It’s been another election season this year and (some) people and citizens have voted for city council positions and state legislation and though local and state elections don’t get the same coverage as the national presidential campaigns, they’re undoubtedly more directly important to the day to day lives of the peoples of a city or town. This is increasingly true as few and fewer people go out to vote which inevitably results in each vote weighing significantly more than would be in greater numbers. An elementary but very powerful concept to take in when considering whether or not to vote.

   It is good to say though that what was likely was in response to last year’s contentious presidential election, the numbers of the fall 2017 government elections did creep up noticeably, though still less than a quarter of all eligibles. This season saw the rise of several historical wins across the country, including the winning campaigns of Danica Roem in Virginia and Charlotte’s Vi Lyles whom both made achievements in the transgender and African American women communities respectively.

   *Danica Roem received vast endorsements from names as large as Joe Biden and Milwaukee Executive Chris Abele, but it was the seemingly endless smaller contributions of the nameless thousands who donated mostly in increments of under $100 that really anticipated her victory. This exemplifies the purpose of the system designed to give power to the people and especially in the smaller elections, the importance of utilizing a national right not granted to several other countries of the world.

   Vi Lyles whom had been involved in Charlotte politics both as a member of city council (2013) and mayor pro-tem (2015), defeated Kenny Smith for the title of Mayor in Charlotte, becoming the first African American woman mayor of the city and the first mayor to previously have served as a city administrator. In response to the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott that garnered national attention, Lyles has proposed and advocated a ‘7-pt Plan’ that revolves around increasing citizen involvement in local politics, bridging the divide between law enforcement and marginalized groups, and opening up more employment opportunities to peoples whose socioeconomic circumstances make it difficult to progress in the system, including increasing the minimum wage for government workers to $15/hr.

   Though not quite getting the attention of the aforementioned wins, Dimple Ajmera was too elected in the At-Large position for city council becoming the first Asian-American woman to join the team and also the youngest. An Indian immigrant, Dimple had not even the command of the English language when she arrived to the states at the age of 16, but has since proven through herculean efforts and support, her ability to excel under any circumstance and is widely known for her untiring commitment to help the demographics of people in challenging positions such as homelessness, unaffordble housing, and uneven education. It was her own background and the instillation of these values from her parents that helped prepare Ajmera for running in this year’s election and now with a wider position of influence, the city of Charlotte is eager to see what she will bring to the table.

   As implied there are several issues that members of city council need to address ranging from affordable housing, economic mobility, neighborhood safety, and transportation and infrastructure. Charlotte is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, over 800,000 people have moved to the Queen City in the last decade. That number is not insignificant, and represents a teetering opportunity that can sway in one way or another. Unlike other major cities such as New York or Philadelphia, the development of Charlotte being newer allows us to grow with a sensible consideration of housing and transportation that can surpass other major cities on the principle of prepared anticipation. A strong city council is necessary to ensure that this happens and for better or for worse, Atlanta, despite its positive increase in the entertainment, is a representation of a city that grew almost too fast for its own good in regards to traffic and housing issues.

   Perhaps one must look at the Charlotte sky-line to see the contemporary potential of the hive that if matched, is a window to the possibilities that lie ahead. Having said that, a small group of people on city council and mayorhood can only do so much, and it is highly encouraged that individuals take their own stand and assist those in positions of political power by helping themselves. The progressive system has the ability to work wonders, but it is the individuals that ultimately make the city or town what it is.

 

*I understand the Danica’s achievements lie in VA, but her way to victory is representative of the importance of actively voting is something to share. Additionally, being a strong advocate for the rights and equality of any person regardless of how they identify themselves, I thought the win was too momentous not to share.

   The Blumenthal Theater continues to establish itself as a noted platform for the various arts that take the stage and this year’s presentation of ‘Fun Home’ was no exception. Adapted from a graphic novel of the same name, the musical follows the autobiographical story of Alison Bechdel as she reflects on her upbringing as a closeted and bursting out of the closet lesbian and how that revealed itself in distinct periods in her life as well as affecting her familial relationships, most notably with her father. The play is collection of vignettes of Alison’s childhood and college years narrated by her adult cartoonist self and it is this format that the audience simultaneously understands the development of her ‘coming-of-age’ and allows a wider empathetic understanding of the socially complex issue of gender identity and orientation.

