but only relatively became its own art form recently. So recently, in fact, that its history is very well documented. Most of it can be traced to Del Close, one of comedy’s modern day academics, who wrote and taught extensively on the subject. Besser was among the last group of students to study under Close at ImprovOlympic before his death in 1999. While Besser isn’t a national household name, the circle of performers who keep his company are among comedy’s elite, and his name is known throughout the comedy world. Besser co-founded the Upright Citizens Brigade with Adam McKay (director of Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and cofounder of FunnyOrDie.com) and SNL’s Horatio Sanz, (who accompanied Besser to Fayetteville for an improv show in September) and frequently collaborates and improvises
with Amy Poehler (star of NBC’s Parks & Recreation). The impact of the Upright Citizens Brigade theater on the alternative world of comedy is impossible to measure. After the stand-up boom of the 1980s, live comedy took place exclusively in places with names like the Laff Stop, the Funny Bone, or the Chuckle Hut, with a two-drink minimum and a lowest-common-denominator sensibility. The little black-box UCB theater, first in New York, then in Los Angeles (now with three locations), became the venue for alternative comedy, with $5 and $10 shows, and improv classes. Most young comic performers you see on TV have passed through the UCB. True to its academic-sounding initials, the UCB’s comedy curriculum, which Besser helped develop, has become a bastion of comedy education. This year, Besser, with Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts, published The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Manual, an effort to condense the curriculum and offer some standardization on the confusing and ill-defined terms that performers use when talking about and teaching improv. “Like most new things, [improv] is going to have to come up with its own lingo, its own language to explain whatever that new thing is. Improv, relatively speaking in
the history of theater, is really new. It was only invented in the ‘60s so there are a lot of concepts that didn’t have codified, agreed-upon words or phrases to describe what they’re talking about, so you could go from one school to another school and get confused because they were speaking different languages. So the effort of our manual is to try to define some of the words and phrases that have been used within improv,” Besser said. Besser has a podcast called Improv4Humans where he and a rotating group of guests (including SNL alumni Tim Meadows, Amy Poehler, and others like Andy Daly, Maria Bamford and Martin Starr) do long form improv. Besser has managed to make this podcast a complete embodiment of what he wants out of improv, and the result is always hilarious. Improv actually shares a good number of attributes with athletics, in that the outcome of any sporting event is unknown and can go any number of directions within its own framework, depending on the abilities and chemistry of the players, and improv is no different in this respect. Though Besser is best known for and most passionate about improv, he has always kept one foot in the world of stand-up comedy, though he usually appears as characters on stage (among them: Pope Benedict XVI, Zeus, Satan and Bjork). Several years ago, however, Besser wrote and performed a one-man show as himself, entitled “Woo Pig Sooie: Comedy for Atheists.” The show, recorded at the end of George W. Bush’s tenure in office, dealt with Besser’s childhood in Arkansas and some of his frustrations with organized religion. “It’s called that because my religion is the Razorbacks, but you’ll never find time on a Saturday knocking on someone’s door, telling them if they don’t call the Hogs they’re going to hell,” he said. In the show, Besser recounts memories from his childhood, growing up with a Jewish dad and a Christian mother in Little Rock, and attending Kanakuk, (a Missouri sports camp well-known to Arkansans who grew up in Christian circles) where his Jewish heritage was viewed as theologically suspect. Besser’s personality is easygoing for the most part, but
he has a strong confrontational side. After returning from his Arkansas trip, Besser recounted an altercation at Razorback Stadium in which he shouted Aggie jokes while surrounded by a group of Texas A&M fans. Sometimes Besser does mini-episodes of Improv4Humans in which he fields comedy-related questions directed at him. Recently, someone asked him about the return of Whose Line Is It, Anyway?, the massively popular show whose format is based around improvisational games, and Besser openly admits to having feelings of animosity towards the show’s popularity. “Whose Line is so different - almost opposite of what I do, and honestly, to call it ‘improv’ makes me ill.” Besser seems to greatly prefer life in Los Angeles, but retains quite a heart for the Middle America that he came from. The fans in line at UCB turned out to be from Poplar Bluff, MO - not far from the northeastern border of Arkansas. The UCB theater was at capacity, but after talking, Besser let Matt and Michael (last names unavailable) in to watch the show from backstage. The two of them were interested in improv, but had no access to a venue or any sort of coaching in Poplar Bluff. Besser saw an opportunity to test the recently published UCB Comedy Improvisation Manual, and sent Michael a copy and told him to assemble a team and offered them several slots at the Del Close Marathon, an annual comedy festival in New York. Michael assembled his team and showed up at the Del Close Marathon and reportedly did very well. You can hear Michael on an episode of Improv4Humans recorded live at the Marathon when Besser invited him up to do a scene with Ian Roberts and Amy Poehler, and while he seems softspoken at first, he really held his own in a scene with the all-stars of improv. This gesture speaks to Besser’s character as much as any Aggie joke does. GLOSSARY: - long-form improv: Besser defines what he does as “longform,” in which scenes can run long or short, but improvisors make it their goal to build a strong narrative reality in which to play. In long-form, improvisors are searching for “BESSER” CONT. ON P. 45
Trapping Time A chat with MATT MILLER about confidence, exploration & the human conversation.
