Kool Kat of the Week: Happy Days, Unhappy Days, Gathering Wild’s Jerylann Warner Has a Burning Question About the 1950s and She Is Answering It with Dance

Posted on: Jan 22nd, 2014 By:

Jerylann Warner goes back to CIRCA 50. Photo credit: Bubba Carr.

The Gathering Wild Dance Company is transporting audiences back to CIRCA 50 this weekend Jan 24 and 25 at the 14th Street Playhouse, but their interpretation of the era of HAPPY DAYS isn’t just sock-hops, poodle skirts and perfectly trimmed lawns. Under the cheoreographic guidance of Art Director Jerylann Warner, the 14-member ensemble will “shine a light on oppressed emotions seething below the surface,” including race, censorship, the role of women in a patriarchal world and living the American Dream consumed by consumerism.

If those themes sounds heavy, Jerylann promises they are tackled with plenty of empathy, as well as a joyous soundtrack which includes classics from the decade that gave birth to rock n roll. ATLRetro decided to make Jerylann Kool Kat of the Week to find out more about one of Atlanta’s most innovative dance companies and their unique take on the 1950s.

ATLRetro: What inspired you to explore the 1950s through dance? Is there a personal connection, a personal fascination?

Jerylann Warner: I was inspired to create something that came from a memory. I was born in the ‘50s, all be it later in the decade, but I recall with reverence how people gathered in the streets at sunset in the summer, how radios and fireflies and Catholic widows exchanged laughter and food. But that is not in and of itself compelling enough, it has been a burning question for me: who would I have been in the midst of civil rights? Would I have stood up for what was in my heart? What would have been in my heart? What if I lived in the south, or if I was a young mother or if I was like so many women, dependent on a spouse??? I want to know if what I feel with such stinging clarity now would have surfaced for me then? I am intrigued by the sacrifices that protest entails, and I am so deeply in love with being human.

This isn’t just about 50s pop culture and the birth of rock n roll, though. You’re going underneath the outer veneer of the ‘50s as an idyllic American time. Can you talk about that why you decided an American housewife should be the narrator?

The housewife wears a beautiful red dress, and her role has been created by actress Amber Bradshaw, who joined me as a creator several months into the process. My first thought was “Ah she is the circulatory system.” Amber later helped clarify the housewife as a narrator, serving as a lens for the audience to see into the aspects of the decade that we have embraced. I can relate to her archetype. She was a natural for me to adapt into the dynamics of conformity and sexism.

The ‘50s was a key time in the history of jazz, an American art form enjoyed by whites but for which many of the most innovative composers and performers were black. Can you tell us a little bit about the segment, “Peace Piece,” which is inspired by music with the same name by jazz legend Bill Evans and his trio.

I was entirely blessed to have studied vernacular jazz dance and rhythm tap with Brenda Bufalino. This makes me no stranger to the force of jazz, the complexity and brilliance of improvisation. I choose “Pierce Piece,” a seminal improvised piano solo because it is beautiful and because I adore it and because jazz is a diffusing racial alchemy.It is a universal collective of voices and responses.

Amber Bradshaw narrates Circa 50 by Gathering Wild dance company. Photo credit: Bubba Carr.

What are some of the 50s classic songs you decided to include and why?

It is fair to give you this synopsis. Chuck Berry was urged to do better and invented the alter ego Johnny B. Goode; he lived on Goode Street. Johnny Cash was a poet for the striving. Pasty Cline aroused everyone, and that was okay. Elvis was a very complex man and truly an original. I will refer to him often. Anytime I sense reluctance of expression in my students. Do not edit yourself, not yet. That’s what I say.

Circa 50 features some original musical pieces, too. I’m particularly intrigued by the innovative kitchen soundtrack in the Print Ads scene.

The original score is played live by the amazing Colin Agnew. He will play domestic appliances and kitchen utensils. I am sure I do not have to tell you why.

How about the segment around Frank Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight?” 

Thanks to my dad Joe, Frank Sinatra is my wheel house. I made this duet for two women. We have so much more work to do in our ongoing civil rights movement. Frank’s romantic overtures belong to every couple.

Gathering Wild dancers in CIRCA 50. Photo credit: Bubba Carr.

Do you use any ’50s movie imagery or icons, i.e. Marilyn Monroe or James Dean? If no, why not? 

