Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fringe 2009 - Jailbait Fringe

Kidding. I just needed a catchy headline. But technically, shows by teens and for teens - the Teen Fringe - would qualify.

Teen Fringe, same issue as Kids Fringe, and again, for the first time I can recall. Not enough to teen entries to fill the slots set aside, so they all get in, and a couple of extra slots end up in the general lottery for the rest of the crowd. Win, win.

Only six Teen Fringe entries this year. And they are...


(yes, that person was really on the ball - no pun intended - getting their application in, back in November)

Ruth Glaeser and Company

“Thank You and Have A Nice Day” - The life of employees in a department store picking up people’s clothes, making out in the dressing rooom, etc. Done through dance, song and action.

(well, yes, action of all kinds apparently. I guess I worked in the wrong department stores when I was in retail...)

(and the next two aren’t slouches either in the early application department...)


Youth Performance Company

(of Goddess Menses, The Talk, and Boy Show fame - I’m a big fan of this group)

“Call It Swing” - Set in real time...

(Call Jack Bauer - or Hardcover Theater)

... it describes the hour before the longest Nazi raid of teen swing clubs in 1941, from inside the club.

(Nazis. Definitely call Jack Bauer)


Free Bird Productions

“Stalled - An Elevator Story” - Eight strangers are forced to get to know each other when their elevator stalls.

(I will resist the obvious “ups and downs,” and “going down” jokes. Well, almost.)


Caity Shea Violette

“Paisley Poppies” - A bizarre comedy featuring a teenage girl and her best friend, a stalker and her overly Minnesotan mother. Their reality drastically changes after a sudden turn of events.

(Ah, punctuation. It makes me think that the teenage girl’s best friend might indeed be a stalker, as well as also being her overly Minnesotan mother. Or maybe the stalker has an overly Minnesotan mother. By the way, what exactly is an overly Minnesotan mother? Should we be expecting hot dish jokes? Also doesn’t everyone’s reality always drastically change after a sudden turn of events? Isn’t that what sudden turns of events do? It does sound bizarre. Plus, paisley poppies make me think 1960s or 1970s. Lot of material to chew over here...)


SteppingStone Theatre

“In Another’s Size” - Fast forward (or rewind) your life to high school.

(Sweet Jesus, please, no.)

Imagine a boy likes a girl who is really him

(so is there a word missing or is a boy in love with himself as a girl?)

who knows a cheerleader who is really a depressed boy

(well, can’t boys be cheerleaders anyway? But a depressed cheerleader would really have to work extra hard, I guess.)

who knows a basketball player who is really another girl

(again, can’t girls already be basketball players?)

who is “friends” with a dumb blonde who is really a perfectionist.

(I don’t think dumb and perfectionist are mutually exclusive to begin with)

Welcome to John Hughes High.

(Welcome to a lawsuit from John Hughes’ handlers)

(So to review, there’s a boy who’s really a girl, and that boy/girl is friends with a girl cheerleader who’s really a depressed boy, and that girl/boy knows a basketball player - who for the sake of argument we’ll assume is a boy, but he’s really a girl...

So the boy/girl who’s in love with himself/herself, knows the girl/boy cheerleader, who in turn knows the boy/girl basketball player who is friends, but not really, with a dumb blond of unspecified gender, who is also a perfectionist.

Makes total sense.

I like gender confusion as much as the next theater person, so I’ll give ‘em a break and stop teasing them and see how it all turns out)


The Bakery Theatre Company

(who brought us last year's popular Fringe show Audish)

“Thin Mint” - Lies, sexuality and the Pinewood Derby. A troop’s misadventure to bury a fellow Boy Scout.

(Oh. My. God. I am so there.)
(Theater about theater, not my thing, but this, embarrassingly enough, totally is)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Fringe 2009 - It's For The Children

I guess the economy is hitting the Fringe hard, too. This is the first year I can remember that the applicants for the kids Fringe slots didn’t need to be drawn. Normally there have been more artists wanting in with shows by and for kids that there were slots, so they had to try their luck in the spinning chickenwire cage like everyone else.

This year, however, more slots set aside than artists.

Upside, they all got in.

Other upside, there’s another slot or two to toss into the general pot, more chance for artists of all stripes to get on the Fringe schedule.

And I guess an additional upside is, all these shows will get a little extra attention and won’t have to fight quite as hard for an audience. These nine are currently the only game in town for parents to go Fringing with their youngsters (outside of sampling some of the more adult fare out there that might also be family-friendly). They’re all local companies, and they are...


