When I Wish Upon a Star

Quickly following the year-in-review at the end of the December, full of “best of” lists and even a “best of the worst” list (which was one of my favorites) there came a few new lists: Wish lists for a better 2014—things we’d like to see from the Twin Cities theatre scene in the coming year.

I’d thought I’d put together a list of 10 of my own wishes, and for this I’m ignoring the financial and logistical difficulties.

  1. This town is full of talented performers, writers and musicians. Why not create an original musical? It was done last year by one company, but it could be done on a much larger scale. You know, Latte Da + Playwrights Center?
  2. Workhaus Collective is such an asset to the community, but I’d love to see more original scripts by others, whether as a whole season or as a single production in a season.  (oh, wait. Torch is doing this! And I’m excited!) We can do more
  3. As for previously produced scripts there are some plays and playwrights I want to see people tackle, like Caryl Churchill (who wants to take on Traps?) and Shepard (I’d kill for a good Buried Child production*) or more Mamet (for fuck’s sake!)
  4. Open a new performance space, and create a home for the itinerant companies that are ready for it. I know the logistics of numerous companies managing a space together are complex, but I think there are people running these companies that can make it work.
  5. Someone please fix the Theatre Garage, k?
  6. Festival programming: one ensemble company of actors, a few thematically or artistically related plays, running in rep for two months. Who says only the G should do something like this?
  7. More pop-up theaters. Sandbox did it this past fall in City Center. I’d like to see it create a new trend. I see plenty of empty storefronts and buildings.
  8. A while back someone did a show with mid-to-late-afternoon Sunday matinees, like in the 3 to 5 time slot. I thought it was weird, but realized I loved it because it fit nicely between daytime and evening commitments I had at the time. Someone should bring that back.
  9. And while we’re talking scheduling how about longer runs? ** I hate finding a show opening only to realize it closes ten days later and I’ve missed it. (I won’t even mention that one theatre’s production schedule which has way too many previews followed by too short a run.)
  10. Finally……Me. There should be more of me, which frankly I can’t rely solely on others for but can’t do on my own either. I act. I direct. You probably know where to find me. Last year was a good year but I had a few months I would’ve liked to fill.

As far as “wish” lists go, I’m hardly reaching for the stars on many of these. Baby steps, I guess.  Let’s do this, 2014!

summersky3

* I’d direct that in a heart beat
** just like money shouldn’t be a factor in this dream list neither are audiences. I realize longer runs will likely stretch audiences thin for some folks, but short runs don’t have the benefit of buzz time.

A New Year for Making a Blank Slate

Empty Field. NE Iowa. Fall 2013

Empty Field. NE Iowa. Fall 2013

The new year has begun – the year end lists are over – the future is before us.

Last year may have been one of the most significant years for me for reasons both personal and professional. The whole first half of the year was booked solid with plays, established and newly-created, with companies and artists I’ve longed to work with for several years. In that sense it was an incredible and satisfying year, as I got to add those company names to my resume. Much of that work was referenced here in posts scattered throughout the year.

The new year before me is a blank slate. And by that I mean right now there’s nothing on the books.

I look forward to carving out time for exploring some ideas for a new play, auditioning for new (to-me) companies, and perhaps even redefining my artistic world.

Need to Ruminate

Today I witnessed a truly unique theatre piece. Original. Risky. Experimental.

There were things I liked, and things I liked…less. Including a moment or two that may have been weak.

There were things that I found fascinating.

There were things I didn’t understand.

There was a moment where I suddenly cried.

There was a moment I was suddenly inspired.

Perhaps in a day or two I could put it all in to words.

