The Night Alive at the Jungle Theater

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I had acquired some gift certificate tickets to a show at Jungle Theater in the LynLake area some months ago, but, as is my wont, I ended up waiting until the last minute to use them. The first show I had the chance to see at the Jungle, it was doozy. The Jungle’s last show of the season, The Night Alive, was definitely a good choice to see. Written by a prominent contemporary Irish playwright, Conor McPherson, and directed by Joel Sass, this was an intense, powerful piece, one that will really stick with the audience. Bleak but funny, philosophic and hopeful, there are scenes that will shock, amuse, and enrapture you.

Set in Dublin and involving a cast of down on their luck characters trying to get by, trying to help out, the actors and the set work really worked together to bring the play to complete life; the gasping of the audience the only thing drawing you back into the theater. The set design of the Dublin apartment where the proceedings go down are so full of detail, and the lighting changes behind the windows capture flawlessly the change of light through a day and through the seasons, it really felt like being there. I’d definitely recommend checking out the Night Alive while it’s still at the Jungle.

The last few shows will be this Friday and Saturday at 8:00 and this Sunday at 2:00 and 7:30.

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Ornate lighting inside Jungle Theater

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She Kills Monsters at the Playwrights Center

 

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Playwrights’ Center, on a chill November night, perfect for some D&D!

I’ve been meaning to write a more in depth article, but the Twin Cities has always had a strong population of geeks, nerds, and other weirdoes, a scene of which I have some familiarity. This was illustrated by a fine theatrical production I was lucky enough to see the other night, She Kills Monsters, at the Playwrights’ Center on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis.

Written by Qui Nguyen for performance in New York, and directed by Philip D. Henry of Six Elements Theatre for its first Minneapolis production, this was a nostalgic, hilarious, bittersweet, and touching account of role playing games, relationships, and grief. A sold out show, the house was packed and ready for some

After the death of her eccentric teenage sister in a car accident, Agnes Evans, the self-described normal person, attempts to get to understand her sister better through her home-brewed AD&D module, enlisting the aid of local nerd, DM Biggs, to run her through the game. The play deals with some pretty heavy themes as she gets to know things about her sister she had missed; sexual orientation, bullying, and guilt, but the play’s great sense of humor and mid 90s setting bring joy as well. In particular, as she embarks on a journey of imagination with her sisters’ party, whom she discovers is based on her friends, the actors engage in some great stage combat with awesome looking fantasy swords and a host of everyone’s favorite D&D monsters, from kobolds (DiTerlizzi style!), mind flayers, gelatinous cubes, and, of course, beholder. The set design was also great, down to the battle map hexagons on the floor.

While there is plenty of such in jokes regarding D&D and nineties pop culture, it is also well crafted to be an introduction to such arcane topics and doesn’t delve too deeply into self-reference, taking on broader themes. She Kills Monsters is an ode to the healing power of imagination and a great way to get people who may not really get the appeal of such fun, weird games to see what it’s all about. It also helps that the actors each bring their roles (and rolls, because of course we’re gonna have dice) to life, making it the most fun production I’ve seen this year! In particular, Jessica Smith as Agnes and Samatha Smith as her nerdy, headstrong sister Tilly, and Aaron Ruder as Chuck, aka “DM Biggs,” really nailed their characters. The post-show discussion was also a great way to find out some interesting background information about the development of the show

If Six Elements ever embarks on an encore performance of She Kills Monsters, you should totally check it out!

Autoptic Festival (and others)

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Aria and the Alliance Francaise, site of Autoptic Festival 2015

Another busy weekend, but for me, by far the highlight was the Autoptic Festival,  a two day festival of independent cartoonists, zines, and other graphic art culture. Perfect for an MSP Reading Time adventure. Started in 2013, this was the first time I’ve attended, though I was only able to attend the first day, I will most definitely return next year. The DIY ethos of the artists, writers, musicians, and others who packed the old warehouse of Aria in the North Loop was inspiring to me and really resparked my desire to try my hand at some comics of my own (in spite of my own lack of drawing background). It was almost overwhelming how many awesome people and creations were being shared.  Held in conjunction with MCAD’s week long comic residency program Pierre/Feuille/Ciseaux, an experimental comics workshop which invited cartoonists from across North American and Francophone countries to collaborate in cartooning, the event celebrates the possibilities of comic art. The Minnesota comics scene has been really interesting and Autoptic is a perfect celebration of this dynamic and wonderful artform, and its great that our city plays host.

