Big Finish: The Making of "Aw, Heck"

Ryan, Rachel, and Brandon explain how the heck we wrote the finale song for our musical, Heck Above Deck.

Optical Popsicle Infinity: A look at how far the annual visual variety show has come

by Seth Johnson for NUVO

When writing the script for their annual Optical Popsicle variety show, Indianapolis artist collective Know No Stranger isn't afraid to throw the zaniest of twists into a plot — even if it might seem impossible to manifest live in a large theater setting.

"Last year, we probably backed ourselves into the most demanding corner that we had up to that point by writing a moment in the finale where we launched the entire theater through a black hole into another universe," says writer and performer Ryan Felton. "That ended up being a really special moment that immersed the whole audience and brought everybody together."

Crowds should expect much of this same wackiness at the show's seventh installment, which Know No Stranger is calling Optical Popsicle Infinity. Taking place at the Indianapolis Museum of Art's Toby Theater for the second straight year, the show will consist of puppetry, video, live music, dance and more, with several surprise guests also making appearances. Due to the large amount of people that were turned away from last year's sold out extravaganza, the 2015 Op Pop will have three show times rather than one.

"I like to view Know No Stranger as a bunch of kids with superpowers," says Emily Gable, puppeteer and illustrator for Know No Stranger. "It's like Captain Planet ... We're showing people that Indianapolis is something very special and eclectic and almost homemade, and it makes you feel like you're in your grandma's house and you're playing with all your old toys again."

It was Oct. 23, 2009 when Know No Stranger originally unveiled their very first Optical Popsicle at Indy's now-defunct Earth House, with no real intentions of creating an Op Pop 2, 3 or Infinity. At this point, the group honestly admits they had no idea how the Indianapolis arts community would receive their eye-popping ideas.

Illustrator and performer Brandon Schaaf recalls, "I remember standing with Michael [a former member] and we were like, 'What if people don't like this? We think what we're doing is funny. We think what we're doing is poignant. But, we don't know if anybody will see it. And if anybody sees it, will they like it?'"

At this time, the group ultimately had something that they were trying to prove.

As one opportunity led to the next, the group was asked to be the IMA's first-ever performing artist in residence for 2015 and 2016 as part of the museum's multi-faceted ARTx series.

Scott Stulen, curator of audience experiences and performance at the IMA, first witnessed Know No Stranger at their sold out Optical Popsicle 7 performance last year at the Toby Theater.

"There's this genuine, playful, kind of joyful spirit at the core of all of it that resonates well with me, and I think it's also something that is fairly rare to be honest," says Stulen. He sees their collaborative nature as being something that truly makes them an Indianapolis gem. "I think it's so unique to have a group of artists that are working as a collective and doing work like this. They're also relatively young, but have been able to accomplish so much in a short period of time."

In addition to this year and next year's Optical Popsicles, the group's residency will also include a puppet making workshop in January 2016, the debut of Know No Stranger's first musical in April 2016, and much more. Through this residency, Stulen is hopeful that the collective will gain exposure from those outside Indianapolis.

"My goal at the end of this is that we can get them to be able to tour regionally if not nationally with some of these projects," says Stulen.



Read the original article here!

Know No Stranger prepares for 7th ‘Optical Popsicle’

by Alison Graham for the Indianapolis Star | photos by Matt Kryger

From outside, Indy Alliance looks like a typical, old church building. But when visitors walk down the stairs, to the left and in through the double doors, they’ll discover something unexpected.

The room looks like a child’s heaven. There are different size, handmade puppets hanging from the walls and ceiling. Cardboard lobsters lounge next to a paper mache campfire. Three-foot cloth and foam pizza slices dangle from a wall.

To the unknowing eye, it looks like junk. But to members of Know No Stranger, the room is a workplace and a museum.

The pizza slices are from the Fountain Square Arts Festival, where Know No Stranger — the wackiest group of performers, comedians, writers and artists working in Indianapolis — performed as a band called “Slice.” Some top hits included “Hot and Ready for Your Love” and “Deliver Me.”

