It’s hard to know exactly how to review something like the Rockstar Storytellers’ “Undressed” series because essentially it’s an ongoing set of works in progress. Given the caliber of talent involved (they are Rockstars, after all - and yes, they earn the title), the quality of the new material is uniformly high. Plus, some of the performers are tossing out stories they’ve been working on for a while. So it’s not all fresh meat, though fresher than most. Does one grade on a curve, cut some slack for rough edges? Knowing the artists, I figured the answer to that would be no.
The setup is simple - first Friday of every month, 10pm at the Bryant Lake Bowl, the Rockstars present a show centered around a particular theme. This month - Anger. Or, “Undressed - Eat My Shorts - Stories of Anger (Mis)Management.” This month’s host - Rik Reppe. This month’s featured storytellers - Courtney McLean, phillip andrew bennett low (yes, he likes the e.e. cummings lack of capital letters), Allegra Lingo, and Allison Broeren. This is a fantastic idea because a regular lament of storytellers and spoken word artists is that, between Fringe Festivals, they don’t have much of an opportunity to develop their work by actually getting it in front of an audience. So a group of storytellers joined forces to start changing that reality. Now, on a monthly basis, they’re engaging and building the audience for storytelling throughout the year.
It’s a really loose, fun sort of format. The crowd is sometimes encouraged to be a little rowdy, even mouth off to the host. Rik Reppe is a particularly rough and tumble master of ceremonies. He’s not averse to making fun of the concept, his fellow performers, or the audience. And the crowd and his fellow performers are more than happy to return the favor.
“F*ck Mike Fotis!”
Rik was supposed to have a co-host this Friday evening. But the Brave New Workshop production Mike was performing in was so popular, the theater added another Friday night showing, and the co-hosting gig had to be deferred to another time. Rik made several running gags out of this (reference the above quote). Much hay was made of the fact that Fotis has a reputation for being funnier than Rik is, and how Fotis is supporting himself on his performance work alone and doesn’t have to sell his soul to corporate America - like Rik does. The crowd got into the spirit...
“When’s Fotis’ show?”
“It’s on now,” Rik replied. “You’re missing it!”
When Rik mentioned an upcoming tour of his solo show “Glorious Noise,” someone shouted, “Mike Fotis should do it instead!”
“Hey, the poop comes out there.”
“Johnny Chavez just grabbed my ass!”
Courtney McLean had a new story about how an unwelcome goosing from a football player at her high school cemented her feminist leanings.
“My penis is larger than a gorilla’s.”
“The only thing magic is good for is f*cking with people.”
phillip andrew bennett low rocketed through a twisted tale of a recluse who discovers passage to an alternate universe on the other side of the nest of cabling under this computer. This universe is one in which the recluse can indulge his violent, abusive, sacrilegious and sexual desires with impunity - until that universe turns against him.
“Get back in there and accept the body and blood of Christ, goddammit!”
“Dude, I’m not the mermaid. I’m the guy on the boat.”
Allegra Lingo insisted on the unlikely premise that she never gets angry. This morphed into recounting an incident of injustice against Allegra at her first college, which she let slide. Party because she was already in the process of transferring anyway, partly because... well, it was easier not to go up against the establishment. Easier for her. Injustices at that college continue to happen to other female students. Might they have been prevented, or even just diminished in number, if Allegra had stood up for herself back then? She’s not sure, but it haunts her. And makes her wish she could get angry, rather than always follow the impulse to try and avoid conflict at all costs.
“I had a day today that made me so angry I want to take a nap!”
“Mom insisted that I get angry all the time. It made me so mad, I hung up on her.”
Allison Broeren, glitter in her hair, took the stage to rail against the absurdity of corporate policies regarding sick time. Or rather, the lack of sick time. Whether people insist on inconveniently getting sick or not.
“Mr. Pig F*ck! You are f*ck of pig!”
“Oh, so now you are bad-ass pig f*ck?!”
Rik Reppe rounded out the evening with a story of an accident-prone taxi driver who had more rage issues (and a more bizarre vocabulary of insults at his disposal) than Rik does.
