Saturday, August 18, 2012
Play Locally Tonight: Babes With Blades and Mucca Pazza
SATURDAY, AUGUST 18, 2012 - 11:00PM
DOORS 10:30 PM / SHOW 11:00 PM
17 & OVER, VALID ID REQUIRED FOR ENTRY.
Twisted metal and piles of slag behind them, shish boom bah!
Chicago’s Mucca Pazza marches on, from the steel mill parking lots of Chicago across the nation. Wielding homemade headgear amps and shouting surreal algebraic cheers, the dozens-strong band insists on Safety Fifth (Electric Cowbell Records; June 12, 2012).
They march in formation, rip through drum cadences, bust out cinematic stories, and incite mass dance outbreaks. They channel everything from Bartok to a love-struck Godzilla, re-imagine the uptight 19th-century march, and make up soundtracks for classic Egyptian movies that never happened. Not bad for an eccentric gang of loud-and-proud, self-proclaimed band geeks.
“We look like a marching band and occasionally behave like a marching band, but we don’t sound like one,” explains Gary Kalar, mandolin player and member of Mucca Pazza’s “freak” section of stringed instruments and accordion. “We care about the music we play; it’s not a novelty thing. We just don’t fit into any hyphenated genre.”
“We’re a marching band that thinks we’re a rock band,” exclaims sousaphone player Mark Messing.
This May and June, Mucca Pazza will rock New York, Washington DC, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Louisville, and, of course, Chicago, with a live show too big to stay on stage.
Why play a gritty factory parking lot for free every Sunday morning?
“We figured no one would bother us in an industrial area,” reflects Messing. “It was also weirdly inspiring to be there, by ourselves on the Chicago River, among all these big scrap yards. We felt like we were putting together something from scrap.
“We came together in a whole bunch of ways. The connections were pretty random,” explains trombonist Elanor Leskiw. “Some of us met while protesting the war here in Chicago. Many of us are involved in theater and music for theater. About seven of us wanted to explore playing original compositions and just have an outlet. As a composer, you don’t have an ensemble to try out new music, unless you’re at an academic institution or orchestra. It grew from there. We were having so much fun playing at the parking lot at noon. People would show up to listen every week, with donuts and coffee.”
“All the rock bands and the singer-songwriters have a place to be, but we grew up in school bands,” Messing adds. “We had to come up with our own alternative that was fun.”
The alternative evolved during those impromptu Sunday sessions, melding a devil-may-care rock vibe with the devil’s-in-the-details focus and precision of the best marching bands. Cheerleaders praising the wonders of integers and verbs—or staging bold rallying cries against the Dewey decimal system—became part of the team, as did a motley crew of unexpected instruments.
For example, when guitarist Jeff Thomas approached the band, psyched about the music but dismayed that he only played guitar, the helmet amp was born: a hockey helmet DIY-melded with a tiny loudspeaker. “The hockey helmet has this strange resonance, which was odd at first,” laughs Thomas, “but it frees you.” The same setup allows mandolin, accordion, and violin to march alongside the brass, glockenspiel, and drum corps, and sparked the Mucca Pazza section lovingly dubbed “the freaks.”
Freakdom adds a fresh layer to the marching band sound, as funky guitar lines talk back (“March Anormale,” a slightly twisted take on 19th-century military band music) or the accordion sets the pace (the whimsical beauty of “Tube Sock Tango”).
Like the band, the music also came together from disparate, awesome bits: Quirky winks at TV shows’ theme songs (“Maui Waui 5-0” is a 70s-style car chase of a romp, for example) meet garage band songs gone drum and brass (the bad-ass “Boss Taurus”). A fascination with the work of Ennio Morricone (audible in “Hang ‘Em Where I Can See ‘Em”) crosses paths with a red-hot tango of love between the Mummy and Godzilla (the Tom Waitsian “Monster Tango”).
The fluid movement between genres, styles, and influences matches the band’s mobility. Even when performing in canoes on the Chicago River—the wild idea of an environmental non-profit that put the band in boats—the group uses formations familiar from their band geek days and high-energy drum cadences (like “Coolashell”) to transition from place to place, from piece to piece. They can also set a whole audience marching—sometimes right off the street and into the club.
This dynamism is tangible in the music and makes for an audience experience that’s up close and personal. “I never moved around much when I played in rock bands. I was chained to an amp,” notes Thomas with a smile. “The helmet was liberating. I could explore my body more, and it actually affected the way I played. Because of the directional quality of the helmet, I have to get really close to people. When I perform in the audience, I love getting obnoxiously close.”