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Interior of Aria, Autoptic Festival exhibitions

 

I biked downtown on Saturday morning to see what was happening, having not attended Autoptic before. The event was free to the public, and full of really interesting programs, exhibitions, special guests, and art. Two of my favorite cartoonists, Gabrielle Bell and Jillian Tamaki discussed their comics, and independent comics in general. Listening to this conversation was the highlight of the day for me.

Bell’s work has been a favorite of mine for five or so years, with her self-deprecating memoir and semi-autobiographical comics, especially The Voyeurs and Truth is Fragmentary. I find her both her ability to express everyday thoughts with such elegance and her use of magic realist elements to illustrate these feelings to be fascinating and her use of travelog to be a major influence.

Jillian Tamaki’s work has really impressed me as well, and I recently read, and loved, her webcomic Super Mutant Magic Academy, with fandom parodies and absurdist comedy. Of course, I also was wowed by her Caldecott winning graphic novel, This One Summer, written with her cousin Mariko Tamaki, finding it to be a very evocative and thought-provoking look back at the confusion, joy, and fear of childhood.

In their conversation, I was particularly struck by Tamaki’s comment regarding how it doesn’t really matter what the comics look like, but how effective the message is. Of course, her art is beautiful, but it is still inspiring to those of us who are still working on their art, as it were. Bell’s comments on how the internet greatly expanded her ability to share her work were also very interesting, as I toy with the idea of getting more of my own work out there.

Of course, I really identified with both of their statements on how they first were introduced into the comics scene; through newspaper comics, Archie, and Mad Magazine. For a long time, I never really considered myself a fan of comics, having never gotten into the superhero type that seems to be what people think about when the word comes up, but then I thought, too, how big an influence Calvin and Hobbes and the Far Side were upon me growing up, and how much I enjoyed those comic versions of classic literature. There are so many different ways comics can express the human condition.

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Portrait by Gabrielle Bell

Later, I listened to the idiosyncratic cartoonist Charles Burns talk about his artistic style, seen in his most well known work, Black Hole and, most recently, his X’ed Out trilogy; his work has always been a little hard to approach for me, but fascinating, and I love his art style and his  melding of everyday suburban banality with grotesque, monstrous horrors; interesting how well they pair…

There were some interesting parallels brought up by an audience member too between Burns’ work, which reimagines mid-century kitsch and pop culture (romance comics, Tintin, etc.) with that of Mark Mothersbaugh, a child of same generation who also refurbishes pop culture into new, and bizarre, configurations.

In addition to picking up a nice selection of rare, limited edition comics and art, I was extremely lucky to get my portrait done by the fabulous Gabrielle Bell herself! I always feel so awkward chatting with authors, but I now have an awesome new picture for my social media accounts. I am writing more about the comics I read, discovered, and devoured on my BookLikes blog, Reading Rainstorm. Also, check out my sister’s take on the event at her comics blog, I’m Reading Comeeks! We were both wowed.

A lot was happening on Saturday in downtown Minneapolis; after heading out of Autoptic, I went a few blocks down the street to check out the Pizza Luce Block Party, also for the first time. A hot, humid day for some hot music, hot pizza, and some cold beer and ice cream. This, too, was free to get in to enjoy the music, though of course you could spend plenty on the refreshments. Izzy’s ice cream is always good, especially on a hot day, and I also tried out some of Summit Brewing’s new Make It So, and extra special bitter infused with Teasource Earl Grey. Beer and tea? Of course I had to try it, and it was a rich, wonderfully citrus beer I will definitely have again. After listening to Minneapolis bands Tiny Deaths and Pink Mink, and enjoying the people watching, I headed to the next thing.

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Pink Mink perform at the Pizza Luce Block Party 2015, in downtown Minneapolis.

Finally, over the weekend I also checked out a couple more Fringe Festival shows before the end of this years fest; The Morning Meal Society and Too Punk to Care. Each of these were great ways to end off the Fringe Fest season. The Morning Meal Society was a irreverent and political parody of The Breakfast Club and ‘80s culture in general, performed by the Young Artists Council of Youths, all under 18! Quite interesting to see the group take on this nostalgic culture that existed before they were born, and use it to reflect their own concerns in 2010s America. Basically, it has everything the Fringe goer is looking for (they say so themselves!).

