Friday, July 19, 2013

Sparks fly as 'Violin(ce)' attacks Orlando Shakes

     ORLANDO Empty Spaces Theatre Co(llaboration) and DiDonna Productions have outdone themselves with their latest work “Violin(ce),” a movement exploration with deep laminations of emotion conveyed by a battle-hardened cast.

     “If someone gets hurt and it’s part of the choreography it’s my fault,” said fight director and co-director Bill Warriner. “I have ingrained in them how important it is, even if you change from one grip to another grip in the wrong place someone can be seriously hurt.” Warriner runs a tight ship when it comes to safety, and his 22 years of experience in fight direction are put to full use making this cast perform to such a high standard.

     Action-packed scenes of sword swinging combat and fisticuff brawls are brilliantly choreographed and masterfully executed, but this only makes up some of the total package that “Violin(ce)” delivers. Throughout this production are also several moments of emotional distressing dialog, elegant dancing, and outright hilarity.

     “A Little Slap of the Stick” is a scene near the beginning of this production that provides a great example of the lighter side of “Voilin(ce).” Co-director and actor John DiDonna and fellow cast member Gina Makarova put on a playfully routine reminiscent of the slapstick physical comedy from 1920s silent films. Another light-hearted moment comes during “Le duel pire dans l’histoire” where two reluctant and inexperienced sword fencers played by Miles Berman and Corey Volence are compelled to fight each other.

     Spoken word dialog has a unique style for “Violin(ce)” that is designed to connect emotionally with the audience. Real life stories of childhood drama and disturbing confrontations are all submitted by members of the cast to DiDonna who then compiles them into alternating conversations that are performed by other cast members. To protect everyone from being so open about personal details in their life, no one performs their own story and no one knows who submitted what. From abusive family members, violent encounters with strangers, and even self-injury, theses accounts are interlaced to build on the theme that violence in our lives has a lasting affect on everyone involved.

     All the dancers of Empty Spaces also beautifully performed fine dance movements to create transitional segments of this production. A solemn solo dance scene magnificently performed by McClain Timmermen showcase not only fine movement and coiling contortionism, but was also accompanied by a video projection depicting the tragic suicide of a young girl falling to her death filmed in a dreamlike surrealist style.

     One truly remarkable dance performance from “Violin(ce)” is simple called “The Teacher.” It portrays the story of an instructor helping her student in ways that seem to be abusive. It looks at the concept that any contact by a teacher with a student no matter how light is negative looked upon today, despite the intentions being good and if done correctly can serve as a great means of instruction. The wise and stoic teacher helps to mold the undisciplined pupil who inevitably gains a world of knowledge from this hard-nosed experience.

     “It really is a stereotype and it’s a fear that teachers these days live in,” said choreographer Mila Makarova. “Every little thing, you have to be so careful now because people will twist it and say ‘oh you’re being mean’ or ‘no, you’re hurting her.’” Utilizing her 34 years of dance choreography experience, Makarova does a wonderful job as an instructor in “Violin(ce)” and in real life as lead choreographer for Empty Spaces Theatre.

     Like the name suggests, combat in several diverse styles is the main focus for “Violin(ce).” During this performance the audience will see sparks fly of giant Scottish claymore swords, femme fatales attack with dual wielding daggers, and a scene of chaotic gladiatorial combat that creates a mass of confusion and death.

     “Everyone who sees this production has no idea what they’re walking into, all they know is violence,” said Miles Berman who is performing in his first production with Empty Spaces. “And I think a lot of people are going to walk away from this and go ‘wow, they were really on their game with this one.’”

     The remaining performances for “Violin(ce)” at the Orlando Shakespeare Center in Orlando will run every evening at 7:30 p.m. until Monday, July 22, with additional twilight shows on Saturday and Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

     Tickets can be purchased at the door for $20 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors. Advanced reservations can be called in at 407.328.9005 and credit card pre-orders can also be made by visiting

By James Tutten

(All photos by James Tutten)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Massive preparations underway for 'Violin(ce)'

     ORLANDO — “Violin(ce)” is a movement exploration production created by The Empty Spaces Theatre Co(llaboration) and DiDonna Productions, and will explore the complicated side of violence highlighted with fight scenes that will leave theatergoers aghast.

