During a visit to Jack Metcalf’s office at the University of Montana earlier this week, most surfaces were covered with paraphernalia and props for “A Synthetic Spring,” a one-night-only multimedia takeover of the Crystal Theatre on Thursday.
There’s a stack of “Synthetic Spring” button-up shirts, their sleeves covered in badges from sponsors like KBGA College Radio and Betty’s Divine.
There are uniforms for the members of Bare Bait Dance Company who will be performing to an electronic score produced by DJ Kris Moon.
There’s a scale model of the stage, which will include two raised platforms for the dancers and an entranceway for spectators toward an “inner sanctum,” all covered in the flowing, black-and-white lines that characterize the MFA candidate’s printmaking.
There also are “Synthetic Spring” water bottles with a label designed by Metcalf. There are little display racks of branded stamps, a white pencil marked, “A Jack Metcalf Production” in tiny type, and pages of suggested dialogue written with Jacob Kahn.
“I went to him because I wanted to be more poetic than if I went to a screenwriter,” Metcalf said.
Actor Jeff Medley, with whom he collaborated with on a Mister Rogers tribute show, will be involved to some extent.
“I’m working with an engineer, too, on something,” said Metcalf. “It’s kind of a surprise.”
Surprise and spectacle are much of the point of this interdisciplinary thesis project, and he seems reluctant to spoil any of it.
Metcalf did say that he became interested in multidisciplinary work like this because printmaking, his specialty, is itself a form of mass production. With social media, the reproduction of print and images has become even more pervasive.
“I view it as technology, and that’s why I’m more interested in print this way,” he said while looking at an 8-foot stage wall covered with his prints.
“That’s how I see it relayed. It’s kind of an absurd length, in my mind, to go,” he said.
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He’s participated in events at the Downtown Dance Collective and the Missoula Art Museum that also incorporated masks and printed souvenirs for the audience. One of his pieces also was included in the MAM’s Benefit Art Auction this year.
The free performance will be open from 8 to 10 p.m. Thursday. Spectators will enter in small groups through the ticket area. Once inside, there will be a greeting area, a merchandise table stocked with the “Synthetic Spring” items, and an opportunity for photographs with the artist.
In the theater proper on elevated platforms, dancers from Bare Bait, a Missoula company dedicated to new work, will perform duets and quartets to Moon’s score.
Joy French, founder of Bare Bait, said the choreography will have a “kind of disco-era, platform club-style dancer feel because we’re up above the audiences, but we’re not paying attention to them.”
They’ll be in uniforms created by seamstress Hana MT that also are patterned with Metcalf’s black-and-white artwork.
“We blend into our surroundings as well as highlight the art,” French said.
Spectators will then move through the second half of the piece, and Metcalf is reluctant to share any spoilers. Needless to say, it will be “more precious and rare,” compared to the hyperactive first half. Afterward, theatergoers will exit through the alley – the experience will last however long it takes them to walk through the Crystal, and there’s no re-entry planned as of this writing.
The project has been germinating for some time.
“I’ve been thinking about it for three years. I’ve been working on it for about a year, year and a half now,” Metcalf said.
French and Bare Bait became involved after a previous collaboration, and “Synthetic Spring” kept growing and growing in its scope. One element, after another in an organic way, French said.
“How many people would make stamps and water bottles for a one-night event?” she said.