On another wall hangs a gravestone with the name “Jim” written across the front. That was from “Optical Popsicle” performance No. 3. To the right, there is a cardboard water cooler. That was from “Optical Popsicle” No. 7.

Now, Know No Stranger is preparing for their seventh annual “Optical Popsicle,” a variety show they have performed since 2009. On Thursday and Saturday at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, audiences will see a mixture of video, theater, art, comedy, puppetry, film and dance.

What started as a small, niche group of friends has grown into an organization with footing in Indianapolis. Know No Stranger is shaking up the arts scene together with their unique performances and ideas.

Know No Stranger members describe the show as a Muppets-style performance. Members play themselves and go back and forth between acting out skits and acting as themselves to put on a show for the audience.

This year’s “Optical Popsicle” will have videos, live sketches, puppeteering and shadow puppet skits.

In most “Optical Popsicles,” the group incorporates special guests from bands, dance groups or other puppeteers. This year, they invited Indy Air Bears, a jump-roping team.

The first “Optical Popsicle” was simple and only thirty minutes long. Since then, the group has expanded the performance to a longer length,

“We’ve gotten a lot better,” Brandon Schaaf, one of Know No Stranger’s founders, said. “We dream bigger.”

Emily Gable, another of the group’s founders, said that the first “Optical Popsicle” was comprised of skits that were just tiny ideas, not fully developed. The group was still starting, trying to figure out how they wanted to perform together.

After seven years, they’re trying to improve with every show.

“We’ve told stories in so many different ways,” Gable said. “It’s always nice to challenge ourselves to do something bigger and better.”

Getting bigger and better doesn’t mean Know No Stranger is losing its roots as a small, intimate organization. The group still makes their own sets, props and costumes — usually out of materials like cardboard, glue and paint.

“We never want to get away from being accessible, open and down to earth,” Know No Stranger member Rachel Leigh said. “We’ll never stray too far from our cardboard. “

As the first-ever performing artist in residence at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Know No Stranger will perform and create a variety of shows and performances for audiences in the IMA throughout 2015 and 2016.

After “Optical Popsicle,” Know No Stranger will begin work on an original musical to debut in the spring or summer.

“Being an artist, you’re used to being alone,” Gable said. “When I started working with other people, it felt like I was part of something bigger. That’s an addicting feeling and the reason I’m still here. It just keeps growing into a bigger monster of cardboard and chaos.”

Alison Graham is a 2015 Arts Journalism Fellow. The fellowship, funded partially by a National Endowment for the Arts grant, is a partnership between the Arts Council of Indianapolis and The Star.

Read the original article here!

IMA Announces 2015–2016 Performing Artist in Residence

Vibrant artist collective Know No Stranger debuts new works, brings back old favorites, for Museum visitors

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Museum of Art has announced its first-ever
performing artist in residence, Know No Stranger, a local artist collective comprised of illustrators, writers, puppeteers, comedians and musicians.

The dynamic performing group will use the IMA as their stage and studio, creating innovative art projects to showcase at Museum programs and events throughout 2015 and 2016. The unique artist residency is part of the IMA’s ARTx series, made possible with a gift from The Efroymson Family Fund, a fund of Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF).

“A goal of the ARTx series is to create opportunities for local artists to create and present their work at the IMA,” said Scott Stulen, curator of audience experiences and performance at the IMA. “Through this new Performing Artist in Residence program, artists are able to utilize the resources of our institution with the freedom and support to challenge their artistic practice and grow as professionals. We are thrilled to have Know No Stranger as our first-ever performing artist in residence. Their creative energy and talent is infectious, and we are excited to see what they unleash on the IMA in the coming year.”

The collective kicked off their Museum residency on New Year’s Eve with two festive and interactive
installations. They have also contributed to the Museum’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Day
celebration with an installation that facilitated handwritten, heartfelt conversations between anonymous strangers called The Converstation.