   The play opens with a window rural suburban Pennsylvania, an important detail when considering the context of the themes, and we see a young Alison and her siblings playing in an antiquated decorated house. From here we learn that Alison’s father is a funeral director and high school teacher while her mother is a talented pianist and musician. Childhoods are remarkable for anyone and though it isn’t immediate from the start where Alison’s tendencies lie, the playfulness of the scenes and child actors indicate the universal desire the youth have to make fun of the world as they seek to understand it. This even presents itself when the kids perform the major upbeat title number in the Funeral home, or ‘Fun Home’ putting alongside one another death and youthful glee.

   Early on and of marked interest is the relationship of Alison and her father and how they are as equally similar as they are different. While both have a deep appreciation of the arts, Alison prefers comics while her Dad goes for a more classical approach, Alison enjoys reading but still makes time for television while her father turns off what he would appropriately call a ‘boob tube’. Alison has described the relationship as her being “Spartan to her Dad’s Athenian”. As the play unwinds, the similarities of their relationship grow to a profound understanding that lies as a keystone to the play at large.

   It is the college years that Alison was able to do discover herself, separated from the confined residential neighborhood where everyone knows everyone, and with an introduction to a young woman named Joan, a leading member of the ‘gay’ club. In this new environment Alison comes out and finds both emotional and physical release in Joan that opens the floodgates to the woman she is today. The pleasant, funny, and awkwardly lyrical ballad is one of the more memorable songs from the stage.

   Fun Home manages to tread through these different stages of life through scene selection and reflection while allowing any number its cast a moment to take center stage and melodize their emotions, though Alison and her father rightfully get the lionshare of the songs. The decor of each scene is compact but thought out detail and they manage to get on one stage both the interior of a reminiscent home complete with fine furniture and grand piano placed strategically in front of a stage band that provides the music for the presentation of the events. The music itself is fairly fitting and despite the context of the play, ranges from the melancholic to the more uplifting. Of the instrumentation, the standout was likely the clarinet which crept into your ear in select moments expressing originality of the the composer though admittedly the overall score was reasonably safe in its modern musical approach.

   The importance of Fun Home as a play is that it is a story of one person to another ofe one in the consistently marginalized group of homosexuals. We’re told a fairly complete story of the trials and tribulations that come with the territory unfamiliar to most of the on-going audience members. Newspapers and headlines do very little in advancing progress without arousing anger and frustration on most social issues and so it is through the arts the provide a method of addressing the paradoxes of the world in a traditionally safe and neutral environment. If anyone wonders if work like this is still neccessary, take note that this is the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protaganist, so much efforts are still in need until the ‘gayness’ is no longer seen as either a stigma or novelty, but the play itself is representative of the progress of today.

   Fun Home, the graphic novel on which it was based hit the newsstands in 2006 and quickly established itself as a runaway spending multiple weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, garnering a nomination of the National Book Critics Circle Award and winning a coveted Eisner award as well.

 

 

   If you take a look at the highest grossing films of the last, let’s say 7 years, you’ll notice a trend. You’ll see movies that might star a web slinging college student. Or a man in an iron suit. Perhaps an alien in colored clothing if not another of the array of icons who don figurative outfits to battle injustice. In case you are one of the very few who haven’t realized, we are well into a defining era of the comic book movie.

 

   But let us not brush past this phrase. Allow us to hone in on the words, ‘comic book’. The ‘comic book’, is an American staple without any comparison around the world, it’s own prototype. While Japan may have Manga, now closely tied to it’s anime, and France has produces it’s own distinct array of enticing humor and imagination with the memorable TinTin  and Sempé, the United States has the cape flying, masquerading super-hero.

