The Daily Gamecock

Multimedia group Squonk to show interactive performance, premiere outdoor plaza at Koger Center

Musicians from the band Squonk and audience members work together to manipulate the purple hands during the band's 'Hand to Hand' performance on their 2019 tour.
Musicians from the band Squonk and audience members work together to manipulate the purple hands during the band's 'Hand to Hand' performance on their 2019 tour.

Towering, purple hands are coming to USC as a part of a visual-musical experience hosted by the Koger Center for the Arts. The group behind the hands, Squonk, will be performing their "Hand to Hand" number next week. 

The musical group will perform their show featuring house-sized purple hands alongside live instrumental music at the outdoor Koger Center Plaza Stage on Sept. 25 and 26. This presentation is just one of many original shows by Squonk, and has been performed at various prominent venues across the country, according to Squonk's official website.

Nate Terracio, the director of the Koger Center, said he was enthusiastic for Squonk to premiere the outdoor plaza. 

“It's a unique, different kind of stage and it's a unique, different kind of show — so I thought they were well paired together,” Terracio said. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Koger Center adjusted to a new set of safety guidelines, forcing many events to occur outdoors. However, Terracio said that these makeshift outdoor performances were well received by many, which played a role in the decision to move forward with the development of a permanent outdoor stage.

Terracio said the Koger Center upgrades would not end with the outdoor plaza, but are rather part of a larger plan to upgrade the center to a more user-friendly, community-building area.

Terracio said he understood the appeal of outdoor events and is eager to bring these types of performances to USC on a more consistent basis.

“In this environment, you can be a little more ... interested and participatory in the art that’s happening,” Terracio said. 

Squonk’s "Hand to Hand" show will allow the audience to venture onto the stage and manipulate the purple hands. Jackie Dempsey, co-founder and artistic director of Squonk, said the participation of audience members in the shows brings about happy feelings for everyone involved. 

“I was just so overjoyed because everybody came up and they were just in awe of these giant things ... and there’s just so much joy, you can’t help but feel uplifted,” Dempsey said.

Squonk’s stop in Columbia is part of the 30th anniversary tour, celebrating their grassroots development from performing in local bars to garnering international fame and Broadway exposure.  

Squonk began as a visual-based art group in Pittsburgh. Dempsey, with extensive music experience, talked to visual designer and fellow co-founder Steve O'Hearn to include more music in the shows. 

Since Dempsey and O'Hearn's collaboration, Squonk has been able to accomplish "wacky, crazy, visual things" whilst captivating the audience with catchy music, in the words of Dempsey. Though the group has played internationally and performed on Broadway, Squonk has landed in Columbia.

The group has grown both in size and repertoire over its 30 years in existence, according to Dempsey. She said this 30th year is the busiest yet due to the re-emergence of live events in the post-pandemic world. Squonk's long-time success is something Dempsey said she is grateful for.

“It’s strange to have done anything for 30 years; it’s especially odd to do it in the arts, as I know it’s unusual for arts companies to survive 30 years,” Dempsey said.

Kelsey Robinson, a roadie and prop-handler for Squonk, said she was overjoyed for her colleagues to experience the “youthful fervor” of the USC crowd. 

“Most folks as they get older also get a bit more reserved, a little bit less willing to wear their hearts and emotions on their sleeves; so there’s a bit of honesty and purity in a younger crowd that we love,” Robinson said.

The Squonk hands will have a pop-up on Greene Street during the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 26, according to Terracio. He said he hopes this unconventional attraction will spark student interest in the Squonk performance, as students are certain to be intrigued by the big, purple hands.

Terracio said that Squonk is not the typical musical performance group, but hopes students will take advantage of the opportunity to see the performance.

“I just want people to have their eyes open and minds open to the idea that things don’t all look the same. You just might enjoy something a lot more than you think you would,” Terracio said. 

Showtimes for "Hand to Hand" are Sept. 25 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., and Sept. 26 at 6 p.m. The showings are free for all viewers. 

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