From the 1946 R&B tune “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” to the Fast & Furious film franchise of today, the car has become central to American mythology, symbolizing everything from freedom to gridlock. Even with traffic jams eerily absent from Charlotte’s streets, the car is still ubiquitous as oxygen — or at least carbon monoxide belching from tailpipes. So, when the Goodyear Arts collective was looking for a way to shift from virtual programming to safe in-person experiences, they turned to the all-American automobile for their latest event, Joyride.
On the evenings of June 6 and 7, audience members will cruise through Camp North End’s sprawling warren of streets, encountering dance pieces, poetry readings, live music, theater performances and films projected on warehouse walls — all from the comfort and safety of their cars.
Goodyear Arts co-director Amy Herman says the drive-by art show is a practical means to re-establish the face-to-face connection between artist and audience that is so integral to the arts and that only live interaction can bring. Any thematic connection between the site-specific performances and installations at the 76-acre campus Goodyear Arts calls home and automotive symbolism is purely coincidental. Even Camp North End’s history as a Ford motor plant never entered the event planners’ minds, she offers.
That said, each of Joyride’s exhibits and performances has been designed to be seen and experienced from behind a windshield — or the window of your choice.
“These are works that either have been adapted or created for this specific viewing experience through the car,” Herman says. “Even the shape for the car audience is something that we have to think about. Are the windows meant to be open? Are they meant to be closed?”
Goodyear Arts makes the first move
Joyride’s genesis stems from conversations between Herman and Susan Jedrzejewski, director of residencies and programs at Goodyear Arts. The two women were lamenting their inability to see, do and experience events in person. All day they felt shackled to their computer screens while they worked at home, only to turn to their TV screens for entertainment at night. They yearned for real-life experiences.
Then they brainstormed with Charlotte musician Dylan Gilbert, and the basic premise of interacting with the arts in cars was born.
“What’s great about Goodyear is that we’re multi-disciplinary and that we present work from movement-based, literary, visual and performance art,” Jedrzejewski offers “This event will include all of those disciplines.”
Goodyear’s innovative approach to presenting art has posed some logistical challenges, chiefly how to move cars throughout the complex, how to space groups of vehicles so they don’t create a traffic jam, and how to time each group’s park-and-stop viewing with each artist’s performance and display.
The audience will be guided along a pre-set course through an audio presentation they can play on their phones. The guided tour will provide directions while supplying the audience with information about the pieces that they’re seeing.
It’s a lot of direction to give to a mobile audience. And as is often the case with directions, there’s always the chance that some won’t follow the rules, Herman adds, laughing. As drivers navigate through the former industrial complex, they might encounter pieces not to their taste, but skipping any presentation simply won’t be an option.
“We’re saying, ‘You’re going to see all of it,’” Herman says. “So, buckle up.”
Herman and Jedrzejewski say it should take a car approximately one hour to complete the circuit. Patrons must stay in their cars and there will be no bathroom breaks, as there are no public restrooms in the complex.
Joyride was conceived as a kind of capstone to Goodyear Art’s spring fundraiser, a perk for supporters. Interested parties must first go to the collective’s website and make a donation.
“On June 1, we will email everyone who has made a donation of $25 or more, and we’ll send a link to register for Joyride,” Jedrzejewski offers.
Attendance to Joyride is optional, of course, and all proceeds support Goodyear Arts and their future work.
What to expect in a Joyride
So, what’s in store for those who choose to strap in and hit the Goodyear Arts highway?
Performances are designed to take full advantage of the car-bound audience and camp North End’s geography.
Musicians JM Askew and Casey Malone will perform a composition to play from stereos in two cars. One CD with half the music will emanate from the left car, and another CD will be played from the car on the right.
“It’s sort of like that Flaming Lips Zaireeka album,” Askew offers.
Experimental theatre troupe XOXO are creating a series of looped solo performances that will be scattered throughout the maze-like grounds of the campus.
“It’s sort of ambient action that folks will see as they drive through the experience,” says troupe founder and artistic director Matt Cosper.
Joyride is a practice lap of sorts for XOXO, as it will inform their other new pivot project: LawnCare, set to launch at the end of May.
For LawnCare, the Exxos will bring the show to the audience, setting up in the viewers’ lawn to dance to medieval religious songs, perform a wacked-out puppet show, Jell-O wrestle with their demons, and whatever else they can come up with that fits in with social-distancing guidelines.
According to Cosper, dire times call for creative measures.
“I don’t see the effects of the crisis receding in the near future, and theaters and other performance venues are going to be hard,” he told Queen City Nerve. “It’s going to be important to be agile, imaginative, and to focus on fundamentals.”
