ArtNerd: Haunted by the Living

By Josh Feit June 21, 2009

[Editor's Note: There's no way this review of last night's art/theater show at the Moore was written by Josh. And it wasn't. This PubliCola report was written by Emily Pothast, who regularly covers the local arts scene at her blog, Translinguistic Other.]


Lining up outside the Moore

On Saturday night, a crowd of hundreds packed into the Moore Theatre for Moore Inside Out, the latest in a string of happenings organized by Free Sheep Foundation (artist D.K. Pan and a host of collaborators including co-curator NKO).

Though Pan has been a fixture in the local performance scene for years, I first heard about his organization when many other Seattleites did—in September 2007, when they staged an interactive wake for the Bridge Motel on Aurora. Pan, who had secured a job at the moribund motel in order to document it artistically, learned the building was slated for demolition and asked if a group of artists could have their way with it first. Since transforming the Bridge Motel, Pan and his associates have staged a series of similar wakes for other doomed buildings. The character of these events has always been an odd mélange of mirth and melancholy, each commemorating the life and impending loss of yet another seedy urban landmark to gentrification (the Bridge Motel, with its neon red "MOTEL" sign, was demolished for a row of townhouses.)


Suzie J. Lee, Ghost Light

Moore Inside Out was a Free Sheep of a different color. Seattle's oldest operating theater, the venerable Moore is in many ways the polar opposite of the group's typical venue. Saturday's happening was not a funeral but an "architectural intervention" staged by dozens of artists and performers. As I was herded through the entrance in the alley, it occurred to me that the event was structured a lot like a haunted house with theater goers walking through a series of surprising exhibits. Installation artists, Butoh dancers and costumed characters filled every cranny of the warrening stairwells with human activity.

Backstage, artist Suzie J. Lee projected ghostlike images recalling the theater's vaudeville days while visitors lined up to cross Lead Pencil Studio's "Exit Ramp," a wooden catwalk extending from the stage to the first balcony.  Projections of Gretchen Bennett's tender Prismacolor renderings of Kurt Cobain You Tube stills flickered on the theater walls while Jason Puccinelli's fragmented faces haunted the orchestra.

As the evening's climax drew near, an actor portraying Moore Theatre architect E. W. Houghton descended onto the stage (in a white suit that simultaneously evoked Saturday Night Fever and Mark Twain) to extol the virtues of his creation via an eccentric monologue that may well have been sourced from historical archives. Then he disappeared back into the ceiling, and a small marching band led the audience to the after party.


Right: Jason Puccinelli, The Four Directions.

Moore Inside Out marks a milestone for the Free Sheep Foundation for a number of reasons. It was the group's first event to receive significant institutional funding: $30,000 combined funding from 4Culture and STG made the evening possible. It also represents an interesting shift in focus from the ecstasy of ephemerality to the slow-burning nostalgia of a living monument.

Like the Bridge Motel, the Moore Theatre is full of ghosts, and even a few unpleasant truths—the segregation section of the second balcony was the only area of the building left untouched, because it is haunting enough on its own. But it is also full of countless beautiful moments past, present and future.  It feels good to pay homage to an old friend who isn't dying for a change.


Three cheers at the end of the night.

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