WORDS / MARTY SHUTTER
PHOTOS / COLLEY BAILEY
MATT MILLER IS AN ARTIST who almost fell deeply into the calculated world of money. He was nearing college graduation, studying finance and preparing to become an investment banker. “I think that was just the world trying to shape me, then at some point I was like, man that just feels wrong.” Soon thereafter, Miller said he was “painting more and more while I was in school, kind of secretively turning my garage into my studio, and that’s what I did during college for about two years. My friends hardly even knew.” He has since traded the garage for a large studio off of Fayetteville’s square. Once a secretive painter whose works even close friends weren’t aware of, Miller is now one of Fayetteville’s most prominent artists. His murals can be found throughout the city, and in the studio, his paintings cover nearly two floors of space. The work is energetic and colorful. Abstracts balance color and texture and animal portraits imbue subjects with human curiosity and prankery. The second floor of the studio is a long-board shop, with people coming and going throughout the day to gear up for rides around on a Fayetteville hill. We sat upstairs on couches surrounded by guitars and talked confidence, artistry and inspiration. IDLE CLASS: So, what was the decision like to abandon finance and pursue your passion full time? Basically there was a definitive decision. I don’t know if I wanted to do this investment banking thing. For a split second, I was like, just go make a bunch of money, just do it, learn that side of the world, and then become an artist. My little brother put it to me in a very simple perspective, and said, ‘Look man, say you go do that, and you spend 85 percent of your time, and you spend 15 percent of your time, assuming you have the energy to do it, as an artist, or creating art. What are you, and what will you become?’ I was like, ‘Wow.’ That answer’s simple: I’m supposed to be an artist. That’s what I have to do, from then on out I knew that that was the direction, that no matter what happened, it was gonna work out. *** Miller had saved up enough money to live cheaply for a few months, so he started sharing his work and pretty soon had a show, and soon after started selling pieces. And that bought me more time. So I viewed money as buying me time. I still view money that way, cause I’m still on this ride, I’m still riding this wave that’s just continuously going and if it ever does break completely, you know, I’ll figure it out. IDLE CLASS: What do you trace your artistic impulses back to? I remember in 3rd grade getting in trouble for some art that I did, which was these mice that had knives and they were running around. It was kind of weird, but I thought it was awesome and my teacher was like, ‘This is scary,’ and I was
like, ‘It is?’ I was just doing some mice with some knives! IDLE CLASS: What did it feel like to get caught? How did it change art class for you? I was kind of like, ‘That’s funny.’ I can get this shock factor that isn’t even real. I didn’t intend that at all, but they’re perceiving it to be something that it’s not at all, and that was interesting to me. They freaked out over something I was just having fun with. IDLE CLASS: How does an artist build confidence? How did you? And what would you say to someone who has just embarked on a new endeavor, like you did, someone who has decided to pursue a passion and suddenly finds themselves at the feet of a brand new world, untrained and anxious yet determined? My answer to that is to not worry about the technical side of it and to allow yourself to explore, and see where that takes you. My confidence came from naiveness and not going to art school. It came from freedom and a desire to create. It came from a place of ‘this makes you feel productive, this makes you feel good about yourself, this makes you release those emotions that you need to, it’s a meditation, you have to do this for your health more than anything.’ So if you do it from there… your intention is to be healthy. And if that is your intention, then no one can ever turn you down from that. No one can ever knock your confidence, cause you have to do it. As an artist, you constantly deal with insecurities with your work and insecurities of just like that question of what you asked earlier. IDLE CLASS: How do you not feel like a fraud? I’ve spoken with many artists, of every experience level, and yet deep down it’s almost as if none of them, even the most outwardly confident, are completely comfortable with their work. You stay right above it. That devil on your shoulder is there all the time. And it pushes you to keep going, and you do become a fraud if you don’t. So you just have to keep moving, you build confidence through action. IDLE CLASS: What brings you to the canvas? It usually has to do with the energy that I’m feeling that day. The energy that I woke up with and kind of where I’m at mentally. Reading a lot, listening a lot and just searching for the truth of humanity and stories of people that are inspiring to me. I just wanna portray a concept that’s in my head at the time, and I need to get it out of me and I need to express it.
“WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I’M PAINTING - IT’S A FEELING OF PERSONAL PROGRESSION AND PRODUCTIVITY. SUBCONSCIOUSLY TAKING IN ALL THE SITUATIONS THAT I’M GOING THROUGH IN A PARTICULAR TIME SO IT’S ALMOST LIKE TRAPPING TIME. IT’S ALMOST LIKE TRAPPING A SPACE IN TIME IN WHICH YOU EXISTED. WHETHER YOU SEE IT OR WHETHER THE OBSERVER SEES IT IN AN OBJECTIVE POINT OF VIEW IS ALMOST IRRELEVANT.” 22
IDLE CLASS: Any tricks to get yourself into that mode? Sometimes you have to find it. Sometimes you have to fiddle around and then all of a sudden you’re in a project and you didn’t mean to be. It’s just moments of being tapped into that flow of life. IDLE CLASS: Mark Twain says something like this of creativity, ‘If the tank runs dry, leave it alone, it’ll fill itself back up.’ To fill that tank back up, you have to know what that is that makes you full. And so is that nature? Is it running? Is it reading? Is it music? What is that that fills you up? You have to go explore life and be in tune with your friends and your people, or maybe you need some self reflection, but you need to find that balance that puts you in that relative flow that allows you to tap into the source which is your creative realm, and then be the filter, you know? You have to be open to tapping into that, you have to set yourself up for it almost. IDLE CLASS: So we’ve gotten you to the canvas. Is there something about visual art, painting, that you express more than you do in other areas of life, or in other artistic endeavors? What happens more when I’m painting, it’s a feeling of personal progression and productivity. Subconsciously taking in all the situations that I’m going through in a particular time, so it’s almost like trapping time. It’s almost like trapping a space in time in which you existed. Whether you see it or whether the observer sees it in an objective point of view is almost irrelevant. All the emotions, all the happy feelings, the negative feelings, all the literature that you’re reading, that is in [the work]!
Willie 5.5’ x 3.5’ Acrylic on canvas
FLYING DOG VINTAGE MALL
Vintage furniture & decor, incense, posters, & more. 427 N. College Ave. in Fayetteville between Lafeytte & Maple 479-856-6600 Open 7 days a week . idleclassmag.com
Opposite page: Warrior of the Light 36” x 49” Acrylic on canvas
Above: Break #1 24” x 18” Acrylic on Canvas
IDLE CLASS: So it’s important to you to capture. Where do you think that comes from in you, that drive to record in such a way? My girlfriend and brother were talking about that the other day. John was like, ‘I’ll be talking to him [Matt] and he won’t remember like an hour later. [Painting] is a way for me to remember literature from four years ago. Someone will come in and go ‘What’s this about?’ And I’ll go, ‘Let me tell ya.’ And we can dive right into that human conversation instead of just being like, ‘Well, hi nice to meet you.’ Each piece is a window into that human conversation for people outside the studio that come in. IDLE CLASS: Tell me more about the studio. The studio is meant to be a place of creativity and positive energy and just human conversation. It’s really become this creative hub where artists will come and be like, ‘Hey I’ve got this idea,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah! Let me help you do it, or what do you need help with? So the idea is, when you go into an art gallery in a big city, or when you go into most galleries, you almost feel like you have to clench up, and be like, ‘Ok, I can’t touch anything and I can’t talk to this per-
Above: Break #2 18” x 24” Acrylic on canvas son,’ and you feel kind of tight, and you’re not open. I want to be the absolute opposite of that, I want art to be accepted, or I want art to accept people. I feel like a lot of people are scared of it, and there’s this boundary and they just don’t deal with it, or they don’t experience it, so I want to be completely different. It’s also just like a piece of art; it’s a process. I don’t know fully what this place is, but I know it feels good and it feels right and it’s got good people involved and good people attracted to it. I feel like there’s a positive message there, and do I know what that is? Not necessarily. Do I feel like I’ll find it? Yes, and I feel like I’m on that path to find that, and I feel like I’m creating it daily with just the human interaction that I have and the the perspective I get just from conversations I get into because of the art, and that’s what it’s for.
