Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sandy Farrier: Telling still-unwritten stories

Marc Clopton’s “Pie Boys” is one of those rare shows that emerge fully formed, that is so clearly a gift from the Muse, that a truly honest person wouldn’t take credit for creating it. And that’s exactly the approach that Clopton, founder of the Actors Studio, is taking. Not because he doesn’t want to bask in the glory, but because he didn’t write it. Because it doesn’t exist, despite the poster advertising its month-long run at Lincoln Center. The poster is a fake. Or, somebody cue the intro for “The Twilight Zone,” maybe it’s a portal to alternative reality, a signpost for the next theatrical stop, because this is definitely a story meant to be told. “I know, I know,” says Sandy Farrier, a graphic artist and self-described “acting wannabe,” whose play posters, both real and imagined, are on display through the end of January at the Firehouse gallery.

We should be clear about that: Farrier is a wanna-be who does it — as an actor and a playwright. For the past few years, he’s been a regular at the Firehouse and Actors Studio. He performed in “The Mediator” and “Coming Clean,” two edgy, sexually charged comedies that won honors at the 2009 Fringe Festival and were clearly crowd favorites at the Actors Studio during a follow-up production in November. His play “,” which explores the notion that hope springs eternal and the fact that people lie, especially in the their online dating profiles, was staged at the New Works Festival two years ago. But he pays for his groceries with a paycheck from Endicott College, where he serves as head of the visual communications department, and as a graphic artist. He moved to the city in 2004. Three years ago, Hailey Klein, one of the founders of Random Acts, the Port play-in-a-day series, convinced him to take an acting class. He’s been a “theater addict” ever since. And the posters? They’re like methadone, or maybe piles of candy — something to take the edge off the jones.

But back to the fake posters or, if you will, advertisements for still yet-to-be-written stories. Farrier says the goal is to coax an idea from a combination of images, illustrations and other graphics. Sometimes he gets a clear vision, other times just a clue, a hint. “I start out with an idea and build on it,” he says. ““If there’s a spark, I see what I can do with it.”

With “Pie Boys,” the scenario emerged “in a minute, in a flash,” when the artist came across the photograph that dominates the poster. It shows a group of boys standing behind a long table in what appears to be, or what Farrier imagined to be, a Depression-era summer camp. It feels like Maine. It looks like the photo was taken moments before a pie-eating contest. The story came to him in a flash: He imagined a hazing incident that resulted in a young boy’s death. All of the boys know what happened. So does one adult witness. But nobody speaks about the “incident” until 35 years later, when they have a reunion. The play looks at how they lived with themselves, with what they’ve been carrying around with them. He doctored the image, adding blueberry schmutz around their pie holes. An eerie glow emanates from one of the boys, presumably the one who died. Contrasting type, messy and elegant, names the play while serving up a heaping helping of irony with the Maine state slogan, “The Way Life Should Be,” just above a solitary flying bird (a harbinger?) and the name of Clopton and other local scribblers, which Farrier says is meant “as a kind of homage” to the people who have helped someone who has “timidly observed and sometimes hung around the fringes” of the Port theater scene.

Other posters, other stories include “Lemon Wars,” which, with its combination of old photographs, calligraphy and maps, suggests an old-school imperialistic attempt to corner a particular market, and, a second story line that evolved with the discovery of an intriguing image of a younger woman, a love triangle that could bring the entire thing down. And “False Document,” which could either be a period piece or a modern-day monkey trial smackdown between creationism and evolution, focusing, as the poster does, on Chuckie Darwin but, perhaps, casting some doubt on documents that make up the big book itself.

The exhibit also includes work from real shows, created under a variety of circumstances: Straight-up design work, like the elegant poster for Michael Wainstein’s production of ”Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris” at the Actor’s Studio; work for shows the so-called wannabe actor was involved in, like Michael Frayne’s “Democracy,” which was staged at the York Readers Theater; and in-betweens, like the striking and kinda creepy poster for the 2008 production of Gregory S. Moss’s “House of Gold,” which, if you remember the production, was based loosely on the Jon-Benet Ramsey case, may dredge up some memories that you have been finally able to repress. The work, real or imagined, is all mixed together and only the designer, and perhaps the local theater hardcore, know for sure.

JUST THE FACTS: Sandy Farrier’s posters from real and imagined plays will be on display through Feb. 1 at the Firehouse Center, 1 Market Square, Newburyport. The exhibit is free. For more information, call 978.462.7336.

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