 

 

   The modern superhero, as we understand them to be, was by many sources, Superman. Though historical creative ‘first’ may be hard to attribute, it as the lone alien from Krypton that put the superhero on the map when there were none. Zorro may have been swift with the sword, and Sherlock rather ingenious, but it was the multitude of powers that made Superman stand out. Perhaps no other figure had really captured the depth of imagination of what one person could do since older legends pertaining to Hercules or Cuchulain. But even then, there is a divide in intent. Superman was fighting for peace and justice while characters of previous god-like men were fractured and flawed. Superman when best described is as much the man as he is Super, and that is why Action Comics #1 continues to break its own record for the price of a single comic book.

 

   So, it was thirty-five years ago, in the midst of the Charlotte streets, an inaugural event occured that would change the cultural landscape of Charlotte, and in some ways, really put it ahead of its time. The very first, Heroes Convention in Charlotte, founded by and still headed by local legend, Shelton Drum was started, and it is today that we have cosplay competitions. For those unfamiliar, the Heroes Convention is an annual comic book mecca in celebration of the craft that has thrown its influence onto every major movie production and television outlet, our comic book!

 

   Names like San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con, and WonderCon may have more recognition, but the Heroes Convention in Charlotte stands out because they still focus on the comics, and the people who make them. There will not be a major booth by Warner Bros. Studios, nor will the stream of actors and extras who may have never flipped a page appear.

 

   At the very heart, conventions were not intended to promote films or boost the status of a pretty face. Their purpose is to be a hub where people who love comics can read and trade comics. Before the advent of the internet, finding others like you took slightly more effort and invention.

 

   Nowadays, each summer, the Charlotte Convention Center holds floor to a variety of vendors from all over the country, some strictly comic books, nostalgic toys, comic book art supplies, memorabilia and posters, and anything relating to comics. It’s all very much like a bazaar. Then behind them, you will discover another reputable staple of the convention, the artists! Where the heroes convention really thrives is setting up comic artists, from league professionals to local off key creators ignited from the 2005 convention under ‘Indie Island’. Previous guests have included George Perez, Todd McFarlane, Alan Davis, Joe Quesada, and even multiple appearances by Stan Lee.  

 

   The Heroes Convention remains a stage for conversations to occur about comics. They offer panels and workshops where the dedicated or seasoned may improve their craft whether that be inking or drafting a story. Then there is also discussion about the nature of industry trends so that the inquisitive may learn the nuanced inner workings of what is fittingly called, ‘Comic ‘Book Culture’. No convention would be complete if we didn’t have the annual Quickdraw contest, the Cosplay Competition, or the art auction, the Heroes Convention is really comprehensive in its approach taking into account the people who make it happen.

 

There is one other dynamic that the Heroes Convention does right, and it really sums up the whole spirit of the convention in a better way. The convention was founded on the belief that people should get together to experience comradery and nearly every year, the occasion falls on Father’s Day weekend at a peak in the summer. That has ensured families, often led by Fathers but Mothers as well, may come in unison and see the spirit of where these screen icons have come. It’s long boxes and plastic sleeves, ink jars and bristol board, capes and cowls.

 

Matthew Barnes

 

**A previous version of this story did appear in an edition of South Charlotte Weekly

 

 

   At the heart of this podcast and outlet is the desire to promote and make visible to the community various happenings around the city of Charlotte. It is much in line with the ‘Shop Local’ movement that has sprung up as independent businesses and ventures seem to close regularly only to be replaced by the now thriving entrepreneurial market now possible via the internet and social media. One particular distinction that I’d like to hi-light is that of music from the historically important community choir, or in this case, chorale.

 

   The Ballantyne Chorale, in fine tradition, is composed of an aggregate of members that are mostly pulled from its namesake, the booming and modern neighborhood on the most southern edge of the city. The locality is known for its luxurious living circumstances that sprung fairly quickly from what was formerly farmland scarcely a few decades prior. It is now a premium suburban shopping hideaway that also flourishes business and with importance to the current topic, residential, both long-term and up and coming.

 

   Music is very often a passion for anyone who pursues it and is predominantly practiced by those who don’t make it for a living. I wouldn’t expect to find a secret lawyer in an elementary school, or a part time surgeon making sandwiches at the nearby deli. But I can guarantee with near certainty that nearly every building establishment houses at least one closet musician and the larger the walls, the , more likely the case.

