Sunday, February 11, 2007

Southern Circuit tour day six - Karl Staven

Southern Circuit tour day six. Beaufort, South Carolina is a small coastal town between Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina that has an active arts council. One of the ways that they are able to afford to contribute and be a part of the Southern Circuit series is to have the visiting filmmaker present to the local high school population (the school district then kicks in some funding). And thus today’s story begins.

I am met at the Arts Council office by Brian, today’s designated artist babysitter, around 11:15am after my drive down from Columbia. He leads me to Lesley’s house to set me up in her lovely little guesthouse. After I schlep my bags in we quickly head out towards the local high school to make the 1pm presentation schedule. It’s my first time in a car being directed by one of those talking GPS map devices (“Turn right at Spanishmoss Road,” “Turn left in 300 yards at Yokel Blvd,” “You missed your turn, nimrod, now I must recalculate.”). The voice speaking to us from the small box is defined as ‘American English Jill,’ although there are other choices available through the menu such as British female and Canadian French. Southern twang is not an option.

We arrive at the Bluffton School complex shortly before 1pm after stopping to grab a fast sandwich to go at a local stop that turns out to be short one cook and not so fast. Unfortunately the talking GPS device can’t distinguish between Bluffton’s elementary, middle or high school buildings in the extensive complex. The two former are sitting before us when we pull into the complex but our ultimate destination is nowhere to be seen. After several hurried phone calls we manage to connect to someone who is able to steer us around a couple of bends to the high school proper.

It is now a little after 1pm. Previous Southern Circuit presentations at this school have had more than a hundred in attendance so I run in to keep them from waiting and am stopped cold by school security. The contact person I am supposed to meet is not in school today so they eventually locate the designated substitute, print out my hallway pass, and let me charge ahead to see what’s in store.

Entering the auditorium I encounter a cavernous space that can hold 500 people but has around 12 bored teenagers spaced randomly in the first 20 rows. I take my dvd up the long aisle, climb the stairs at the back of the auditorium to the booth sitting one story above the space, and hand it to the middle aged man who will be negotiating the menu and pressing play. Looking around the space quickly I ask,

“Where is your dvd player?”

“We don’t have one.”

“Well how do you play dvds?”

“Through this computer.”

The dvd is placed in the PC computer but it doesn’t have a dvd player. Instead it will be played though Real Player. The computer loads the dvd and the play options appear on the side. The choices are Title 1 through Title 40; no actual film titles or indications of what film or extra each ‘title’ is referencing. We hit play on one or two of the titles and there is no rhyme or reason to the order of the listing.

“Sorry, that’s the best we can do.”

Knowing now that I will now be presenting a random lineup of my work, in which I say “Play the next one” and wait to see what shows up on the screen, I run down the stairs, stride down the aisle, and slow to a walk at the front of the auditorium. Before I begin showing work I introduce myself, ask the students what animation they are interested in, and why they are here. It turns out that there is a pep rally scheduled for this afternoon for the high school basketball team that everyone will be excused to attend. The folks who are here are the ones who are so determined not to be involved in the sports/cheerleading/pep scene that any option is better than the rally.


We get through our initial conversation and I shout up to the guy in the booth several hundred yards away to play the first film. He clicks on his button, the cartoon begins to play, and grinds to a halt after 30 seconds. The film is frozen, no sound is emerging, and the man in the booth can’t figure out how to kill the program and start over.

After a hurried conversation with the teacher in charge, we decide to take the whole production up to his classroom to try again since the small amount of students attending can all fit in his space. We arrive in his classroom, he pulls out a portable dvd player to plug into a small monitor, and we place my dvd player into the device. Unfortunately he does not have a remote so there is no way to negotiate the menu to access any of the individual films.

Before I left for the Southern Circuit tour I went to a local electronics store and bought a small portable dvd player with a remote and tested out all of the dvds that I was considering using on the tour. Most of the films are on my compilation dvd but I have one recut film and an addition film that I tend to show. All three worked in the dvd player. Just in case one of the venues’ systems didn’t like any of my dvds we could always plug in my portable player. I had left it back at Lesley’s guest house.

Anyway, to make a long story shorter we played the dvd through a computer in the room, the students circled loosely around the 15” monitor, and I played through several films until they were all dismissed around an hour later. There was no open rebellion and they appeared to be vaguely interested (you can’t look too interested as a happening teenager). Brian and I made our way back to Beaufort where he dropped me off at the guesthouse.

Having spent so much time on the preliminaries I’ll summarize the rest of the evening much more succinctly.

Nice dinner in the evening with the members of the Arts Council of Beaufort County at Panini’s, a restaurant housed in a former bank on the main drag. Good conversation and then a trip over to the classroom being used for the screening (while the school’s auditorium is under renovation). Screening appeared to go well, 2nd largest group of people so far on the tour and they all hung around for the duration and asked questions at the end. After the screening I headed out for conversation and drinks with some of the attendees and the evening ended with a visit to Deanne’s gallery around midnight to see her environs, all of the artists she represents, and a sampling of her own work (particularly like the organic work emerging off of the canvases/boards).

Thanks so much for all of your hospitality. Now it’s time to head to the next location to find an internet connection where I can post this missive.