Purple Horse Productions

(the proverbial horse of a different color)

“The Greener Garden” - A gardener discovers he has a greener thumb after falling asleep, allowing the magical fruit blossoms to go to work.


Black Storytellers Alliance

Anansi, Brer Rabbit, and Other Wily Characters” - Storytelling: folk tales, fairy tales, and other stories of trickery and wit.


Hometown Theatre

“Goodnight, Eric!” - A young boy is asked to put himself to bed for the first time, because his parents have company. He ends up playing games with his stuffed animals because we find out, he still wants to be tucked in.

(Well, don’t we all?)


Harmony Theatre Company & School

“The Sleuth Sisters” - An original detective story for children, performed as an off-the-air radio show.

(So... a radio show with an audience that’s not on the air is essentially... theater. Works out fine.)


Upstage! Musical Theatre Workshop

(So, are they commanding the kids to get upstage, or to upstage their fellow performers, or since Upstage! has the exclamation point, is that the place on stage where all the music happens? I know. I’m overthinking this.)

“The Real Story of Little Red Riding Hood” - This musical tells the classic story of Little Red Riding Hood, but with a twist. When the wolf takes over the show, everyone will hear his side of the story... like it or not.

(Setting a wolf loose on a room full of kids. Excellent!)


Gustavus Adolphus College

“Poppy’s Real Mother” - A show for young children about adoption.


Joshua English Scrimshaw & Levi Weinhagen

The Hardy Boys in, The Tower Treasure” - Young detectives solve a mystery and meet quirky folk along the way. A comic adaptation.

(I have to admit, I was addicted to these books, and the TV show, when I was a kid. And since it’s a kids show rather than adult Scrimshaw fare, it won’t be The Hardy Boys In Rehab - though that, too, would be fun)


Top Hat Theatre


(They’ve done the Fringe before and had success. I imagine that trend will continue.)


Magic Lantern Puppet Theatre

“I Won’t Grow Up!”

(ok, ok, no need to shout)

Exploration of an adult’s memories and fantasies of childhood.

(promising name of the company, in terms of what the production might hold)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fringe 2009 - The Number 5

Since it was the 5th Annual Fringe Lottery (happy 5th birthday, lottery), let’s check out the 5s

Ping Pong Ball #5 was...

Commedia Beauregard, my Bad Art play pals

They ended up at the number 9 spot on the wait list, so things look good for us to get to see their offering...

“I Can Has Da Force” - An LOLcat translation of “Star Wars: A New Hope

(aka, the first, and arguably best, of the six Star Wars films - I can be persuaded about “Empire Strikes Back,” however. Since Mr. Lucas has especially trigger-happy lawyers, I’ll be curious to see if this one actually comes to pass or they have to translate something else, by someone less litigious)

The 5th ping pong ball drawn in the general lottery was...


Deaf Blender Theatre (I love them already) - another local company

“That Chair Was My Wife” (I think I really love them)

A deaf furniture salesman shares a torrid tale of obsession, marriage, and adultery - with a chair or two.

(I’m assuming the salesman is deaf, because I think furniture itself is always by definition, deaf)

The 5th ping pong ball drawn for the wait list (and thus something else we’re very likely to see) was...


Vessel Performance - another local company

“Profile” - A full-length dance performance investigating identity, image, and the perception of ourselves we put out into the world.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fringe 2009 - Stuck In The Middle With You

So, 152 ping pong balls were drawn for the schedule.

The first 50 of that was the sublotteries (more on them in a bit) - 9 kids shows, 6 teen shows, 15 artists of color, 5 international artists, and 15 nationals.

So 102 ping pong balls were drawn in the general part of the lottery.

And another 161 ping pong balls were drawn for the wait list.

The middle of the general part of the drawing would fall at 51, which would be...


Walking Boxes Productions

a local theater group which brought us both "The Musicker’s Balalaika" and "Wallace & The Dragon" so... it’s anybody’s guess, but I remain hopeful...

“Horace Greeley the Lesser” - Singer, storyteller Horace Greeley the Lesser visits the Island of Misfit Toys

(“Nobody wants a Charlie In The Box!” Oh, I remain even more hopeful now. Tapping into random childhood nostalgia for me can often work wonders)

The middle of the wait list drawing would fall at 80.5, so we’ll just grab 80 and 81 to be on the safe side (and those acts still stand a chance of getting in, depending on the drop out rate and the readiness of the acts in line ahead of them) and those would be...

