Knight Arts Challenge winner Shira Lee Abergel has "always wanted to be a traveling hippie." But it took meeting a circus family while on a road trip for her to understand want this would actually mean.
"The mother was a hand balancer or a stretchy person," Abergel says. "When I asked about their lives, she told me that they go on the road, from gig to gig and whatever else they feel like doing. And wow, I thought that sounded magical."
Unlike most traveling hippies, Abergel has just won a $50,000 grant to fund the traveling carnival of her dreams. But like most traveling hippies, she will not be blowing it all at the deodorant store. Abergel -- currently on tour in New York with Miami's Rosie Herrera Dance Theater -- is a dancer, choreographer, singer, writer and actress (and, what, feline orthodontist?) whose Knight grant will go toward building a wagon that converts into a stage for music, dance and multimedia theater performances.
Abergel prototyped one her wagon shows with Appalachian Squall, a piece commissioned by Miami Light Project for last year's Here & Now series. In the performance, she blended live music, dance, acting and video projections to tell a surreal, tragic, and often very funny tale of a family struggling against poverty.
"With the wagon, though," Abergel says, "I want to bring shows to the people. You show up and get to see a show in front of your face for free. Even if we get 30 seconds in front of someone at Government Center walking to work, in those 30 seconds, we can offer them a little bubble to stay in for a little bit during their day. We want to catch people off guard on Lincoln Road or Wynwood or Overtown. We can take it to schools and nursing homes. Places where people can't get out of, we can come to them."
The shows won't just be Abergel's. She will involve other Miami creatives in a variety of media, creating new collaborative works.
"We'll also have screenings of old films, new films, original films by South Florida filmmakers," she says. "We can do those on the beach, on the sand. Everybody can bring their blankets and we'll serve up the popcorn. I want to incorporate as much of Miami as possible so that when people see it, they can get a sense of the kinds of creativity there is in Miami that they might not otherwise see."
So how's this wagon actually going to work?
"A few years ago, me and my boyfriend were dreaming about how we could have a car and make, like, a wooden box that could unfold and be a place where I could play music and he could sell his art. We wouldn't need anyone's stage or gallery. The idea has gotten a lot more complex and better since then," she says. (Her boyfriend's real name, by the way, is Sterling Rook, and he should probably chuck the paintbrush and just be a 1970s soap opera star already.)
Abergel is currently consulting with engineers to figure out how exactly this wagon of hers will be built.
"It has to have all the audio and visual capabilities so we can put on a show. But it needs to look small when it's folded up. And it shouldn't be too big when it's open," she says, and stops to consider the unique demands of her wagon. "I'd like to order a medium-sized wagon."
Her proposal has the wagon's journeys focused on Miami for three years. After that point, she'd like to take it on the road as a mobile advertisement for the broad range of art being made in Miami. Everything is still in the planning stages so it's entirely possible that the wagon will be pulled by chained-up gambling debtors gathered from the Seminole Hard Rock's brig. As of now, however, Abergel is leaning toward "some sort of bus that is also decorated in the wagon theme so that when you see them on the road together, it looks like a whole caravan. We'll have the feel of an old-time medicine show, even selling drinks labeled as miracle cures. Our donors will get live commercials during the shows from the stage."
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And about those donors. One of the contingencies of the grant is that Abergel raises matching funds. So make a donation and have Abergel and her merry troupe tell the world what a great kisser you are. Or get them to sing a ditty about your new chewable sunblock. But definitely give, because these people are going to have a wagon and even if they don't know where you live, they've got three years to find you.