Saturday, December 31, 2016

Best Theater I Saw in 2016: For What It's Worth...

Normally I don’t get to tallying up all the theater I saw in a given year until well into tax season, but this year I’m a little ahead of the game on gathering information together so what the heck - for what it’s worth, looking at the list of what I saw, here’s the stuff that shakes out at the top.

Obviously, no ten best list is comprehensive.  There’s just too much theater in the Twin Cities for any one person to be able to see it all (though Scott Pakudaitis tries and gets closer than most of us).  For instance, right off the top of my head, I realize I saw nothing this year at either Penumbra or Pillsbury and that right there should be disqualifying to me.  The bulk of theater companies in town I only got to one presentation of theirs and that’s hardly representative of all the work they do.  Sometimes I got lucky, sometimes I didn’t.

Some of these shows I’ve already written about, some I haven’t.  If I got comps in exchange for writing a review, I did my duty (whether the company in question ended up being happy with the resulting review or not).  If I paid for my own ticket, a lot of times I didn’t weigh in.  It’s a time thing, more often than not.  I have my own plays to write, after all, that’s gotta happen sometime, too.

We’ll set aside the items on my schedule that had to do with plays I wrote.  We’ll just assume the time I spent in the rehearsal room or seeing the script on its feet were the happiest times of my year, which they were.  So, TV Boyfriend, and Discreet, Straight-Acting, Disease/Drug-Free, you know I love you.  (also, a shout-out to Off Book at HUGE Improv Theater, which used a scene from How To Date A Werewolf.)  But on that level, this list isn’t about me.

So, 74 shows seen outside the Minnesota Fringe Festival, 56 shows seen inside the Fringe, 6 play readings, 4 improv events (pitiful tally there), and 6 other random theater events like Theatre Unbound’s 24:00:00 Extreme Theater Smackdown, Fringe previews and the like.  Roughly a third of the evenings of my year spent in the dark watching someone tell me a story with live performers of one sort or another.  (So, my thanks to the following for engaging my brain: Arena Dances, Denzel Belin, Blue Water Theatre, Fearless Comedy, Four Humors, Freshwater Theatre, Gadfly Theater, History Theater, Live Action Set, Loudmouth Collective, Main Street School of Performing Arts, Mission Theatre, Mixed Blood, Nautilus Music Theater, Off Leash Area, Open Window, Park Square, Recovery Party, Sandbox Theatre, Savage Umbrella, Sheep Theater, Swandive Theatre, Theatre Coup d’Etat, Theatre Forever, Theater Latte Da, Theatre Novi Most, Theatre Pro Rata, 20% Theater Company and Workhaus Collective - but you’re not on the list this time around.)

It’s more like a Top 9 to 15 list, nine groups, 15 presentations that grabbed me:

1 - Jungle Theater - The Oldest Boy - Sara Ruhl makes everything okay (review)
2 - Walking Shadow - The Christians - Pardon me, I know it’s church but… damn (review)
3 - 7th House Theater - The Passage, or What Comes of Searching In The Dark - Makes me happy/sad as an audience member and artist (review)
4 - Underdog Theater - Baltimore Is Burning - Very last thing I saw this year, but probably the most urgent piece of new theater created in the Twin Cities.  A meeting between police and community representatives goes horribly wrong - but honestly, it could have gone worse.  There is both despair and hope pulsing through this play and production and it is riveting
5ish - Fire Drill, based at Fresh Oysters Performance Research (a place I am never bored) - Consequences Have Consequences, Semester: Lecture 1 (review), Boiling Point (review), plus Emily Gastineau curating artists at the Soap Factory
6ish - Guthrie - The Parchman Hour, Trouble In Mind, The Lion In Winter (see note below)
7ish - Skewed Visions - EX(remade) (review), Losing Kantor (review) - you have to watch closely and keep thinking the whole time because they’re not going to explain it to you in words
8 - Small Art - You Bring The Party (review) - low impact audience participation (review)
9 - Classical Actors Ensemble - Julius Caesar - oh, so THAT’s why this is a great play (review)