Along with newly created works to share with IMA guests, the collective will also present another
installment of the popular Optical Popsicle in The Toby. The interactive variety show combines puppets, videos, music and dance into a one-of-a-kind sensory experience that celebrates whimsy, creativity and imagination. This year’s Optical Popsicle will feature a three-show run—opening on Thursday, Oct. 15, and a matinee and evening performance on Saturday, Oct. 17.

Other upcoming projects include:

  •  Video work for the upcoming Timbre concert at the Museum on May 13.
  •  Pre-film welcome video for The National Bank of Indianapolis Summer Nights Film Series,
    featuring tips and insider information for moviegoers.
  •  Secret programming and activities for the secrets-themed Family Day celebration on Nov. 7. We
    would tell you more, but it’s a secret.
  •  A puppet-making workshop in Jan. 2016.
  •  The first KNS musical to debut at the Museum in April 2016.

“We knew that the IMA had an amazing year ahead, with fun, innovative programming and impressive visiting artists—we were already excited,” Know No Stranger said. “But we were flattered and flabbergasted to be asked to join in the adventure. It’s our privilege and treat to work with the IMA in accepting new challenges, concocting fresh ideas and bringing it all to our friends and neighbors in a place that means so much to the city!”

Learn more about Know No Stranger at

Download the original PDF Press Release

This 'Optical Popsicle' is a museum-quality show

by David Lindquist for The Indianapolis Star

Before the members of Know No Stranger take their "Optical Popsicle" show to a big, shiny stage at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the performance artists are assembling their anything-goes spectacle in a church basement east of Fountain Square.

The "clubhouse," as it's known, is ramshackle but organized. There's a shelf for fabric rescued from thrift-store dumpsters, a stash of random electronics, a paint closet and an accumulation of props where you'll find Mongo: a 6-foot-tall puppet who eats humans.

But something else is dominating the clubhouse during preparations for the Oct. 11 event billed as "Optical Popsicle 7."

A metal "music machine," built by Know No Stranger player Alan Goffinski, is about 12 feet long and 10 feet tall. It makes a percussive racket thanks to drums and keyboards hooked together by bicycle chains.

One person can crank the machine to life, and its sound will accompany a performance by Indianapolis-based rapper Scoot Dubbs at "OP7."

"We've done some crazy contraptions, but not to this extent," said Goffinski, 28.

"Visual variety show" is one way to describe "Optical Popsicle." At last year's event, the cast provided a more colorful explanation in song: "O is for optical, 'cause you see things with your eyes. And P is for popsicle, a treat to blow your mind."

Exercising dinosaurs were part of the show. The first "OP" featured a man wearing overalls and answering questions at a booth titled "Hikipedia." This year's edition includes puppets modeled after cast members.

Know No Stranger entertains audiences throughout the year, including recent performances at PBS Kids in the Park and the Oxford Kinetics Festival in Ohio. But "Optical Popsicle" is the group's flagship event.

"This is what we look forward to all year," Know No Stranger cast member Ryan Felton said. "It's the most 'our' voice of any of the productions that we put on."

The current troupe includes founding members Michael Runge, Brandon Schaaf and Emily Gable. With roots in the Herron School of Art and Design, Know No Stranger formed in 2009.

Past sites for "Optical Popsicle" include the Athenaeum, Madame Walker Theatre Center and the bygone Earth House Collective.

Know No Stranger's connection to the IMA arrives with Scott Stulen, hired this year as the museum's first-ever curator of audience experiences and performance.

Stulen first encountered the arts collective when he traveled from Minneapolis to Indianapolis to speak at the 2012 edition of TEDx Indianapolis. He's such a big fan of Know No Stranger that the group is a newly designated artist-in-residence at the IMA.

"I think their work is really playful, very inventive," Stulen told The Indianapolis Star this summer. "I love how they take analog technology and repurpose it. They do a lot with nothing."

Goffinski said he appreciates the assistance — personnel, resources and funding — from the museum.

