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Musikfest artists in residence: wholesale halloween costumes Living Vines, dinosaurs, luxury portable toilets

Vines wholesale halloween costumes are living, breathing, growing objects, but they don't dance — or do they?

They do when they are Halloween Costumes Outlet a performance art group, coming to Musikfest this weekend Aug. 5-7 — that brings the beauty of nature to life. Four performers dressed and painted to look like vines of ivy will break free from the wall where they grow and dance.

"It looks exactly like a vine," says Living World Entertainment founder and creative director Priscilla Stephan. "When the performance drapes along a wall, and they have their arm poles on a wall, they look like a 16-foot-tall grape vine, they look exactly like nothing but that."

Originally from New Zealand, Stephan's interest in the arts began at a young age. Her father was a clay sculptor, making ornamental pottery, and gave her the idea that she could make a living through art.
DiVine, like the other three vines, wraps herself around walls and other objects, standing completely still so that almost no one can tell the vines are actually people. Stephan says the performers must approach the environment creatively to decide where the vines will grow. Slowly but surely, the vines come to life and begin to dance and move around each other, until eventually reclaiming their grip on the wall.

"It's a slow reveal of everything that's beautiful in this world," Stephan says. "From nothing into something back into nothing."

This is the appeal of the act, Stephan says. The vines are so realistic that passersby are surprised to see them detach themselves from the walls and begin a graceful dance. The performance is not only about the dance though, Stephan says, but also about the the characters the vines take on.

"When they're are wrapped around a tree and there are other trees around them, they're completely camouflaged in nature; you would not even see them," Stephan says. "Part of the arc and power of the show is that they go from just that into revealing themselves and their beautiful faces."

The Living Vines got their break when they were given the opportunity to work as an independent contractor for a major theme park. They since have performed at venues like Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom, the White House, the San Diego Zoo and the Grammy Awards.

Stephan says it takes a passionate and committed performer to become a Living Vine; it's not an easy thing.

It's very powerful, very rewarding and I think that most of the performers would say that, too," Stephan says.

Stephan stopped performing in 2006 to work full time as president and creative director with her company Living World Entertainment.

"By this, what you're representing, you're respecting nature, and you're connecting people to it," Stephan says. "You're reminding people that nature is alive."

•The Living Vines, 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. Friday and 3, 4:30, 6 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Handwerkplatz.

Privy People provide luxury toilets

Remember that children's book by Taro Gomi, "Everybody Poops?" Since that's the case, why not make the experience an enjoyable one?

That's the opinion of Richard Kunst, creator of The Privy People, a performance art piece coming to Musikfest Aug. 10-14 that reinvents the idea of a portable toilet.

Kunst is a long-time festival performer, having worked in the industry for 23 years doing performance art pieces such as Super Friendly Guy, a superhero whose only power is that he is exceedingly friendly. Appearing at festivals for so long, he says the absolute worst aspect is the portable toilets.

"That's sort of what drew me to it," Kunst says. "How can I do some performance thing that takes the worst experience and makes it into the best experience?"

The Privy People seek to create a bathroom that will make patrons leave a festival saying that their best experience of the festival was the portable toilets, Kunst says. He uses three portable toilets provided by the venue and dresses them up so that they are more inviting.

For most of his career Kunst has been displeased with the state of the facilities at festivals, but it wasn't until working a festival in Miami a little over a decade ago, which he says "shall remain nameless for their bad behavior," that he came up with the idea to bring flair to the portable bathroom.

"Look, you obviously have this issue with your portable toilets," Kunst says to the producer. "Why not next year hire me to come back and I'll create this art thing where we dress the portable toilets and create these characters who run them?"

Kunst says the producer loved the idea but never bought it. It wasn't until Kunst pitched the idea to Toronto BuskerFest producer Mackenzie Muldoon that it gained traction. He offered up a luxury toilet experience with maitre d's, a restaurant-style reservation list and themed facilities. Muldoon fancied the idea and now The Privy People continue to liven up the bathroom experience at festivals around North America.

"Essentially what we're trying to do is two things," Kunst says. "We're trying to be funny around something that is sort of a natural thing that people have to use, and number two, were trying to upscale it because it's one of the least enjoyable experiences, or the number-one worst experience people have at an outdoor festival."

Kunst uses three handicapped accessible stalls in his performance, partly for a larger work space but also to be accommodating for the handicapped. Decorations include a golf-themed toilet with a mini-golf putting game, green carpet and a soundtrack from the Master's Tournament, an art gallery-themed toilet with prints from famous artists such as Renoir, Dali and Picasso, with speakers playing classical music, and a family-themed stall with Bugs Bunny cartoons playing on a tablet on the wall.

Though he has yet to decide the themes for Musikfest, he says they likely will include at least one art gallery and one family-themed stall. Kunst says he likes to arrive in town a few days before a festival to get a feel for the area and add a local element to the designs.

"I like trying to create stuff that are out of place, like putting things and art or slight comedy in places where people don't expect to find it," Kunst says.

A patron of The Privy People would first experience Kunst asking them "do you have a reservation?" which for a portable toilet most people do not. Kunst will respond with "well fortunate for you, I have an opening right now," then one of the actors will lead the patron to their stall and open the door for them.

The reservations initially began as a gag, but became a serious aspect that Kunst says he honors. Some patrons with medical conditions, like Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome, need to know that a facility will be available for them at a certain time.

"There are people that just thank God for this thing," Kunst says.

