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Surprise! Surprise!

Moving Poets Group is outta here, but not without a parting shot

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OK, it's official. It wasn't Dracula who said, "Ask, and ye shall receive."

Back in August, when Till Schmidt-Rimpler announced that Moving Poets Theatre of Dance would fold its tents here in Charlotte and move to Berlin, the most pioneering of the Poets also promised an October farewell. Poetic justice, since the company's early production of Dracula at moldering Carolina Theatre was the cross-disciplinary fantasia that cemented their following, sparking a Halloween tradition.

And fueling discussions of reviving the historic Carolina.

Sad to say, the city's support for the Carolina Theatre has faithfully mirrored its dreary record of supporting Moving Poets -- and a growing cavalcade of other professional arts organizations we could name. But when September and October came and went without further word about the haunted farewell, I grew worried. Had a stake been driven through the Poets' creative heart?

So on Nov. 9, I launched an SOS into cyberspace. For all you sticklers for Scripture, the answer is no: I didn't ask in the Son's name.

But all lovers of the Poets' subversive mix of dance, theater, music, sculpture, and videography will like the answer that lit up my landline a week later. The Poets farewell is on, scheduled for Dec. 14-17 at Theatre 36 in the Hart-Witzen gallery, fittingly titled Surprise! Surprise!

"Originally, we were not planning at all to do another show," Schmidt-Rimpler admits. "We were just planning on having like a one-evening goodbye event. We said that, in October, it was too busy and there was too much stuff going on. So we'd rather wait 'til a little bit later. But people kept on asking us -- and other artists kept saying, you should really do one more real show, not just one droopy goodbye thing. Which I guess is the truth. I think it's best for us to put a show together."

Less than two weeks after my SOS, the Poets' valedictory had taken shape. Considering that Schmidt-Rimpler had to mobilize dancers, actors, singers, and musicians to deliver his Surprise! package -- along with funding to keep the presentation up to customary pro standards -- Poets will be bowing out with a minor miracle.

Dancers converging on the project will include Sarah Emery, who had moved to New York, and Skyla Caldwell, who had stopped dancing. Music? Rock hall-of-famer Tom Constanten will come off the road to contribute his keyboard wizardry, hopefully buoyed by the guitar licks of Mike Lassiter (not yet confirmed). Classical guitarist Bob Teixeira will be in the house. Ditto operatic soprano Cynthia Farbman.

Theater alums will include Randell Haynes, a Founding Poet, and Mike Harris, Katherine Harrison, and Rob Simmons. Oh yeah, playwright James McLure (Lone Star & Pvt. Wars) will chip in a new script.

A full-fledged show, needless to say, seemed like a more daunting undertaking than a mere one-night event. So it's nice to know that my timely e-mail, the power of the Loaf, and the loafers for whom we stand all played a role in making it happen.

"It took us until -- when did you send me that e-mail?" Schmidt-Rimpler remembered. "That was actually one of the last motivators to say, let's at least see if we can pull it together. Somebody just spontaneously said, 'OK, let's see if we can get the artists together.' Then we looked at the funding, seeing who wants to be a part of it, who can be part of it. That was phenomenal, a great response from all the artists, and amazingly, a really good response from people who wanted to see the show, putting in the money that we needed to make it happen."

After covering the Charlotte arts scene for nearly 20 years, I'm eagerly awaiting my first Chanukah gift from a local performing arts group. I'll be attending Surprise! on Dec. 15, after lighting the first candle.

Now perhaps you're wondering what I wrote to bring Charlotte this parting shot from Schmidt-Rimpler and his artistic accomplices. Just a dozen words, actually: "Halloween has come and gone. Would that describe Moving Poets as well?"

SPEAKING OF outrè gift-giving, Carolinas Black Pride Movement founder Jermaine Nakia Lee will be gifting himself on his birthday. Production begins this week as Lee and fellow cast members from BlackOut 2006 spend five days at Electronic Specialties Studio in Edgemoor, S.C., recording their soundtrack CD.

If you missed out on BlackOut during its two runs at the Afro-Am Cultural Center, Sept. 15-16 and the Oct. 28 encore, the CD won't bring back the full impact of Lee's formidable acting chops. Or the purely dramatic facets of Lee's writing skills as BlackOut explored the seminal Harlem Renaissance from a gay/lesbian perspective. Out indeed!

But you'll get heaping helpings of Lee's songwriting and singing skills in a mix of Lee originals, instrumentals inspired by Renaissance stalwarts Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Bruce Nugent, and songs associated with Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey.

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