Univ Student-artist Opened for his Hero, Reggie Watts

Elie Rizk wanted to stand out.

He didn’t want to take the stage with his acoustic guitar and play a cover of a sappy love song like many other college guys.

Instead, Rizk played the bass drum, tambourine and high hat with his feet; the guitar with his hands; the harmonica; and sang. All at the same time.

“I think because I’m playing so many instruments at the same time, it impresses people right off the bat,” Rizk said. “You don’t necessarily need to sound good–but hopefully I do.”

Rizk–who can play a multitude of instruments including drums, bass, guitar, piano, ukulele, organ and banjo–has never taken a single music lesson. He taught himself to play every instrument he knows, starting with drums.

“My sister had been taking guitar lessons at the time and she needed someone to play with so I was like, ‘I guess I’ll play drums,’” Rizk said.

Sophomore Elie Rizk warms up during his soundcheck before opening for Reggie Watts at NextNOW Fest at The Clarice. Photo credit: Julia Lerner/Bloc Reporter
Sophomore Elie Rizk warms up during his soundcheck before opening for Reggie Watts at NextNOW Fest at The Clarice. (Julia Lerner/Bloc Reporter)

After learning the drums, Rizk taught himself to play guitar.

“As I was drumming to myself, I was writing songs in my head and realized you can’t translate songs onto drums,” Rizk said. “I started playing my sister’s guitar and I learned that I have some sort of innate [musical] talent.”

Rizk said he was shocked by how easily he could pick up different instruments because he’d never really been good at anything else.

Out of all the instruments he plays, Rizk said guitar is his favorite.

“Anyone can sit down and look at a piano and play one note, and it’ll sound exactly the same no matter who’s playing the note,” Rizk said. “Sometimes you can tell who’s playing the guitar just by one note – whether it’s Clapton or John Mayer, even. I think it’s the most expressive instrument.”

So Rizk combined his talents to become a one-man-band for his talent show performance last year, demonstrating his abilities to play all of those instruments at once.

His friend at Student Entertainment Events submitted some of Rizk’s music, which is how he earned the opportunity to open for comedian/musician Reggie Watts at NextNOW Fest on Friday, Sept. 11.

Rizk, a sophomore in letters and sciences, was in Lebanon at the time and was completely out of touch with his friends, so his friend at SEE had to reach out to him through Facebook.

“I was freaking out,” Rizk recalled. “There are plenty of musical comedians out there – Demetri Martin, Bo Burnham – but Reggie Watts, for some reason, sticks out like a sore thumb from all the rest.”

Rizk described Watts as the “weirdest, quirkiest” person he’d ever seen – from his hair to the odd sweaters he wears.

“His comedy style isn’t just telling jokes; his whole routine is disorienting you,” Rizk said. “His originality is what strikes me most.”

However, Rizk said he gave a lot of thought to his routine on Friday and the only ode to Watts will be the really cool sweater he set aside to wear during his performance.

“I think the routine I’m doing is not attempting to be anyone but myself,” Rizk said. “[Reggie] is my hero and I wouldn’t want to embarrass myself in front of him.”

Puppeteer Brings Magic for all Ages to NextNOW

Every so often, the conversation paused and the sound of a saw cutting through wood crescendoed, growing from background noise to noise which could not be ignored.

Puppeteer and artist Robin Frohardt put the finishing touches on her newest piece, titled Dumpster Monster, a 10-foot tall inflatable monster that explodes from a wooden dumpster.

Frohardt, a carpenter and prop builder, fabricated the realistic dumpster out of wood. She designed it so she can easily disassemble it for transport, which will come in handy when she brings it back to her home in New York.

“I’m putting the final touches on this guy now,” Frohardt said. “I’m packing him up today to come to D.C.”

The inspiration for Dumpster Monster came from Frohardt’s play The Pigeoning. In the play, there is a dream sequence in which a trash can explodes into a trash monster, Frohardt said.

A young girl watches as actors performing as janitors combat the monster that emerges from the dumpster display, Dumpster Monster, at NextNOW Fest. Photo credit: Ryan Eskalis/Bloc Reporter
A young girl watches as actors performing as janitors combat the monster that emerges from the dumpster display, Dumpster Monster, at NextNOW Fest. (Ryan Eskalis/Bloc Reporter)

Aside from creating puppets for her own use, Frohardt’s work has also appeared in TV shows  such as Orange is the New Black, 30 Rock and in places like Radio City Music Hall.