This. This is the reason I love the art of theatre.Image

The Nominees are….No One. Or, Everyone. Appropriately

Once a year for the last nine years my theatre community has gathered downtown to honor and celebrate the previous season of theatre in this town. It’s an awards show like few others. While there are all the trappings of what might be expected—fancy red carpet, lots of photographers, flashing lights, gawkers driving by on the main strip downtown, and loads of people (who typically see each other in jeans, t-shirts and occasionally underwear) are all dressed up with high heals, long gowns, sexy gowns, jackets and ties. (And sometimes several of these items at once.)

iveys2013But what makes the Iveys really different is that no one is a nominee. Unlike other awards shows where there a people nominated for awards, the pre-awards buzz for this event is not about any single individual or production, it’s about all productions. There aren’t a handful of nominees walking the door and chatting up their colleagues or getting their picture taken – instead nearly everyone in the crowd is a potential winner.

This awards program has neither nominees nor categories (save for two – Emerging Artist and Lifetime Achievement.) And the possibilities are widespread. Awards can be given to individuals (actor, director, designer, playwright), entire casts, collaborators or a company for a production. The number of awards and the breakdown of categories is never the same from year to year.

This year a good friend of mine, Craig Johnson, won for his performance as Oscar Wilde in Gross Indecency, a production I was fortunate to have been a part of. I’ve worked with him on many productions over the years and feel I know his work very well.  This was a big production—it’s a long, wordy script, and it’s not Oscar Wilde at his wittiest, finest self. It’s more complicated, more layered, than that. And it was very much an ensemble piece, albeit one whose success would hinge strongly on the man at the center of it all. It was a successful show, well received by audiences and certainly a highlight of the year for everyone involved. As for Craig, our fearless leader, I’m familiar with how hard he worked on this show, and with how his work turned out. I saw it in his eyes every night in our scenes. His winning was a highlight of the evening for a lot of people.

My big takeaway from the evening were several of the other winners. They were individuals and companies whose work I either didn’t know, didn’t see or….in one instance didn’t even know about. (Eek! How did that happen?) I feel like I know what’s happening on stages across the city, I feel like I see a lot of shows and read about and follow many more, and I know and talk to theatre artists all the time. Of course, sometimes I too am working, and I’m only human and can’t see everything. Still, this year this element of “i don’t know that person” felt stronger than in the past. (The after party only solidified it. Or maybe my cohorts are just getting older and leaving earlier.)

Then there was this great presentation in the middle of the show about the vast number of playwrights in this city, along with the vast number of original scripts produced by a wide variety of companies. Original scripts are the heart and blood flow of the theatre. All presented, appropriately, by the head of the Playwrights Center, the nationally recognized vital writing institute.

So what does all this tell me?

It tells me that the Twin Cities theatre scene has grown. A Lot. Not only has the number of actors, directors, designers and writers increased dramatically over the years, so has, I think, the quality. The breadth, depth and caliber of talent amazes me.

This is the thought I landed on ultimately…..this town is chock full of talent. Amazing, strong, varied and eager talent.

I’m proud to be a part of this community. I can’t wait to see what happens in the coming year. And I can’t imagine living anywhere else right now.

My low-key Fringe

The 2013 Minnesota Fringe Festival is half over, and so far….I’ve seen only three shows.

This isn’t so much by design or choice, as it is by circumstance. Sometimes life gets in the way of art.

Or, in the way of what could be, should be, oh-I-wish-to-God-it-were, art.

Two of the three that I’ve seen have been fascinating, inventive and fun rides. The third one….not so much. Could’ve been. But wasn’t.

It’s not important which is which.

And I write that not because I don’t want to write a “review” or critique the work or am afraid to criticize. I write that because it’s not important. That’s part of the Fringe experience. People try things, and sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t.

But…nothing has been a waste of time.

I was having a great chat the other day over lunch with a couple of talented Fringe artists that are also just observers this year. We agreed that in performing and writing, either do it well or get the F out of the way.

We were more eloquent than that.

Fringe tests my patience with mediocrity. Sometimes it makes me feel like I’m a know-it-all, or a snob. But really….no. I’m just an audience member. One who happens to know a thing or two, but truthfully I’m just audience member this time.

And everyone’s experience of a show is valid.