"They're on board, and they get it," Goffinski said. "They get what we're trying to do. It's a totally different relationship than when you are just the tenant for a weekend at a venue. They don't furrow their brows when we say something completely weird that we want to try to do."

Still, all of this won't make Wallace Wimbley feel any better as showtime approaches. Wimbley isn't a flesh-and-blood Know No Stranger player but a furry puppet who's white-haired, nebbish and about 80 years old.

"They asked me to be the stage manager for last year's show," Wimbley said during an impromptu chat. "Against my better judgment, I came back. Now, they always manage to pull it off, but this thing does a number on my gutty works."

The man behind Wimbley is Know No Stranger's Felton, a 27-year-old who grew up in Trafalgar, Ind.

Felton refers to Wimbley as a "little louder, little more pessimistic" alter ego.

"I think it's from somewhere not very deep inside myself," Felton said. "I think he's always been there, just bubbling below the surface. We have a lot in common."

Wimbley aside, Know No Stranger encourages people to check out "Optical Popsicle" as an evening that offers absurdity, introspection and awe.

Admission is $20 at the door, but discounts listed at set a feel-good tone for attendees. Options include $2 off for anyone who brings a watermelon sculpture. Dress like a member of a marching band for a $3 discount, and it's $4 off if you agree to a "very, very bad haircut" on site.

Felton said "Optical Popsicle" has a dependable track record.

"Any show that can get my dad to stand up and sing R. Kelly's 'I Believe I Can Fly' is a unique performance," he said.


Read the original article here!

Know No Stranger characters Tony Rex, Mongo and friends.

Know No Boundaries

Article by Seth Johnson for Sky Blue Window
Back in 2009, a restless collective of Indianapolis artists by the name of Know No Stranger decided to concoct a visual variety show to be called Optical Popsicle, relying on their imaginations to make the most of the art supplies and overhead projectors they had at their disposal.

"The atmosphere in 2009 was that where you would complain about Indianapolis and say that there was nothing going on, so we wanted to use the energy that we had to make something go on," says Michael Runge. "Rather than go somewhere else where something was already happening, we wanted to bring it here."

As it now prepares for the production's latest installment, the group still holds to its initial spirit of inventive resourcefulness, again calling upon several special guests to help it successfully curate another all-encompassing art extravaganza. Some of the guests at Optical Popsicle 7 will include the Nashville-based harpist/songwriter Timbre, Chicago-based puppeteer Davey-K and Indy's own Fahodi Dance Troupe. Throughout its history organizers held the event at diverse spots including the now-defunct Earth House, the Athenaeum Ball and Concert Hall, and the Madame Walker Theatre. This year Indianapolis Museum of Art's Toby Theatre welcomes the festivities, marking another milestone for the team of creators.

A great deal of planning goes into Optical Popsicle each year, as the group begins scripting its own original skits and brainstorming fitting guest artists months in advance, taking a curatorial approach to the variety show's orchestration. Throughout this process, Know No Stranger is particularly mindful of its prospective audience, in hopes of encouraging maximum engagement.

"There's a very specific tone and inclusive nature to Optical Popsicle, and pretty much all that we do, so when we bandy about these ideas for who could come and contribute to the show, we always want to keep that right at the forefront," explains Ryan Felton.

From Know No Stranger's inception, teamwork has been imperative to the group's output, with all members bringing their own set of artistic strengths to the table for every new production. According to Alan Goffinski, this "creative collaboration" is really what lies at the "core" of the collective.

"We can't exist without it," he says. "We've kind of got the mantra that we can pretty much do anything with the right attitude, so if we don't know how to do something, then we reach out to someone else who does."

Goffinski adds that each member of the group is good at something specific, but they're all so excited about everything they do, that they're all willing to learn about anything necessary to help each other out.

The city has been quite receptive to this sentiment, embracing Know No Stranger and what the group represents. Through making connections with like-minded individuals and organizations around Indy, the collective has been granted several unanticipated opportunities. Runge explains, "Throughout the years, since number one, we just keep meeting people who are excited about Indianapolis and excited about doing things, and we just get invited to places we don't expect." This, paired with their perpetual passion for expression, has helped them get to where they are today.

