By Kathryn Kawecki
Anyone who has received a mix(tape) made just for them likely has a story to go along with it. Should they get a chance to share that intimate tale, they might even glow with nostalgia for the music and its curator, stirring up the excitement of the first time they pressed play on their very own song series. Soon, playwright/producer Bob Bartlett’s latest adventure in site-specific theatrics (a rom-com song series itself) will tap into both that intimacy and nostalgia in the most apropos locale: your very own neighborhood record store (if you are lucky enough to live around the corner from KA-CHUNK!! Records in downtown Annapolis). And this record store visit promises more than the probable geeking out about a favorite track on an album everyone should (but doesn’t) know.
What better way could a play engage you here and now while also strumming the strings of memory than by literally surrounding the experience with music, or at least its physical embodiment: albums. Music, after all, is something we feel both in the moment (often enough to physically move us) and as a link to the past — hear a song that you once blasted while driving with windows rolled down and singing at the top of your lungs, and you might feel the wind in your hair, picture the scenery blurring past, and hear the voices of everyone who was with you for that once-upon-a-drive. And if each song has that power to transport us, a space filled with not only songs but albums, many of them constructed as journeys themselves, must be reverberating with the potential for something special to occur. Bartlett’s Love and Vinyl, directed by Carlos Saldaña and opening on June 29, invites you to live in the moment and in your memory for a musically infused encounter between patron-buds Bogie and Zane and record-store owner Sage.
While centering a story around music the way a record spins out songs is nothing new, audiences this time around get to be as close to the story as the flyers on the walls. Sharing the same space as the characters provides a new perspective, and the audience experience verges on neighborly voyeurism. It incites “the sense that you’re eavesdropping on life as it is being lived,” notes Bogie (Andy Brownstein), which “amplifies the illusion that you are witnessing something spectacular that grows out” of the location. Heightening things further, the audience’s own lived experiences are apt to swirl up musically around them; after all, the characters’ happenstance meeting unfolds in a place Saldaña describes as “space imbued with appreciation for music, vinyl…and the memories of being in a record shop,” one that “some people [revere] like church.” Moreover, the store’s built-in histories couple with the realness of the environs, which “gives you a different flavor,” according to Brownstein, while its closeness “changes the immediacy.” Saldaña (who also plays Zane) elaborates that the store itself “adds a nice jumping off point as a performer”; though the close quarters create some challenges in terms of staging, it provides the exciting tradeoff of having “a strong additional character in the story.”
In some ways, the ambiance is like a gift that keeps giving, reminding us that music enters some of our lives as presents from the people who have crossed our paths, sowing songs like seeds of new musical appreciation that grow in our cerebral gardens even after the dusty footprints of their planter have blown away on the winds of time (unless, of course, they stick around as with Bogie and Zane’s bromance). “In college, I had a cool roommate,” Rachel Manteuffel (Sage) recalls, “and I absorbed a bunch of her taste.” On the flip side, some of us take up the mantle of spreading music to others, like a self-proclaimed “evangelist for the music [he] enjoy[s],” says Brownstein, who has loved and kept up the practice of “making mixes…from the days of tapes.” He has since transitioned from analog to digital media with the times, and the shift has allowed his annual Mr. Odney Mix, now two decades old, to spread much further than its first inception as CDs mailed out to close friends; now on Spotify (see below), it can reach (and is requested by) “several hundred people in several continents.” But getting back to mixes made just for you, I have a confession: every time I find myself digging through boxed-up relics of my young adult life, I think maybe at the bottom of this box the lost-to-history mixtape my high school boyfriend dubbed introducing me to ska & hardcore (complete with its song list in tiny hand-written letters squeezed into the J-card’s too few lines) will finally reappear. Alternately holding my breath, mentally shouting out snippets of lyrics, and bobbing to the backbeats in my head, I paw through yearbooks and letters and college essays, before reaching the disappointing bottom of the box along with the (totally expected) conclusion that it really is gone.
Shifting music storage from physical objects to strings of 0s and 1s in the cloud could have meant that vinyl culture would be one more thing lost to time’s changes. And while having access to nearly limitless sound libraries online provides so much in terms of accessing music, Manteuffel notes that experiencing music more à la carte via downloads and streaming services “strip[s] the whole process of context” by reducing it to a “song-by-song” experience; Brownstein agrees that, “compared to the disembodied experience of streaming,” listening to a record taps into all of the senses and invites a journey that is “much more of an experience sensually.” Fortunately, record lovers continue uplifting the medium and can now witness vinyl’s still growing resurgence; there are an increasing number of shops like KA-CHUNK!! and a light at the end of the tunnel (or Platonic cave, as Love and Vinyl tells it). And the reward isn’t just vinyl’s survival but also a chance to connect in a world in which social media is as likely to divide as bring together. Saldaña further observes that some artists build albums with each song serving as “a page-turn to the next song” (think Radiohead, Pink Floyd, The Beatles), and understanding can be lost for a listener who hears the song without “know[ing] its prequel and sequel” on an album.
Audiophiles know, however, that any introduction to a great song provides the opportunity to seek out the full album and discover things missing from the one-off first listen. As you might expect with any great dramedy built to a rock & roll beat, there is of course a stellar soundtrack threading its way through Love and Vinyl connecting the audience and characters through sound all while being close enough to see the album art of each record they deftly set a needle to (for a teaser, you can check out some of the tracks the audience may hear in the playlist below). So let these ruminations be your simulated cut-paste-xeroxed-and-stapled-to-electric-pole flyer inviting you to an event as ephemeral as a garage band concert and head over to KA-CHUNK!! Records to see how it all plays out. Don’t let your chance to share this moment be lost to history like my long-lost mixtape — get your tickets now.
Running Time: 85 minutes with no intermission.
Love and Vinyl will play from June 29 to August 6, 2023 (Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 8:00 PM, presented by performing at 8:00 PM at KA-CHUNK!! Records, 78 Maryland Avenue, Annapolis, MD. Advanced ticket sales only ($40) online.
Because of the uniqueness of the venue/performance space, the production seats only ten guests per performance. Probably not suitable for children. Audience seating is provided. Street and garage parking. Plenty of local bars and restaurants. For more information email [email protected].
COVID Safety: Masks optional.
Love and Vinyl Teaser Playlist
Let Down – Radiohead
Let’s Go Crazy – Prince
Dreams – Fleetwood Mac
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Candela – Bueno Vista Social Club
Cure for Pain – Morphine
The Downtown Lights – The Blue Nile
The Argument – Fugazi
Crazy in Love – Beyoncé
This is a Man’s World – James Brown
Miracles – Jefferson Starship
Electric Relaxation – A Tribe Called Quest
If I Can’t Have You – Yvonne Elliman
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John
Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing – Stevie Wonder
Starman – David Bowie
Me, Myself and I – De La Soul
Should I Stay or Should I Go – The Clash
How to Be Invisible – Kate Bush
I Say a Little Prayer – Aretha Franklin
In Your Eyes – Peter Gabriel
Kathryn Kawecki is a DC-area theatrical designer and serves on the Theatre Arts faculty at Bowie State University. She earned her MFA in Scene Design from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and her work can be seen at kaweckidesign.com.