 

   Melody is ingrained in our blood and if the sheer value of the music industry isn’t enough, certainly the amount of people whom have tried and quit after x amount of tries points to the fact that nearly everyone at heart at least wants to make music, if not be a musician. Before the era of digital streaming and even before that of recorded sound, to make music was one of two ways to even hear it. The other, was attending a concert of musicians and in scattered towns and quarters, local musicians of different backgrounds but capable talents, got together and made song.

 

   This is what the role of the Ballantyne Chorale does for the community and it was recently they completed their 4th annual concert at The Fillmore in Charlotte.

 

   Expanding beyond their namesake, this year’s concert opened with a young, of primary school age, lady playing through the final movement of Mozart Sonata in A K. 331, or what is widely known as ‘The Turkish March’. I can assure you, you would recognize it.

 

Beverly Warkulwiz is the chief operator and director of the chorale and she introduced this year’s concert to invite the audience in on the theme, “Pick you Battles”. Songs would have some sort relation to the battles we may be fighting whether they internal or external, with disease or through sports. Life is often marked by a series of clashes fought by both the individual and the collective, literal and slightly more metaphorical, though always real. With the closing of her words, the complete chorale began with a rendition of the piece, “Do you hear the People Sing?” and we were off.

 

The structure of the concert is diverse and following up, we get a series of solos and duets from the different members of the Chorale. This is when some of the single members get their opportunity to exhibit what brought them out of the bedroom and onto the stage. Of notice was the humorous and vibin’ energy of Jane Russel, one of the founding four members who navigate the fabric of the chorale and then there was also Sean O’ Leary who brought an experienced voice to Andra Day’s “Rise Up”. There was a mother/daughter duet with Beverly and her youngest with the song “True Colors” and all of this and forward numbers would be accompanied by the talented pianist and vocalist, Amber Faulhaber.  

 

When we do arrive at the complete choir pieces, you can hear the sum of all the parts and it provides a great experience indeed. Sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses come together and take us through hits including the “Eye of the Tiger”, “Touch the Sky” (with the Hawk Ridge Elementary Choir), and in ecstatic fashion, a vocal reprise of Mozart’s theme.

 

The Ballantyne Chorale is a community organization in every sense of the word, founded and formed of rogue tax payers who have day jobs. They make the effort to get together weekly and practice either at a school, members’ homes, or whatever space may open up to them. During the holiday season, they perform at a variety of concerts in the city taking their listeners through the songs of the season.

 

While you won’t hear the vocal pyrotechnics of Adele or see the dance moves of Bruno Mars, you will be delivered an authentic love of the combination of harmony and lyric that is unpersuaded by record sales or executives. It could hardly be said of how much effort these happenings require on the behalf of its members and if anyone has any interest in ‘shopping local’ for music, you could hardly find an equal outing of quantity of communal songmakers.

 

 

Matthew

     The Original Spaghetti Western

 

     It drizzles mists on and off as several individuals in various pairings and groupings rush in to get to their seats for tonight’s spectacular event. In one corner, you may see an elderly couple, long seasoned in the liberal and performing arts, always a beacon of youthful energy as they step through familiar doors, while on the other end, one can expect to find a younger crowd, sometimes in larger groups, three generations removed and likely students at one of the nearby educational facilities. Amongst the faces, will be be hidden vocations of students, vocalists, teachers, salespersons, marketers, fry cooks, drivers, and really anything that might drag in a paycheck. What has brought them all together here is the still cherrying event that has captivated audiences for centuries, and one that extravagates so many times a season. This Thursday evening, Opera Carolina, Charlotte’s home company, was to be presenting one of the masters of the form, Giacomo Puccini’s, The Girl of the West, a marked piece in the repertoire of the Italian, of a love triangle that takes place in a saloon during the California Gold rush of the 1840s.  

 

     Puccini has been considered by several to be the greatest composer of the Italian opera after Verdi, the latter whom inspired the young Giacomo after the composer-to-be walked nearly twenty miles to attend a performance of Aida. It was in this context that Giacomo decided to make opera his life’s principle work.