"We wouldn't have been able to go to all these places that we've been if it wasn't for people believing in what we do and helping us to do what we do," Runge says. "I think those two things together -- our excitement and our support -- are really all we have."

At Optical Popsicle 7, the group will once again encourage audience members to embrace creative freedom, just as it always has. Matt Helfrich explains, "I think part of our goal is to spark and incite creativity -- the idea that maybe we're planting seeds of creativity and inspiring creativity in people. Enabling them to think, 'I can do anything.'"

So with this in mind, the group will take the Toby stage this Saturday, letting their resourceful artistry and exuberant spirit embolden onlookers to know no bounds and invent to their heart's content.

Read the original articlehere!

12 Indie Arts Groups Transforming the City’s Scene

by Marc D. Allan for Indianapolis Monthly

The basement of Victory Memorial United Methodist Church outside Fountain Square looks like the greatest kids’ playroom ever. In the glorious mess of a main room, which contains stockpiles of oddities like overhead projectors and foam swimming noodles, there’s a corner for painting, a green-screen area for film projects, and a section with assorted power tools where the construction of a giant “steampunk music machine” made of old bike parts is about to begin. In the storeroom, you’ll find shelves filled with costumes—pigeon heads and dinosaurs, among many. And in an adjacent room, what sounds like a vacuum cleaner is, in fact, just that. Except it’s being used in reverse, to inflate a giant clear plastic ball that someone can get inside to be rolled around.

This clubhouse is home to Know No Stranger, a self-described “art gang” that produces and participates in theatrical and other events around the city. This group of friends, tired of hearing people complain about the culture in Indianapolis, started the avant-garde troupe in spring 2009. “In the circles we were running in,” says Alan Goffinski, one of the founders, “there was a lot of negative energy, a lot of talk about the place that we call home. We got to the point where if everybody who was complaining about what an awful place Indianapolis was just did something positive, we would have a great city.”

Look at the arts culture in Indianapolis over the past several years and it seems that a lot of people are thinking the same way—the city’s young culturati has flourished in the last decade. For a number of years, the city had no Shakespeare companies. Now there are five. Want dance? Movies in weird places? A fashion collective? A cutting-edge fashion/film/food event? An eco-conscious music festival? In the last few years, we’ve added all that and more.

Read the rest of the article here!

Know No Stranger group shot

Know No Stranger: Indy's newest theater troupe takes over

By Susan Watt Grade for NUVO

Michael Runge stood center stage at Earth House, determined and persuasive after the first performance by Know No Stranger, the Indianapolis arts collective he began in June 2009. He asked the audience a favor:Please stop complaining about Indianapolis. If you think there is nothing to do, then make something happen.

That was my awakening to the 27-year-old art educator who's rapidly becoming something like a cross between Indianapolis' community ambassador and a less radical Abbie Hoffman. Through creative collaborations, kindness, humor, bravery and sheer moxie, Michael Runge (pronounced Rung'ee) is revolutionizing Indianapolis by advocating that residents change not just their thoughts about the city, but also their actions.

The seemingly soft-spoken Speedway native and Iraqi War veteran is the impetus for Know No Stranger. "The idea behind Know No Stranger is that everybody's a friend, and anyone can do this – something positive for our community," says Runge. He's also an urban farmer raising gardens, chickens, bees, and his near eastside neighborhood's spirit. He's working with local arts nonprofit Big Car on their community and art series called Made for Each Other to provide free eastside art performances and classes. And his next big project happens this summer at a lake within the Indianapolis Museum of Art's (IMA) 100 Acres: The Virginia Fairbanks Art & Nature Park. He, along with collaborating artist Jessica Dunn, will live on an artificial island made by acclaimed artist Andrea Zittel.