     “You’re going to get a chance to see all forms of combat you don’t normally get a chance to see in one production,” said co-director John DiDonna. “You’re going to see a fight director be creative and let his imagination go wild.”

     This is the third installment of an annual summer production by Empty Spaces that features a diverse melding of combat, dance, aerial acrobatics, and spoken word. Building on the origins to this concept from “Unspoken” in 2011 and “fragment(ed)” from 2012, “Violin(ce)” is focused on all the complicated issues that lead to violence in our lives and the affect this has on the people involved.

(Click above to watch video)
(Produced by James Tutten)

     A central feature of this production will be an large number of combat scenes created by co-director and fight director Bill Warriner. Often in past production fight scenes were added to the production as everything came together, but this time Warriner was encourage to plan all the fighting in advance and given complete reign to construct action packed sequences that will make “Violin(ce)” a thrill to watch for all in attendance.

     Like past installments personal stories will be shared in alternating spoken word dialog to explain how cast members’ experienced violent events in their past. These simple yet complicated tales were anonymously submitted to DiDonna who compiled them together to create an engrossing tale with true stories of violent confrontations.

     "Fans can expects some really exciting fights,” said Empty Spaces actress Jill Lockhart. “And it’s all put together with some really powerful spoken word that speaks to a lot of issue surrounding violence.”

     In preparation for the opening of this production actors and dancers have been hard at work finalizing movements and perfecting their lines. Despite their high levels of professionalism and safety precautions, it’s not hard to find an occasional bruise and bandage on their persons, due to all the action packed movements they have been rehearsing in their preparation.

     The large numbers of fight scenes are expected to make “Violin(ce)” standout as a brilliant showcase of the talented actors involved, combined with the ambitious fight direction and choreography of Warriner.

     So many stage weapons are in use during this production that the actors were instructed by Warriner to name their weapons to help form a bound and keep everything organized on the technical side of things, with cute names like “Mr. Pointy” and “The Duchess” just to name a few.

     Mary Spurlock is an original member of Empty Spaces who recently came back to Orlando after finishing college in Tampa. When asked about the physical challenges she has faced for this production Spurlock said “It has a lot of physicality to it, but a lot of theatre does in general. There’s more safety involved with it than anything else.”

     This will be a short run with only seven performance secluded at the Mandell Theatre at the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center in Loch Have Park in Orlando starting on Thursday, July 18, and running through Monday, July 22. Evening performance will be held at 7:30 p.m. on each day with additional twilight shows on Saturday and Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

     Tickets can be purchased at the door for $20 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors. Advanced reservations can be called in at 407.328.9005 and credit card pre-orders can also be made by visiting

By James Tutten

(All photos by James Tutten)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hank Williams Jr. puts new rules into 'Old School'

     ORLANDO — Country music superstar Hank Williams Jr. performed with high energy and intense attitude from start to finish, during his concert to showcase his latest album "Old School New Rules" at the CFE Arena on Saturday, July 13.

     Opening up for Williams during this special performance was the iconic southern rocker Gregg Allman from the Allman Brothers Band, who warmed up the crowd with his signature mix of blues and rock n’ roll. This concert was then kicked into high gear as Hank Jr. and his band took the stage by storm and didn’t let up for the rest of the evening.

     Williams’ on-stage energy is a force to be reckoned with, and he has clearly crafted a wild musical showcase for his fans to experience during his live concerts. Without having to ask, his performance commands the audience to get out of their seats as they dance, cheer, sing and celebrate with songs that are beloved by anyone who has listened to modern country music over the last 30 years.

     It’s unmistakably clear that a Hank Williams Jr. show is more like a wild celebration than just another concert.

