In the Mix
KALA CAFÉ to showcase eclectic regional acts.
First up? Performance poet John Kulm and hip-hop funsters, Showladies.
Some of history’s great performers have found success by combining the unexpected: funk and soul plus African oral traditions begot hip-hop. Opera plus rock ‘n’ roll gave rise to the rock opera.
It’s a concept that also has strong foothold right here in Astoria, thanks to a long tradition of regional creative eclecticism. This month, KALA is gearing up to unveil a new performance medium that offers a vehicle for its continued expression.
The nascent showcase is called KALA CAFÉ, and its inaugural presentation will feature the multiform stylings of two regional acts: performance poet/humorist John Kulm and music funsters Showladies, featuring performers Teresa Barnes and Andrea Mazzarella.
KALA founder and HIPFiSHmonthly Editor and Publisher Dinah Urell is the evening’s emcee, lending a song, ‘here and there’ and in addition some sneak preview of acts to come to the KALA stage.
The KALA CAFÉ concept draws on traditional vintage variety floorshows, with a little camp, cabaret and commentary thrown in, says Urell, who has been reinventing the showcase concept through her years as a performing creative artist.
“My first entertainment inspiration was Ricky Ricardo,” she said. “And my alter ego Lucy, always conspiring to get on stage. I loved watching the Dean Martin Show with my father, I mean who the heck wants to play with dolls when the Gold Diggers are on the screen.”
It’s an ideal format for showcasing regional talent, she says, and she couldn’t be more thrilled with the opening lineup.
Both acts have a demonstrated taste for the eclectic: Showladies rap about a constellation of topics, from wolves and wizarding to club-hopping, while Kulm waxes poetic on Jungian archetypes, midlife crises and bucolic life.
Kulm is well known for his open-mic stints at the now-closed River Theatre, but he’s been working with spoken words in many forms for most of his life.
Kulm carved out a niche at poetry slams in Seattle’s heady grunge days two decades back, billing himself as a “cowboy poet” and was booked on tour, in the early days with the Lollapalooza festival.
“They liked me because it’s so odd to see a cowboy coming into that scene,“ Kulm recalled. “I picked up on a lot of the style they were using, real aggressive, free verse.”
Since, he’s tried out many creative and practical pursuits, including stand-up comedy, book writing, fatherhood, farming and postal work.
The goal is to get closer to who he really is with each incarnation.
During his two sets at KALA CAFÉ, he’ll share poetry, but he’s also got some brand new material brewing.
Lately, Kulm has been playing with archetypes – universal symbols and prototypes. He likens then to “modern fairy tales,” and he’s recently spent time teasing a few into prose.
“Archetypal work is like dreaming while you’re awake,” he said of this new process. “It’s like a storyline starts to unfold and you’re just experiencing it.”
Kulm is eager to share this more personal writing, but he remains committed to entertaining.
“I worked so many years in stand-up that I just won’t allow myself to be boring,” he said. Urell offers, “John Kulm is a unique humor experience. He utilizes the poetic form, as a vehicle to philosophize on the contradictions in life, coming in sideways, and giving us (the audience) an opportunity to laugh at our own absurdities.”
Showladies, too, is audience-centric, Barnes says. The act has gained notoriety for its off-the-wall performances, colorful costumes and colorful lyrics.
Barnes took her first stabs at songwriting a few years back, and Showladies was born when Mazzarella began performing with Barnes at venues such as the Voodoo Room, with Barnes on guitar and lead vocals and Mazzarella on bass and accompanying vocals. (A keyboard stands in as drummer.)
They’d noted a lack of what Barnes calls “rock starry, glammy” musical acts in Astoria.
“We wanted to fill more of a lady Gaga-ish place in town, bringing that element of crazy fun ridiculous danceable performance,” Barnes said.
Moving the audience – literally as well as cerebrally – is key.
Showladies draws inspiration from all over the place: ‘90s R&B and rap, YouTube videos, rhyming dictionaries.
They’ll also be performing two sets at KALA CAFÉ – a high-energy set and an acoustic set.
Heartbreaky guitar chords may seem an unexpected departure from glitzy gonzo rap, but that’s just the idea.
This is another artistic endeavor that is constantly reinventing itself, right down to the genre (hip-pop? Glam rap?) and name, which changes regularly.
The two say they don’t know what’s coming next – only that it’d better be good for a laugh.
“We really hope people have fun, and if they feel like dancing, dance,” Mazzarella said. “Hopefully people have half as good a time as we’re having.”
Urell hopes this mashup performance is the start of an exciting chapter for KALA – and for the creative-spirited community surrounding it.
It’s a concept that’s still developing, thanks to the hard work of a few additional key players, including KALA visual arts curator Agnes Field and sound stage man Les Kanekuni.
“As a presentation space, KALA is focusing on performance, visual art, and whatever delightfully falls under the category,” Urell said. “We’re having fun with diversity in art, and how we can shine the stage lights on the creative forces this coastal region inspires.”