For Runge, who just graduated with a Bachelors of Arts in Art Education from Herron School of Art and Design, community interactions are his art. He wants to empower others to make their community their art. He says he wants "A way for neighbors to nourish neighbors and a way to highlight what makes Indianapolis different from other cities." He wants individuals to work together to, "Take charge of the change." Is Indianapolis ready to take on collaborative responsibilities?

Finding community

On Indianapolis' near eastside by Shades Park, Michael Runge's home contains an adjacent, fenced lot he cultivates. His urban garden springs forth chives with soft purple blooms, and soon vegetables and fruits: peaches, grapes, raspberries, and strawberries, although he admits the strawberries aren't doing well. He tends to chickens and honeybees, a new venture. Until recently, he fostered Greyhounds, but nowadays is too busy. Cut and piled fire logs topple outside of their shelter near a fire pit surrounded by Bohemian style chairs indicating Runge's home is a destination – a place where friends and his Brookside Bunch neighbors congregate.

A pitch-in dinner in Runge's yard led to his friendship with Brandon Schaaf, a 21-year-old artist and musician who also lives on Indy's near eastside in Woodruff Place. The two formed an alliance that brought Schaaf into the arts collective, Know No Stranger. "I've potlucks every other week to meet new people or as an excuse to get friends together, and to help build community," says Runge. "Brandon is one of the first people I pulled into Know No Stranger; he's been involved since the beginning."

About his role with Know No Stranger, Schaaf says, "I feel like the co-captain or co-pilot. I make sure everything's getting done...especially now that we've taken on bigger projects." Tight timelines and an ever-increasing number of performances have led him to delegate tasks and responsibilities.

Runge purchased his house with earnings from the Indiana National Guard. "I joined the military in June of 2001 to pay for college, and then the whole September 11th thing happened. I went to Iraq in 2004. That feels like a separate life to me. I saw combat. I lived there a year, wearing the same clothes, and around the same people.

"In Iraq, I was stripped away of all distractions. In the U.S., there are so many choices and distractions: advertisements flashing and people on their cell phones. They're distracted.

"In the military, everyone tells you what to gave me a perspective of what is important to me, and gave me energy and a motion...a motivation to make my life what I want. That was four years ago. Really, it's only this last year that I've taken control of my life."

Between joining the military and serving in Iraq, Runge moved to Chicago. "I studied web design at the Art Institute of Chicago for two years, then went to Columbia College for two years and studied film. I didn't finish either degree. I realized I didn't want to work behind the computer.

"I've always enjoyed creating things. My dad (Marvin Runge) is an inventor." Runge and his siblings – he's the oldest of four – gained insight into creative processes through their father's ventures.

"My family lives in Speedway right by the racetrack, and Dad created the Zoom Balloon. Have you seen one or heard of it? It's an inflatable balloon with a toy car inside that races around." Runge explains with enthusiasm and admiration. "Dad would sell them at the Indy 500, and he did all the marketing and design, and had the balloons printed. He's now sold the patent, but he used to assemble all those little cars. He set up a machine in our basement. Made a whole factory."

When asked how he became so community oriented, Runge pauses. "I think a lot of it has to do with low self-esteem. I went through a breakup...and I wanted to prove something to her...that I was worth being around."

Know No Stranger

Runge started Know No Stranger, a group of creative, local do-it-yourselfers – friends, students, artists — that provides original, live, inspiring interactive events and performances. They proclaim they're set on making the city they live in a more enjoyable place by giving the community a good time with inexpensive, local entertainment.

Their performances, filled with art, music, and storytelling, speak to contemporary life. Whether presenting for audiences at the Central library, Earth House Collective, Wheeler Arts Community, Big Car Gallery, or the Arts Educators of Indiana conference, their intent is the same: to instigate a positive city vibe.

"Everyone involved with Know No Stranger is a volunteer – and we've never done anything like this before, " says Runge. The core group started with Runge and Schaaf, plus Emily Gable, Amber Remeeus and Courtney Ware."For every project, there's a request for volunteers. We're pulling in people we know, most with no art experience, and giving them an avenue to make art happen. Each project builds on the next one."