Too Punk to Care was one of my favorites, the actors debating and fighting as they attempted to pin down the meaning of punk in the Minnesotan hinterlands, starting up bands, playing instruments, and belting obscenely hilarious jokes.  The mayonnaise guy was particularly disgustingly funny. Personally, I’d rather go for some lutefisk than mayo straight from the jar! From the use of a zine for the show’s program, to the song lyrics and the frenetic instruments, the DIY ethos of punk came through very strong, and I was really impressed with the music, too.

August Activities: The Fringe Festival, block parties, and others…

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WCCO Building, Nicollet Mall; the red letters mean it’s getting hotter, right?

There was an interesting article on MinnPost last week, discussing the place of “service journalism” in local television news segments, specifically WCCO’s “Goin’ to the Lake.” To be honest, I haven’t really watched TV lately, but I grew up watching WCCO as my parents favored local nightly news and recall the station with a certain fondness. If I recall, the local news oftentimes devoted a high percentage of their broadcast times to advertising new deals and quirky new things happening around the cities.  Of course, all of is this is to promote commercial activities in the state, rather than foster an  informed public kept up to date with political and current events; it’s all just self-celebratory back patting, isn’t it?

Then, I realized that’s kind of what I do; by “reporting” some of the fun stuff I enjoy, I am celebrating consumerism; though at least it is all mostly local, and is spending money on experiences rather than just stuff. As a history major who never took any formal journalism courses, I had not even thought of my writing as being in any way journalistic, still, I am pretty much engaged in, advising on the things I find out about, mainly just to have something to write about (and, to be honest, a little bragging rights, probably.)  Don’t even get paid for it!

And here we go into a busy month for stuff happening in the Twin Cities, including some of my favorites, like the Fringe Fest. We’ve got one more weekend left of the 2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival, and I’ve seen some pretty awesome shows so far! If you can, check a few out.

I started with a couple of hilariously nerdy ones, No Extra Lives and Kamehamehamlet, both at the Nimbus Theatre in Northeast Minneapolis. No Extra Lives was an ever evolving sideshow extravaganza celebrating classic video games and the extremes to which a human body can be subjected, that pretty much exemplifies what I love about the Fringe. Oops! The Entertainer subjects himself to all manner of impressive and humorous punishment for our entertainment, along with a cavalcade of retro video game puns- the segues between his acts, featuring video game discussions and linking them to his acts, are great buffers for the audience (and Oops!) to recover from the last bout of derring-do. The classic video game tunes played live were great, too.

Kamehamehamlet: Goodnight Saiyan Prince was, a bizarre nostalgic celebration of late ‘90s anime action, melodrama, and pathos as the nefarious but insecure Freeza debates and then murders the pompous but also insecure Saiyan Prince, Vegeta. They mock each other’s pun names and debate each others power levels and true forms. It is all appropriately over the top and bombastic, and quite hilarious to see the show’s epic battle scenes and alien landscapes replicated through the low budget props on stage. This one is probably most effective if you grew up in ‘90s as a fan of anime, or at least know someone who did!

I went to a few more over on the West Bank, at the Mixed Blood Theatre and the Theatre in the Round, respectively. My favorite show I’ve seen so far was definitely Melancholy London, adapted from a tale by Arthur Machen, a British master of the weird tale. Adapted by Tim Uhren, this was an eerie, taut piece with a lot of and great acting; the accents, in particular, seemed spot on. I don’t want to say anymore about the plot, which leads to some very chilling places and ends in a deliciously open ended way, in order to allow others to experience the twists and turns of this weird tale. I definitely need to read some more of Machen’s writing.

The next play, “And then…” was also interesting, allowing audience participation to choose in which direction the adventure goes, via voting. The set ninjas were a great idea in this play, in which two characters tried to discover their dreams as the audience determined in which direction their lives went, with the moral seeming to be that one should just go with the flow and see where life takes them. After all, who ever got anywhere with a Masters degree in Philosophy anyway? Much better to move to Florida with no plan, right?

It was interesting that both of the West Bank plays involved the vagaries of fate and coincidence, with one taking a dark, fatalistic take and the other an upbeat, positive interpretation. Both of them, coincidentally, quoted William Butler Yeats. Another one to add to the reading list!