MATT MILLER STUDIO Off Fayetteville’s square at: 21 W. Mountain St Suite 26 Fayetteville, AR 870.919.8651 MattMillerStudio.com
HOME GROWN Writer/director KIM SWINK brings her dream project Valley Inn to the screen with a little help from her family, friends and the Northwest Arkansas community. WORDS / KODY FORD PHOTOS / JESSICA WILLIAMS
FOR WRITER/DIRECTOR KIM SWINK, coming home to Arkansas had been in the works for a long time. Ever since leaving Little Rock for New York City 25 years ago, she longed for the opportunity to return to the Natural State to work. Shortly after relocating to NYC, she returned to Arkansas and spent a summer as an assistant to Mary Steenburgen on the set of a movie called End of the Line, which was written and directed by Arkansan Jay Russell. “That was a great experience and I’ve wanted an excuse to come back home to work ever since,” Kim says. “I’ve been plotting my return for years and [Valley Inn] was the perfect reason to spend another hot, steamy, fun summer in Arkansas doing what I love.” Valley Inn, a Southern romantic comedy that shot in northwest Arkansas last summer, has been Kim’s passion project for a long time. She wrote the film specifically to shoot in Arkansas. “Part of the story developed over many visits I made to see my sister [Executive Producer Kerri Elder] in Springdale, when she and I would indulge my addiction to biscuits and gravy at our favorite little country cafe, the Valley Inn, in Hindsville,” she says. “To me, Hindsville, which is a very very small town east of Springdale and Fayetteville, just seemed like a movie set and, after years in the manic hustle of NYC, it always felt like I was in a scene from a Horton Foote play or movie whenever I was there.” Valley Inn tells the story of Emily Mason (Jordan Scott), a young woman from the Northeast who comes to Hindsville to sell inspirational books door-to-door. The film chronicles her misadventures in the area, from her run-ins with former rodeo queens to her burgeoning love with a local good ol’ boy named Lee (Colley Bailey). The story captures the hope, heartbreak and awkwardness that a Jersey girl encounters when she heads to the South. Kim wrote and co-directed the film with her husband Chris Spencer, an executive at HBO. But making the film a reality was not an easy task. Independent filmmaking has become harder over the last few years as studios shift their focus towards franchise films that rack up ticket sales domestically and overseas. A small romantic comedy that’s devoid
of superheroes, monsters and a potential apocalypse just doesn’t quite pique the interest of your average movie studio executive. So Kim decided to seize control of the situation and do it on her own. Of course, she knew she couldn’t do it alone, so she put together a team of people whom she trusted. Although she has written, produced and directed short films and worked in the industry for years, Valley Inn is Kim’s feature film debut. When Kim knew she wanted to write it, she and Chris formed Kindred Films with her sister and brother-in-law, Chris Elder, and their son, Blake, who served as the Director of Photography for the film. After developing the story and characters, she asked her friend, screenwriter and novelist Nelsie Spencer, to co-write the script. Nelsie came to Arkansas for the first time ever and they researched locations and events that ended up in the script like the Rodeo of the Ozarks in Springdale, the Little O’ Opry (a local country music jamboree) in West Fork, and a wagon train that every year travels 100 miles over five days from Harrison to Springdale for the opening day of the rodeo. Once the first draft was finished, Kim passed it on to her friend, producer Samara Yeshaiek, who loved the script and couldn’t wait to come to Arkansas herself after reading it. Samara came to Arkansas that year in time to help shoot some scouting footage at the Rodeo of the Ozarks and she enjoyed it so much she bought her first pair of cowboy boots that week. Early pre-production ran smoothly for the newly formed Kindred Films; however, the financial crisis slowed pre-production greatly. “It’s crazy how things changed after 2009,” Blake says. “We started to hit roadblock after roadblock and couldn’t get it made. The recession really took its toll.” Despite the reduced pace of production, Kim and her team soldiered on. The combination of Kerri’s business acumen, complemented by Kim’s creative vision and drive, helped them push through the lull.
