GALLERY SPOTLIGHT: BYRDIE’S
An unassuming St. Claude façade flanked by benches fronts Byrdie’s, a Bywater café, clay studio and gallery. Walk into the front-room display space and you’ll see this month’s art show — anything from ceramic pieces by studio members to works by local or visiting artists.
At the back counter, choose from an extensive selection of loose-leaf teas, pastries from the neighborhood patisserie and standout sandwiches on housemade bread — one day’s menu offered a mango, black pepper and Brie panini. There’s a book exchange where visitors can swap good (or bad) reads.
Past the counter is the element that makes Byrdie’s different from your favorite local café: a communal ceramics facility, complete with potter’s wheels and a kiln, where members and aspiring ceramicists can create work, enroll in public classes for affordable fees and even take advantage of a work exchange opportunity.
Founder Heather Lane opened Byrdie’s in May of 2010, with the goal of offering a “self-sufficient community space for art and gathering.” A central California transplant, Lane attended Tulane University, receiving a fine arts degree in ceramics and a business degree in marketing and management. “Byrdie’s is by far the best work I’ve ever had,” said Lane, reflecting on her varied previous employment. “The gallery is funded by the studio and café, so it has the freedom to show a greater variety of emerging artists without the burden of being responsible for generating rent monies, etc.”
Because the Byrdie’s gallery space is financially supported, Lane is able to curate diverse shows in a variety of media, from abstract installations to formal silver gelatin photography. She picks artists based on portfolios, not CVs. “When people come into the gallery for the Second Saturday receptions, I don’t want them to have precepts of what to expect from Byrdie’s,” Lane explained. The gallery is part of the burgeoning St. Claude Arts District: thirty neighborhood venues offering art, music and live performances.
Lane and business partner Christopher Bohnstengel, who took over the café side of Byrdie’s in January and whom you can frequently find at the counter crafting new specialty edibles, hope to expand the ceramics offerings at Byrdie’s this fall with the addition of project-specific classes like raku firing. In the meantime, they invite Byrdie’s visitors to “come together, work, create and share.”
View class schedules, menus and upcoming exhibits at byrdiesgallery.com
MUSIC: THE TANGLE
Local group The Tangle shies away from genre characterization. “If I had to name bands we often get compared to,” said singer Darcy Malone, “those would be The Cold — a New Orleans New Wave band — and the B-52s.” The band’s music contains elements of classic, psychedelic and indie rock, while Malone finds personal inspiration in soul singers and ‘60s girl groups.
The Tangle formed in 2003, when skateboarder and musician Chris Boye’s band was looking for a singer. He met Darcy Malone, daughter of The Radiators’ Dave Malone and the Pfister Sisters’ Suzy Malone. The two became, Darcy said, “best friends, co-writers and ultimately husband and wife!”
It took a little longer for the band to find its best iteration, with years of revolving members and moving cities. Lead guitarist Steve Chyzyk and bass guitarist/backing vocalist Craig Toomey connected with Malone and Boye on Craigslist, auditioning for The Tangle and “clicking immediately,” said Malone. Drummer Billy Schell, another New Orleans native and Malone family friend, joined later.
Since releasing their first album, “Diamond Doorstop,” in Austin in 2008, The Tangle’s sound has evolved. “When we came back home, everything started to make sense,” said Malone, who credits her improved understanding of hooks and harmonies to her experience in local Beatles cover band The Walrus. “Everything just got happier, catchy and a heck of a lot more interesting.”
The band’s 2012 Piety Records release, “Now We’re Awake,” features “help from amazing musicians and friends,” Malone said, including Spencer Bohren, members of Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, Duane Pitre and her own father. The recording process was “an awesome experience,” the singer enthused. “And it just keeps getting better and better!”
As for where The Tangle is heading, Malone said, “I think we’re where every band hopes to see themselves: continuing to grow, building more fans and living the dream of doing this every day.”
Catch The Tangle performing around New Orleans at venues like Carrollton Station, Gasa Gasa and d.b.a.
THEATER: CAT WILKINSON, ACTOR
Cat Wilkinson, a NOLA native, grew up playing an improvisation game called “Commercial Throw” with her mom. “She would throw whatever random object was close to her at that particular moment and when I caught it, the commercial would start,” explained Wilkinson. “I would have to sell her whatever the object was. Which was pretty hard, considering that sometimes the closest object was my cat.”
Improvisation has always fascinated Wilkinson, who “naturally gravitates toward comedic characters.” A graduate of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, she continued her theater studies at Loyola University New Orleans and Chicago’s Columbia College, where she received her B.A. in acting. A chance to study at the famed Second City in Chicago was “surreal” for Wilkinson, who felt fortunate to follow in the footsteps of the company’s famous comedic alumni.
Exercising her dramatic flexibility, Wilkinson recently took on the role of Gila, a traumatized patient/prisoner under violent interrogation, in a Four Humours Theater production of British playwright Harold Pinter’s “Other Places.” This March, she was named an “Actor to Watch” by director and screenwriter Jo Custer, who lauded Wilkinson’s intensity. Though she prefers film work, and just finished shooting small-budget independent film “The Butcher,” Wilkinson can’t imagine leaving the stage.
When not preparing for auditions and callbacks, Wilkinson works with autistic children and teens, using drama therapy and play to help kids learn about social behavior and relationships. “I’ve worked with children from three to 17 with various and very different cases of autism and related disorders,” she said. “I combine this with my passion for acting, and the results are absolutely amazing.”
Wilkinson, who will take the stage again this spring as Corinna in Four Humours’ upcoming production of “The House of Blue Leaves,” approaches her craft with a sense of balance. “I think it’s crucial to find comedy in pathos and at the same time, depth in lighthearted situations,” she said.
Learn more about actor Cat Wilkinson at catwilkinson.com