I have not floated imagery in of James Dean or of Marilyn. Instead I have gravitated toward the iconic musicians in my interpretation of their impact, the way the music makes me feel, and in research I conducted.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell ATLRetro readers about CIRCA 50 or Gathering Wild dance company?

Gathering Wild is known for its way of motioning audiences to look at things, like a gentle tap tap, hey, look at this, look at this marvelous, beautiful aspect of life [or] look at this bravado, this influence, this delightful presence that is real and powerful and of our creation. And particular to Circa 50, look at this suffering and triumph.

What’s next for you and Gathering Wild?

Next for Gathering Wild is a theme-free show. They are so very compelling, but I am ready to work with my beautiful, talented dancers in a very “other” kind of way. Just us, just us in the studio sourcing movement and building an arch, a passage, a tunnel to the deeper feelings of why we love to dance.

Tickets on sale through the Woodruff Arts Center Box Office.

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Kool Kat of the Week: MidCentury Home for the Holidays: Persephone Phoenix Cooks Up Some Domestic Mischief with Fat Cat Cabaret

Posted on: Nov 12th, 2013 By:

Persephone Phoenix. Photo credit: Tim Fox Photography. Used with permission.

Oh, Happy Days! Fat Cat Cabaret, one of Atlanta’s newest Retro entertainment troupes, is sneaking a peek behind closed doors to home life in the post-World War  in their 1950s Burlesque Holiday Show this Saturday Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. at Andrew’s Upstairs. The sassy shenanigans set to the music of the birth era of rock n roll include iconic foods, props and include special guest and recent Kool Kat Talloolah Love, the Sweetest T in the South, as the hottest neighbor on the block, and Nashville self-proclaimed Dieselpunk Prophet of Pop Culture Big Daddy Cool, as the Ultimate Entertainer. Also on the roster are Sketch Macquinor as the comedic neighbor and bearer of all things funny; Ben Gravitt, as Jerry, your humble narrator and all-around hip cat; and another Kool Kat, Ruby le Chatte, as Jerry’s other half and the life of the party!

To find out more, we caught up with Fat Cat’s Creative Director Perspehone Phoenix, a true Kool Kat’s Meow in her own right. So yeah, we asked her a bit about her path to fabulous frivolity, too!

First off, tell us a bit about yourself. What’s the secret origin story of Persephone Phoenix?

As the Head Haunchess of Hell and the Princess of Purgatory, I emerged from a previously mundane, muggle existence, and with a fiery glory, was reborn as a creature of the dark side known as burlesque performance. I am currently an aerial instructor with Play Hard Gym and creative director for Fat Cat Cabaret, as well as freelance performer, splitting my time between performance, organization and community involvement.  An aerialist for nearly four years, I initially took burlesque classes with Syrens of the South, and after my debut combining both aerial arts and strip tease, I have not looked back. I have performed all over the Southeast and am a member of or have performed with such groups as Fat Cat Cabaret, Syrens of the South, Musee du Coeur, Cheeky BellesBible Belt Burlesque (Perry, GA), Spooky LeStrange and Her Billion Dollar Baby Dolls (New Orleans) and recently, in front of an audience of over 1000 people at DragonCon’s Glamour Geek Revue.

What about Fat Cat Cabaret?! The troupe is relatively new to the burlesque/variety/Retro scene in Atlanta. What sets it apart?

One of the things that initially attracted me to this group was that, unlike many other troupes whom I have worked with, Fat Cat attempts to tell a story with their productions. Each number is thoughtfully placed, with consideration being given to how it advances the story, explains the characters, or provides more era-related background for the audience. Using costumes, music and dialogue, you will follow a central character through a semi-period-accurate environment, and will be entertained the whole way through. It’s an intellectually challenging project, and it really takes burlesque/variety productions to a new level in my opinion.

The ‘50s is the heart of all we love at ATLRetro. What does that decade personally mean to you? What are your personal favorite things about it?

I have a penchant for A Line skirts, crinolines and short gloves. For someone who is often wearing little to no clothing, I have never felt more feminine, sexy and empowered than I did wearing these pieces. I see the ladies fashions from this decade as the delicate veil over what was the rising sexual revolution.

The show follows Jerry, the narrator, through adventures of 1950s home life. Is it a play or a series of burlesque vignettes? Why home life and not, say, the birth of rock n roll or haute couture?