Kim Swink chats with Joey Lauren Adams and Natalie Canerday on the set of Valley Inn. “I learned that it is a very challenging and intense period of time and requires a lot of endurance mentally and physically,” Kerri says. “I learned a lot about the creative side of filmmaking. I am a businesswoman and it was very fun for me to watch the creatives at work.” Funding a film is the most difficult process. Kerri and Kim utilized a multi-pronged strategy that included an IndieGoGo campaign, enlisting sponsors and soliciting investors. Their work soon paid off. Their IndieGoGo campaign alone raised $26,000. By promising a premium to investors and utilizing Arkansas tax incentives for filmmakers, they soon met their budget of $200,000. “We started moving forward and people joined in,” Kim says. “People who had had the script for three years finally read it and loved it.” Next they began to enlist the Northwest Arkansas community. They met with A.T. Smith, a community leader in Hindsville, to receive his blessing for filming in the area. Considering the small size of the community, they wanted to make sure they didn’t step on any toes. Sharon and Mike Evans, who had recently reopened the Valley Inn, agreed to let the crew shoot on location for a week. Kim had lined up much of her cast well in advance of filming. They anticipated filming to begin in late spring of 2013, but then their plans changed abruptly, throwing a
wrench into things. “We had a cast that was out of New York,” Kim says. “Then we had to push back filming by three weeks and the bottom fell out. No one could do it because of scheduling. We freaked out momentarily. Then the door opened for us to get [actors] Natalie Canerday, Joey Lauren Adams and David Lansbury on board.” Natalie is known for her roles in films like Sling Blade and October Sky while Joey cut her teeth on ‘90s classics like Dazed & Confused and Chasing Amy. David had starred in TV shows like Sex and the City, Law and Order: Criminal Intent and Oz. Joey hadn’t worked in Arkansas in a few years and felt like the project was a great chance to come home again. “When I got the script for Valley Inn, I wanted to shoot a film in Arkansas,” Joey says. “I’d been blown away by the talent I’d seen a few years ago at the Little Rock Film Festival. There’s such camaraderie in the Arkansas film community. It’s not cut-throat like in Los Angeles. So when I met Kerri and everyone involved, we had this connection. Valley Inn seemed like a reason to come back.” Despite having high profile names for an independent film, Kim sought out unknowns for her stars. As she searched for the right actress to portray Emily, newly cast actor Hugh Kincaid recommended that Kim and her production team
Above: Colley Bailey (Lee) with Jordan Scott (Emily) Below: The Valley Inn restaurant in Hindsville
attend Crystal Bridges’ “Art Night Out” event in the spring of 2013. Jordan Scott, a former University of Arkansas Theatre student, was performing in a series of short plays inspired by pieces of artwork at the museum. She had no idea that she was being scouted that night. “I did not know any of this, thank goodness,” Jordan says. “I would have been so nervous had I known. But the day of the show I lost my voice and could barely speak - that kind of thing always happens at the worst possible timing, doesn’t it? But as they say in the theatre, ‘the show must go on.’ So I went ahead and did the show and it was after the show that Kenn [Woodard] approached me and asked if I would be interested in auditioning for Valley Inn. So really, I owe this whole experience to Hugh. I’m very thankful for him.” The next day, while surrounded by a mess of tissues, tea bags, cough drops and dirty dishes, Jordan received a call from Woodard,Valley Inn co-producer, asking if she could come in for an audition that afternoon. She showered and tried to hide her cold before rushing off to the office. Weeks passed by and Jordan never received the final call so she assumed that she hadn’t gotten the part. She typed an email to Kim and Kenn thanking them for the opportunity to audition. Within minutes after hitting send, a call came. She began jumping and squealing, sending a mild panic through her office at work before telling her co-workers that she’d gotten the part. With her cast complete, Kim moved into full production on the film. Most of her crew was local. This move accomplished three goals - supporting the local economy, developing a native film industry and qualifying for much-needed tax breaks. The other aspect of production that worked well for Kim was the natural chemistry between herself, her co-director/husband, Chris, and her Director of Photography/nephew, Blake, who shot his first short film with his aunt’s guidance at age 10. “Blake and I have styles that are very symbiotic so it’s a great working relationship,” Kim says. “And no, I’m not saying that because I’m his aunt. I’ve actually flown Blake up to NYC to shoot short films of mine when I could have used any number of talented NY DPs.” Chris served as a mentor for Kim during the process while letting her handle the majority of directing duties. He helmed the climactic scene at the Rodeo of the Ozarks though. Kim said that people had warned her that collaborating with her husband, a seasoned director, might cause some creative friction since this was her first time out of the gate. “It seemed like a disaster waiting to happen,” she said. “But I really couldn’t have done it without him. Besides, if he hadn’t come [to the set], I’d have been calling him all the time.” Together, she feels they captured the tone she was looking for, one that can be seen in quirky, characterdriven films like Little Miss Sunshine, Juno and Wes Anderson pictures. The soundtrack will feature local musicians and original songs by Mary Steenburgen and Kris Allen. Kim and her team recently completed editing Valley Inn and have begun submitting it to festivals including the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. As of press
time, they haven’t yet heard back. While much of her family has been involved in film, Kerri has only recently been bitten by the movie bug. She is currently working as an executive producer on Joey’s upcoming film and second directorial turn Bylines, which they hope will film in 2013 around Little Rock. Kerri believes that Valley Inn is only the beginning for the Arkansas film industry. “I believe the future of filmmaking in Arkansas is incredible,” she says. “With the passage of an increase on the Tax Incentive Rebate, the state is now competitive with all other states that are offering film production incentives. Also, the crew and cast base is really good. Arkansas has an incredible pool of talented and skilled crew and talent that is growing like crazy thanks to the universities’ growth in their film departments.” Kim hopes to continue making films, particularly in her home state, in the future. For now though, she’s content with her first experience back home since assisting Mary so many years ago. “I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity to not only direct my first feature film but to do it in my home state and with such deeply talented people,” Kim says. “I feel like I won the lottery. We couldn’t do this movie without the local support we’ve received. From the residents of Hindsville, Springdale and Fayetteville to members of the Arkansas film community and other local artists to our friends and family in Little Rock, the enthusiasm and support from the community is humbling and inspiring. It’s just a great place in every aspect to do a film project. This may sound like gushing but it’s true nonetheless.”
The racuous six-piece band has generated much buzz in Arkansas. Now their taking the show on the road. WORDS / LAUREN MCCORMICK PHOTO / BRANDON OTTO
FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS IN CONWAY, Don’t Stop Please is a jazz-influenced sextet with obvious ambition. They just released a new self-titled album in early November under their label Let’s Talk Figures, and they are beyond thrilled with the way it turned out. It perfectly layers vocals on top of horns with a plethora of instruments, and a female vocalist adds an elegant presence into the mix. The Idle Class sat down to talk with Joel Ludford and Anna Horton, 2/6 of Don’t Stop Please, and of Handmade Moments, a jazz trio, which also includes Don’t Stop Please’s Nick Caffrey on bass. No one in Don’t Stop Please holds the title of “bassist” or “drummer” - each member is a multi-instrumentalist and their live show is like a game of musical chairs. Joel and Anna tend to hold down the lead vocal spots, though Will Krzeszinski, Will King and Robert Gaiser all sing as well. Their previous EP, Crowded Car (which was released in August of 2012) was a bit more of a struggle to release due to some analog recording issues. “Crowded Car was a good one, the songs were good, but we were kind of rushed in making it and the mixing. There were some technical difficulties.” It’s obvious that they feel that this newest album is a better representation of what they’re all about.
