Stuck in an Elevator with Patrick Stewart. Boldly Playing at the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Photo by Pedro Juan Fonseca

Stuck in an Elevator With Patrick Stewart is another recorded show from a previous Fringe Festival, in this case 2013. If you’re a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation you should find this very entertaining, if you are not a fan you probably will as well. Much like The Scranton Strangler: An Office Musical as enjoyable as the video of this is, it does make you long to see it in person. I hope this is something I’ll get a chance to see performed live some day. The play takes place at a Science Fiction Convention between the first and second seasons of ST:TNG. Patrick Stewart has gotten word that they are moving forward with the second season and in all likelihood will be exercising their option on his 6 year contract. Because of this he will have to turn down the lead in Richard III on stage, a role he has always wanted to play. In this foul mood, and seeing ST:TNG more as a curse than a blessing he loses patience with the fans lining up for autographs and the questions they ask him, eventually storming off. He ends up in an elevator with Daniel, his biggest fan. As the title foreshadows, the elevator gets stuck. Patrick over the course of their entrapment learns the true meaning of Star Trek from Daniel.

What is really smart about the script is the way it weaves true autobiographical information into the play. The parallels it illustrates between the fandom and escapism that Patrick at first ridicules with the way he coped with similar situation when he was young. More than once Stewart judges the books by their covers and makes assumptions about the people who are Trekkers only to be surprised by the realities. He tells Daniel he should read more than stupid tie-in Star Trek novels only to be surprised to learn that he read A Tale of Two Cities not long ago. There are many other examples like this and playwright Brandon Taitt does a skillful job of working all of these little aha! moments into the dialogue naturally. I was surprised by a subtlety I did not expect from such a high concept play that is only one hour long. There is quite a lot going on in this play, it’s entertaining and funny, but there is also some real food for thought, but it wisely lets that breathe rather than hammering it home. George M. Calger plays Patrick Stewart and he does a good job, but I felt there was room for a closer interpretation. It’s always difficult to play an extremely famous person. A impression is not the right approach, but I do think you want to try and capture their mannerisms and vocal work as closely as you can. It felt like some of those subtler mannerisms could have helped the illusion more. Brandon Caviness plays Daniel and he does a really nice job. He embodies the Fanboy, but shows us the person underneath that is all too easy to dismiss, he’s a fully rounded out character, again a tough thing to pull off in a short play. I really recommend this one.

One Quick Review From The Minnesota Fringe Festival

Super Patriots! is a program consisting of 2 short plays written by Carl Danielson. The first play focuses on Senator Joseph McCarthy and is manly staged with cutout photos of Mccarthy and other politicians. It is a satirical play which while presenting a fairly accurate account of the early 1950’s “red scare” and the rise of McCarthyism also draws parallels to the current state of politics and the “orange scare”. At around 10 minutes it is an entertaining and engagingly thought provoking piece of theatre. Part 2 is “Doughface” about President James Buchanan. This 10 minute short isn’t quite as successful, partly because it has 4 performers acting together in a Zoom session. I know it’s one of the few tools we have to still try and present theater in this time of Covid-19, and this works as well as Zoom performances do. “Doughface” while not as successful as Part 1, is still worth your time and like the play on McCarty, it draws some very strong comparisons to today. These are definitely worth your time, Part 1 being a more effective theatrical presentation in these days of social distancing. Both are humorous and based more on fact than you might think, some of the more outrageous sounding bits are actual quotes.

Three Reviews from Day Two of the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Daniel Hertz

The Prostate

Daniel Hertz one man show about a prostate exam runs about 12 minutes which is about 11 minutes longer than any prostate exam I’ve ever had and about as enjoyable. It isn’t really funny nor poignant, it’s sort of just a monologue about a prostate exam and the follow up procedures. It lacks any sort of driving force other than to relay what happens. I thought it might be a fun bit, but it’s really lacking anything to say about the prostate, humorous or otherwise. I’m at a loss to understand what Hertz was trying for here and as such, I have to recommend skipping this one.