80 is

Ping Pong Ball #79

IBEX Puppetry, Inc.

a national artist out of Florida

“Puppetslam” - Live host leads the audience through an evening of five to fifteen minute puppet acts by individual artists, for an hour of puppet entertainment.

(I gotta say, I really hope they get in. I know the nationals may not have the same waiting capability in their plans that the locals do, but this sounds like it could be a lot of fun.)

81 is

Ping Pong Ball #306

Rainy Day Cabaret

another local company

“Mixed Bull” - The work of two choreographers drawing from separate archives of material creating an evening of madcap ideas and mixed dance styles.

(Fringe has opened my eyes and mind and heart to dance, so I look forward to whatever ends up landing on the schedule. Some of my favorites last year were dance.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fringe 2009 - The Number 16

Someone suggested, since it’s the Fringe’s 16th birthday, that I take a gander at the 16s in the mix from the lottery. Why not?

Ping Pong Ball #16 was

Chapter 13 Productions, a national entry from Wisconsin

They ended up about 119 spots down on the wait list so I’m not sure we’ll get to see this one, but if we did, it’d be...

“Down Devil’s Backbone” - The first part in a trilogy examining the virtues of a family in a small town and the pursuit of a happiness they can’t ever have.


The 16th ping pong ball drawn in the general lottery was


Charlzik Theatre Company, a local Minnesota company

“First Lady” - A woman running for President, campaigns and all activity leads to an audience vote. All about the games played in the political process.

(The names Hilary and Sarah come to mind. I wonder which one we’re going to get.)

The 16th ping pong ball drawn for the wait list (and thus, something else we’re probably going to get to see) was...


Balance Theatre Project, another Minnesota company

“Rope” - Story of William Williams, the last man executed by the state of Minnesota - his love, his crime, his botched hanging.

(I say again, Ouch. And, Yikes.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Fringe 2009 - First Out of the Cage, Last Out of the Cage

Another bit of randomness from the Fringe lottery...

The first ping pong ball drawn in the general lottery, after the sublotteries were dealt with (more on them in a bit), was...


Empty S Productions

Local entry

“Reservoir Dougs” - A musical spoof of Reservoir Dogs

If I didn’t know Michael Shaeffer (Roofies in the Mochaccino; Tantrums, Testicles, and Trojans), I’d be torn between thinking this was was a fantastic idea and a horrible idea. Since I do know Michael, I’m inclined to think we’re looking at fantastic. Gunplay, severed ears, buckets of blood, intense homoerotic male bonding, plus song and dance are possibly in the mix - given the description. Sounds like a Fringe show to me.

The last ping pong ball drawn in the general lottery, before the wait list began was...


Traudtrikt Productions (do not ask me to pronounce that)

Local entry

“Murder on the Mighty Mississippi” - A murder mystery play with a cast of 8 people, takes place on a boat in September.

Why in September, exactly? Guess we’ll have to see the show to unravel that mystery as well.

The first ping pong ball drawn for the wait list (and thus, something you’re very likely to be seeing in August) was...


Savage Umbrella (not to be confused with Blue Umbrella, which I already did - confuse the two, that is)

Local entry

“Pagliacci” - Gender-reversed reinvisioning of a classic tale of deception and the theater. Part homage, part parody, totally rock & roll.

It’s Fringe, so gender-reversed is a required, of course. As would be the theater, parody, and rock & roll elements.

The very last ping pong ball of the night, the very last spot on the wait list (and thus, something you will very likely *not* be seeing in August), was...


Timothy Mooney Repertory Theatre

National entry from Illinois

“Dancing Nude” - Our hero examines the sexual crisis points from age 6 to the present through story, comic verse, and dance.

Timothy Mooney (of sci-fi, Moliere, and karaoke one-man show fame - that's three different shows of course, though combining them would certainly be Fringey and interesting as well). Dancing Nude. Hmmm...

Give me Tom Reed (Rampleseed) or Noah Bremer (Live Action Set) dancing nude, then we can talk.

(No offense meant, Timothy. I'm sure you're lovely as well.)

And thus my ongoing objectification of Fringe artists continues into 2009...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fringe 2009 - Don’t Despair, My Wait-Listed Friends

“Well, it’s time to start killing people.”