“It’s much more delicate, not as much our live or bar material.” These songs are more appropriate for an acoustic setting, much less of a dance album in comparison to Crowded Car, yet still perfectly uplifting. Don’t Stop Please tackles a lot of the daily social implications of our everyday lives and our globalized economy, along with the consequences that come with those daily choices we make. The songs on their newest release are the product of going to college and realizing that most of the things you are doing and the decisions you are making are affecting people and future generations around the world. Joel puts it plainly yet precisely in admitting, “It’s a wild time to be alive, and a lot of this music is dense with thoughts on that and where we’re going.” To Don’t Stop Please, a show is not just a time to play music and do what they love, but furthermore it’s an opportunity
to utilize the platform of the 300+ people sitting in front of them to listen to something that matters. The band recently toured west to Boise, ID, joining fellow Arkansans SW/MM/NG at Treefort Music Festival, along with the remarkable Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. These guys have made their way around the states, often making stops in Colorado and Chicago, the latter seeming to be the resounding favorite place to play among band mates. They truly enjoy life on the road, but they admit having to figure things out along the way as well. Joel says, “It’s not how it used to be with touring. It used to be a lot more profitable to go out and tour. You used to be able to take your band out and show up, say you have some rock and roll and they’ll pay you some money, but nowadays you have to plan it out a lot farther ahead of time. You’re a lot less of a commodity because there’s a lot of people out playing music just like you.” Their strategy is to spread their music online and create a demand for them to come to these cities, particularly big ones like Chicago and New York. Smart, to say the least, but it truly seems like keeping in touch with their fanbase across the country is a priority for Don’t Stop Please, and they genuinely appreciate anyone taking the time to listen to them. Anna does all the booking for their tours, and describes the difficulty in planning them. She admits, “It’s all really hard, but one of the hardest things is figuring out where to go. Finding people there, finding bands to play with, where the good venues are. It’s best to talk to people who live there, so a lot of the places we tour are suggestions of people that we know there. That’s one of the struggles.” The transition from Conway to Fayetteville has been very energizing for the band. They moved to Fayetteville in early spring of this year, and they love how it’s a town of people trying to escape the mid-America grind. Don’t Stop Please relishes the progressive culture that Fayetteville thrives on, and it seems to be a lot of what the band thrives off of. “Local food, local music, local art, and local culture all are combined here, and anywhere where one survives I think you will find a lot of the other… It’s a community of artists.” They joined this openarmed local community in Northwest Arkansas, and that’s something that they didn’t find in Conway. “People are out and about more in Fayetteville, supporting each other with their dollar, and that’s not something that was happening in Conway.” The move to Fayetteville was a clear choice, and along with them is a huge community of musicians working towards the same thing and everyone is extremely supportive of one another. Don’t Stop Please’s next show will be on New Years Eve at George’s Majestic Lounge alongside Andy Frasco. Anna puts it perfectly in saying, “If you want to listen to our music, I’m honored.”
AMASA HINES - “ALL THE WORLD THERE IS”
AMASA HINES’ 2013 ALBUM “ALL THE WORLD THERE IS” is an expansive piece of work that covers a lot of ground, both sonically and lyrically. I asked vocalist Joshua Asante if it was a concept album, or if it had any driving concepts. “Finishing it,” he replied. “Whether you’re doing a concept album or not, the common denominator remains the same.” The common denominator he speaks of is the band, Amasa Hines. This is not the name of anyone in the band, but rather the name of a recent ancestor of band members Judson and Joshua Spillyards. They began recording the album that would become “All The World There Is” in 2010 at Mitchell Vanhoose’s studio, and continued working with him as he moved his studio to North Little Rock where the record was finished. The record is built on the lush, resonant pallette that My Morning Jacket set forth ten years ago on “It Still Moves” but works with the broader vocabulary of funk and rock, rather than Americana. “My record collection is like 90% jazz,” Asante said, “but I strive for a panoptic view of music.” It shows, with horn sections, big builds, and Asante’s voice, which makes you wonder why we settled for so many rock vocalists with absolutely no soulful qualities, of which he has an abundance. Asante was careful to avoid listening to all his favorite musical influences while recording the album, but indulged in quite a bit of poetry. “Reading poetry actually makes me a lazier reader,” Asante said “It just makes me want to write.” He cites poets Rita Dove and Nikky Finney as two current favorites. Asante is always pushing his music forward. After completing the album, he’s been doing a lot of work on turntables. “It’s very freeing to approach something without a guitar in my hand,” he said. - ANDREW MCCLAIN
THE PLAID JACKETS The Fayetteville Geek Rockers find their place on the Comic Con circuit thanks to a little help from the original Caped Crusader.
