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Thursday, February 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 13.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Madison musicians, comedians and dancers explore the concept of affection at the Acts of Love Old-School Variety Show
Hearts on display
Crooner Charlie Brooks brings Motown romance to the stage.
Credit:Joe Engle

Love plays muse to a variety of creative expressions, so it's fitting that local artist Mallory Shotwell organized a variety show featuring music, dance and comedy for her most recent project, A Discourse on Love.

Taking place at the High Noon Saloon on May 16, the Acts of Love Old-School Variety Show unites local music acts Charlie Brooks & the Way It Is, Cowboy Winter, Anna Vogelzang and Nester with the Jess and Jess Aerial Dance troupe and the Monkey Business Institute improv comedy team.

Shotwell began Discourse in October 2013 with the goal of interviewing 100 people about love. She posed 11 questions on the topic during interviews with kids as young as 4 and adults as old as 89. The list of questions included "Who taught you [to] love?" and "What is your map of love?" Shotwell then posted anonymous quotes from the interviews on her Discourse blog.

Along the way, she also put on monthly community art workshops. The variety show is the final workshop, after which comes a month-long exhibition at Absolutely Art. Featuring works by 45 workshop participants, the exhibition kicks off on June 6 with a night of interactive fun, including a listening booth playing interview excerpts and a robot that writes love letters.

Monkey Business will craft a narrative for the event about a couple meeting, falling in love, falling out of love, and then repeating the process. And Jess and Jess have developed a piece that depicts the "very sexy and powerful" side of love, Shotwell says. The duo even created a new performance apparatus called the "Jessphere" for the show.

The show's musicians will play original songs as well as covers of love songs near and dear to them. Shotwell says the band lineup is designed to increase the audience's energy level as the night goes on.

Anna Vogelzang will begin the musical portion of the evening with a solo set of quiet folk music.

"Then Nester will pick it up a notch, then Cowboy Winter will make it even bigger, and it will end with Charlie Brooks & the Way It Is, which is Motown, and throwing the mic down, and feeling it, and really hitting the dance party," Shotwell explains.

To book the variety show, Shotwell reached out to Tag Evers of True Endeavors. Evers liked the project's concept and gladly signed on.

"Culturally, it's obvious we're challenged by love -- despite all the romantic comedies, love songs and pop-culture signposts," Evers wrote in an email. "The need to love and be loved is so fundamental to what makes us tick, to what brings us great joy and great suffering, yet there's little in the way of intentional discourse as we muddle through. Mallory's project addresses that need and does so in a delightfully refreshing manner."

In other words, the variety show will serve as a big display of affection -- and the many forms affection takes. Shotwell wants music at the event because she feels that it is an important way for people to express love.

Cowboy Winter frontman Kevin Willmott decided to participate to celebrate the love his rock band has received from the local music scene.

"It's easy for a band to feel the love in Madison," he says, noting how WORT community radio and live-music venues like Mickey's Tavern and the High Noon Saloon have supported Cowboy Winter.

Shotwell says she has been impressed and inspired by Discourse participants' enthusiasm.

"It's a completely community-powered project. There's no money going in; there's no money going out," she says.

After the variety show and art exhibition, Shotwell will continue to collect ideas about love from the community. She hopes to write a book, too.

"People are so wise, and they don't often give themselves credit," she says. "They are what make this project happen. And it's incredible."

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