The ARRT! of ‘Ui’

By Dagney C. Ernest | Oct 25, 2017
Cauliflower fuels the plot of Bertolt Brecht’s “The Resistible Rise of Arturi Ui,” as well as some of activist artist Natasha Mayers’ projected art for the Everyman Repertory Theatre production.

Rockland — German Expressionist playwright Bertolt Brecht famously utilized the Epic Theatre practice of interrupting stage action with walk-on signage. When Everyman Repertory Theatre co-founder/artistic director Paul Hodgson started thinking about that element for the Midcoast troupe’s production of Brecht’s “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui,” he was led to the Artists’ Rapid Response Team, a project of the Union of Maine Visual Artists.

Everyman’s “Ui” opens Friday night, Oct. 27, at the Bicknell Building, 11 Lime St., off Tillson Avenue. The 19th-century industrial space was built for Livingston Manufacturing Co., which provided tools and equipment for working granite and other hard stone. The business became Bicknell Manufacturing and still exists in name, albeit in Georgia. The stripped-bare building has in recent years housed Camden International Film Festival and Center for Maine Contemporary Art parties, as well as CMCA’s during-construction exhibitions in 2015.

Stage, lights, seating and heaters have been brought in for the political satire that will run Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. for three weekends. The professional production’s backdrop, as it were, comprises projected paintings and mixed-media works by Natasha Mayers, project coordinator for ARRT! and, in the words of critic Lucy Lippard, “the most committed activist artist in Maine.”

ARRT! was recommended to Hodgson, who is directing the show as well as making several appearances therein, by cast member David Greenham, who also has directed for the group. Back in the 1980s, Greenham founded Brown's Head Rep on Vinalhaven; and he was producing director of the Theater at Monmouth for 14 years. These days, he is program director of the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine in Augusta; the rest of the 12-member “Ui” cast hails from Knox and Waldo counties. Earlier this month, the HHRC opened an exhibition titled “America Now, a dialogue …”, which includes some of Mayers’ work.

“Paul contacted me as a member of Artists’ Rapid Response Team, and his original idea, I think David Greenham gave him the idea, was to have our group, ARRT!, make big banners that they’d run in between scenes,” Mayers said from her Whitefield home a couple of days before the “America Now” opening.

It was soon clear that ARRT!, which meets once a month in Brunswick, would not be able to produce the number of banners needed for the Everyman play. In its now six years, ARRT! has created some 300 collaborative banners for nonprofit progressive groups all around the state. In any given month, the creative sessions can have from eight to 20 artists in attendance. The Midcoast’s Hanji O’Chang came for a while, Mayers said; the most recent meeting included an artist from Massachusetts.

“It’s collaborative; we don’t sign them,” said Mayers, adding that while the banners are owned by ARRT! they stay with organizations as long as wanted and used.

The artists often bring small sketches that are compiled and considered; other times, the group at hand starts from scratch, together.

“It’s totally cool! Sometimes we have people who are non-artists and they get more and more confident. And we have a couple of people who are former art teachers,” said Mayers. “Art teachers can do anything! They know how to shade, they know how to do faces, lettering.”

And while almost all the banners do have some lettering, that is not the focus for the work ARRT! does.

“We really believe that the image comes first ... it’s the image that will draw people into it and makes them think and empathize, take action and ask questions,” Mayers said.

Those reactions are what Brecht’s works seek to provoke, as well. “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui,” written in 1941, is a thinly disguised satire of how easily Hitler rose to power, set in gangster-era Chicago. Everyman’s Hodgson wanted lots of artwork.

“I realized we wouldn’t be able to make that many banners ... it would take hours and hours to paint one bloody cauliflower head! And I could make that in far less time and do lots of images to use throughout the play if I just sat down and made them,” Mayers said.

Bloody cauliflower? Yes, indeed. Whereas Adolf Hitler made his first inroads with the petite bourgeoisie, small-time thug Arturo Ui, played by David Troup, comes to power by taking over the greengrocery trade, producing a lot of “collateral damage” along the way. The play is, as Hodgson barks in the prologue, “the gangster show to end all gangster shows.”

While Mayers has done some theater and dance performance scenery, it is her artwork, part of the Maine art scene for more than 30 years, that commends her to “Ui.” A couple of years ago, Maine writer, critic and poet Carl Little said, reviewing a show of her work at the Maine Jewish Museum in Portland, that “In truth, the line between art and political expression doesn’t exist for Mayers.” She said she has “a lot of Brechtian images” in her art ... and she has a lot of art.

“So I went to mining my own work, through different series over the last 10 to 15 years, for images that would be appropriate for Brecht’s play,” she said.

Hodgson responded immediately and positively, she said, “using, I think, at least three quarters of the images I sent him.”

Some of the series Mayers drew from are Men in Suits (which Little was writing about), Signs of the Times and Banksters. For the most part, the original works are acrylic paintings. In one case, she used somebody else’s photograph and placed a painted silhouette she executed on top, “so some are collaged or Photoshopped.”

She also used digital work she had created during a year as virtual artist-in-residence for the website CommonDreams.org. In addition to creatively “tweaking” her original images for “Ui,” she created some work specifically for the show.

“Anything with cauliflower! And I overlaid drawings that I did of those onto other paintings,” she said.

Her images will be projected on a sheet attached high on an interior wall. While the audience does hug three sides of the low stage, the layout allows full view for all. It will not be the first time Mayers has had her work projected rather than hung.

“At the Portland Museum of Art years ago, Mark Melnicove wore a white Tyvek suit and I projected images on him as he performed and also on the back wall. And then my Artists’ Rapid Response Team now has a group within it, called LumenARRT!, to project images two or three stories high, so we’re going in that direction,” she said.

Director Hodgson has put a lot of thought into how Mayers’ art and “Ui” intersect, she said, and she is looking forward to seeing the end result.

“It’s his vision of how he’s going to use them, and I trust that,” she said. “It’ll be a surprise to me!”

To learn more about Mayers' work, visit her WordPress site. ARRT!, LumenARRT!, the online Maine Arts Journal, which Mayers founded and edits, and the “Maine Masters” documentary series are all projects of the Union of Maine Visual Arts; for more information, visit umvaonline.org.

Tickets for Everyman’s “The Resistible Rise or Arturo Ui” are $20, $10 for students, available at Rock City Café and Grasshopper Shop in Rockland, Left Bank Books in Belfast and Zoot Coffee in Camden; by visiting everymanrep.org; or by calling 236-0173. Everyman Rep is a registered 501(c)3, not-for-profit theater company. This production is supported by the Maine Holocaust and Human Rights Center, the Maine Arts Commission, the Davis Family Foundation, the Cricket Foundation and the Maine Community Foundation.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.

Staff Profile

Dagney C. Ernest
A&E editor for Courier Publications, LLC
(207) 594-4401/4407, ext. 115
Email Me

Dagney has been providing Courier coverage of the local arts scene since 1985 and has helmed the multi-paper A&E section since it debuted in 2003. She has been a local performing artist, community and professional, for more than 30 years and spent a decade writing, producing and announcing on-air for several Midcoast radio stations. When not in the NewsNest, Dagney likes to be in motion.

Recent Stories by Dagney C. Ernest