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.

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