There’s one more showing of each this Saturday; Kamehamehamlet at 2:30 on Saturday, and later, No Extra Lives at 8:30 at the Nimbus, Melancholy London at 2:30 at the Mixed Blood Theatre and And then… at 4:00 at the Theatre in the Round. Of course, there are over a hundred and seventy shows to choose from, so go see some different ones, too!

So, a lot of other fun things are happening in the coming weeks as well; a host of block parties, taking advantage of the last few months of dependably warm weather, are popping up to turn various Minneapolis streets into party zones, including the Pizza Luce Block Party tomorrow and the Mia Birthday Block Party at the Minneapolis Institute of Art on Sunday. So, everyone’s heard about the new branding on Mia, right? Service journalism! Both look fun and have free admission, and involve all that good stuff, like music from local bands, food from local food trucks, and other activities. I am particularly enthused for Mia’s 100th birthday event, which will close 24th Street in front of the museum and offer a lot of free stuff to do, including making your own art.

Next week is the fourth annual Internet Cat Video Festival at the Walker Art Center. I’ve been meaning to go for the past few years, but this will be the first time I’ll manage to make it, so I’m curious (like a cat!) to see what it’s all about.  Next Saturday is the Garlic Festival, just outside the metro in Hutchinson, celebrating my favorite allium, garlic! If you want to get enough local garlic to keep your food well seasoned all winter, this is a good festival to go to. I went a few years ago and there was a lot of fun stuff going on there, so I’m looking forward to seeing it again. The weekend after, the Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival returns to Como Park, which I wrote about last year, is still an annual summer tradition for me and I’m excited for this year’s Obon, especially with my own upcoming trip to Japan scheduled for September.

I’ll be reporting the scoop on these and more events as the month progresses.

Moth St. Paul Story Slam at the Amsterdam

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The Moth Story Slam: Adventure theme begins at the Amsterdam, May 2015

So, back in May, I attended the monthly Twin Cities branch of the Moth Radio Hour, performed at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall in Downtown St. Paul. The Amsterdam seems to have become one of my favorite venues in recent months, with a pretty good beer list and some delicious Netherlands style Frites.

The Moth, “True Stories Told Live,” is one of my favorite events there. Coinciding with events in locations throughout the nation and the world, the Moth celebrates the “art and craft of storytelling,” by inviting people to step up to the mike to share their own stories, based on a chosen theme. I am big follower of the Moth Story Hour NPR radio show and podcast, and I find storytelling in general to be a very interesting and dynamic genre. When your own life is dull and mundane, how fun is it to live vicariously (and learn) by listening to others. What a great way to gain insight into other viewpoints, lives, and experiences and learn how others transform their dull and mundane lives into interesting and affirming tales. Some of the stories are heartbreaking, some are hilarious, and some bridge the gap between these; some are action-packed, some languid. All are wonderful.

At each Moth event at the Amsterdam, the audience is invited to write their name down and throw it into a hat to be randomly drawn to perform at this month’s show. A few rules are provided, as expressed on the sign here.

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The rules…

The theme at the Amsterdam in May was Adventure, a fitting one for me, of course, though in spite of a few beers, I did not have the confidence, quite yet, to step up and throw my name into the hat. There were a lot of exciting, funny, and affecting pieces shared, from road trips, camping in Alaskan bear country, among others. The favorite piece is then voted upon by the audience and submitted to this years’ Moth Grand Slam, which I wrote about last June, and a chance to even appear on the radio show/podcast!

The next show is on Wednesday this week, with a theme of Balance, “maintaining equilibrium in a board room or on a surf board.” I’ve made it a goal this year to throw my name into the hat at some show this year; we will see if that happens!

Amsterdam Bar and Hall, 6th and Wabasha, St. Paul. Easy walking distance from St. Paul Central Station Green Line, parking lot available across street. Moth Story Slam tickets $8 online, $10 at door. Doors open at 6:30, stories start at 7!

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Amsterdam Bar and Hall

Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play at the Guthrie

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View of the Mississippi River from the Guthrie Theater’s cantilever.