So said a person who was not entirely happy with where their friends’ show had ended up on the wait list in the Fringe lottery.

But of course, they were kidding.


Honestly, there’s no need to resort to violence. Yet.

Here’s the thing - everybody on the wait list, sit tight.

I know it’s hard to wait, but you don’t have to wait idly.

Write that script you haven’t written yet. Inquire after friends who were going to help you put the show together. You can do all kinds of things without laying out any money yet. And you’ve got the time.

The Fringe never - I mean, never - ends up doing the festival that’s drawn out of the lottery on the first go.

First, the people who just got in the Fringe via the lottery - a fair number of them will now panic - “Oh crap! I have to put a show together! I can’t put a show together!”

For some, the panic will subside - and they’ll do a show.

For others, the panic will remain - and they will drop out.

And the first bunch of people come up off the wait list onto the schedule.

Next panic point after the initial shock - the deadline to withdraw and still get your money back - normally the middle of March sometime.

After trying valiantly for a couple of weeks, some folks will realize they just can’t get it together, and should pull out and save their money to try again next year.

So the next group of people come up off the wait list onto the schedule.

Then for any number of reasons over the next five months, productions will implode, peter out, just not come together.

Those people will withdraw, learning a lesson that cost them a few hundred bucks.

And still more people will come up off the wait list onto the schedule.

One year a friend and I had a script that was being produced by someone else, and we made the mistake of assuming our producer/director knew to sit tight and wait for a few months. We were somewhere around the 90 point on the wait list.

Following the wait list anyway, like the obsessive-compulsive blogger that I am, I noticed that a few people on the list just above us were getting called up. Too late, I contacted the producer with the good news. They’d figured there was no chance in hell we were going to be called to do a show. So they’d committed themselves as a director to another project, and even enlisted some of the same actors they would have used for our script.


So, the wait list people behind on the wait list us got a break.

The first 30 or so on the wait list stand a very good chance of having a production go up in August - if they’re ready when the call comes.

The next 20 or so (up to 50) on the wait list also stand a better than average chance.

I had a friend who ended up at a spot right around 70 on the wait list this year. As requested, I texted him with an update and told him, “Write the script anyway. We’ll talk.”

Last year, two days before the festival opened, someone dropped out. The company all the way at next to last on the wait list got a call, and because they had an actor who had several one man shows in his pocket ready to go - voila! Instant Fringe show. It was Charlie Bethel’s “Beowolf or Gilgamesh” which my Mom loved so much she wanted to give it six stars on a one to five scale.

Not everyone has those resources, I know. Out of towners have to plan much farther ahead. But local artists, if you’re ready when the call comes, you could be in. If not, the person behind you on the wait list just got lucky.

Remember - my own script was languishing at around 90 one year, and still the call came. We just weren’t ready. We gave up too soon.

There’s a lot of time between now and August. Create your art.

Check this link regularly

And wait.

Good luck.

I know I’ll be seeing a lot of you at the Fringe.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Fringe 2009 - The Number 81

To start the 5th Annual Fringe Lottery coverage off on a completely random note...

The day of the Fringe Lottery this year is also my father's 81st birthday (Happy Birthday, Dad! - well, he doesn't read blogs, but it's the thought that counts)

So, I thought, let's check out ping pong ball #81, and the 81st ping pong ball drawn for the schedule, and the 81st place on the current wait list. And so...

Ping Pong Ball #81 was...

National artist applicant David Gaines, from Virginia

The title was TBD, but the concept kicks ass... "One man performs the epic story of the film 'Seven Samurai' complete with peasants, bandits and spectacular final fight scene, using only movement, masks and vocal sounds."

Sadly, this is one of the many things we probably *won't* be seeing in the Minnesota Fringe Festival this year, as ping pong ball #81 was drawn pretty close to dead last - position 147 on a waiting list of 161. Sigh.

Lucky 81 to be drawn for the schedule was...

Ping pong ball 294 - WorkHorse Theatre, from Minnesota

(OK, seriously? We've already got a Workhouse, and a Workhaus, and now there's a WorkHorse? Are the people who name theaters in town just trying to get my head to explode. Oh well...)

WorkHorse's work-ing title - CB and Sheave Take the Bus, described as "CB and Sheave don't take the bus."