WORDS / KODY FORD PHOTO / FARRIS GERARD
FEW BANDS FIND THEIR BREAK after taking a break, but for the Fayetteville-based band The Plaid Jackets, that’s the way it went down. Having gone on a hiatus after creative burnout, vocalist/guitarist Brandon Adkins and drummer Matt Johannesen did not anticipate the future waiting for their music. They never expected that within a few years, they would be running around with pop culture icons and playing for packed crowds, but then the call came. James Tooley, son-in-law of legendary actor Adam West, and director of the new documentary Starring Adam West, contacted The Plaid Jackets. Tooley wanted their song “Adam West Is Batman” from their album, “The New Adventures of The Plaid Jackets,” released in 2010. The track is a tongue-in-cheek, grunge pop ode to West’s classic take on the Caped Crusader. Tooley said West heard the tune and loved it. When Tooley asked if he could use the song in his upcoming film, the guys jumped at the chance. According to Johannesen, the unexpected attention jolted them out of their musical lull, and they didn’t know where it would take them. Over the years, Adkins and Johannesen played in various bands before joining forces in a four-piece group called Studder. Having kindled a friendship over the love of 90’s music, they decided to step out on their own and adopted the moniker Cheesy Poofs. During the next few weeks, they played around with songs until Johannesen tuned his drum kit differently. After banging away for a bit, they had
a sound fitting for a two-piece outfit, and they decided to call themselves The Plaid Jackets. In 2004, they recorded demos and put the songs on MySpace. Bailey Mendenhall of 104.9 The X, in Fayetteville, heard the demos online and invited The Plaid Jackets to the radio station. With encouragement from friends, they enlisted sound engineer Dwight Chalmers to record a self-titled EP. Chalmers guided the band to further define their sound, and once the new sounds (that Johannesen describes as “loud and fast”) were complete, they took them to the radio. Mendenhall took them under his wing and facilitated gigs and local radio exposure, but the duo’s success remained local, and nothing materialized. Four years later, in 2008, local musician and state representative, Jon Woods, heard a newly written song “Adam West is Batman” performed live at George’s Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville, Arkansas. When Woods heard The Plaid Jackets perform the unique tune, he offered to fund and produce a recording session. They agreed and returned to Chalmer’s studio for their new album. They enlisted Chuck Bame to work his artistic magic on the album cover, and Bame created an ode to Golden Age comics. In 2010, after recording for a year, they released their album, “The New Adventures of The Plaid Jackets.” After spending 2010 and 2011, playing gigs in bars and nightclubs, Adkins and Johannesen needed a creative break. For years, the band bounced around the idea of playing comic con festivals, but the idea did not come to fruition until later. After being contacted by Tooley about the Adam West documentary in February 2013, the band rekindled their relationship with Jon Woods, and solicited his production and leadership help. Woods recommended Little Rock business executive, Randell Shelton, to help manage and promote the band. Adkins & Johannesen met with Shelton, and the three began working together immediately. Very quickly, Shelton booked four highprofile shows, and scheduled a high profile interview. The shows were played at the Glitch Con in Springdale, AR; Comic Con in Salt Lake City, UT; Comic Con in Winnipeg, Canada, and Napa Valley Film Festival in Napa Valley, CA. Johannesen got to meet his inspiration and idol, Dave Grohl, former drummer of Nirvana & lead singer of the Foo Fighters, for a sit-down interview at Napa Valley. The reception they have received from the audiences and new fans across the continent is overwhelming. At the Salt Lake Comic Con, The Plaid Jackets were able to meet the man himself - Mr. Adam West. Johannesen describes the original Caped Crusader as a “laid back guy with a great sense of humor.” “He’s really a sweet guy,” Adkins adds. “He spoke at the Comic Con about the importance of being a
good husband and father. We were happy to play our tribute song to him, and we are obviously huge fans.” West was not their only celebrity encounter; Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in the original Star Wars trilogy, was at the show. Currently, a documentary is being produced called Standing in the Stars, chronicling Mayhew’s health struggles in recent years. The band met the man and the production crew; and, when they heard The Plaid Jackets original song, “Ode to Chewbacca,” they solicited the duo to use the tune in the film. Adkins and Johannesen also met William Shatner, who Adkins described as aloof until he found out they were musicians; and at that point, Shatner talked about his upcoming record with much excitement. Of course, the Plaid Jackets “geek cred” wouldn’t be complete without having a song entitled “Captain Kirk,” which they do. No word yet if there’s a Shatner documentary in the works. Shelton used every opportunity to promote the duo, and worked his magic on the phones. As of press time, they had booked a gig at the video game awards to be held at SXSW in the spring, and are already booked for the Napa Valley Film Festival in 2014. He is also hoping to book the band at overseas Comic Cons as soon as possible. The Plaid Jackets still hold out hope for the “Holy Grail of Nerd-dom” - the San Diego Comic Con. Shelton feels confident they will reach that point when they have a few more events under their belts, and their reputation spreads. Shelton believes the band is a natural fit for events like Comic Cons and film festivals. “I think people at Comic Cons and those type of events like upbeat music,” he says. “People are there to have fun. Here’s a band that can be fun and have relevant songs. At Salt Lake they had songs about three people there [West, Shatner and Mayhew]. The opportunities are incredible for the band now.” Despite their rapid upward trajectory, The Plaid Jackets are calmly optimistic. “Success came at a perfect time,” says Johannesen “This is something I always wanted to happen, and now it is really happening. It’s a really fun, fast ride.” After a pause, Johannesen reconsiders for a moment. “But, I do keep waiting on a reality check,” he says with a smile.
From Left: Brandon Adkins, Adam West, & Matt Johannesen at Salt Lake Con Below: Johannesen chats with Dave Grohl and a journalist at the Napa Valley Film Festival
TEENAGERS - “CA” & “WY”
Photo by Melissa Brawner
AFTER A SIX-MONTH SABBATICAL, Travis Keymer gets the band back together for two new EPs - “CA” & “WY” - to be released on Fat Sandwich Records. Much of the material had been written over the last few years. Teenagers have performed the songs dozens of times, but they had yet to be given a proper release. Now that Keymer has returned from working at a national park in Wyoming, their fans need wait no longer. Keymer’s love of pop music is distributed through a filter of crunchy guitars, slight reverb and catchy melodies that aren’t afraid of the occasional crescendo. On “CA,” songs like “Concrete Youth” and “Friends” will have you humming for days. Though they will not release “WY” until early 2014, Keymer promises his love of folk music will take center stage on the record. Living in a dormitory with around 180 people at the park last summer taught Keymer something important he had been missing in Fayetteville - patience. “The living situation was really taxingc sometimes because you’re around these people every day at lunch, dinner, everything. It taught me patience. It’s something I’ve always tried to have, but truthfully I haven’t always had it. Seclusion was a big deal too. It’s made me appreciate being around people and getting to perform.” Teenagers plan to tour nationally in 2014. - Kody Ford
LAST NIGHT FAYETTEVILLE
Photos courtesy of Last Night Fayetteville
LAST NIGHT FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas’ largest New Year’s festival, will return to the downtown square on December 31 to celebrate the end of the year with local bands Shawn James & the Shapeshifters, The Flipoff Pirates, Swimming, and Surf de Soleil playing the Main Stage. Several indoor venues around the square will host a variety of musicians, performers, comedians and artists, promising to provide a full evening of entertainment for revelers. The tradition continues as Fayetteville welcomes 2014 with the newly designed Hog Drop Countdown to Midnight and a spectacular fireworks display. “Last Night Fayetteville is growing every year,” said Event Director Lauren Embree, who is directing her third festival this year. “We were named by Trip Advisor as one of the Top 10 Most Unique New Year’s Eve Celebrations in the US last year, a title we look forward to defending with our 2013 event.” In order to live up to its new title, Last Night Fayetteville is growing the number of performances to accommodate their usual sold-out crowd, including doubling the size of the Main Stage and packing the night full of nonstop entertainment. Other musical acts set to perform include local favorites Messy Sparkles, Shannon Wurst, Still on the Hill and Outside the Lines. Comedy lovers will laugh in the New Year with Phunbags Comedy Improv, Comedians of NWA and the brand new Rodeo Book Club. Theatre fans
won’t want to miss the Artist’s Laboratory Theatre’s annual production of “Found Fayetteville,” in the giant “Sheet Fort Theater,” a unique Last Night tradition. Also joining in on the fun for the first time in the Sheet Fort Theater is Fayetteville’s newest youth theatre company, New Threshold Theatre. Other additions to the evening’s festivities include the international award winning juggling duo Jugglology, aerial dancers Ellen Johnson & Shannon Norman, Fayetteville Word Wars, the Terra-Nova Belly Dancers, and an adultsonly performance by Violetta Lotus Burlesque. Revelers looking to be treated throughout the night will enjoy a new VIP experience presented by Chef Emily Lawson from The Depot along with handcrafted cocktails from Pink House Alchemy. A local beer garden featuring some of the region’s best brews is also planned. Admission to the event will be $15 in advance for guests 12+ and $5 for children 2-12. A limited number of VIP tickets are available for $65, and include access to the VIP Lounge at the Main Stage featuring catered hors d’oeuvres, desserts and cocktails, along with a champagne toast at midnight. Tickets & more information are available at the festival’s website.