Personal space issues aside, Mucca Pazza pushes the envelope, bringing punk aesthetics to the parade and marching band chops to the rock club. “We were marching in the Kentucky Derby parade in Louisville, with all these 100-member marching bands,” Thomas recounts. “We’d march like a regular band and then with a whistle blow make these random honking noises. At the point when a TV newscaster started to announce us on the air, we started honking away, and the announcer stopped mid-band name. He said, ‘I don’t think we’ve seen anything quite like this before.’”
BABES WITH BLADES KICKS OFF 15th ANNIVERSARY SEASON WITH “SUSAN SWAYNE AND THE BEWILDERED BRIDE”
WORLD PREMIERE OF REINA HARDY’S VICTORIAN DETECTIVE COMEDY
Babes With Blades Theatre Company (BWBTC), Chicago’s all-female stage combat ensemble, will open their 15th anniversary season with the world premiere of “Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride” by Reina Hardy, directed by Dan Foss. It’s 1888 in London, and the Society of Lady Detectives meets discreetly to indulge its members’ tastes for swordplay and sleuthing. As the genteel club considers a disturbing series of murders in the Whitechapel district, a frantic heiress turns up with a startling accusation towards one of their own. Society member Susan Swayne takes the case, defying societal norms and pursuing the truth through the Victorian streets. Combat sequences from violence designer/BWBTC ensemble member Libby Beyreis will feature smallsword and bartitsu (a Victorian mixed martial art influenced by jujitsu and savate). Tickets are $8 for previews or $20 for regular performances, students and seniors $12.
Originally submitted to BWBTC’s inaugural Joining Sword & Pen Playwriting Competition in 2005, “Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride” began as a one-act play inspired by a print of Emile Bayard’s “An Affair of Honor.” The script was selected for the company’s New Plays Development Program in 2009 and became a full-length play through a series of three readings and feedback sessions. Director Foss describes the resulting script as “a quirky Victorian detective comedy.”
The cast includes BWBTC ensemble members Lisa Herceg, Kimberly Logan, and Megan Schemmel, joined by guest artists Kathryn Acosta, Justine Serino, and Kelly Yacono.
Production staff includes Leigh Barrett* (Lighting Designer/BWBTC Artistic Director), Libby Beyreis* (Violence Designer), Matthew Cummings (Props Designer), Alison Dornheggen* (Production Manager), Dan Foss (Director), Gillian N. Humiston* (Assistant Violence Designer), Christopher Kriz (Sound Designer), Dennis Mae (Scenic Designer), Tara Malpass (Stage Manager), Kjerstine McHugh* (Assistant Director), and Kimberly Morris (Costume Designer).
*Denotes BWB Ensemble Member
“Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride” will open on Saturday, August 18 at 8:00 p.m. at the Lincoln Square Theatre, 4754 N. Leavitt (inside Berry Memorial UMC, lower level). Previews are Saturday, August 11 and Friday, August 17 at 8 p.m. The show runs Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., August 23 to September 22. In addition, there will be Saturday matinees on September 1, 8, and 15 at 2:00 p.m.
Dan Foss (Director) has been involved in the development of "Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride" since spring of 2009 and is thrilled to finally be bringing it to life with Babes With Blades. Recent directing experience includes "Erratica" with American Demigods (also by Reina Hardy), "Vanishing Points" with Point of Contention, and various projects with Appetite Theatre Company, The Side Project, Hobo Junction, Rogue Theater Company, and Rascal Children's Theater. You may recognize Dan from his brief return to the stage as Uncle Saul in BWBTC’s production of "The Double" last fall. He is also the Secretary of BWBTC’s Board of Directors.
Libby Beyreis (Violence Designer) has been fighting on stage since 1994, and is proud to be a company member of Babes With Blades. She has designed violence for companies including Idle Muse, Strangeloop, The DIVISION, Focal Point Theater Company, Chase Park, Free Street, as well as a number shows with the Babes, most recently Romeo & Juliet and The Double.
Kjerstine McHugh (Assistant Director) is tickled to be working on this wonderful script with such an amazing group of artists. She hopes that she gets more stuff right than she gets wrong on this, her second foray into the wonderful world of not stage managing.
Babes With Blades Theatre Company will complete its 15th anniversary season in spring of 2013 with an all-female “Julius Caesar.”
Photo credit: Steven Townshend
Kelly Yacono (Left) as Katherine Denn and Lisa Herceg (Right) as Susan Swayne