It is both a play and a series of burlesque/variety vignettes. Each number is played out by characters who are in some way related to Jerry: a neighbor, a friend, a coworker, family member. The production tightly organized to bring continuity to the storyline and to entertain the audience.

As Jerry was a character first introduced in Fat Cat’s Holiday Show last year and this is a continuation of his storyline, home life was the natural subject to explore in this show, since the characters naturally fit as members of his community. But that doesn’t mean that other ’50s concepts aren’t touched on in this show.

Persephone Phoenix. Photo credit: Tim Fox Photography. Used with permission.

Will it be the ‘50s through the lens of the present day or is Fat Cat trying to create something contemporary to the time in humor, etc.? Or a combo of both? If the latter, then how did you research? What was most challenging?

Since the ’50s wasn’t a particularly sexually liberated era, and there will be copious dirty jokes and sexual humor, the production will not be entirely period accurate. However, using music, costumes and dialogue, we attempt to immerse the audience in a comical cross-section of 50’s home life. Research was conducted on music which fits the time, phrasing and subjects for comedy which were true to the era. The most challenging aspect of this show, which continues to be challenging, is sloughing off modern terminology and incorporating antiquated phrases. Since we’re adlibbing quite a bit, it’s likely a struggle that our audience will find comical.

Can you tease us a little about what you are doing yourself in the show?

Lets just say that relationships can be very messy. Especially when there’s food around..

What else is happening? We’ve heard there will vendors, a period deejay after the show and drink specials?

The fantastic artists of 2the9’s Retro and Jezebel Blue handmade jewelry will be hawking their unique wares at our show.  Also Deep Eddy Vodka will be on special, and DJ Huda Hudia will be spinning modern tunes into the wee hours of the morning.  The party doesn’t stop after the show is over, so we encourage everyone to stick around and enjoy the fantastic venue!

Photo courtesy of Persephone Phoenix.

Anything else you’d like to add?

The team creating this show are some of the most talented, professional, creative folks I have ever had the joy of working with. They are committed to bringing this shared vision to life, and have made personal sacrifices to devote the time necessary to make it happen. I am grateful for that, and can’t wait to show the audience all of our hard work.

Also, I took over creative directorship from my predecessor, who I count amongst one of my best friends. The theme and concept of this show was very much dependent upon her inspiration, and I’m thankful to have worked with her on this and previous projects.

What’s next for Persephone Phoenix and Fat Cat Cabaret?

Well, I have recently devoted my entire professional life to art and artistic endeavors, so I look forward to seeing where that will take me. The transition from a full-time professional muggle career to freelance artist is an intimidating one. However, I’m really lucky to be surrounded by an amazing community with lots of opportunities and support.  I am hopeful to travel some for performance, volunteer more in the performance community, and continue building my aerial student base.

As for Fat Cat Cabaret, we will begin formulating our next show, to be revealed early next year. All of the players in Fat Cat will no doubt be seen around the Atlanta community, so keep your eyes and ears out!

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Weekend Update, Feb. 17-20, 2011

Posted on: Feb 17th, 2011 By:

The weekend is so close you can almost taste it.  As usual, ATLRetro reminds you about what’s happening, including a new section at the end with ongoing events such as theater performances and exhibitions.

Thursday Feb. 17

Celebrate one of the most dynamic decades in pop music history when LIBBY’S AT THE EXPRESS PRESENTS THOSE FABULOUS FIFTIES, featuring songs made famous by Nat “King” Cole, Rosemary Clooney, The Mills Brothers, Buddy Holly, Hank Williams Sr., and the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley. The variety show stars local chanteuses Lisa PaigeWendy Melkonian and Libby Whittemore, with musical arrangements by Robert Strickland, tonight through Sunday Feb. 20 at 7:30 PM at Actor’s Express in west Midtown.

Ghost Riders Car Club celebrates Vietnamese New Year with classic ’50s honkytonk and rockabilly every Thursday in February at Pho Truc in Clarkston. Listen to Tongo Hiti’s luxurious live lounge sounds, as well as some trippy takes on iconic pop songs, just about every Thursday night at Trader Vic’s. The Joe Gransden Trio is at Atmosphere from 7-10 p.m. And Breeze Kings play the blues at Northside Tavern.

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