 

     While the opera house is no longer the central hub as it stood in either Puccini’s or Verdi’s time, their works still emanate through our world and you have likely heard Puccini if you saw Paul Potts’ competition winning performance in the first season of Britain’s Got Talent, watched films such as ‘Atonement’, Moulin Rouge, or Moonstruck. Even Homer Simpson gave his go at opera in one of the latter seasons of the staple American comedy. Still not convinced? Check out a most popular of all remakes, ‘Rent’ adapted from Puccini’s La Boheme.

 

     Considering adaptations, Puccini found the fodder for his work after witnessing the play, ‘The Girl of the Golden West’ by American author David Belasco, and despite not speaking any English, felt moved by the essence of what took place on stage for the proceeding work. This was in fact, the second in succession of Puccini adapting a play from Belasco, for during this period he had seen and moved himself into composing the wildly successful Madame Butterfly.

 

     The two-act opera opens in a saloon full of exhausted gold miners who pass the time lamenting for home through song, playing cards, and of course…drinking. A cheat here, a rustle there and the saloon owner, Minnie steps onto the stage and is a accompanied by a pistol shot of control and composure as she stands: the sole head of the saloon. Soon sheriff Jack Rance enters, quickly followed by a Wells Fargo agent (yes, the Wells Fargo) mentioning how they are hot on the trail of bandit leader, Ramerrez and they hope to lure him to the nearby vicinity soon. In this exchange, the sheriff Jack does his best, unsuccessfully, to woo the tough and beautiful Minnie. Of course it turns out Ramerrez, under an assumed name enters and has a romantic history from Minnie but his troubled past and pressured present is an obstacle to the woman he does not know he loves yet. This is the premise that launches the opera into a social and moral drama of the ages, backed by some of the most celebrated music ever composed.

 

     To illustrate the stature of Puccini, The Girl of the West was commissioned to him by the Metropolitan opera (remember, no English!) and it would have its premiere at the Met in 1910, with praise immediately following. ‘The West’, as is so aptly understood to be an American concept, was a draw for many artists and composers and throughout the work, one can hear themes and melodies that are distinctly of U.S origin, but arranged and presented through the great European tradition.

 

 

     It was under the baton of Opera Carolina’s principle conductor, James Meena, that Puccini’s masterwork was staged in conjunction with Italian artistic Director and Designer Ivan Stefanutti. The collaboration resulted in a spectacle to be cemented in the memory of all those who saw. Visually, Opera Carolina has an impeccable record, and this stood as no exception. Meena and Stefanutti went through great heights to ensure belief on the stage including reaching out to the Wells Fargo history museum, both local and out in California to get material from the archives in setting up the stage for authenticity. The gradiating wood scheme, with atmospheric lights of smoke and grit were reminiscent of early American paintings and the costume revealed that a time long since passed was being presented before our very eyes.  

 

The composite traditions of an early 20th century Italian opera, about the 19th century ‘West’, being offered up in the early 21st century by an American conductor and an Italian designer resulted in a rich experience and demonstrated how this not quite dormant form still remains relevant and to be enjoyed even today.

 

Matthew Barnes

     

 

 

     

     Finding something to do with the weekend can be a chore as several venues and organizations fight for your weekend afternoon and evenings to help you wind down from an eventful work week. Of these, bars are often a go to spot and, notably in Charlotte, breweries, as so many have opened and are opening that they’re now established staples in the Queen City. These two and half day periods are filled with the regular and irregular for while several options operate like clockwork, others spring up from time to time and those quick enough to catch them, opt in for a unique experience and can verify that they truly passed the time well, whether they be visiting from afar or claim locality in the ever increasing population. What you may not have noticed is that twice a year in these factories of hops and gardens, is the cumulation of creativity and drink, where one can find a flight of beers specific to the area paired along with short films, often made and distributed by the people who frequent these very breweries in their day to day lives. This is what Films on Tap has to offer, the platform Sean Beck has spear headed in order to showcase the creative endeavors of the growing native film scene and exhibit the parallel rise of the craft beer capita of the South.