VISIT: LASTNIGHTFAYETTEVILLE.COM FACEBOOK.COM/LASTNIGHTFAYETTEVILLE TWITTER.COM/LASTNIGHTVILLE
THE ARTISTS’ EYE
New Crystal Bridges exhibit spotlights the private collection of Alfred Stieglitz & Georgia O’Keefe. Photo above by Colley Bailey; additional photos courtesy of Crystal Bridges
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Bentonville, AR Nov. 9, 2013 - Feb. 3, 2014 A TEMPORARY EXHIBITION featuring 101 art works by American and European Modernists, as well as African art, opened on Nov. 9 at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The exhibition, titled The Artists’ Eye: Georgia O’Keeffe and the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, includes works from the collection of photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, and features the artists Stieglitz most favored, including O’Keeffe, Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, and John Marin, alongside some of the early European Modernists who inspired them, including Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. This collection of 101 artworks was donated to Fisk University by Stieglitz’s wife, Georgia O’Keeffe, after his death in 1946. She divided the collection and donated works to six different institutions, including the National Gallery of Art, and the Library of Congress, Washington DC. The works in this collection are now coowned by Crystal Bridges and Fisk University. The collection will travel between the two institutions every two years.
VISIT: CRYSTALBRIDGES.ORG 38
EUREKA SPRINGS WINTER FILM FESTIVAL Jan. 23-25, 2014 City Auditorium Eureka Springs, AR WORDS / SUSAN PORTER EUREKA SPRINGS IS ROLLING OUT the red carpet for a new film festival January 23-25, 2014. The Victorian mountain village slows down in winter and that’s one reason Eureka Springs resident Teresa DeVito is investing her energy to produce the festival. “I wanted to create a winter film fest for the sake of something fun for our town during the quiet days of January,” DeVito said. Sandy Martin of the town’s Arts Council liked the idea and came onboard. “Eureka Springs is an arts and culture destination,” Martin said. “ We have just about every other type of art experience except a film festival.” Like most events in Eureka, the festival will offer a total experience. In addition to the screening of indie features and shorts, there will be workshops and panels, an awards banquet and a VIP reception. Workshops will include Bob and Don Blair of VCI Entertainment who will share tips on what film distributors want and how to pitch a film. Rod Slane, who composes for film and TV, will lead a workshop and Arkansas Film Commissioner Christopher Crane will discuss resources and incentives available to filmmakers. Tickets go on sale December 20 at the festival website (www.esindiefilmfest.com) and are $25 for a three-day pass, which gets you into all screenings, workshops and the awards show. One day passes are $10. Events will be at venues all over town. And it’s not too late to have your film considered for the festival. The deadline for submissions is December 31, and guidelines are on the website. Make plans now to stay for the weekend. Rooms start at around $40 a night, or you can up the ante and go for one of the historic hotels or many bed and breakfasts.
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SOME STORIES WON’T STAY DEAD.