Biggest surprise (no offense intended, I know it’s kind of a backhanded compliment)? - the Guthrie Theater is on this list.  I work at the Guthrie box office, and we are encouraged to see all the mainstage shows so we can discuss them with people calling in for tickets (and if I could keep up with the flurry of things going on up in the black box space, I would).  Because it either looks like I’m sucking up to my employer (if I like the show) or biting the hand that feeds me (if I don’t), I don’t normally write reviews of Guthrie productions.  In general, the work at the Guthrie hasn’t really been my aesthetic.  It has tended to be overproduced, and at a bit of a remove from me as a spectator.  But something exciting is starting to happen at the Guthrie Theater.  Not that they didn’t do solid work before but under new artistic director Joe Haj, things are kind of blowing up.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all three of these shows I tagged have an interracial cast, and a large percentage of non-white actors.  I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that two of the productions were directed by women of color, and two of them written by artists of color.  I think that’s a big part of what engaged me, and frankly blew my mind as an audience member.  This change is deliberate, long overdue, and so very, very welcome.  So I gotta be honest, they creeped into my top ten almost in spite of myself.

Trend? - I apparently have developed an artistic nerd crush on Kory LaQuess Pullam.  He wrote Baltimore is Burning.  He was in two of the improv presentations I managed to see (you need to see some Blackout Improv, if you haven’t yet).  He was in the cast of both The Christians and The Parchman Hour.  If you’re not following him around to see what he’s doing next, you probably should be.  Guess I will be, too.

Place I Am Never Bored - as previously stated, Fresh Oysters Performance Research, a makeshift performance space just a couple of doors down from Open Eye Figure Theater.  It’s the home base right now for Fire Drill (Emily Gastineau and Billy Mullaney), and Skewed Visions (Charles Campbell) - all of whom I already came into 2016 with an artistic nerd crush on and it apparently shows no signs of dissipating.  Throw Small Art’s You Bring The Party onto the pile and the place hasn’t presented a thing that I haven’t been fully engaged by this year.  You feel extremely necessary as an audience member here.  They are pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a spectator of live performance.  I am also, oddly, happiest when I am in this space.  So if you need happy, and different, and necessary, you should check them out.

As for the Minnesota Fringe Festival, if you held a gun to my head, these would be ten shows that engaged me, and stuck with me, the most:

1 - Write Me A Song - I saw it twice, so… (review)
2 - Oh Snap! My Alien Children Are Trying To Kill Me - best solo show I saw (review)
3 - Genesis/Revelations - late viewing in the festival, didn’t get to review in those final days as much, but some of the best dance performance I saw in the Fringe, orchestrated by gifted young choreographer Sydney Burch, keep an eye on SB Movement
4 - Of Something Human - always love me some Tamara Ober (review)
5 - The Not So Silent Planet - mind-boggling storytelling (review)
6 - It Is So Ordered - some much-needed words from our country’s better angels (review)
7 - The Disillusionist - rarely do I find someone’s disintegration this entertaining (review)
8 - Break Your Heart - another late viewing in the festival, didn’t review at the time, but a great piece of open, funny, vulnerable, painful, yet hopeful solo performance by Scot Moore
9 - Celebrity Exception - yay, pansexual romantic comedy (review)
10 - Suite Surrender - a genuine, hilarious surprise (review)

(And because I don’t want to seem ungrateful, a shout-out to the other shows that almost made this list (in the order I saw them): For Worse, Ball: A Tribute To My Lost Testicle, Sometimes There’s Wine, Happenstanced, The Abortion Chronicles, Caucasian Aggressive Pandas and other Mulatto Tales, The Gospel of Sherilyn Fenn, Fruit Flies Like A Banana: Alphabetical Disorder, Hostil Watching, The Adventures of Crazy Jane and Red Haired Annie, AfterLife, Know Your B-Movie Actors, Darlings, An Accidental Organist, and Twice (with special bat cameo)

So, for what it’s worth, there’s my 2016.

