Summer grants inspire art
Sweet dreams are made of this /
Who am I to disagree,” the up-tempo Eurythmics song blares
against the dark stage. A spotlight illuminates fourth-year Kay
Perdue, in red V-neck and jeans, who begins pushing around the stage
a white refrigerator on wheels. She dances vigorously to the 1980s
rock number and then shoves the refrigerator away violently. Then
she warms up to the large appliance, slithering against it, climbing
on top of it. Jumping off, she resumes anger, giving the fridge
Photo by Jason Smith
Kay Perdue drinks carb-rich Coca-Cola during her one-woman
show, which a Summer Arts Fellowship freed her to write.
At song’s end Perdue places
the refrigerator in the stage’s back-right corner, looks down
in defeat, opens the door, and takes out a can of Coke. Sitting
inside the almost empty, shelfless refrigerator and breathing heavily
from her dance, Perdue addresses the audience: “You have a
pancreas, and I have a pancreas. Yours works, and mine doesn’t.
Would you like to give me your pancreas?”
So opens the diabetic’s one-woman
show, “If Only You Had a Little Discipline, You’d Be
Fine,” performed the second weekend in May in the Reynolds
Club’s first-floor theater. Perdue, an interdisciplinary-studies-in-the-humanities
concentrator, began writing the show last summer, when a $1,500
Summer Arts Fellowship paid her rent and freed her from finding
a job. The Boston native created a makeshift office at University
Theater (UT) and made herself write for at least two hours a day.
After many drafts during the academic year, the hour-long show,
Perdue’s B.A. project, won the College’s Olga and Paul
Menn Foundation first prize for playwriting.
One of five Summer Arts Fellowships
awarded by the University’s Arts Planning Council in the fellowship
program’s first year, the grant gave Perdue forced writing
time. “I had never had to do that before,” she says.
“Last summer was one of the most amazing summers for me.”
Having the luxury to pursue her
own work “opened up a new way of thinking about what I can
do with my skills as a performing artist,” she says. Planning
to stay in Chicago and audition for local shows after graduation,
Perdue now believes, “If I don’t get cast in shows next
year, I can always cast my own projects. That ownership is really
Another grant winner, fourth-year
Sarah Vogel, spent last summer creating ten issues of an absurdist
zine she called AntiDown, named for a type of quark. Vogel
distributed her zine—which included collages, original writing,
essays, scientific reports, drawings, and miscellaneous contributions
from students and faculty members—through a cigarette machine
in the Ex Libris coffee shop.
“It was great being able to
have my work on campus,” Vogel, an interdisciplinary-studies-in-the-humanities
concentrator, says. She liked the idea of “people having a
little piece of art to carry around with them.” And the grant,
she says, showed her how to create “really low-budget art,”
something she plans to continue doing. Her latest project is pasting
the beginnings of Reader personal ads into matchbooks.
“Smoking is a way to meet people,” Vogel, a nonsmoker,
says. “The idea of having the beginning of a conversation
inside matches you might share with someone seemed pretty perfect.”
After graduation the Hartland, Michigan, native plans to move to
Albuquerque with her boyfriend and apply for jobs with the local
children’s museum or botanical gardens.
This year the Arts Planning Council
planned to offer up up ten $1,500 grants, says law professor Douglas
Baird, art enthusiast and council chair. He hoped the Summer Arts
Fellowship subcommittee would receive even more than last year’s
25 applications by the May 30 deadline. Winners were to be announced
at month’s end.
“Focusing on individual students
has been important,” Baird says. “It raises awareness
of the arts among the University. It’s a good experience for
the students, for the life of the school.” Last year Baird
and fellow subcommittee members David Levin, associate professor
in the Committee on Cinema & Media Studies, and Heidi Coleman,
UT director, reached consensus easily to pick the five winners.
“We thought some were riskier than others,” Baird says,
which put them ahead of the rest.
Perdue’s show certainly holds
both physical and emotional risks. Diagnosed with type-A diabetes
at age 8, during the show she injects herself with insulin (actually
saline), portrays a 16-year-old with a crush on her doctor, and
details her childhood fantasy of a normal life free of sickness.
She switches from autobiographical to fantasy characters: an 11-year
old girl tells a coming-of-age story, a doctor demonstrates how
to inject a diabetic who’s passed out, and a man relates a
skydiving experience. She dances the tango, faux rose in clenched
teeth, with the refrigerator—a symbol of her relationship
with food (carbohydrates rule her blood sugar) as well as a sign
of industrialization. “We live under false circumstances,”
Perdue says. “In the natural world I should have died. Refrigeration
is a small example of that.”
Not that she wants to be seen as
a victim; in fact, she read scores of disease-related works for
ideas on how to avoid exploiting her condition. Still, after one
of her dance numbers Perdue sits down and tells the audience that
strenuous exercise causes her blood sugar to fall, which is why
she must sit.
A few scenes later her skydiving
character, who tells a comical story about an Elvis-like pilot and
two “honeys” singing doo-wop, revels in his flying experience.
Rather than fighting the disease, he represents the metaphor of
surrendering to it. As Perdue puts it: “He’s about rising
above it all.”