You don't need a massive theater complex to showcase performing arts. As a matter of fact, smaller, more innovative setups like the Mobile Arts & Community Experience are living proof size doesn't matter when it comes to solid shows and creative constructs. Build it, and they — the crowds, that is — will come. MAX (as it's being called in short) is a mobile performance space and custom-built structure designed by UNC-Charlotte's College of Art & Architecture and designers, engineers and fabricators at Boxman Studios, a company known for repurposing shipping containers and designing custom, mobile structures from the ground up — just like the one I laid eyes on at Levine Center for the Arts on April 10.
Performing arts students went above and beyond — literally — in a showcase of Lazari, an adaptation of the Spanish work, Lazarillo de Tormes. Masked, colorfully clothed performers danced, climbed, flipped, jumped and sang, while a band on the side of the stage provided eerie carnival-esque sounds, complete with accordion action. Aerialists, acrobats and contortionists also showed off their moves in a smooth, almost poetic manner. Between the comedic drama and bodily twists and turns, the short and simple performance, was surprisingly mesmerizing.
Vinay Patel of Boxman Studios explains that the 20-foot wide structure — with two sides that include a fold-up 16-foot stage and a drop down 8-foot community space — is compact and breaks down into a big steel box.
The pop-up performance space, funded with a $350,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, takes about two to three hours to assemble. Walls fold out, legs extend and the construct opens up with a stage where aerialists swing and acrobats fly in a talent show of sorts.
Seeing is believing — and until you've seen it in person, my words can't truly convey the experience. To accommodate performers, a spring floor was installed at the request of Jose Gamez and Carlos Cruz, who both teach at UNC-Charlotte and designed the interactive and theatrical elements of the structure.
"We've done some pretty cool builds before, but this is the first mobile performance area that we've done and it's the first structure we've done that stays on the trailer, too," Patel says. "Mostly when we built the things we built, the idea behind it is to create a space that has interactive zones inside of it, so games, exhibits and stuff like that. This is the first time where the structure is the actual interactive element."
The mobile unit serves as a dual space where neighborhood association meetings and community forums will also be held. The structure, which sits three feet off the ground on a trailer, is easily transportable and slated to debut with an upcoming residency at Reid Park, a neighborhood in West Charlotte.
"Arts is often the attracter, bringing diverse people together. But once together, we hope people will explore community needs and problems and work together to find solutions," says program director Susan Patterson. "Our hope is that MAX will become a welcoming and engaging place for residents to convene, connect and change Charlotte for the better."
Based on what I saw during MAX's debut, its got a good chance of becoming a much needed conversation starter. Though I only witnessed a compelling part of the Lazari, performers weaved their way on and off the MAX stage, climbing along the stage's box truss, interacting with the audience and causing passersby to stop and linger.