Photo by Alyssa Rae

The Graveyard

A 20 minute video created using Zoom or a similar application featuring 4 high school kids. Written by Alyssa Rae who also portrays one of the teens. The title leads you to believe there might be something spooky in store but there isn’t. It’s simply four friends walking around a graveyard looking for the gravestone of the boy who supposedly haunts the grounds. But that’s just a setting for the characters to be and lends itself to help us accept the artifice of the Zoom format. They are basically just four people surrounded by the pitch black of a graveyard at night. The four actors do a good job of performing their roles naturally, given the fact they are not in the same place. The conversation and where it leads has some thrust but we are left feeling like this is an excerpt from a larger piece. It’s worth checking out if anything for the performers, who along with Rae, are Michael Munoz, Tara Stona, and Elliot Stevens.

A Circus Show

This is a great show for the whole family as long as you don’t have impressionable and daredevil children. It lends a professional quality video recording of an acrobatic act that will have you biting your nails. There is the hint of a story given by a narrator that the two tumblers if you will, are brothers forced to perform until they are released by an audience that doesn’t applaud. They are going to be at this for a very long time. The brothers feats of fitness begin with a giant ring and some balancing acts where they use each others weight to accomplish amazing positions and movements like the one in the photo above. They are so graceful that they make it look easy, which I am sure it’s anything but. They graduate to doing handstands on a precariously balanced stacks of chairs on top of a wooden platform to a height where their feet are literally up in the stage lights and rafters. They end with some high flying on a makeshift teeter totter that will have you flinching waiting for one of them to land wrong and break a leg. Not quite as nerve racking as seeing it live, knowing it was recorded does remove to some extent the fear that they will fall. The narrator and acrobats are Csaba Szilagyi, Zachary Miller, and Alex Wiggins.

Two Reviews From Opening Night of the Minnesota Fringe Festival

PHOTO BY BRIAN FELDMAN PROJECTS

#txtshow (on the internet)

I’ll let you in on a little secret, tonight was my first ever Fringe show. Coincidently it was also Brian Feldman’s first Minnesota Fringe performance. #txtshow (on the internet) is a fully interactive performance piece. Brian Feldman is the creator if the show and the performer but you and I, your partner or BFF, or even your grandmother are the writers. The show takes place on zoom, most of us have become very familiar with zoom over the last few months. Be warned you will have to leave your microphone and camera on for the entire performance. Hey, a reason to put a little effort into your appearance again for a change isn’t really a bad thing. The concept is simple and the tech works pretty smoothly. Once Feldman, in the character of Txt (pronounced Text), sits down at the desk, we the audience begin to feed him lines of dialogue. Feldman reads the lines of dialogue as they come up and does so for about 45 minutes straight.

Every show is different obviously, as the audience for each show provides the script. It’s a little tricky at first but the more everyone participates the better the shows will be. It’s a lot like improve but we as the writers have to be the ones who play nice, always say yes and always try to keep the story alive. It lends itself as a concept to absurdist comedy, non sequiturs, and very strange tangents. Be warned, it could go anywhere so this is not a show for children. Feldman’s strength is in his delivery, he knows how to cold read a line and instinctively how to say it to try and blend it with whatever came before or might come next. My suggestion for any aspiring writers out there is to sign up for one of the remaining performances. Write longer lines of dialogue, try to keep with whatever the general theme is and make the wording as open at the beginning and end as you can. When the sentences flow it’s really quite fun, what doesn’t work as well are one or two words at a time, they frequently don’t blend well. The biggest factor on whether it succeeds or not is you, so participate!

It’s a free show and worth every penny. Upcoming performances of #txtshow (on the internet) are Mon Aug 3 & Thu Aug 6 @ 9:00 PM and Sun Aug 9 @ 5:00 PM https://txtmn.eventbrite.com is the link to sign up. The email you are sent once you register will have a PDF explaining how it works so read through it before the show starts. There will also be links for ways in which you can donate to the performer. Please remember all it cost you was the $5 for a Fringe button and to show Mr. Feldman some love if you have a good time.

GRAPHIC BY TAYLOR WEGNER

The Scranton Strangler: An Office Musical

This is a tricky one. This is a video recording from a previous years Fringe festival. The show itself is good, the quality of the presentation is not. I started to watch it on my TV, but I couldn’t make out the words very well, particularly when they were singing. I quickly switched to my laptop and that was definitely an improvement, but it’s still less than ideal. If it wasn’t free I would say skip it. If you are not a fan or if you have just recently started to watch The Office, I’d skip this as there are actually a lot of spoilers for what happens with the characters in later seasons. If you are a fan of The Office and have seen most of the episodes you’ll probably find enough in the poor presentation to make it worth watching. The actors and the writer know the show and the characters really well. They capture the humor and the essence of all the characters. In fact this is one way in which the fuzzy washed out video actually helps as a few of the actors you can almost mistake for the shows actual cast. Particularly effective are Melissa Noelle Murray as Pam and the actor not listed on the Fringe Website who is channeling Kevin perfectly. It will definitely wet your appetite to hopefully see the show live sometime in the future.