The still possible, if tenuous, 81st spot on the the wait list is currently occupied by

Ping pong ball 306 - Rainy Day Cabaret, from Minnesota

Title - Mixed Bull
Description - The work of two choreographers drawing from separate archives of material creating an evening of madcap ideas and mixed dance styles.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Review - Little Rock, 1957 - Youth Performance Company - 5 stars

“We’ll understand it all, by and by”

First off, should you see it? - Yes. Most definitely yes.

I almost got through this performance without crying.
Tears of joy.

Very rarely in theater do you get a glimpse of the actor underneath the character when it doesn’t draw you out of the play. Most often, such moments are accidents, mistakes. In the civil rights musical “Little Rock, 1957” from Youth Performance Company, there is such a moment, and it’s quite deliberate. But it drives the point of the performance home with such a vengeance that it makes you catch your breath. And maybe say a little prayer of thanks.

Little Rock, 1957” centers on the stories of the Little Rock Nine - nine young African-American high school students who volunteered to be part of the U.S. government’s social experiment in school integration. The high school in Little Rock, Arkansas was part of the first phase of integration three years after the landmark Supreme Court decision “Brown vs. Board of Education.” The court made it clear that when it came to education, “separate but equal” was no longer good enough. Blacks and whites must be brought together under the same roof to learn, whether they liked it or not.

The audience gets two warnings about the language in “Little Rock, 1957” - one in the program, and one in the pre-show announcement from the director, YPC Artistic Director Jacie Knight.

Little Rock, 1957 is about race relations in the 1950s,” says the program note. “As a chronicle of a particular place and time, the show contains racial epithets. YPC neither condones nor supports their use, but finds them necessary to the accurate telling of this story.”

“Contains racial epithets” is putting it mildly. The play is littered with them. Sambo, monkey, jiggaboo, and, of course, n**ger. (No, I don’t even want to type it.) Verbal violence, frequent and lacerating, both spoken and sung, is only part of it. At some point during the play, nearly every one of the white cast members pushes, shoves, throws things at, spits on or slaps one or more of the black cast members. The abuse is so convincing that one starts to worry, not just about the characters, but the actors themselves, on both sides of the violence. Not just that someone might get physically hurt, but that the play might be taking a real emotional toll on everyone involved.

Then, there’s that moment at the end of the production when the mask slips away.

In the final musical number, the Little Rock Nine are all singing an anthem to “one nation, one people.” Once they get it going, the white cast members slowly begin to join them onstage, from all sides of the house. But they don’t just stand together. Those who hurled the worst of the abuse enter almost sheepishly, nervous not about the audience, but about their fellow castmates. There is no hugging. Things, wisely, never get that sentimental. But there a sidelong glances. A light hand takes a dark hand. A black arm is thrown over a white shoulder. The audience can see in those moments that the cast is literally, physically relieved to not be required to pretend to hate each other anymore. And the singing grows louder, and stronger - again, not over the top, just a force that will no longer be held back. They smile. Their faces are bright, full of hope and determination. And when I see one of the male cast members fighting with everything he’s got not to cry, and succeeding, that’s when my face starts to get wet. Those last minutes are enormously powerful.

They wouldn’t be if the story that came before weren’t such a skillfully executed journey. “Little Rock, 1957” shows, as one of the artistic team puts it, “the fire these young people had to walk through” to make change happen. It took the nine students weeks just to get in the school building, and then still longer to be able to get through an entire day of classes. Even then, they weren’t allowed to participate in extracurricular activities, despite their many artistic and athletic gifts, not even a student talent show. The governor of Arkansas himself tried to block the students and integration at every turn, with moves that made him wildly popular with the majority of white voters (so much so that he was re-elected to three terms). He caused things to be so difficult that the U.S. military finally had to be called in, flying jets overhead as they marched into town, to make sure the students got to school every day, until things settled down - on the surface.

The play begins with an extended musical set piece which essentially lays out the state of race relations in 1950s Arkansas from both sides - no small feat. The music is built on the sturdy foundation of old spiritual standards (so familiar to some in the audience they couldn’t help singing along quietly in solidarity - which I must admit is the sort of involuntary audience participation I kind of like). The original music and lyrics are by Steven Joseph Hutton and Kahlil Queen (the latter of whom also served as music director, choreographer, and keyboardist in the show band - phew). One of the things I appreciated about the musical aspect of the production was that it didn’t feel compelled to give us a lot of musical “numbers.” There are show-stopping moments, to be sure, but “Little Rock, 1957” isn’t structured like a traditional musical. The music and singing acts more like connective tissue in many places between scenes than being the sole purpose of the scenes themselves. Language, even nasty language, set to music, almost lets the audience off the hook too easily. So “Little Rock, 1957” often has the music stand to the side and let the words have their full impact.