The staff also maintains a professional attitude. There is no crass humor or questions of "are you finished," Kunst says. Rather, when a guest leaves they are asked if they enjoyed their stay and if they would like some hand sanitizer.

Kunst says that even though some people are initially confused by the performance, his toilets accumulate lines even when there are open toilets next to his trio. He also feels that cleanliness is essential in his pursuit to make using a portable toilet an "exceptional experience."

"People will gravitate to something that is cared for … something that is an experience," Kunst says.

Once, at a festival in Canada, a man brushed past the line and into the bathroom, telling Kunst he couldn't stop him because it was in the constitution. The stall he had chosen was the Magic Eye Gallery, which featured color dot collages that when one relaxes their eyes, they can see images behind the dots. The man stayed in the stall for 10 minutes, and upon exiting he informed Kunst that the picture above the toilet was upside down, before putting $5 into Kunst's tip jar.

"That's how you measure your success, one person at a time," Kunst says. "Here's this person that had so little to do with art, and has so little to do with this other than having a pee, and yet it reached him."
The 18-foot-tall dinosaurs that roamed Musikfest two years ago are returning for evening walkabouts on Main Street this year and they've brought pals.

Close Act Theatre, a troupe from the Netherlands that specializes in dazzling spectacles, will alternate performances of the dinosaurs from their show called "Saurus" with a parade of dramatically clad drummers on stilts known as "Stx."

For Saurus, three performers dressed in creative costumes that look like a cross between a velociraptor and a dragon will be walking down Main Street at 4, 6 and 8 p.m. Aug. 10, 12 and 14. At those same times on Aug. 9, 11 and 13, Close Act will present Stx, four drummers in flowing black dresses and spiky headgear who play the drums while marching through the street on 3-foot-tall stilts.

Hesther Melief, co-artistic director of Close Act, says it will be the American premiere of Stx, featuring a group of musicians who actually travel to the beat of a different drummer.

"They make their own rhythms," Melief says in an interview by Skype from Holland. "They change rhythms while they are walking. They look very rebellious. It's an invasion. 'Look, here we are.'"

As with "Saurus," there is no language barrier because the performers don't speak Dutch to the crowd. Instead, the drummers employ what Melief calls "Jabbertalk" — a kind of language of their own.

With Saurus, the interaction with the crowd is mainly the dinosaurs leaning down to touch audience members on the top of their heads. With "Stx," the communication is more through music and Jabbertalk.

Since 2004, Close Act has been bringing Saurus to audiences around the globe. Melief says the 30-minute shows have been performed on every continent except South America and Antarctica.

Patrick Brogan, senior vice president of programming for ArtsQuest, booked Saurus for Musikfest 2014 after seeing the dinosaurs at Buskerfest in Toronto, Canada, in 2013.

"The moment these creatures walked onto the street, I thought Musikfest audiences would really enjoy this type of performance."

Brogan says he has received more requests for the return of Saurus than any other spectacle act in his decade with the festival.

"The group captures the imagination of audiences of all ages with their larger-than-life artistic interpretations of both dinosaurs and futuristic drummers," he says. "Their beauty, pageantry and spectacle simply inspires and leaves audiences in awe."

The people inside the dinosaur costumes have to be very good on the stilts and fearless because the costumes limit their vision as they walk through crowds, Melief says. Each costume contains a sound system and the beast makes a seagull-like call as it meanders around. The get-up is heavy, and each 30-minute spectacle is a strenuous workout for the performers.

Some of the small children in the crowd might be afraid of the lumbering beasts at first. The dinosaurs have rather fierce looking faces and beaks.

"A lot of times if you perform at a festival several days then the kids come back with books and they say, 'You are like this dinosaur and we figured out what kind of type you are,'" she says.

Little kids largely take cues from their parents in how they react to Saurus. If the parents shield a child from the dinosaurs, the toddler tends to continue to be afraid, Melief says. If the parents show the child the dinosaur is harmless, the youngster follows their lead.

"We ask for a place where people can see us building up [the costumes] and breaking down," which makes the sauruses less threatening, she says.

Some spectators who watch them taking off their costumes are surprised the sauruses aren't robots.

"They didn't expect people inside," she says.

The drummers that appear in Stx have been in other Close Act shows. They were incorporated into a larger show called "Invasion" as drummers on the ground, but then they got the idea to play their music on stilts, Melief says.

"We already worked with musicians in a lot of different acts that we have," she says. "Then we were thinking of making an act only with musicians."

"Invasion" is one of Close Act's biggest spectacles and has all types of characters including more dinosaurs from Saurus. It also features huge insects and performances of dancers with a light show, lots of smoke and costumed stilt walkers who execute a choregraphed show to music.

Such grand spectacles produce visceral reactions.

"We always work with physical emotions," Melief says. The troupe's creative spectacles are all about keeping imagination alive, she says.

For Melief, the U.S. tour will be a family affair. She and her partner, Tonny Aerts, who is one of the performers, are bringing their 16-year-old son Kay and 13-year-old daughter Malou to Bethlehem before heading out West. Aerts will be joined by Erin Vorstermans, Frank Verhoeven and Dick van der Goor in the Stx and Saurus performances.

In July, Close Act premiered a show in Holland called "Birdmen" with a new kind of bird dinosaur. The huge bird is white and it lights up from inside and changes color. Unlike with Saurus, audiences also can see the person inside the costume.

Melief says her group is working on more kinds of prehistoric-like creatures.

"We are going to make very big dinosaurs and we are going to make smaller ones," she says. "I think it's all a nice combination to have different heights."
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