The Scranton Strangler: An Office Musical is a well written show and available to view anytime during the festival with your Minnesota Fringe button. If you don’t have a Minnesota Fringe button yet, go here https://www.minnesotafringe.org/. From this site you can click on the heading along the top where it says buy a button. Buttons are $5 and will give you access to the digital hub. That’ll give you access to a lot of free shows, some live shows, and some recorded shows. Some shows will require an additional payment.

The Minnesota Fringe Festival goes virtual

Hello again fellow theater enthusiasts! It’s been quite a dry spell on the theater going front, but that can end tonight for all of us. The Minnesota Fringe Festival launches tonight and runs through August 9th. Obviously in the midst of a Covid-19 pandemic there has been a radical change to this years festival, it has gone virtual. There have been an increasing number of virtual theatre projects in the last 4 months. For the most part I have not been participating in those, I checked a few out in the early days and found them wanting, you may have done the same. Well enough time has passed and I have a feeling that a lot of artists have figured out how to tackle the virtual performance arena. I’m going to dive in and sample as many as I can between tonight and August 9th. I’ll post capsule reviews for the shows I see so that, as is always the arrangement between you and I, you will know where to invest your time wisely.

So some details, which I will correct and add to as I navigate my own way through the Festival.

Go here https://www.minnesotafringe.org/. From this site you can click on the heading along the top where it says buy a button. Buttons are $5 and will give you access to the digital hub. That is going to give you access to a lot of free shows, some live shows, some recorded shows. Some shows will require and additional payment. I will more than likely be reviewing the free shows, giving priority to shows that feature creators or performers I have enjoyed in the past or artists who have reached out directly requesting reviews. I’ll also be getting recommendations from my colleagues at the @TwinCitiesTheaterBloggers . Now there are like 70 performances to check out, I’m not going to get through anywhere near all of them. So I highly recommend going through the list of shows and descriptions for yourself and seeing which ones sound interesting to you. You can also check the @TwinCitiesTheaterBloggers facebook page to see what the other bloggers have seen and what they recommend. Now as I mentioned there is a lot of free content and I encourage you to take advantage of that, but I also urge you to make donations to The Minnesota Fringe Festival so that this institution survives and hopefully next year we can see they festival live in person. Also, if you can, donate to the artists that are creating all of this theater for us. Remember many of them were full time theater folks and many of them are struggling right now financially. Now, more than ever before I think, as we all binge TV shows and long to leave our homes to see some live performances we realize how much our lives are enriched by artists and how necessary they are to a civilization. So stop reading this, click on the link above, buy a button, and start foraging for fun fringe finds.

Theater Crush Thursday: Mixed Blood Theatre

Forgive me readers for I have sinned, it has been a month since my last post. I spent 2 weeks since my last post at the hospital every night with my son keeping him company (not covid-19 related). That along with the fact there were no shows to attend and review, created the perfect storm of a lack of time and content. I had intended to use the downtime to work on the website and do some features. Somehow the first night home in my own bed and some evening time with my wife led to another two weeks of not sitting down and writing anything. Today that changes. While I have been idle, my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers (TCTBers) have been doing what they can. On our facebook page we have started a new weekly feature called Theater Crush Thursdays. You can access our page by searching in facebook for @TwinCitiesTheaterBloggers I encourage you to pull it up now and follow the page. Along with Theater Crush Thursdays we are also posting events that are happening online so you can get your theater fix during this time of sheltering in place.

This week I wanted to focus Some attention on Mixed Blood Theatre. I saw six performances the last week theatres were open and three of them were at Mixed Blood Theatre. There is something special about a theatre that introduces you to something that comes to hold a special place in your heart. The three performances were all for their World Premiere Production of Interstate. You can read my review of Interstate here. I had actually previously attended only one other production at Mixed Blood Theatre which was Charm in 2016, long before I began reviewing shows. Charm was another production that like Interstate deals with the Transgender experience. The Transgender community is just one of those with whom they work in their mission to as their website says:

USING THEATER TO ILLUSTRATE AND ANIMATE, MIXED BLOOD CHANGES ATTITUDES, BEHAVIOR, AND POLICY BY PAYING POSITIVE ATTENTION TO DIFFERENCE.