RETURNS by KODY FORD
“IF THESE YARNS WERE TRASH - and millions of parents must have regarded them as such - then they were the best of all kinds of trash. They were trash for connoisseurs of trash. Trash for people who understood just how good trash could really be.” – Don Hutchison, The Great Pulp Heroes They were superheroes, cowboys, crimefighters, men of mystery. Names like Doc Savage, The Shadow and Tarzan occupied the minds of those passionate for escapism within the confines of a paperback. These characters lived the fantasies of their readers--the need for action, the thirst for adventure, good versus evil in a fight to the death. Pulp fiction was escapism at its finest. One didn’t just read it; they lived it. And then, it was gone. For the uninitiated, Pulp fiction is a term that refers to stories originally written and published in cheap magazines printed on coarse pulp paper. Pulp is immediate, visceral and demands your attention. Tommy Hancock, of Pro Se Press, defines the pulp style as “fast-paced, plot-oriented fiction with over the top protagonists and antagonists where clever phrases and descriptions are used within the writing.” It’s a fairly apropos definition that covers genres ranging from sci-fi to fantasy to crime. Although the first Pulps were printed in the late 1890s, Pulp’s Golden Age is considered to be in the 1930s and 1940s when there were hundreds of Pulp titles, covering every genre from Romance to Western to Hero Pulps and beyond. Often dismissed as smut or literary trash, these stories captured the imaginations of millions of people worldwide. Tommy says, “Good genre fiction takes us to places we’ve never been and may never get to. Not only that, Pulp gives us interesting characters to go to these places with, both figures that are larger than life, but also that we usually can see a bit of ourselves in.” The Eisenhower era wasn’t particularly kind to the pulp novelist. Sure, a few names made it through like Louis Lamour, Robert Heinlein and, yes even, L. Ron Hubbard (although more for the whole religion thing than Battlefield Earth). Some of the writers began to work in television or comics, and they carried the pulp sensibility and style with them. While some people might say that pulp fiction vanished
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long ago, Tommy insists that pulp never really went away. Whether or not it really disappeared, he insists that a renaissance is occurring for “New Pulp.” One company aiming to be at the forefront of his resurgence is Pro Se Press. Based out of Batesville, the company was founded by Fuller Bumpers, a writer and actor who moved back to Arkansas from Los Angeles. In 2010 after bonding over their similar creative backgrounds and interests, he enlisted Tommy and they began to move on to audio dramas like the fictional radio serials of the 1930s. This led to audio books and down the rabbit hole of print publishing— anthologies, magazines and novels. They currently publish three to six books a month, with print and electronic copies, as well as a quarterly magazine. Additionally, they are working on audiobooks and do a podcast weekly. Their titles are sold exclusively online for two months before being released in bookstores. Pro Se currently has a roster of 70 writers involved in various projects. Tommy looks for commitment, talent and respect in prospective writers. He says, “They can write what we want well. That they have a handle on the genre they choose to work in. And that they work well with our staff and expect us to work well with them.” One of their most notable publications has been BLACK PULP, an anthology featuring African American characters and stories by notable writers like Walter Mosley, Joe R. Lansdale and Gary Phillips. Traditionally ethnic minorities were maligned to racial stereotypes in pulp fiction. They served as plot devices or comic relief. Pro Se decided to flip the script. “The purpose of BLACK PULP was to have black characters as leads in the sort of stories that were written in the heyday of Pulp that only featured white characters,” Tommy says. “It was a different time then, we all understand that, but we have a chance now to correct some of the societal trespasses then and BLACK PULP is the way we can do it. Although there is a bit of a social statement being made here, the point
“GOOD GENRE FICTION TAKES US TO PLACES THAT WE’VE NEVER BEEN AND MAY NEVER GET TO. NOT ONLY THAT, PULP GIVES US INTERESTING CHARACTHERS TO GO TO THESE PLACES WITH, BOTH FIGURES THAT ARE LARGER THAN LIFE, BUT ALSO THAT WE USUALLY SEE A LITTLE BIT OF OURSELVES IN.” of these anthologies is really just as much about telling great stories and exploring Pulp from angles that just didn’t exist as possibility [before].” Even before the collection left the press, buzz had spread and Pro Se was receiving emails from people wanting other such collections. Early next year, they plan to release BLACK PULP II and ASIAN PULP with at least two other ethnically themed collections in development. Pro Se Press has also started a YoungPulp line, an imprint to bring in young readers, to show them what Pulp is and how it really is a part of the things they already love. Other future plans include working with licensed properties to resurrect well-known characters from independent comics in the past for prose adaptations and new stories.
As a small publishing company, marketing has proven to be a challenge. However, Tommy feels that they are making headway on getting the word out maintaining a strong presence on social media and at conventions such as Shadowcon, Mid South Con and Memphis Comic and Fantasy Con. “[The conventions] are like a second home to Pro Se,” Tommy says. “We get a chance at conventions to not only talk about Pulp and sell our books, but the biggest opportunity is to expose our work to new readers of all types. And what we’ve learned is that comic fans, anime fans, old time radio fans, movie fans - fans of all types - can find something they’ll love and read from our catalog.” The results are beginning to show as they have seen a steady increase in sales. While traditional publishers have
chosen major coastal metropolises for their headquarters, Pro Se Press feels at home in Arkansas. Their smaller size and the changing nature of publishing have allowed Tommy and Fuller to pursue their passion from the Natural State. “The traditional models are collapsing,” Tommy says. “More and more people want a different experience as writers and as readers. That experience on both sides of the page will be found and is being found in smaller independent presses. Technology has made it possible for there to be New Pulp. Just like there were magazines that were cheap to produce and sell in the early 20th Century, we have ebooks now that many people call the new pulp magazines. Almost anyone can format an ebook, put it up for sale, and, unless you’re a large publisher who hasn’t figured out yet that no one wants to pay the same for a digital book as they do a hardback book, sell it cheaply.” While the price may be low, publishers like Pro Se Press ensure that the quality isn’t. These books delight, inspire and tantalize. Pulp fiction is back and it’s anything but trash.
VISIT: ProSe-Press.com 44
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March 14, 2013 I took wooden spoons to an overturned plastic trashcan while rain-slicked alley asphalt drew an ice-water drink. I tried to smoke a cigarette and keep time but couldn’t inhale my groove. My soaked shirt a cool second skin. I drummed the sides spat thunder from its mouth. As raindrops applauded on the plastic, I kicked it down the alley, followed to the sidewalk. I threw my drumsticks and smoldered cigarette down its throat. Bought a newspaper. North Korea: “The West Will Be Fire” I folded up the paper threw it down the throat with the drumsticks, my cigarette. Leaned against a brick wall, under graffiti that read One Way Jesus which I guess is the heart of the poem.
Mono Barracho 36” x 48” Acrylic on canvas Matt Miller
- Louie Land
“BESSER” CONT. FROM P. 18 the game. Long-form scenes may be long or short. - Harold: A specific form of long-form improv developed by Del Close (named “Harold” after no one in particular) with multiple acts, tying themes and stories together throughout.
improvisors to build on each other’s ideas with agreement, rather than trying to direct the reality of a scene alone. - heightening: Besser explains heightening as “if this absurd thing is true, then what else is also true?” as an extrapolation of “yes, and.”
- short-form improv: Developed as an acting exercise, it is a game that is given to the improvisors literally, like Whose Line Is It Anyway? - game: The verbal and intellectual exchange that a scene hinges on - usually some sort of tension, conflict, or central conceit of the scene. - “yes, and”: the best-known rule of improv, which directs
OUR TEETH BUMPED WHILE WE WERE KISSING Our teeth bumped while we were kissing our first time in Indiana. A cool evening I wiped the pain from your eyes but left mine well alone but I liked you more than I. And now the scent of her has long since gone from the scarf that she wrapped around your neck to warm you on that chilly night that you kissed, that you met in Bruges. - Benjamin Del Shreve
Ageless Beauty 3â€™ x 6â€™ Acrylic on Canvas Matt Miller