Those words are the product of E.J. McGuire. The script has gone through several evolutions over the years since it was first produced by Youth Performance Company as the result of an improvisational workshop process. This latest incarnation chooses to focus on three of the Little Rock Nine, giving the sprawling story and cast of characters three anchors around which to focus the narrative energy. It’s a smart move.

The first of the three is Elizabeth Eckford (Shenece Bass). Because Elizabeth’s family didn’t have a phone, she didn’t get the group message warning against trying to head out to school on her own. Bass’ performance turns from one of naive optimism, to one of fear and disillusionment when confronted by the angry crowds of protestors who refuse to let her enter the school. The reality of the battle they all have ahead of them is crystallized in that moment when Bass stands alone against the community and must ultimately back away for her own safety.

The second “act” - once they’re through the doors and trying to actually get an education - centers on Minnijean Brown (Iman Fears). Of the nine, she seems to have the hardest time just playing along, taking the abuse and being quiet about it. When the school talent show auditions come along, so does a possible friendship with with a white girl named Bootsie (Asia Thornton). When both sets of hopes are dashed, Minnijean has had enough. That’s when one of the show-stoppers comes into play. Fears’ act of defiance as Minnijean finally stands up for herself, refusing any longer to play the “good, quiet, clean little negro” anymore, is just as cathartic for the audience as it is for her. But it’s not without its consequences.

The last leg of the journey highlights Ernest Green (Kinaundrae Lee). As one of the older members of the group, he steps up as a leader of the nine, and will have the distinction of being the first black student to graduate from their new school - if he’s allowed to live that long. Concern on this last count mounts when his innocent friendship with progressive white student Jane (Rebecca Hurd) is misinterpreted and subjected to intense scrutiny and debate. This results in an amusing but unsettling kangaroo court musical number putting both young people on trial, where the truth is frequently turned inside out.

Humor is a key weapon here, both of the script and the Little Rock Nine themselves. Even well-meaning gestures by fellow students like class president Craig (Tyler Hanlon) can lead to hilariously awkward moments - like the first scene in the cafeteria where, after some of the Nine are invited by Craig to join them at their table to eat, no one can seem to think of anything to say, and no one seems to have much of an appetite. The silences and attempts to fill them become progressively more funny - and it’s humor that is all the funnier because it springs from character.

Special mention must also be made of Shelbi Montgomery as Thelma Mothershed, who often acts as the musical leader of the Little Rock Nine, providing much of the soulful spiritual singing that ties the episodic nature of the script together. Her voice regularly becomes a beacon, inspiring the story and those in it to keep moving forward.

A final key moment which sticks with me puts the spotlight squarely on Kaitlyn Andrews as Melba Patillo. A quieter member of the Nine, she takes one of the more shocking hits. When young redheaded bigot Darlene (Devon Solorow) takes offense at Melba’s presence, Darlene slaps Melba across the face. It didn’t look like a stage slap to me, or anyone else in the audience. It looked like the actress took a direct hit, and a stinging one. In the collective gasp of reaction, Melba’s retort was nearly lost. At first, I thought to myself, “She couldn’t have said ‘f**k you’ - I’d like her to. She deserves to. But I don’t think she would.”

Darlene advances on Melba again - “What did you say?”
Melba quietly stands her ground. Not defiant, just resolved - “Thank you.”

And in that moment, thanks to Andrews, Melba became one of my favorite characters. I don’t think I’d have been able to turn the other cheek and defuse the situation so forcefully. It’s a nice piece of work, and milestone in their journey, ever so incrementally, toward acceptance - by some. Solorow’s Darlene is unrelenting right to the end, in a fearlessly unsympathetic performance. Jaw-dropping would be a fitting adjective for the response prompted by her good work at being so bad.

It’s not a perfect production, but then what production is? Since the actors aren’t mic’d, some are better at projecting and enunciating than others, but it’s early days in the run, and that sort of thing will most likely get smoothed out as the cast gets used to working the crowd. The large ensemble fills the stage well, but there were times when I wondered if the time spent moving lockers and cafeteria tables on and off the stage (however swiftly) might have been eliminated by allowing more room for one or more of those elements to live on the set permanently, since they get such regular use. The episodic nature of the text requires a number of scene changes, most of which are covered by the sound design (by Tyrus A. Thompson) and the singers and the band (Matt Belz on Bass and Eric Domke on Drums, joining composer/lyricist Queen). But time and momentum savings wherever one can find them in use of the space are always good things.