Mixed Blood Theatre website.

My first experience with Mixed Blood as a reviewer was when I was invited as part of the TCTB to come and meet with the co-creators of Interstate prior to the opening of the show. For me, new to reviewing, it was an unprecedented invitation behind the scenes to get a chance to hear about the creation of a show I would be reviewing. What struck me was the welcoming we received from Tim Komatsu the Audience Engagement Manager and the creators Melissa Li and Kit Yan. We were lucky enough to also meet the three young leads who happened to swing through after catching dinner together. Of course they were all very nice and welcoming, they wanted us to review their production. But even after my review was published and I came back for as many performances as I could before they closed early, Tim and the theatre staff were always on hand to assist with accessibility concerns for my son who utilizes a walker.

Accessibility is another aspect that Mixed Blood Theatre take very seriously, whether it is physical or financial, mixed blood tries to remove any impediments it can. They call this initiative “Radical Hospitality” and it takes many forms. They have four advisory councils who help them identify and remove barriers for those who want to engage with Mixed Blood. For Transgender People bathrooms can be a huge issue, Mixed Blood has all single stall restrooms. They are on the second floor and there is an elevator right outside the restrooms for those for whom stairs are not manageable. In terms of economic accessibility, they have a policy of no-cost admission to anyone beginning two hours before every performance on a first come first served basis. For those with the economic resources to attend the theatre there is guaranteed admission, which means buying your tickets ahead of time through the box office online or by phone.

Mixed Blood Theatre focuses on works that address issues of social justice, inclusion, and the unseen and underrepresented in our communities. They tackle works that have social and cultural significance with an eye towards bringing us all closer together. They live up to these lofty goals through the works they perform the outreach programs they participate in and the way with which they utilize their space and treat their audience members.

In this time of uncertainty when every theatre has closed down it is important to remember the people who create these spaces and works. They cannot survive indefinitely without resources, remember when these shows closed early or were cancelled, many tickets needed to be refunded. Most theatre’s operate on very tight budgets and rely on that income for rent, utilities, and payroll. Mixed Blood Theatre is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and as such they rely on grants, donations, and ticket sales to survive. If this sounds like your kind of theatre and a worthy theatre to support (It is!!), please consider making a donation. Another option for supporting the theatre is the membership program. Becoming a member for just $9 a month or $13 for a duo membership gets you access to everything they do all year long. You can become a member by clicking here https://mixedblood.com/box-office/member/. To donate to Mixed Blood Theatre click here https://mixedblood.com/support/. Finally, there is an online event coming up called Radical Hope: A Benefit to Sustain Mixed Blood Theatre on April 25th from 5:00 PM to 5:45 PM. you can learn more about it and RSVP to attend at https://mixedblood.com/support/radical-hope/?mc_cid=3d5784f887&mc_eid=c38eb303cd

How Can we Support Theatres During This Crisis?

As audience members we are disappointed when a performance or event is cancelled, our initial reaction is to think about what we are missing. This is particularly true of live theatre. Live theatre is unlike a concert, for which you can usually listen to the album or a movie, which you can watch at another time. Theatre requires you and the performers to be in the same space sharing a moment in time. Frequently there is no approximation ala CD, Blu-ray, or Streaming that you can fall back on, to at least get a sense of what was missed. So when a production is cancelled, we have to face the fact that something we wanted to see, is lost to time. Usually that’s as far as we take it. Depending on how excited we were for something affects to what degree we will dwell on it. What we probably never do is think about the theatre, the artists, and how the cancellation affects them. That’s normal and in most cases justified, things happen.

Well the Covid-19 crisis is a different matter. I had over a dozen performances on my calendar that have been cancelled, and there will be more. And yes, I am sad for myself and what I’ll be missing. There were a lot of shows that I was really looking forward to (Lizzie, The 39 Steps, The Color Purple, The Last Ship, The Red Shoes, The Rape of Lucretia). Some may be rescheduled, some will just be scrapped. Others, some great shows (Interstate, The Pink Unicorn), had their runs tragically cut short. But with cancellations on this mass level, it shifts the focus away from on what we are missing and onto what theatre companies and the artists have lost. When it’s one production, we tend to just think about what we missed and getting our tickets refunded. When it’s essentially every production we need to shift our focus to the creative community. Think of the time that has gone into each and every production. The weeks of rehearsal, the construction of sets, the hours spent lighting shows, creating costumes, props, makeup, promotional materials, sounds design, everything that goes into a single production. Then think of the two ways in which this crisis has affected the people and institutions who created them. Financially and creatively.

