Quirky little Lake Worth's irrepressible alternative community has a signature new meetup space, the product of do-it-yourself grit and off-the-grid thinking. In a ragamuffin industrial building in a faded immigrant neighborhood southeast of downtown, the Outspokin Bicycle Project & Community Center promises adventure in local arts, activism and "low-impact transport."
The Outspokin's "xtra-soft opening" Wednesday night featured a performance by the whip-smart, dirt-poor Der Vorführeffekt Theater (translation to follow), an itinerant troupe with a taste for paradox and the surreal. Co-facilitated by Lake Worth residents Waffle Lehew and Tuesday Gilliam (yes, you read both names right), midwived by a collective of friends and supporters, the evening drew a multi-culti, mixed-gender, all-ages crowd of about 80 -- also whip-smart and dirt-poor. It was love, all around, at first sight.
The Outspokin's home is a sizable one, its interior ramshackle and festooned with oddities -- a drum kit disassembled atop a bookcase, a hobby horse aloft in a corner of ceiling, a huge jumble of used bikes of all sizes and states of decay draped in strings of colored lights for the night of theater. At about 4,000 square feet the building has room to store bicycles, bicycle parts and bicycle tools, to have workspace to repair them, and to host an inmate lending library for the South Florida Prison Book Project. In a performance area large enough for a pocket stage and seating for several dozen, it welcomes theater, dance, visual arts or what have you -- with "what have you" high on the agenda. "Ultimately," Waffle told us,"the community will decide how to use the space."
Inspiration for the project comes from the well-traveled Waffle's encounters with non-profit collectives like Right to Move/La Voie Libre in Montreal and BICAS (Bicycle Inter-Community Art & Salvage) in Tucson, among other places, where environmentally conscious, artistically oriented community activists created similar spaces.
The "Outspokin" name -- fortuitous in its artistic and political significance -- comes from Waffle's childhood. A Palm Beach County native, he learned to ride a bike from a grandmother who participated in an all-female bicycle touring club of the same name. Waffle said he was "delighted" to offer the homage.
The heart of Outspokin is its outreach and education, along the "teach a wo/man to fish" model. Area residents (in one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Florida) are given access to tools and, under the guidance of veteran bicycle mechanics, and in exchange for donations or volunteer labor, tutored in bike repair and maintenance. "We don't do it for you," Waffle told us. "The idea is that you navigate yourself."
On the arts tip, in addition to theater, Outspokin plans to offer dance instruction and visual arts exhibitions. A collection of bicycle parts too damaged to recycle is being sorted and stored for use as artists' material. "We want to see creativity in the space," Waffle said. "We want to keep it open so it's versatile."
About Wednesday's show and "Der Vorführeffekt"...The name comes from the German word for things that go perfectly when you prepare them but utterly flop when it's time go public. Like the juggler who never drops a pin in rehearsal but can't get it right on stage. Or that annoying noise your car makes that disappears when you take it to the garage.
The troupe's key player is Donna Oblongata (née Sellinger), an actor and writer who's taken her work the length and breadth of America's alternative archipelago, from art school at SUNY Purchase to wherever the D.I.Y. spirit thrives (and to Palestine and Jordan). A self-desribed radical feminist and anarchist, she compares her method to direct action protest. Like any theater, she explains, "We need red velvet curtains. But we'll find them in a dumpster." Learn all about her here.
Donna's play was prefaced by local talent. First, original music by filmmaker/artist/multi-instrumentalist Kyle Hess, then more (and a sweet cover of Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man") from neo-folk chanteuse Autumn Springs.
Donna's summarized her playlet, "The 7 Person Chair Pyramid High Wire Act," like so:
In the wilds of Siberia, Charles Darwin goes off in search of the Yeti. The Yeti (if she exists) enters a radio station's dance contest, hoping to win an all-expenses-paid vacation to a place that doesn't exist yet. Darwin's research companion--a little brown bat--falls in love with the radio station's electromagnetic emissions--but how could that ever end happily? Meanwhile, Siberia's caves are home to a secretive tribe of ropemakers--but their disintegrating family structure may cause their ancient craft to be lost forever. Through the lens of the real life allegory of the Flying Wallendas' famous high-wire act, two performers on a tiny stage unfold Darwin's laboratory, unfurl anatomic diagrams of the yeti, and try to tease out the difference between miracles and non-miracles.
As you might guess, it was puzzling, but in a good way. As you would know if you'd been there, it was charming, provoking, funny and warm. We expect the same of Outspokin, and more.
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