Good theater helps my heart, and makes me a better writer, so thanks to you all for giving me that gift.  Keep on doing what you’re doing, and hopefully we’ll cross paths sooner rather than later in 2017.  And if I thought good art seemed necessary last year, here comes a whole new world with the new year (yikes).

Friday, December 09, 2016

Things To Keep In Mind As The New Year Approaches - 9 of 20

--> (well, that last nine days just flew by me... back at it...)

9. Investigate. 

Figure things out for yourself. 

Spend more time with long articles. 

Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. 

Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. 

Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

Yale historian and Holocaust expert Timothy Snyder wrote: "Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so." 
Snyder's a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (which includes former Secretaries of State), and consults on political situations around the globe. He says: 

Above, #9 of twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Things To Keep In Mind As The New Year Approaches - 8 of 20

8. Believe in truth. 

To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. 

If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. 

If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. 

The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

Yale historian and Holocaust expert Timothy Snyder wrote: "Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so." 
Snyder's a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (which includes former Secretaries of State), and consults on political situations around the globe. He says: 

Above, #8 of twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

Writing Challenge 2016 #30 - Finality

NWC #30- "FINALITY" Dec 1st at 8am

or you didn't and that's okay too

Tomorrow I'll send a final email with the official numbers. To get those, I'll look at whomever posts the final date and after 48 hours send you a Paypal link for your prize winnings!
If you did NOT finish the challenge but DID write a post on the final date, please email me so that I correctly calculate the winnings. So far it looks like we have 47 authors still in the running. Amazing!

The climax in movies can happen behind a character's eyes because we can ZOOM IN. A realization that they are in love. A sense of finality. An awakening, etc

These are terrible climaxes for theater.
Theater requires a physicalization of the action- especially if it's a climax!
So a realization that someone is in love would result in an ACTION of... tearing up the letter, running out the door, pulling the trigger, etc.

*CHALLENGE= write a climax that has a stage action so huge it takes down the stage, the curtain, the risers, and everything with it. *

Two large forces are coming together and there can be but one ending.
Two very small forces cause a chain reaction that results in...
Prove me wrong. Write a climactic action that DOES take place behind someone's eyes and then physicalize it through scenic, sound, lighting, and costume design. USE ALL FOUR!

Running dry?
Browse this list of Catch 22s from Reddit and see if it inspires you

(Not with a bang, but still struggling to figure out how this last bus play works.  More grandma and goddaughter talk...)

BUS PLAY #4, part 3


I'm light, but I'm strong.  There's a difference.  You don't live to be one hundred years, one month and one day if you're prone to fall apart when life bats you around.

Did you know who I was?

It came and went.  I couldn't hold onto you in my head.  We had a picture of him holding you after your baptism ceremony.  You're both smiling.  Of course you're still an infant, just nine months old, more baby than the person you are now.  We had a picture on the lazy susan in the middle of the kitchen table.  The salt and pepper and sugar, a picture of President Obama smiling, I loved that picture, and then the picture of the two of you.  I kept forgetting you were his goddaughter and thinking you were his daughter, and I kept wondering why he didn't bring you with him whenever he visited.  Where you were.  I don't think I forgot he was gay, but I think I was confused where his partner was, where the other parent was, since he had a child.  If you hadn't been on the kitchen table where I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, I probably wouldn't have been as confused.  I'm glad I know you now.

I'm glad I know you, too.

We're connected in his head, even if we never met.

The women in his life.


I wonder if I'll remind him of you, when I'm older.

I'm sure he'll tell you stories.

Will he forget me, do you think?

I didn't forget him.  I mean, I couldn't have told you who he was, but he obviously loved me, so I figured I must love him, too.  If he was taking care of me at the end, then I must have done something right.  But no, I don't think he'll forget you.  I don't think you'll let him.

I wish I understood the brain.

Me, too.  We have everything for so short a time, though.  It's hardly worth worrying about, is it?  Just appreciate it because you know it doesn't last.