In the winter of 1920, a little venue near the heart of Minneapolis opened as a silent film and Vaudeville house. It was called the Loring Theater and offered a great flair to the up-and-coming Minneapolis arts scene.

After years of being known under a different name — the Music Box Theater — and now switching to a new ownership, the neighborhood theater is going back to the beginning, returning to its original name and bringing that variety show style back on stage.

“We really wanted to bring it back to its roots as a variety house,” said Steve Barberio, producing artistic director of Loring Theater. “At the same time, we wanted to bring it back to the neighborhood, make it the neighborhood theater once again.”

Once Barberio and his crew found the original “Loring Theater” letters, tucked away, and just a bit rusty, in the basement of the historic theater it pretty much sealed the decision.

With the re-branding comes a slightly new approach to the types of performances being showcased at the theater. Barberio said going forward they were especially interested in blending national acts with local bands and theater companies.

One of the best examples of this updated, eclectic programming is a new show called, “Urban Primitive Pop,” from The Producing House — a show that blends art with entertainment and uses visual expression to engage an audience in a more intimate way.

At the helm of this show is one of the best. Whether it’s a block-long mural, a custom Gibson guitar, logos on a Mountain Dew can or yes, even the set designs for MTV’s “The Real World,” Billy The Artist has definitely left his mark.

Billy’s experience in the arts started at a very young age — and perhaps, a bit, out of boredom. After becoming ill with a kidney disease, Billy inevitably spent a lot of time in a hospital bed, with not much else to do but draw.

“I can remember, from the very beginning, what got me through this was that I always sketched, I always drew,” he said. “Where some people would have diaries where they would write about their day or their life, I drew everything.”

After moving to New York, Billy got his big break. He had recently seen a new up-and-coming show that spoke to him and completely blew him away. The show was called, “Rent” and, it just so happens, they were looking for some art for their set.

The set designer hired Billy to paint 60-foot murals inside the theater that could really recreate the atmosphere of a club in the east village. Billy’s designs were used in the Broadway and London productions — and even made it on two of the original T-shirt designs.

From that day on, Billy’s career exploded. He completely immersed himself in the arts and truly earned his title as Billy The Artist.

That fame eventually led to the chance of a lifetime. A year and a half ago, Billy took over Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy with a larger-than-life event to launch his Swatch watch designs. In front of a crowd of 30,000 people, he painted a 30 by 40 foot mural — live.

“It was absolutely incredible,” he said.

Billy will be taking that same energy and raw visual expression to the stage of Loring Theater this week for a similar concept — though, clearly smaller scale. In “Urban Primitive Pop,” Billy The Artist will create three distinct paintings live to the music of Speed’s The Name. It’s an event sure to please all the senses as the audience experiences the first-hand process behind Billy’s incredible artistic abilities.

And for Billy, there’s simply nothing more thrilling.

“It’s unbelievably satisfying and fun, number one. Anytime you’re on stage, when you have that music playing and can feel that energy of the crowd, when you start painting, a lot of times you’re feeding off that energy but you’re so focused in on your canvas that sometimes, a part of the audience escapes you,” he said.

That kind of intimacy with an audience and that kind of outside-the-box programming perfectly fits the mold of what Barberio’s looking to reintroduce to the Minneapolis crowd.

“It introduces a really innovative blend of performance and visual art,” Barberio said. “It’s a daring, bold piece that will entertain on so many different levels.”

“Urban Primitive Pop” will run Jan. 27-29 at Loring Theater at 8 p.m. For tickets and information on the show, click here. To learn more about Billy The Artist and his art, check out his website. The pieces created during the three shows will be donated to CaringBridge and CommonBond Communities.

Sara Boyd is a web producer and columnist at WCCO.COM.


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