Laurie Anderson does everything you expect from an artist: She uses culture as a springboard for comment, weaving stories that are sad, funny and revelatory of attitudes so deeply ingrained that they're part of our language. She also likes to play around with things like the talking stick, a wireless instrument that synthesizes sounds; microphones arranged on her body that turn it into a dancing percussion kit; and a violin that replaces strings with audio tape that replicates voices and more when touched. Anderson appears at PlayhouseSquare's Ohio Theatre (1501 Euclid Ave.) at 8 p.m. Saturday, performing Burning Leaves, a retrospective of songs and stories. The performance will splice together bits of her shows The Speed of Darkness, Happiness, The End of the Moon and Homeland, as well as solo violin pieces that have become more complex over time. Tickets: $15-$30. Call 216.241.6000 or go to playhousesquare.com.
Photographer and activist Steve Cagan has been documenting the endangered culture and landscape of El Choc—, Colombia, as well as the defiantly bucolic flora and fauna of Forest Hill Park in East Cleveland. He gives a free lecture at 6 p.m. in Room 301 of the Mather Mansion (2605 Euclid Ave.), followed by a reception. His talk - "El Choc—, Colombia: Struggle for Cultural and Environmental Survival; an Everyday Resistance" - deals with a region that's plagued by extreme poverty and wealth. The large black population there still suffers the burden of a slave system that was abolished without reparations more than 150 years ago - about a decade before the U.S. did the same thing. Call 216.523.7168 or visit csuohio.edu.
John Waters' most cleaned-up, cheery and mainstream film launched not only a series of remakes - first as a musical and then as a movie based on the stage adaptation - it also started a tradition of a guy playing the mother in the story of a girl who wants a spot on a local TV dance show. Hairspray is set in 1962, when local stations still broadcast such things. In the 1988 movie, Edna Turnblad was played by Divine; the 2007 movie stuffed John Travolta into a dress. The Broadway tour coming to Cleveland this week features Jerry O'Boyle in the role. Brooklynn Pulver plays daughter Tracy, who loves Corny Collins' dance show - especially on Negro Day, the one day a month when black folks are allowed to be on the program. When Tracy sees a black classmate in her high school's detention room (all the kids there are black), she says, "I saw you on Negro Day. I love Negro Day. I wish every day was Negro Day." Lines like that make Hairspray a great satire that rises above what could be just another corny story about a fat girl who defies the odds. Performances are 7:30 tonight, 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $10-$60. Call 216.241.6000 or go to playhousesquare.com.
About a year ago, a group of self-appointed impresarios calling themselves the Council of Chiefs gathered nearly 150 local musicians and pulled their names out of a hat to create 33 ad-hoc bands, dubbed the Lottery League. Those groups rehearsed for a few months before staging a massive concert at the Beachland. Some of the groups survived, others formed from the scraps and some of them will be performing tonight at a CD-release party at the Beachland. But before the gig, stop by Arts Collinwood (15605 Waterloo Rd.) a few doors down, where photographers and videographers Mike Levy, Laura Webb, Lou Muenz and others will show their work documenting the whole process - from the initial draft to myriad rehearsals to the Big Show. The Lottery League Photo Show opens with a reception from 6-9 p.m. and continues through Feb. 28. Free. Call 216.692.9500 or go to artscollinwood.org.
Big [BOX]: BACKspace
Choreographers Carly Dorman and Sara Lawrence are both members of Dancing Wheels. Dorman trained with the Alvin Ailey, Jose Limon and Paul Taylor schools in her native New York; Lawrence emphasizes a more balletic style, with roles in Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Coppélia and La Sylphide, among others. The duo recently worked with FiveOne - a small, Cleveland-based orchestra that performs new music under the direction of Michael Bratt - to create BACKspace, an evening of dance and music that makes its premiere tonight as part of Cleveland Public Theatre's Big[BOX] series. Performances are at 7:30 Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in CPT's James Levin Theatre (6415 Detroit Ave.) Tickets: $12-$15. Call 216.631.2727 or go to cptonline.org.
Thomas Jasany goes by the pen name Harry Longfellow and claims a master's degree in education and a Ph.D. in street life. His true stories of life behind the wheel of a taxicab have the winking attitude of a guy who has seen a lot of life's underbelly and is proud of it. He wants to show you some things you probably haven't seen because you go to bed too early or don't go to the same parts of town he does. Jasany will read and sign his book, A Fares of a Street Savvy Cabby, at 7 p.m. Friday at Visible Voice Books (1023 Kenilworth Ave.). Free. Call 216.961.0084 or go to visiblevoicebooks.com.
The phrase "foot soldiers for freedom" refers to the black students who marched against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. It's also the title of the fourth in a series of 10 "movement" plays by Indiana-based playwright Nicole Kearney. Karamu's youth theater program presents a production of the play directed by Raquel Robinson, which opens today. Performances are 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through February 22 in the Arena Theater (2355 E. 89th St.). Tickets: $10. Call 216.795.7077 or go to karamu.com.
Fifteen artists and "a modern twist on the cliché of St. Valentine's day" are promised at the Pop Shop's I Heart Art show. That's in line with the gallery's sugary pop-culture aesthetic. Bigger news is that owners Rich Cihlar and Jeff Hulligan recently announced that their gallery and framing studio will double in size this spring when they move into an adjacent Madison Avenue storefront, adding about 800 square feet. That means the Pop Shop can book solo shows on its schedule and feature work in more comfortable confines than their current, tightly packed room allows. I Heart Art opens from 6-9 p.m. tonight at the Pop Shop Gallery (17020 Madison Ave., Lakewood). Free. The opening is followed by an afterparty at Mullen's Bar next door. Call 216.227.8440 or go to popshopgallery.com.
Verb Ballets goes out to Chagrin Falls High School (400 E. Washington St.) tonight to perform a program of pieces that have made headlines in Cleveland: Pamela Pribisco's "Peter and the Wolf," Ulysses Dove's "Vespers," former artistic director Hernando Cortez's "Darkwood" and two works by famed Ohio Ballet founder Heinz Poll ("Duet" and "Bolero"). The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $5-$20. Call 440.247.8955 or visit chagrinfoundation.org.
Poets always seem to lean toward bongos for accompaniment, but two local wordsmiths take a more genteel approach. Katie Daley performs with guitarists John Emery and Jeff Grau, while Barry Zucker reads to guitarist Matt Harmon. It's at 7 p.m. at the Bertram Woods Branch of the Shaker Heights Public Library (20600 Fayette Rd., Shaker Heights). Free. Call 216.991.2421 or go to shakerlibrary.org.