It was a well-balanced evening - the funny and the disturbing, the polished and the halting. The two most successful pieces of the evening were Phillip’s and Rik’s. It may have been new material Phillip was reading off a music stand, but he barreled through it at a fluid, breakneck pace that, while never too fast to understand and follow along, nonetheless left me breathless. In a good way. The poet and performer were in high gear in Low’s story. (Note to Phillip - Really. Truly. Stop apologizing because you think you might offend or disappoint people. On the first count, just go ahead and offend them. On the second, you’re your own worst critic. You are, consequently, never (n-e-v-e-r) as bad as you fear you are, and almost always far better than you imagine possible. Lighten up.) Rik’s taxi stand standoff was refreshing in part because he was completely off script, and completely dismantled the stage setup everyone else had used all evening. He bellowed, “I don’t know how you can be angry behind a microphone and if you’re not throwing some sh*t around!” Mic stand, gently, off stage left. Stool and music stand tossed and shoved off stage right. He paced the stage like an animal in a cage. It was a high energy, comedic cap to the night’s story collection.
Courtney, Allegra and Allison’s tales all had a lot of promise - and humor - but are still taking shape. Courtney and Allegra’s experiences of humiliation still seem to be too tender for them to dive into fully, despite the passage of time. The extended prologues on both in retrospect almost seemed like an avoidance tactic. Knowing how skillful both women are at mining unpleasant truths for humor and humanity, I’m looking forward to their digging deeper. Both they and the audience will reap the benefits of the next level of work. While Allison got more directly to her point, she then tended to wander off into tangents, though they were often mighty funny tangents. Having the personal experience she does navigating our tortured healthcare system, I’d be very interested to see what happens when she goes directly for the jugular.
(Side note - because it came up during the show and then after as well - if all the artists I’ve heard lately, on and offstage, who admit to this time-wasting they’re doing, took all the time they currently spend cruising around and filling out quizzes on Facebook and MySpace, and instead channeled it into actual creative projects... my God, the volume of plays and stories and poems and solo shows we’d have on our hands. If you’ve got that much freedom from your corporate overlords, open a word document instead and start typing. It’s much less suspicious and far more worthwhile than a networking website.
Yes, the fact that I’m saying this in blog form is not lost on me. The fact remains. And I’ll try to keep taking my own advice.)
But, as Allison said once or twice Friday night, I digress.
As for the monthly installment plan of “Undressed” from the Rockstar Storytellers - love the concept, love the performers all gathered on one stage, love most of the content this time around to boot. Rockstar Storytellers are a damn fine companion on a late Friday night.
Very Highly Recommended.
Next up for the Rockstars, first Friday in May - May 2nd at 10pm at the Bryant Lake Bowl (810 West Lake Street in Minneapolis) - “Undressed - Barefoot in the Spring - Stories of Rejuvenation.” Your host - Dave Mondy. Your storytellers - Allegra, Phillip and Courtney are back, along with Laura Bidgood and Amy Salloway. Tickets are $10, $8 with Fringe button. More information to be had at www.rockstartstorytellers.com and www.bryantlakebowl.com
Meanwhile, until your next Rockstar Storyteller fix, next month’s host Dave Mondy is winding up the inaugural run of his very popular “Radio All-Stars,” yet again at the Bryant Lake Bowl, this Sunday and next, April 6th and 13th. 8pm start, 7pm doors. Tickets $10 day of show, $8 in advance or with Fringe button. More at http://radioallstars.org
Plus phillip andrew bennett low’s troupe Maximum Verbosity (www.maximumverbosityonline.org) be tackling one of Lewis Carroll’s epic fantasy poems as part of the showcase “Alice In Biffyland” at the Center for Independent Artists (www.c4ia.org) - April 18th through 26th. For those who like supporting a good cause, there’s both a cancer fundraiser and a farewell to an artist being deployed to Iraq in the same run here. (Good luck to you both, and - yikes)
Also of note, there’s going to be a live recording session for the Rockstar Storytellers’ first CD on Tuesday, July 15th, 7pm, also at the Bryant Lake Bowl. Details coming soon.
Rockstar Storytellers swag is available at www.cafepress.com/rockstartellers.
And yes, you can befriend or be-fan them on MySpace and Facebook, lord help us (yeah, you’ll find me on their friend/fan lists). Just search in either place for Rockstar Storytellers.
Rik Reppe can be found online at www.reppe.com and http://liberalmediaelite.com
Courtney McClean can be found at www.courtneymclean.com
Allegra Lingo can be found at http://allegralingo.tripod.com
Allison Broeren can be found at www.myspace.com/slamminnesota and www.myspace.com/albizzo