The rest of the ensemble deserves mention by name because without them, the more central characters would have no context - no friends, no allies, no adversaries. The challenges the Little Rock Nine encountered are very real because they live and breathe in Nick Clark, Anna Esposito, Koby Felman, Jessica Ilaug, Mollay Margaret Johnson, Steven Lewer, Morgan Motzel, Ethan Nienaber, Katey Singer, Brigitta Smith, and Bryan Thornton, as well as all those previously mentioned above. And the Little Rock Nine would be most incomplete without the contributions of Brandon Cobb, Pelita Murumba, Cydni Shepard, and Isaac Sundberg.

I’ve said this time and again to other people about Youth Performance Company - the reason I admire their work so much is that they require so much of their performers. Or rather, they treat them like professional adults. Some theater for young audiences that I’ve seen over the years seems content merely to get young people up on stage - “Oh, isn’t that cute? They’re acting.” YPC asks for something more than that. They desire a professional production, and they get more well-rounded performances out of their young actors because of it. I have never cringed, or looked at my watch during a Youth Performance Company production. I’ve just seen really good theater. Every time. “Little Rock, 1957” is no exception. The alumni of YPC get a great schooling in the ways of theater, and take that into their professional lives. Some even circle back around and return the favor - McGuire, Hutton and Queen are all former YPC company members themselves. And they’ve created quite a moving document of a time that’s past, but of a problem we still face in the present.

The opening of the play has one of the Little Rock Nine opening a book and looking through it, as slides of past atrocities of the slave trade are projected on the back wall of the set. Come the ending, there are pictures of the Little Rock Nine, then and now. I’ve been told some people on the “Little Rock” team had to work very hard to resist the urge to include a photo of President Obama. The instinct was correct. The production didn’t need to show his picture. Our current president was surely on everyone’s mind already. The latest turn along our country’s oftentimes rocky path of race relations was part of the subtext running through this entire evening. Gender, religion, color, sexual orientation - there’s still a lot of healing to be done, inequities to correct. But it’s good to reflect on the occasional hard-fought but meaningful victories along the way. “Little Rock, 1957” allows us to do that.

At the emotional high point of graduation for one character, an audience member shouted out, “Tell them about it!” It was like being in the best kind of church.

Tell them about it, indeed. “Little Rock, 1957” does just that.

Like the director’s note in the program says, “History is made by ordinary people who do extraordinary things. What will you do?”

You might start by seeing and being inspired by this musical.

I’m glad I did. Judging by the standing ovation, the rest of the audience was, too.

Very Highly Recommended.

Youth Performance Company’s production of “Little Rock, 1957” runs through Sunday, March 1, 2009. Performances are at Howard Conn Fine Arts Center, 1900 Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. There are a lot of school week matinees (Tuesdays thru Fridays at both 10am and 12:30pm), but there are also showtimes for the workaday adults and families among us as well. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for children and seniors. Call 612-623-9180 or visit for reservations and more information.

Fringe 2009 - Lottery Day Is Upon Us...

I have to be honest.

Back in November, upon learning that the applications for the 2009 Minnesota Fringe Festival were live online for downloading, filling out and submitting, my first thought was...

"Oh crap."

And upon realizing, in the midst of my February Medea rewriting madness, that the Fringe Lottery was coming up - determining the 150 or so acts that would be on the schedule, and the 200 or 300 or so that would be waiting, patiently or otherwise, on the waiting list to be called up as other acts dropped out - my first thought was...

"Oh crap."

I'm hoping that outlook toward the Fringe changes.

I'll be at the lottery Monday night.

I'm not blogging live on the scene like FringeFamous.

I'm not videotaping for later editing and posting like 3 Minute Egg.

I'll text a couple of friends who can't be there if their ping pong ball makes the cut.

I'll take notes, look the roster over, digest it all, and start posting stuff, just like I always do. No gimmicks, other than Mom, of course, and my typing fingers.

It'll all be here - and there, and around.

I imagine things will immediately start to pique my interest, just like they always do. You can watch my level of involvement start to turn into an obsessive compulsive disorder, just like it always does.

And of course, there'll be Mom's visit and Fringe binge.

So, stay tuned.

And thanks, as always, for readin'