Crookedletter goes `Fission' with holiday show

Sheila Claws (a.k.a. Sheila Bishop) returns for a third holiday special, "Seasons Grievings and Sugar Plum Fissions," on Wednesday at The Atlantic.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, December 9, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 8, 2004 at 8:33 p.m.

Is your holiday cheer feeling the commercial squeeze? Well, local performing artist Sheila Bishop and her crookedletter cabaret may offer some offbeat relief from the dollar-sign blitzkrieg that saturates the season.

For the past three years, Bishop's variety show-style cabaret has served Gainesville a buffet of performance art ranging from poetry and theater to crooked carols and video pieces. Typically, Bishop said, the pieces offer a "twisted take" on holiday cliches.

"For some of us, it's a bittersweet time," Bishop said. "Generally, people come who have a little bit of a cynical attitude about the consumer aspect and how people get so fretful about gift-giving."

However, despite this year's title - "Seasons Grievings and Sugarplum Fissions" - Wednesday's cabaret isn't griping for griping's sake. The driving force behind this event, Bishop said, is having a good time and fostering the creative process.

"I encourage people to do what they feel moved to do; some are political, some are just funny," Bishop said of the performers. "The crowds appreciate experimental or off-the-cuff work."

The cabarets usually draw about 100 people and are marked by interaction between the audience and the performers. During the event's mock-Santa, "Dear Sheila" letters section, Bishop reads messages from the audience out-loud, allowing patron participation without being put on the spot.

Occasionally, there's a poignant moment, too, she said. One year, a group of pregnant teenagers asked for practical, everyday household items to help deal with their increasing financial burdens.

This year, proceeds from the event will benefit the International Lawyers Guild, a legal group dedicated to social-justice issues.

"The audience and the performers that Sheila Bishop has been bringing together for years are really quite special," noted performer Van Choojitarom in an e-mail. "Her audiences are receptive and engaged and truly make it OK for performers to take astonishing risks."

This year, Choojitarom plans to spoof Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" with "A HumanLight Carol," based on a little-known alternative winter holiday that celebrates secular humanism over traditional Christmas fare.

This year's holiday crookedletter cabaret may be Bishop's last for a while; she's applying to graduate school in New York to attain a master's degree in performance studies. Among her contributions this year is a somber, spoken-word piece about light, darkness, change and rebirth that centers on often-overlooked holiday ideals.

"Christmas is so big to people even if they're cynical about consumerism," she said. "We need something special during this time of year. We need the celebration and the brightness and the sparkle."

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