“The Face Zone: Surreal Dreams to Trip your Imagination” will be performed as part of The Capital Fringe this summer. “The Face Zone” is a solo multimedia show of spoken-word vignettes with matching art on everything from the stigma of liking scrapple to the meaning of life. What connects the pieces is that they all start with a projected image of a face―human, animal, alien, abstract―to prompt reaction and thought. The dreamlike minimalism of the art compels viewers to look and react through their own point of view, while the insightful honesty of the writing uncovers essential truths that transcend political affiliation to inspire open-minded personal reflection. Welcome to “The Face Zone,” an unforgettable blend of whimsical drawings, affecting commentary, original humor, and absorbing music certain to set your mind in motion.
Martin Graff is the soul writer, director, performer and promoter of the show.
Martin Graff is an illustrator, author, musician, high-school teacher, and extreme-chin-beard enthusiast living in Arlington, VA. He imagines and illustrates faces, and writes poetic prose to associate with each. His live spoken-word show adds original piano compositions to heighten the experience.
I had a chance to interview Martin Graff and find out more about him and his production.
- Can you tell us a little more about yourself? Originally from Arlington? If not, where? Formal art, music, theatre and/or creative writing training? If so, where?
I lived the first eighteen years of my life in and around Philadelphia, where three generations of family lived before me. From there I headed to State College, PA and did three degrees at Penn State, Bachelor’s in music composition and classical piano performance followed by two Master’s in English education. After grad school I moved to Shanghai, China where I taught middle- and high-school ESOL and traveled the country (once, making it to within 50 miles of the Pakistan border). Awhile later, I relocated to Frederick, MD and finally to Arlington, in both cases leading a double life of teaching and regionally performing “The Face Zone.”Well, maybe overlapping lives is a better description as both involve connecting with and inspiring other people.
Though the show and “Face Zone” book series on which it’s based incorporate illustrations, I haven’t had an art lesson since eighth grade. Were I trying to be a dedicated visual artist, I would certainly need more training, but my drawing aesthetic is to my overall shtick what Johnny Ramone’s guitar was to The Ramones: limited and idiosyncratic, but absolutely perfect—essential—to the overall vibe of the project, The way I unorthodoxly cobble together my images is what achieves their necessarily surreal quality. Really, effective creativity in any media is a combination of craft and whim; if the end product is over engineered or underdeveloped, it lessens the impact.
- Were you inspired by another “show” of this kind, or was this your own brainchild, and is this the first time you have presented it?
In childhood I liked Shel Silverstein, who combined dreamy illustrations with poems. In adolescence I got into George Carlin’s dark sense of humor, social commentary and linguistic flair, at times memorizing and performing his routine in my bedroom. All the while I was composing and playing instrumental piano pieces by ear, influenced in part by my father’s love of classical and jazz. By high school, it was punk rock, hardcore and metal that fueled my musical spirit (see the piece “Raised by the Racket” for more on that story) though I kept on with piano and started formal lessons during this period, my newfound musical literacy scaffolding better compositions and improved playing technique. It wasn’t until my late-thirties that “The Face Zone” finally emerged as a way to combine these influences and separate creative ambitions into one, coherent, multimedia vision. I’ve performed “The Face Zone” as a feature act more than twenty times, but it’s never exactly the same show since I constantly update the set the way bands and standup comics do; it’s a consistent concept with everchanging material.
- Is this show improvisational? Does your viewer have to interact, or is there a more passive way to watch the show?
The artwork and associated topics for the spoken-word pieces are indeed whimsical and rely on some initial spontaneity for a joyful spark, but their composition is entirely crafted, polished, finished product. I decide on a theme I’d like to explore, outline the writing, do multiple drafts until every word and punctuation mark is just right, and then make the illustration with caption to hit it home. It’s the same with the piano compositions: I go from general concept to precise, meticulously notated, memorized score. Still, it’s important the end result comes across fluidly and conversationally without calling conspicuous attention to underlying technique. Metaphorically speaking, it’s a distraction from the presented final recipe to see how the sausage is actually made.
That said, I intend for the act to be flexible, too, in that the audience is encouraged to pour their own viewpoint into the open, interpretive spaces I intentionally create. People are going to make their own personal connections to things no matter what the creator intends, so I prefer to invite multiple interpretations. The dreamlike minimalism of the images, broad perspective of the writing, and wordless piano pieces necessitate that audience members make their own associations. The result is specific yet open, which is an unusual and powerful combination.
- What do you want viewers to be saying or thinking after the end of the show?
I aim to make art that inspires people to notice the world through creative eyes, to ask deeper critical questions and to enjoy the ride along the way. When the final curtain descends, I want the sights, sounds and insights from the experience to continue glowing in the audience’s mind like a camera flash you continue to see after your eyes close, inspiring them toward meaningful daydreams that expand their outlook and inspire courageous, creative living.
- Why do you feel The Fringe is a good venue for your performance?
Capital Fringe is about dramatic possibilities, the way college radio used to be the place to tune in for powerfully affecting, original bands who didn’t fit into the safe, rigid marketing categories of Top 40. “The Face Zone” is right at home in a community of outside-the-box producers with (unintentionally) well-kept creative secrets, ready to expose them under a bright spotlight.
“The Face Zone” will be performed at the Venue: Crocodile – Saint Augustine’s Episcopal Church, 555 Water Street SW, Washington, DC 20024
The dates and times of performances are: July 9 (6 PM), 13 (7:45 PM), 17 (8 PM), 26 (7:30 PM) and 27 (5:45 PM)
If you are interested in finding out more about the Face Zone go to Graff’s blog.
For tickets and info on The Fringe showings of “The Face Zone” go online.
“The Face Zone” is also an ongoing illustrated book series: https://www.thefacezone.com/p/store.html
Copies will be available to sample and purchase 15 minutes prior to each show.