For Radio City Music Hall’s New York Spring Spectacular, Frohardt worked alongside five other puppeteers to produce puppets for the show.

“Puppeteers are the best people on the planet,” Frohardt said. “It’s really fun to hang out with a bunch of them because it’s just a bunch of goofballs, really. It’s people who have the same kind of sense of humor.”

However, Frohardt said she prefers making her own puppets.

“It’s definitely more rewarding to make my own work because I get to decide and I get to call the shots,” Frohardt said. “It’s way more fun to do your own thing, even if it’s less funny.”

That being said, Frohardt said she believes Dumpster Monster is a piece of “just pure entertainment.” She described the piece as a metaphor for the monster humanity is creating with all of the waste.

“I’m not trying to beat people over the head with any message,” Frohardt said. “I hope that it’s a little bit magical – and not just for kids, but for anyone, really.”

A Sit-down With Hip-hop Group Liner Notes

Paige Hernandez, creator of Liner Notes, graduated from UMD in 2002 as a broadcast journalism major with a theater minor.

Featured is Baye Harrell (left) and Paige Hernandez (right) of group
Featured is Baye Harrell (left) and Paige Hernandez (right) of group “Liner Notes.” (Jeff Fitzgerald/For The Bloc)

Q: Why did you choose to go the theater track instead of following journalism?

A: I actually did journalism straight of college for ABC News for a couple years – couldn’t really do it. This was right around 9/11 when the entire industry was changing. I decided to take the full leap into theater and performing full time.

Q: What did you do before Liner Notes?

A: I’ve been an actress around the country. I am a professional Actor’s Equity actress, so I just get auditions and do shows. I do mostly tours, so I just tour around the country doing different casting calls. In 2009 I wrote my own one-woman show called “Paige in Full,” which launched my company B-Fly Entertainment. Now B-Fly Entertainment has seven shows – Liner Notes is just one of them. We tour all seven shows throughout the world – including Singapore; we just got back.

Q: Are you involved in all seven shows?

A: I write [all seven shows], I direct them, sometimes I’m in them, sometimes I’m not.

Q: What kind of staffing is there for Liner Notes?

A: There are anywhere from 10-12 of us. On stage you see eight, and behind the scenes there’s usually one to four people. The full production has projections and lighting design, so we have someone on staff to do that. We have our jazz quintet and the three feature artists. We also have four installments of this show – that means four entirely different shows. You saw one tonight.

Q: There are four different versions of the performance you did tonight?

A: There’s four different themes, concepts. So within those four versions, we cover almost 200 artists. We’ve got themes based around family, love. These were like our greatest hits, these were all of our favorite jams. The other ones incorporate themes.

Q: Why did you decide to do the ‘Greatest Hits’ theme tonight?

A: [Greatest Hits] is a great introduction to the show. It’s a great way for people to understand what the concept is and the convention that we do. We hope to hook people with that and they can come out to a different themed show.

Q: I was interviewing someone earlier who follows you guys at The Atlas. Why do you usually pick that venue?

A: The Atlas is B-Fly Entertainment’s home. Every show that I’ve done – all seven – have been produced there. They’re just very supportive. They give us all kinds of staff, materials, the space there is wonderful. It’s a great place, not only to get your feet wet, but to grow. It’s a great central location – a lot of us are from Baltimore, so it’s a good middle place.

Q: You have your husband and your father. How did you meet the other people involved in B-Fly Entertainment?

A: The actual jazz quintet was put together by my husband. All of the people he brought in are people he worked with around town. They’re all national artists. They tour all over. Kris came off the road just for today. He was on a plane at 6 a.m. and then he’s on a plane tomorrow morning at 10, so he came in just for this show. That’s a testament of the loyalty to the show. Everybody wants to continue to do it. The nucleus has been strong, it has stayed strong. That’s a fantastic part about it.

headshotMaya Pottiger is a junior journalism major and can be reached at mayabee777@aim.com.

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