Betty Anderson (aka Paul Kreft out of drag) might be the leading creative force behind Cicada: The Musical, but for me the production is all about the return of Humphries, an artist who's lived in St. Louis for the past four years and whose absence continues to be felt daily.
There are other Cicada-inspired local projects, including a five-song Cicada CD featuring local bands like The Walker Project, Buckra and Jake Speed & the Freddies, but nothing compares with the pomp and campy spirit surrounding Cicada: The Musical. Kreft points to Humphries' clever performance piece Gillombardo's Hams as artistic inspiration, meaning he knows the importance of appropriating wisely.
Like Gillombardo's Hams, Humphries' spectacular 1999 Rock opera, Kreft's show looks funny and avant-garde. But the true Humphries touch is the vast amount of people behind Cicada: The Musical.
Over two nights in October 1999, Humphries staged Gillombardo's Hams, a hip, inventive, eclectic, clever and funny piece of performance art that inspired future performance spaces like the Mockbee (formerly SSNOVA) and Publico. He worked with CAC colleagues, working artists like Kreft, Art Academy students and Semantics Gallery peers. Kreft has reassembled many of the Gillombardo alumni, including David Dillon, for his new project.
Humphries, a native of New Philadelphia, Ohio, and artist-wife Sarah Colby first moved to Cincinnati in 1992. He was curator at the CAC for seven-and-a-half years until April 26, 2000. He installed a 2000 sculpture show at The Carnegie in Covington and exhibited at the Weston Art Gallery. He was an active volunteer at Semantics and DiLeia galleries and managed a season of the summertime training program at ArtWorks before leaving town.
Humphries remains the leading poster boy regarding the issue of retaining talent. Granted, other artists have come and gone during his absence, but his collaborative spirit remains a powerful force.
Here's something Humphries wrote about his new hometown in a guest CityBeat column: "Attracting and retaining talent is an issue in all but the top few cities. Like Cincinnati, artists and arts administrators also view St. Louis as provincial and a stepping stone to something better."
It would make for a better Humphries homecoming if Cicada: The Musical would have been staged at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theater or the CAC Black Box Theater instead of the off-the-grid College Hill Town Hall. Then again, Gillombardo's Hams took place in a West End warehouse, close to Semantics Gallery's Brighton Corner storefront, a spot Humphries helped open.
If there's a slogan behind grassroots creative projects like Cicada: The Musical, it's something Humphries said regarding his work on Gillombardo's Hams: "Why wouldn't you want to do something wonderful in your own community?"
Humphries' passion is clearly contemporary art, and he continues to share it with Cincinnati audiences. When it comes to the creative class, he, Kreft and the rest of team behind Cicada: The Musical are the real deal.