Variable equations

Performer and educator Graham Hackett has been involved in his fair share of shows — enough to know that live performance has its limits. Some people might want to take in a show but have a schedule conflict. Or can't find a baby sitter. Or couldn't get a ticket before the event sold out. But the VARIABLE TV series (billed as "innovative 'edu-tainment'"), set to air on URTV starting mid-summer, can change all that, by bringing the arts to a much wider audience.

Showtime: Bollywood-style dance is just one art form that will be shown on VARIABLE TV, the latest project of spoken-work performer Graham Hackett, of Catalyst Poetix.

"Catalyst pretty much stays in production," says Hackett of the umbrella arts organization which he founded. One arm of Catalyst is performance, the other is experiential arts programming geared toward a wide range of populations, including high-risk youth. The VARIABLE series, up to this point a collection of live performances, was slated to "be the eighth show, so we decided to do a high-quality live recording," says Hackett.

Part of the impetus for filming: "I've been involved in live arts for 20 years and I have nothing to show for it but a stack of posters." Actually, Hackett has collected a number of YouTube videos on the Web site; these include poets taking part in Poetix Lounge, DJs at the Blackout Ball and child artists at Spitfire Open Mic, held at Firestorm Cafe.

But the upcoming VARIABLE recording, to be filmed at the Hookah Bar this week, isn't likely to resemble its predecessors very much. That show is intended as a pilot for the series; the company has four episodes in the works, including footage of HATCH Asheville, the Asheville Poetry Slam ("There's a whole new wave of interest and participation," Hackett says of the spoken word phenomenon which swept Asheville in the mid-1990s) and City of 1,000 Easels (set for late June).

The pilot episode will feature Lisa Zahiya's Bollywood-style bhangra dance troupe, a short play by the Redundant Theatre Company Theatre, vocalist Sage Sansone, DJ Raf spinning down-tempo tracks, jazz singer Katie Kasben, The Poetix Vanguard poetry ensemble, singer/songwriter Sara Day and interpretive calligraphy body art by Moon.

Another benefit to the video package: "We intend to add an interview component. We can interview anyone, they don't need to have an act," Hackett says. "Interviews will make it that much more expansive." 

At least to start, the VARIABLE shows lean heavily on Hackett's own connections within the arts community. He's called Asheville home for eight years now, and the various hats he wears put him in touch with poets, performing artists, people involved with sustainability projects and those (like himself) who work with at-risk and incarcerated youth. Those links alone could make for a season's worth of shows. And then there are the six degrees of separation-style leads from each potential episodes. "Connectivity and willingness to communicate with all these players is unique, and people will find the service useful," Hackett says.

But is he concerned about such an ambitious scope? In a word, no. "Being that expansive is not that complicated. It's just as dynamic as Asheville is."

And, as much as VARIABLE's scope is eclectic, it's not unwieldy. As Hackett explains, "We can parse these out as smaller segments." That will aid in the mission to find a wider viewership for the shows. "Potentially thousands of regional cable viewers and global online audiences will have the opportunity to get a taste of our city's unique character," Hackett writes in a press release.

That particular sort of plug, Hackett points out, "is a niche that needs filling. We want to capture a cross-section of Asheville that hasn't been represented yet." But even though Hackett's vision is towards a national — maybe even global — export of the VARIABLE episodes, he's also dedicated to the local aspect of the project. "We want this to be Asheville's TV show," he says.

Alli Marshall can be reached at

what: Filming of locally-based arts, culture and interview variety show
where: The Hookah Bar
when: Friday, April 23 (8:30 p.m., $7.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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