“I think the question we have to ask is: At its most essential, what is theatre? What do we absolutely need to do in order to serve our audiences? And then we do that,” he continued, before adding, “It’s probably not a great time to be a careerist in this sector, but artists are needed now more than ever.”
For other artists, Joyride offers the opportunity to stretch out and step outside their chosen disciplines.
Sculptor and designer Matthew Steele is putting the finishing touches on an animated film that will be projected onto to large wall. The screening will be accompanied by an original score composed by Ben Geller, principle violist of the Charlotte Symphony.
“Pushing ourselves beyond the scope of our traditional work, we are both taking this opportunity to try something new,” Steele offers.
Eric Mullis will revisit a piece he began developing before the onslaught of COVID-19. With his fiancé Joy Davis he will perform a duet from his evening-length dance theatre piece “The Land of Nod,” which also features original music. He’s utilizing a follow-spot that will cast the dancers’ giant shadows on a brick wall as they perform.
“The work has been interrupted, and Joyride presents a unique opportunity to rethink the duet,” Mullis says.
Amy Bagwell and de’Angelo Dia will each bring distinct approaches to poetry readings. Bagwell promises to read what she calls “some frighteningly recent poems,” possibly through a megaphone.
“I like to push myself and surprise people,” she says. “Nobody expects me to be surprising. That’s my only superpower.”
Dia will explore the metaphor of life as a pandemic before the advent of COVID-19.
“The murder of Ahmaud Arbery is just one of many tragic situations to highlight this ongoing pandemic of being Black in America,” he offers.
Renee Cloud will be contributing text pieces drawn from her Shiny Language Project, which was funded through the Knight Foundation’s Celebrate Charlotte Arts Grant. The presentation includes hand-embroidered 16-inch sequined letters that will spell out comments collected from the internet, Cloud explains.
Back to reality
Amy Bagwell’s husband Brent plays saxophone alongside drummer Seth Nanaa as part of experimental jazz duo Ghost Trees. Brent says he’s grateful for the opportunity to play in front of a live audience again. The band is eager to work on their new music, an album’s worth of new and unrecorded material that the duo will adapt to fit the needs of Joyride.
Even with the restrictions of time and distance, Brent Bagwell feels the event will be far superior — for both musicians and audiences — to streaming concerts offered on social media.
“Jazz has always been best live and in-person, so it’s particularly ill-suited to laggy streams and 2D images,” he maintains. “Here we are trying to figure out how to have a live event again and I couldn’t be more excited about Ghost Trees being able to pitch in.”
It is this aspect — bridging the gap from virtual events to live ones — that has many of Joyride’s participants enthused.
Fellow musician Askew asserts that the physical space occupied by artwork is crucial to the arts experience. Steele also welcomes the opportunity to bring his work out of the virtual sphere and into real space.
“During this time, there are limited opportunities for artists to present their work beyond the screen,” Steele offers. Joyride not only changes the way artists think about presenting their work, it’s also challenging organizations to bring art to the community in a new and novel way, he adds.
Mullis also praises the event for giving people a safe alternative to laptop-mediated art. Joyride will maintain a physical distance between audience and performer, but everyone will be in the same place, he maintains.
“That is necessary right now,” Mullis says.
While Amy Bagwell appreciates efforts to share art through the internet, she also finds virtual events lacking. Citing the definition of virtual as “almost or nearly as described,” she believes Joyride is needed to break the present mold.
“It’s a great trailblazer in terms of how to provide literature and art and performance for audiences without sacrificing safety, quality, or immediacy,” she says.
Herman also focuses on Joyride’s trailblazing aspect. Taking part in virtual events is all well and good, she maintains, but it is not experiencing life.
“We’re in this for the long haul,” she continues.
Herman is convinced that the type of events that Goodyear hosted in the past, shows attracting audiences of 50 people or more, are not coming back anytime soon. At the same time, people desperately need to feel meaning and connection.
“We can’t wait until there’s a vaccine to have audiences again,” Herman says. “So, [we’re] pioneering what an art show looks like at this time.”
Goodyear Arts has always done things its own way, Jedrzejewski maintains. “We’re pushing ourselves to think differently about how we can still engage the community for rich arts experiences.”
Joyride can also offer hope for a way forward in a world transformed beyond anyone’s expectations, she continues.
Events like Joyride can imbue both the audience and artist with a renewed sense of wonder, adventure and community, Cosper believes.
“We have experienced worse,” Dia asserts. “The arts have always been an outlet for our pain, processing, and celebration. COVID can’t stop creativity.”