Optical Popsicle, a series of original vignettes, was the group's first full-scale performance. Runge rallied 30 friends – most students from Herron – to put together the weekend show at Indianapolis' Earth House last October. Big Car helped promote and preview acts in Fountain Square.

The set of Optical Popsicle consisted of white fabric stretched over PVC frames that made a screen – not unlike a blank canvas – across the stage. Beautifully inventive and fanciful skits performed against the translucent setting came alive through images created on-site that radiated from old-fashioned overhead projectors. Artists with markers drew props and scenes on transparency films or manipulated paper into shapes that played with light, shadow, and the imagination. Performers appeared as silhouettes or dressed in fuzzy character suits and masks holding handcrafted speech bubble signs, dancing or playing music and interactive spectator games.

They ignited the audience of all ages with songs, tales and low-tech tricks that could rival a performance by the Flaming Lips and shared a similar infectious energy. Storytelling was so heartfelt that any sentimentality was forgiven. Behind all the charm and cleverness reminiscent of the simple joys and discoveries of youth were messages ranging from embracing the awkwardness of interactions to finding wonder in the human experience, and ultimately, recognizing the value of life's journeys.

"So many of our projects incorporate what we would want to see: shadow puppets, videos, and whimsical moments with music, " says Runge. "I'm hesitant to take credit for the collective because I feel the success of it is so much more than me. I'm the founder. I put things in motion to make things happen. The group has been going off my vision, but so many people have used their talents to make the group what it is. There's nothing special about us. We're just regular people tapping into our potential.

"The overwhelming feeling I've had during this whole great experience is that I'm just along for the ride. My ideas, and the opportunities, feel like they've come from something outside of me," Runge muses.

"I hope to inspire people to do projects that they want to do, that don't cost a lot of money, and are made from materials that are donated or found," Runge continues. "The overhead projectors we used in Optical Popsicle were checked out from the library. Paint we used was donated by a friend, and we got cardboard free from bicycle shops."

Conversation switches to the project called Inter-Web that happened this spring. "I wouldn't call it a performance, but an interactive experience based on the idea: Wouldn't it be silly if there were a room that represented the Internet?" says Runge. The result: a playful humanization of cyberspace.

"People portraying viruses were running around," Runge describes. "Google was represented as a cardboard facade of a web page. Inside a cutout window Kaylin Linnemann portrayed Goggle. She wore a tracksuit. When asked a question, she ran across the room to find the answer. My friend Twon Schroederwas Hikipedia and made up random arguments while chewing on a piece of straw."

The group is preparing for the Know No Stranger Musical (see sidebar) on May 26 at Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library, part of Big Car's Made for Each Other series. Schaaf hinted that the audience should expect more theatrical components and actual sets to supplement the usual overhead projectors, live music, dancing, monster characters, and audience interactions.

"Jim Walker (Big Car's Community Art Coordinator), he's been like a mentor," Runge says.

"Made For Each Other promotes social practice in art and community art, " Walker says. "Our outlook fits well with Know No Stranger. Know No Stranger is definitely driven by Michael. He's an idea person with unlimited energy. He's not competitive and not a glory seeker."

"Michael is a really unusual artist," says Walker. "Most creative people I know, their favorite subject is themselves. His favorite subjects are community and audience, and making art fun for kids and everybody. In Indianapolis, I think there's a shortage of people who have that vision."

Runge is part of a small group of near eastside artists, including others from Know No Stranger, who will provide free programming like drawing lessons for a Made For Each Other space set to open in June near 10th and Rural. The projects are about or made by people living in the neighborhood. The series of interactive, community-building events are funded with a grant from the Great Indianapolis Neighborhood Initiatives IMAGINE Big Program.

