Beginning tonight, the spotlight is turned on the troubled lives of Americans.
Chapel Hill's Wordshed Productions puts on "Outside the Lines: A Performance Festival About American Identity" through Saturday. Featuring artists from the Triangle, the production is composed of four separate pieces presented by different directors and groups of actors. Each piece examines how Americans deal with a variety of common experiences, ranging from maturity to eating disorders.
"The four pieces explore specific American issues that are topical today," said Matthew Spangler, who cofounded Wordshed in 1998.
"The pieces also have a sort of dark comedy to them, you're not sure if you're allowed to laugh or not."
Spangler adapted Patrick McCabe's short story "Hot Nights at the Go Go Lounge" for his contribution, skewering America's massive pop culture presence in a rural Ireland setting and by extension the whole world. "The main character speaks in a speech borrowed from American B-movies, and he views his whole world through that lens," Spangler said.
Two of the pieces feature the talents of Sarah Whalen, a UNC communication studies graduate who has worked recently with Jodie Foster's production company, Egg. Whalen's work there lead her to create a short film, "A Circus for the Monkey," which also will be shown at the festival. Produced independently, the film depicts a struggling actor/director trying to make a successful living at her life's work.
Whalen also stars in "Crash Diet," adapted from North Carolinian Jill McCorkle's short story following the trials of a woman who chronically under-eats. "Jill just writes a female voice beautifully," Whalen said, who frequently uses McCorkle's work as a source. "She can get to the heart of a character beautifully."
Both Whalen's segments also feature the music of local artist Bill McCormick, whom she approached about adding songs to her pieces.
"Now Run Along Home," overseen by Lynn Johnson of the StreetSigns company, is the only work created particularly for "Outside the Lines." The original piece sprung from the improvisations and conversations of the actors. From there, Johnson said she recognized the theme of growing up and ran with it.
"It's about childhood," she said, "about how we all have these moments when one day you can't look back, when one day you've grown older."
Spangler said "Outside the Lines" promises to scrutinize the day-to-day struggle of Americans, in a manner that accommodates both a male and female perspective.
"It's going to be a really eclectic mix of things," Johnson said. "There'll be a lot in the evening for everybody."
"Outside the Lines: A Performance Festival about American Identity" can be seen at 8 p.m. Jan. 25-27 and at 2 p.m. Jan. 27 at Studio 6, Swain Hall. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for general admission.
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