6 Degrees premieres POP DEMO September 15-23, 2023 at MATCH
Politics. Cartoons. A Speakeasy. What could go wrong?
Houston, TX – 6 Degrees premieres POP DEMO a dance/theatre experience by Toni Leago Valle, at the Midtown Arts and Theatre Center Houston (MATCH), September 15-23, 2023. POP DEMO is a blend of political commentary, offbeat theatre, aerial, contemporary dance, and visual projections, set in a stylistic Pop Art décor. POP DEMO provides a historical perspective through cartoons of how the ideas of popular democracy, extremism, and propaganda have shaped and warped American political and cultural beliefs, ultimately attempting to overthrow democracy. Composer George Heathco’s music is played live by a 5-piece ensemble, George Heathco and the Anti-Defamation Orchestra. Pop Art costume designs are by Judy Masliyah and Toni Valle, and lighting design by Hudson Davis. Performers include Tempest McLendon, Carlos Perez, Mia Pham, Travis Prokop, Michelle Reyes, Haley Shaw, Davis Stumberg, Nick T’Vegan, and Elizabeth Woodson.
POP DEMO embodies the surreal world of political cartoons come alive in a 1920’s Speakeasy (a time period where minority rule dictated public life). POP DEMO delves into the distortion of reality for political gain; political cartoons exist to affirm the beliefs of the viewer, regardless of facts. “Current Politics feels unreal,” remarks Valle, “a crazy universe of bigger than life personalities, name calling and theatrics, a perpetual stage in front of a camera parading an onslaught of disinformation to the public, but with very real consequences in our lives. I wanted to mirror this scenario by creating the bizarre feeling of stepping into a comic strip.” The audience enters the colorful world of the Pop Demo Club - barrels for tables, wooden chairs, a poker table, brightly colored aerial apparatus. Patrons have the option to be seated at a barrel table for an immersive experience or against the wall for a more traditional proscenium view.
POP DEMO (a fusion of Pop Art and Popular Democracy) centers around two opposing figures. Mr. Pops, the colorful POP DEMO Club owner and Propaganda Machine who distracts the patrons from the current issues of the world with song, dance, and extravagant costumes: the world outside burns but everything is dandy in the POP DEMO Club. Mr. Pops’ club entourage includes Lounge Singer Bill/Billie, Doorman Monsieur Ballista, House Madame Bribe’, House Poker Dealer Ms. Lovely, the waitresses, Mad Marge and Jane Roe, and MC Kid Charlie. Lady J., a black and white cartoon sketch, enters uninvited, blindfolded and chained. Little by little, she discredits the propaganda surrounding the attacks on the LGBTQ+, abortion, mass shootings, white supremacy, and the January 6th Insurrection. In the process, she exposes the ugliness behind Mr. Pop’s lies, resets the “court of public opinion,” and transforms from a sketch into a real woman as the club disintegrates around her.
Valle and the company create larger-than-life characters that represent real political figures who in turn tackle very real, hard to watch issues. “I have always valued the input of my company, freedom of expression, and translation of the material to inform the works. For POP DEMO, I am giving much more leeway for the company to develop the characters themselves.” An example is the gender fluidity that is present in the costuming. Poker Dealer Ms. Lovely (aka Kentanji Brown Jackson played by Tempest McLendon) wears a man’s vest and pants, a symbol of how Justice Jackson works in what has been traditionally a man’s world. Lounge singer “Bill/Billie” (Davis Stumberg) performs a bluesy rendition of “I’m Just a Bill” draped in a white dress. A larger-than-life legislative bill on stage. Valle comments on the process, “While I create the choreography, it is the performers choice how to present the character; that a dress or vest does not necessarily mean they need to be masculine or feminine.”
From the Parkland Shooting to the War on Disney, POP DEMO unmasks the heart of propaganda through art - the deliberate biased presentation of issues and politicians. Valle serves as a Presiding Judge for Harris County Elections, a Deputy Voter Registrar, and a Reproductive Rights activist. Art is one of the tools Valle uses to facilitate discussion and action on current issues in politics. Valle comments, "Texas is a tough state. I have witnessed firsthand the actions to dissuade people from participating in democracy. My works present political and social commentary manifested in the choreography to stimulate public conversation."
6 Degrees premiers POP DEMO on Friday and Saturday, September 15-16, 2023 at 7:30 PM, Sunday September 17, 2023, at 5:00 PM, Thursday and Friday, September 21-22, 2023 at 7:30 PM and Saturday, September 23, 2023 at 2:00 PM and 7:30 PM, at Midtown Arts and Theater Center, 3400 Main Street, Houston TX 77002. Tickets are $35-$50. To purchase tickets, visit https://matchouston.org/events/2023/pop-demo. For information, visit www.6degreesdance.org.
POP DEMO is funded in part by the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance and
Dance Source Houston's Groundwork Grant program.