Creatively, imagine spending several months of your life on something, pouring your heart and soul into a work of art and then never getting to share it with an audience. Imagine you are an actor and you’ve been working for a month with a group of people to create something special, you have bonded with these people, made connections on a creative level and then suddenly it’s over. No three weeks of performances and a wrap party to celebrate and find closure, it’s just over. Imagine you’ve designed and had built a set that you are proud of, that you feel is the best work you’ve ever done, and rather than be utilized to help realize an artistic vision, it’s dismantled without ever being performed on. That goes for every artist and craftsperson who has worked on these shows. People who work in theatre generally are not in it for the money, they are involved because they are passionate about theatre and the work they do. They invest not just time and energy, which we all do in our jobs, but creativity. That is a resource that needs to be shared to be completely fulfilling. Of course on top of that is the financial concerns.

Financially, artists, theatres, and theatre companies are all facing uncertainty in this area. There’s a lot of theatres and performance spaces in the Twin Cities and even more theatre companies. I don’t think a week goes by that I don’t see something in a space I’ve never been to before. For every Orphuem, Ordway and Guthrie Theater and the like, there are two dozen smaller theatres. The Ordway for example had to cancel two major touring productions. You might think a large theatre like The Ordway can weather a couple of cancellations, and hopefully it can. But consider that the Ordway is a nonprofit organization and recently had to cancel their summer production Groundhogs Day the Musical because financial partnerships did not come together as they had hoped. Look at Park Square Theatre which had to cancel half of it’s season due to financial shortfalls. Even the seeming Goliath’s of the theatre community struggle financially. Now think of Mixed Blood theatre Company, Illusion Theatre Company, Theatre in the Round Players, The Gremlin Theatre, Nautilus Music Theater, Phoenix Theater, Theatre Elision, etc. I’ve been in theatres that I’m certain seat less than 100 people, a couple I can think of that probably cap at around 50. What does cancelling a show do to one of these smaller companies for whom each tickets sale matters? If they have to refund for every ticket sold how do they pay their rent, utilities, staff, actors, craftspeople? Many that I’ve been in contact with are making every effort to pay the artist, but these are not companies with deep pockets, and it’s hard to imagine that they will all survive this crisis.

We forget sometimes or take for granted how lucky we are to live in the Twin Cities. I find online claims that the Twin Cities has more Theatre seats per capita than any other US city outside of New York. I also find comments disputing that fact. I think the takeaway is that we are one of the top theatre cities in the US. In large part, that’s because we as a state, fund Art. But grants alone cannot keep this theater scene alive. All of these companies rely on ticket sales and donations to meet their bottom lines. As theatres cancel shows these last few days, the weeks ahead you’ll be receiving a lot of emails giving you options to transfer your tickets to a future date or show or receive a refund. Many are also including the option to donate your tickets to the theatre. They are not asking you to consider this because they want something for nothing. The reality is, they’ve already incurred the costs that the ticket sales were meant to cover. Remember all those sets they had to construct, the hours of rehearsal? I know that not everyone can afford to just donate money to theatres, but I encourage those that can, please do so. Every donation that’s made increases the likelihood that our city will remain the thriving center of art that it is today. You will help to make sure that theatres are able to pay those who have already contributed their talents and skills to these projects. That will help to keep them involved in the arts.

Aside from donating your tickets rather than receiving a refund there are other ways you can help financially. Go to your favorite theatre’s website, most will have a button you can click on to make a donation, do so. Here is a link to Springboard to the Arts, they have a Personal Emergency Relief Fund that helps Minnesota Artists, this fund is going to need additional resources to meet the coming needs. If you want to help financially but are not sure which theatre to donate too, this is an excellent option. We’re all going to be facing our own challenges in the weeks, possibly months ahead. I think it’s important as we socially distance ourselves for the immediate future but keep in mind the importance art plays in our world and take a little time to remember those who bring it to us. It may not seem important in this time of global crisis, but we are weathering this storm so that we can return to our world in safety. But that world will be much less fulfilling if we haven’t cared for those communities that make it a richer more satisfying place. As we necessarily turn inward, let us remember to not turn our backs.