When/Time: New Work from Stacy Busch Presented at Charlotte Street Foundation

Six people making exaggerated facial expressions, in black and white.

The performers in Stacy Busch’s “When/Time”: (l-r) Courtney Hittle, Casey Jane, Christopher Lion, J.J. Pearse, Stacy Busch, and Sascha Groschang. Image courtesy of Stacy Busch.

There’s a lot of music out there about drinking, but how much about the hard journey to sobriety and healing? Composer and performing artist Stacy Busch took on that challenge in the premiere performance of “When/Time,” presented in the Charlotte Street Foundation Black Box Theater Friday evening, one of the first performances in their new space at 3333 Wyoming Street.

Busch was named a 2020 Charlotte Street Foundation Generative Performing Artist. This project, intended for 2020, was delayed due to the pandemic. With three actors and three musicians, the presentation was an amalgam of concert and theater performance, in the façade of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The work was written and directed by Kalli Siringas.

A semicircle of chairs and a coffee pot set up on a folding table in the back corner were the set, with a permeable fourth wall. At the start, Busch wandered into the room, turning to the audience: “I see we have a lot of newcomers.”

Busch, herself nearly nine years sober, is a proud proponent of sobriety and attributes much of her success to the relationships she’s developed in her journey to get there.

I see this presentation as not the culmination of the project, but the first step in something bigger, built around new songs and a handful of retooled ones.

Busch has a singular, mesmerizing musical style and is an exquisite beat maker, with an inquisitive ear and astute facility with a complicated synth set up of keyboard, percussion, voice, and computer. And she neatly integrates this lush soundscape with acoustic instruments, too. Busch vocalizes in many of her works, modulating her voice from deep and monstrous to Mickey Mouse-ish, and creates loops from phrases, stripped to their core consonant, or breathes, layered into ambient wash or brittle percussive effects.

Billed as “a newer, funnier, and fuller view of addiction,” the work did have bits of humor, but the overall emotion was anxiety. The characters, as three AA attendees, shared some of their story and struggles in emotionally agitated monologue, then moved through various abstract, anxiety-laden gestures during the musical works. Kyle Mullins choreographed.

Christopher Lion, Casey Jane, Courtney Hittle gave sympathizing performances as the attendees, with Busch, cellist Sascha Groschang and percussionist J.J. Pearse as attendee characters, too, albeit ones who periodically played instruments and sang during the meeting. Busch mixes melody and spoken word, leaning nearly into rap (coming powerfully and unexpectedly from Hittle), though from time to time issues in the mix subdued the power of the text within the texture.

At little over an hour, with no intermission, the work could have breathed more, taken a little more time, told a more complete story.

We got to know why the characters where there and what demons they faced, but there wasn’t much opportunity for character arc, just a character meet-and-greet. It ended on a musically hopeful tone, but we’re not sure if the characters end up there, too.

The audience section of the theater was nearly full, roughly 100 people, but this work has a potential to appeal to a wider population, hopefully reaching more people to explain and empathize with those battling addiction, the various paths that lead them to it, and the challenges they face in starting in a new direction.

Reviewed June 25, 2021, with a repeat performance June 26. From more information visit www.stacybusch.com.

Libby Hanssen

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. She maintains the culture bog "Proust Eats a Sandwich."

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