     His original music was received incredibly well, but several times during the concert Williams showed respect by sampling many of the musicians that inspired him throughout his life. This included simple riffs from Lynyrd Skynyrd like “Working For MCA,” “Good Ol’ Boys” by Waylon Jennings, and even a boogie woogie throw down on the piano to Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.” Williams also encouraged his fans to sing along with one of his father’s legendary tunes “There’s A Tear In My Beer.”

     He would often change instruments between songs, showing off his musical prowess and refined talent. At one point Williams took a simple small customary fiddle, and played it so ferociously that it seemed like he was trying to saw it in half.

     If his covers weren’t enough of a crowd pleaser, they were mixed in with his classic hits that easily became the most popular tunes of the evening.

     The crowd went wild during Williams’ original songs like “If Heaven Ain’t A Lot Like Dixie,” “A Country Boy Can Survive,” and “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound.”

     Of all the songs performed this evening, the most popular was undeniably his barroom hit “Family Tradition.” A song where the audience sings the entire chorus louder than the singer on stage, and shows that Williams’ music has a strong connection with the fans and a life of it’s own.

     Hank Williams Jr. is well known for his wild live performances and this show was no exception. Altogether, this concert was a clinic of classic country and southern rock music, and his rough and rowdy musical style shows no sign of slowing down after over 50 years of performing. His diehard fans will surely continue to idolize their “Old School” hero who has come to embody southern pride and living life to the fullest.

By James Tutten

(All photos by James Tutten)

Gregg Allman's rich soulful sound fills CFE Arena

     ORLANDO — Iconic rock and blues singer-songwriter Gregg Allman, along with members of The Gregg Allman Band, performed with refined distinction at the CFE Arena on Saturday, July 13.

     Allman came out to greet his fans at the start of the show, then settled into his Hammond B-3 organ and began burning up the keys while performing his hit single “I’m No Angel.”

     His on-stage persona reflected a focused man who was fully engrossed in the musical moment. The 65-year-old performer still possesses a clean tone to his singing voice with just the right amount of roughness to convey the soulful pain of the blues.

     Overall, the tone of the show was slow tempo striped-down style that focused on alternating rhythms and talented solo features. Though often associated with southern rock, Allman and his band have a style that harkens back to the rhythm and blues roots of rock n’ rolls.

     The diverse group of musicians that accompanied Allman help to create a well-rounded ensemble, and everyone showed a tremendous level of talent and professionalism throughout the performance.

     Lead guitarist Scott Sharrad was phenomenal with every note-bending solo he performed, which was an essential accompaniment to songs known for their iconic solo breaks. After slowly making his way on stage; blues singer Floyd Miles from Daytona Beach brilliantly accompanied the group on several songs, as he sang aloud and tapped his walking cane along to the beat.

     Members of the audience listened on with a somewhat quiet reserve until some of the well-known Allman Brothers Band songs were performed midway through the set. Donning a black acoustic guitar is wasn’t long into “Melissa” that fans began to cheer and sing along as they became fully engaged with the performance.

     This was shortly followed up by other classic Allman Brother’s hits like the rebellious “Midnight Rider,” and an up-tempo version of “Whipping Post.” This built up to an extended version of “One Way Out” that featured long solos from the drummer, bassist and other members of the Gregg Allman Band, and created a stupendous climax to this electrifying performance.

     “This was my first time seeing him, but I’ve been a fan of Gregg for my whole life,” said concertgoer, Blaine Upton, who was also ecstatic to catch one of Allman’s thrown guitar picks. “I really loved the live version of ‘Whipping Post.’”

     Gregg Allman has several upcoming performances across the country scheduled through late October, and more information can be found on his website at

By James Tutten

(All photos by James Tutten)

Guitarist, Scott Sharrad from The Gregg Allman Band.

Gregg Allman performs "I'm No Angel" at the start of his performance at the CFE Arena in Orlando.

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