Indianapolis Island
Runge's summer home will be on a 35-acre lake within IMA's 100 Acres: The Virginia Fairbanks Art & Nature Park. He and artist Jessica Dunn, a 21-year-old Herron sculpture and painting student, won a collaborative proposal to live on "Indianapolis Island," an 18-by-20-foot structure fabricated by internationally known artist Andrea Zittel. Follow them as they blog about their experiences at

"The IMA selected Jessica Dunn and Michael Runge after a rigorous competition open to Herron School of Art and Design undergraduate and MFA students," says Lisa Freiman, Director of the 100 Acres.

"We chose Dunn and Runge's project, "Give and Take," for a number of reasons. First, it cleverly uses Andrea Zittel's "Indianapolis Island" as a platform and catalyst for their own work, creating a site of exchange that will occur between the artists and Park visitors throughout the summer while they are living there. It also focuses on the water, which is a huge feature of the Park."

Made of foam with a white-painted, fiberglass coating, the Island is anchored near the lake's shore. "It looks like an igloo," says Runge. "There's a roof, door, and kitchen cabinet. We'll have a portable toilet, and may leave the Island to use the IMA's facilities."

The two will have an emergency radio and may take shelter inside the main museum building during severe weather.

The Island has a sitting area surrounding a space to make a fire, plus a narrow deck Dunn and Runge will alter into a beach to dock a rowboat, their mode of transportation and interaction with Park visitors.

Visitors may be rowed to the Island to take tours and, as Freiman explains, bring something to exchange for something from the Island. "As a result, the interior will be constantly changing, creating new content for visitors to consume."

Dunn and Runge met in a Herron sculpture class. Dunn also created a video for Know No Stranger's "LOVE, KNS" project last winter. The two developed the "Give and Take" concept after the initial callout for artists. "She had ideas for the interior, I had ideas for the made sense we'd work together," says Runge.

"I'm about bringing art to the public in an interactive sense and not having art be so high and mighty," says Dunn. "Together, we've ideas on a social and interactive level. We both plan on being on the Island most of the time, but we both want to try a solitary experience: What is it like living on an island by oneself?

"Our work is called "Give and Take" because Zittel is giving us the Island to modify for our needs. Next year, one or more Herron students will live on the Island. We'll leave what we've done. The piece will be there for four years, I believe," Dunn explains. "The interior will have modular dual-purpose furniture that I designed: a bed that turns into a couch that is also a storage container. We're also building a bicycle generator to convert physical energy to electrical energy that will be stored in a battery to use for lights, to charge our phones, use a laptop. We could even run a TV if we wanted to, but we're not."

Runge is designing a floating garden – big Tupperware-like containers will self-water the vegetation he'll plant. "We're currently testing the lake's water quality, which is important because people fish there," says Freiman. "The result of the findings will enable them to either grow a hydroponics garden for sustenance or a floating flower garden with Morning Glories."

"We're hired as IMA employees for the project and earn a stipend," says Dunn, "but we're actually declared as pieces of art, which is kind of funny and interesting. I like it because I'm interested in blurring the lines between art and life."

"We'll be under so many viewfinders," says Runge. "This is so much bigger and more serious than anything I've ever done."

Ever evolving

"Know No Stranger is such a fluid thing that I'm trying to let it go its own way," says Runge. " I'd love to go on tour. We're working to promote Know No Stranger to other organizations that may schedule us for fundraisers and benefits to raise money for a cause. All the money would go to fund their cause."

The group wants to reach a wide range of people – from those experienced in shaping Indianapolis as a city to those who aren't often heard – to collectively interact and react.

"Someday I would like to pursue not-for-profit status for the group. But I don't want to be the captain forever, I want the group to be an artists' collective giving a lot of people voice and community."

Walker wants to help Know No Stranger. He suggests that the group could seek affiliation with Big Car, which already has 501c3 nonprofit arts status.

"Michael is the kind of person who we should not have go away," Walker says. "If we lose him to another city, we're really losing something. We need to find funding to support him. He just graduated with an art education degree at a time when school programs are being cut. He can't just keep giving everything he does away for free. He needs to make a living. What can we do to encourage him to stay?"


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