I want to be charmed. I want to be pulled in to a story. I want to the world to disappear as I travel the road alongside the characters and storytellers and the pictures on stage.

Fringe festivals give us the chance to experience such a wide range of shows and performers. I only wish I could make it more a priority.

Tonight I’m off to see my fourth show, which is highly anticipated.

This may turn out to be the year I see the least, and in some ways that’s disappointing. Which only puts the pressure on to spend those few hours the best way I can.

After all….that’s part of the beauty and magic of live performance. See it when it happens, or never see it all.

Wandering the Camino

Tennessee Williams is, as everyone knows, one of America’s greatest playwrights, and I can’t imagine anyone arguing otherwise. One of his lesser known, or at least lesser-produced, plays is Camino Real, an enigmatic, poetic, dreamscape that eludes most elements of plot, place, time and character relationships. Some say this piece is known mostly for its bad productions. (It ran a scant 60 performances on Broadway.)

courtesy Girl Friday Productions

When I first read this play I wondered how it could be staged, how someone could make it work for an audience. It’s a piece that relies on a strong director’s concept. William’s Glass Menagerie is known as a “dream play” but this one….this is a fretful, fever-induced, tossing-and-turning, disturbing dream-filled kind of night. It’s replete with varied and international characters (including several literary and social icons—Kilroy, Don Quixote, Casanova, as well as deathly street sweepers) and with bits of different romance languages and dialects thrown in and multiple sub-plots and themes, all taking place in an unidentified country. (Unidentified for Kilroy especially, who isn’t sure at all where he’s come ashore, and no one will tell him.)

My initial take on the script was that it was a piece which would be extremely difficult to produce and could be extremely risky for a producer. It’s complex. It may not be readily accessible to an audience. It might just be Wiliams’ most challenging play, requiring strong skills to wrangle it into a presentable vision. However, with the richness of the language and the delicious complexity of the people who inhabit this world, with the right talents it could provide a big pay off.

In other words, if you can make it work it could be amazing.

After all, art is hard. (Or at least the song says “art isn’t easy.”) If it were easy it wouldn’t be worth it.

Girl Friday Productions has taken on the daunting task of staging this work. This play is so different from Williams’ other works, and I suspect that the fact that I knew this going in allowed me to be open to simply experiencing the performance. Because I knew that the plot wasn’t linear and the characters were representative, I didn’t spend energy trying to figure out where we were, who was who or what those relationships were. And it’s not that I knew the answers to that so much as I thereby allowed myself to just listen and watch.

I let it roll over me.

I found the whole thing fascinating.

It helped, of course, that the director is a strong visionary, and I think it helped even more that he gathered an extraordinary cast of talented actors. Together they created a world that was intriguing and engaging (and frankly, kind of f***ed up) from beginning to end.

One big take away for me was a desire to learn more about Tennessee Williams’ personal life. Other than its clear theme of being lost, this play has prominent motifs of loneliness, betrayal, desperation and longing. There’s a real sadness that pervades these lives, albeit with brief poignant and touching moments of hope and connection.

It makes me think he wrote it from a sad and lonely place, and that this is (was) the way he felt the world worked when it came to satisfaction, whether that was satisfaction in love or satisfaction with one’s own self or one’s own accomplishments.

I could, of course, be completely off with that. I’ve heard he wrote it while holed up in some small Mexican or Central American town, where he got rather sick. Hence the fever dream quality. Still, it’s what I took away from this experience and whether that’s what Tennessee wanted or not, or even this director or cast, it’s what I got. The beautiful thing about art is in its subjectivity.

This show taught me once again that the power of theatre lies in the truth, earnestness and details of the work put up there by the directors, actors and designers. All done here with a ferocious manner by each member of the cast and team.

And such honesty creates intrigue, and such engagement creates a special night with strangers, in the dark, at a theater. It was a bizarre, fascinating and engaging walk down that road.

This rare opportunity continues through July 27 at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage.