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Performing arts

When freaks streak

Metro Times Photo/ Ronit Feldman
Beth Short is full of surprises at Trumbellplex.
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Published 8/20/2003

Twenty-five-year-old Beth Short admits that even though Mom and Pop are supportive of her theatrical pursuits, it’s doubtful that they'll attend her next project. "Ever since they came to a play where I ended up in my underwear, they’ve been wary," she says.

Short's upcoming adventure might leave more folks than just her parents a tad surprised. Dubbed the Trumbullplex Performance Festival, the actress' bizarre brainchild is set to erupt this weekend, and exactly what's in store is still somewhat cloudy. What Short does know is this: The event will be a nightlong cross-pollination of artistic mediums, an experiment in cultural chaos — something she calls a "smorgasbord of a good time."

So far the list of entertainment includes everything from a stand-up bass player to appearances by Pete Package and Harry Benjamins (ostensibly Short’s alter egos, although she's reluctant to say). Short is encouraging performers to humor and harass the audience, but the first-time producer promises their antics will be more nice than naughty. "Maybe better than guerilla theater is to say ‘freak show,’" she says.

The rest of the lineup includes slam poetry by Andrea Geneste, Hannah White and Metro Times' own Michael Jackman; music by the Twilight Babies, Chad Kushuba, Monogatari, Seed, Abke & Arena, Hijinx and Ken Comstock; artwork by Ruth Crachiola and Jean Wilson; live theatrics by RAT Productions and Thomas DeShazor — and the list goes on. Nadine Gizak says she'll be selling "nice things to hang in the bathroom" as well as a line of dolls with names and histories, a la the Cabbage Patch Kids.

Sounds like a creative oasis. But if you artistic types still haven’t heard anything till now, chances are you're not alone. Speaking to Short at a Hamtramck coffeehouse last week, the animated thespian explains that publicity will have to wait until Monday … when she can get her hands on some pirated office supplies. The actual festival promises to be just as makeshift. According to Short, that’s half the fun.

Watching her set aside the second half of an Incredibly Edible Eggo Sandwich as she goes over a list of the night's participants, one can't help but feel enthused. Looking more like a grown-up child than a full-fledged adult, with her pixie-like features, piercing hazel eyes and choppy brown haircut, Short is the epitome of confidence. It's easy to see why local directors had difficulty casting her in what she referred to as "typical female-as-girlfriend-or-victim roles" after she graduated from the University of Detroit with a bachelor’s of fine arts in theatre. Her real knack lies in creating the bizarre; "crazy, quirky, off-the-wall characters," which she says, are her raison d'etre.

After college, Short found her niche performing in children's tours through the Detroit Medical Center's Little Bear program (read: "theater on amphetamines") and alternately taking on the comedic roles that have earned her local acting award nominations from both the Detroit Free Press and the Oakland Press.

Short came up with the "performance fest" idea months ago while working at the Ford Centennial celebration as a production assistant. "I had this insane job," she recalls. "I was running around and coordinating stuff, and I realized that I was really good at it."

Aside from discovering a knack for thriving under pressure, Short also realized the scope of her artistic connections. "After I graduated from college, I really started feeling my community," she says, "and in the last couple of years, actually, I’ve really felt my roots take hold in Detroit in a big way." Employing a phenomenon Short refers to as "six degrees of Beth," the festival was soon underway.

The Trumbullplex, a multi-unit facility lived in and operated by a Detroit anarchist collective, seemed like an easy choice of venue. It's been a historic hotspot for the avant-garde since the 1970s and, most importantly, it's free.

Donations will be collected at the door to help support the artists, but Short doesn't expect to make a profit herself. "I just want to expose everybody to a really good time — a big blast," she says.

Until then, Short will be reveling in the night's uncertainty. "There’s just going to be so much activity," she says. "There’s … all sorts of bizarre surprises that I have up my sleeve. Expect anything."

Just don't tell her parents.

 

See the Trumbullplex Performance Festival on Sunday, Aug. 24, at the Trumbellplex Theatre (4210 Trumbull Ave., Detroit) at 5 p.m. Call 313-832-7952 for more information.

Ronit Feldman is a Metro Times editorial intern. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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