     This spring, the Films on Tap was presented by Birdsong Brewery on a subtle rainy Monday in NoDa, where filmmakers, planners and audience members alike came together for their flights. Analogous to the beers, the variation of films was wide as it opened with ‘Kamen’, a beautifully shot, admittedly overseas, story dealing with the relationship of commitment to kinship in the wake of mass political agreement reminiscent of ‘The Lottery’ when one individual struggles to defend another. Immediately apparent is the originality that one would expect from a painting or sculpture, where the work is generally attributed to one person for despite the obvious teamwork involved in the completion of a film, the directors being able to introduce their films beforehand give you a glimpse into the dimension of filmmakers you didn’t know were making movies. A woman, Lile Sizemore, husband of writer/director She and very large helping hand, introduced the film.*

 

     ‘Good Hair’ followed, a project by real-life comedic romance duo Fray Forde and Catherine Dee Holly that touches upon how even simple acts, or misacts, can carry historical and emotional gravity that has been left unsaid until the turning point. Almost split in half, the first portion showcases the comic writing of the two, and the real-life relationship captured on-screen, though not entirely new, for let us remember Bogart and Bacall, adds to the authenticity of their reactions. In particular, I did find the more dramatic conclusion more captivating and felt it had given each their fair shake as the audience was left with a resonant relationship ordeal. Again, it was observed that this was a film with an interracial relationship, and that aspect didn’t drive the plot or content of the film. Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’, though brilliant in itself, loses much of its punch on the indie film market. If anything, it noted African Americans and redheads can have some pretty interesting hair and if you ever feel enclosed in a relationship, pick up the aptly named, ‘Doin’ Thhyme Witbier!

 

     So from foreign language to relationship comedy, we land upon the horror genre. ‘The Hidden’, made by Christopher Baker and winner of ‘Best Scripted Film’ in the 100 words film festival is a welcome shake to our expectations of cinema as encouraged by the limitations. In this brief film, the audience was aroused with creepiness and thrills as child actor Pierce Russel Pope, signed with local talent agency, Evolution, gave us a quick jump with a well done twist on the ‘monster under my bed’ story.

 

     Documentary took to the stand next with ‘A Life on Two Wheels’ and while a little more straightforward in production value, I had this film quoted to me about encouragement less than an hour later. The story being told is about a man in his twilight years who loves to ride his bike to the point of physical exhaustion (for it beats mental exhaustion), to release all those endorphins granted to us by nature that are cheaply and poorly substituted by social media outlets. A major accident that nearly ended his cycling escapades simply had him stating he’d rather go out riding his bike, than falling out of bed, a testament to that whenever death takes us by surprise, and it will, will you be doing what you love?

 

    Closure was ignited with the hip and contemporary, literally, backseat romance, ‘Crass’. The rawness of the situation of two awkward people trying to find out how to get to that next step on an early, though not first date, is so universally understood, there is no doubt real life experiences guided this script to be a crowd favorite. It is a perfect example of how you can pack deep human emotions, thought, and real sweetness between two people, in nothing more than a car. People generate all that anyone can want to see on screen with their bodies and voices because in any film, that’s where the lasting connections are formed as it was made apparently through the night.

     

     Despite the advancements of technology and social media, major blockbusters and wide releases continue to dominate the public thought of what cinema and movie making is and should look like. Films on Tap is a fresh reminder that despite the larger teams often needed to be assembled, cinema is just another medium to express the human experience and in this evening that ranged from wordless film, to modern relationships and looking to our elders, one will have discovered more diversity and engagement in two hours than the same time spent at the major movie theatre. Even if you don’t agree with the films, you are likely to at least feel something beyond ‘That was ok, I can’t wait to see if they franchise it and make a seven arc saga’. None of these imply follow ups, but they all do exhibit the creative human spirit and with introductions by the filmmakers in an intimate setting, this twice a year festival is a great way to be re-introduced to cinema, perhaps the way it was first presented over one hundred years prior.

 

 

MEB

 

*This article has been corrected that Shea, not Lile (previously misattributed) directed the film.