Publisher: Elizabeth Hurd / Editor: Jillian Ball

Fresh Paint Performance Lab Introduces “Walk”

“Walk” by Ben Harrell

“Walk” is an interesting little show that is the latest project from Fresh Paint Performance Lab.  It is a musical featuring songs very reminiscent of Stephen Sondheim. Playwright Ben Harrell and director, Chelcy Harrell bring us an excellent example of the Fresh Paint program with “Walk” their latest development. “Walk” takes place in New York City amidst the thriving, busy active metropolis filled with harried individuals who are perpetually in a hurry and leery of strangers.  There are numerous short scenes taken from the lives of typical residents, teachers, construction workers, executives, students and artists and tourists who are all represented.

“Walk” is a show in development.  A new play or musical is created through a series of steps, and the first performance is essential for everyone to visualize what, if anything a production needs to be performance level.  The first time a playwright sees his production with audience reaction allows him to assess the production and perhaps, fine tune it, or reduce length, even expanding dialogue for clarification.  This is a vital step in developing new material and Fresh Paint Performance Lab is set up to provide exactly what a playwright needs to create the final perfect play.

Fresh Paint Performance Lab came about approximately a year ago when Marita Stryker and Chelcy Harrell had a germ of an idea.  It was to bring together artists specializing in various disciplines for the purpose of developing performance projects.  Theatre is a collaborative art form requiring the talents of actors and directors, visual artists and musicians, dancers and singers as well as writers and composers.  Very rarely are all these talents combined in one person, but it is quite common for creative individuals to have an idea that utilizes talents and disciplines they do not possess.  When a visionary playwright finds an editor, magic happens, and when they find a director who understands their vision the magic grows and when an actor brings that vision to life that vision can be shared with a multitude.  Fresh Paint Performance Lab provides the needed environment, and in the short time they have existed they already have a success story with “Gallow Walkers” that recently played at the venue provided by Shakespeare in the Park on Paseo.  Additionally there are a few shows under development including the recent opening titled “Walk” performed at the Contemporary Art Center at the fairgrounds in Oklahoma City.  Of course, Harrell and Stryker are not alone, others have joined them.  Stryker is Executive Director and Harrell is Artistic Director and Ben Harrell joined his wife in the group as a music associate under Music Director, Corie Melaugh.  Sheridan McMichael is an artistic associate, Ariana Orfanella heads up events and development and Kari Barber is Business Manager.  The list is growing as more artistic and music associates become affiliated with Fresh Paint Performance Lab as well as literary associates and a few ‘jack of all trades’ come into the group.

Fresh Paint Performance Lab is a non-profit agency and according to their web site “are an aggregate of Oklahoma City performing artists committed to cultivating a supportive space for local artists to experiment, collaborate, and produce new and developing works.”  One aspect that is important is constructive criticism.  This is the area that Oklahoma Art Scene and Hurd can provide to talented new performance artists.  Recognizing that a brand new show requires objectivity and encouragement as it grows into a viable and producible presentation.

“Walk” is just a little long for a production and it is also static.  The mood of New York City is often a lonely and depressing place for residents struggling to make a difference.  While that is true, it is also true that New York City can be a fun place to live as well as visit.  “Walk” dwells overly long on the loneliness and depressiveness.  The need for comic relief is rather intense.  The original music is lovely, but almost too much of a Stephen Sondheim influence and many of the songs seem a little too familiar.  Much of that may be due to the similarity of several songs in tempo, mood and pace all following one another that makes the music verge on monotonous. 

The current trend is for playwrights to develop shorter pieces that are one-acts and dispense with the intermission.  Without an intermission any seating which is not upscale theatre seating may become uncomfortable.  Sitting in one position for an extended period of time causes distraction and increases pressure on patrons that can make a show seem too long.

“Walk” is also an outstanding first production.  Once the director (Chelcy Harrell) and the playwright (Ben Harrell) examine all aspects of the production it will be easier for them to see what changes could improve the final version.  It’s easy to see that with a tweak and a twitch here and there, Fresh Paint Performance Labs will have another success on their hands. While the run of “Walk” ended on Saturday, November 18, 2017, it surely will not be the last time the production is presented in Oklahoma City.  If they can be just a little ruthless “Walk” can be another hit.

The ensemble cast performs with phenomenal skill, talent and dedication.  With such a large cast, (over 15) it is impossible to mention individuals, however each and every cast member is deserving of accolades and praise.  The band, consisting of three members on keyboards, percussion and standing bass lent their expertise and musical talent beautifully supporting the excellent vocals from each soloist and ensemble piece.

“Walk” should continue to evolve, and it is hoped that Oklahoma Art Scene and Hurd is a small part of the process.  Fresh Paint Performance Lab is a very exciting and useful adventure for all performance artists as well as contributing visual artists and writers.  This is an important and much needed opportunity for Oklahoma and all residents, artists and patrons alike.  Visit www.freshpaintperformancelab.com for further information about this visionary non-profit group or check out their FaceBook page at Fresh Paint Performance Lab. 

 

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