One of the facts that people always bring up about the Twin Cities is that we have more theater seats per capita than anywhere else outside of New York City. I am not sure if this is completely true, but it is a statistic that certainly rings true to me. We have so many venues for the performing arts throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul that it can be difficult to keep track of whats all playing, and people really see a lot of plays around here. Probably the most prominent is the Guthrie Theater, the feather in the Twin Cities performing arts’ cap, the big, fancy blue hulk rising up out of the old milling district by the river, inviting the whole city to consider seeing some cutting edge drama. Last week, I made a second visit to the Guthrie to see a show I had been interested in since I read about it premiering in New York a few years ago, the “post-electric” fable, Mr. Burns, by playwright Anne Washburn.

I was excited to find out that playwright  was making a Minneapolis stop, and quickly snapped up some tickets to a “preview performance“, which is a great way to see the show without forking over some major cash. Often half the cost of seeing a performance later in the week, it is also a cool way to see how performances change as well. “Mr. Burns” has a fascinating premise, even for such a lax follower of the Simpsons as myself, one that grabbed me from the second I read about it. While I am not the biggest Simpsons fan, I must admit, I am friends with many people who are so, like the character Gilbert, I can recall a lot without having even seen the show. This may be how a lot of oral culture evolves…

After a suitably vague global catastrophe renders much of America depopulated and lacking working technology, a group of people gather together for protection and begin to reminisce about so much of the pop culture they lost; specifically, the Simpsons episode “Cape Feare,” which itself is a treasure trove of nostalgic parody of other pop culture. We then see the evolution of these memories as the years progress, until, nearly a century later, they’ve morphed into an oral culture preserving aspects of the “time before” and its fall for the descendants of our culture. It makes me wonder how “classics” such as the Odyssey or Beowulf evolved over centuries. The actors do a great job presenting this casual, but fraught, discussion, especially in the earlier acts, and the epic musical finale, the descendant dramatic play, was an eerie, and effecting elegy of our culture after its death. It dovetailed quite well, eerily well, with a certain post-apocalyptic turn I’ve taken in my reading of late, an interesting use of nostalgia and imagination to think of the apocalypse, a theme I saw again and again in dystopic literature.

Rehearsal performance or not, the actors really sold the performances of the play, a dark, melancholy reflection of our current preoccupations with pop culture and fear of the future. There are definitely a lot of funny moments, as befits a show premised on people , but there is also a lot of pathos, and definitely a lot to ponder after having seen the show.  I also enjoyed the “localization” of the setting, citing worries of nearby nuclear power plants in Monticello and Prairie Island melting down.

I would definitely recommend seeing Mr. Burns at the Guthrie while you can. I often know a lot about various episodes without actually having seen them, by piecing together quotes and scenes recited by others.  Definitely check it out before it’s over!

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Sunset over Minneapolis

Huge Theater: Creature Feature, Survivors of the Undead Plague, Dungeons and Dragons: The Improvised Campaign

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Poster!

Over the last week or so, fall is definitely in the air. While autumn does not officially hit until next week, chilly temperatures (or “crisp,” if you prefer) has settled over Minnesota and the smell of dry leaves and the coming winter frost has crept into the evening breezes. While a few cicadas are still buzzing in the trees, a tinge of color has appeared in the leaves of few of them. I can leave my windows open without my papers curling on the table from humidity, which is nice.

The fall season is definitely already here at Huge Theater, among the premier practitioners of improv comedy in the Twin Cities, as beginning the first Friday in September, they have started their spooky autumn Friday line up of Creature Feature, Survivors of the Undead Plague, and the Bearded Men’s Dungeons and Dragons: The Improvised Campaign. It was a great opening for the season and I will be buying tickets again this fall; after all, every show is new, and no two are ever the same!

After seeing the rotating cast performing at venues from the Bryant Lake Bowl and the Brave New Workshop, Huge opened it’s new venue at 3037 Lyndale South in 2010 and have been rocking the improv there since. Specialists in long form improvisation, unscripted theater, in which anything can happen, the various shows offer comedy and action from a variety of genres. It is among my favorite forms of theater, and it is always great to see hilarious, gripping, and thought-provoking stories evolve from a few audience suggestions and the imagination of the actors. While Huge shows are great all year, I have always particularly enjoyed their spooky styled fall shows. They will be running the rest of September and October.

The three Friday shows are great ways to celebrate the coming of Halloween, with their focus on horror, fantasy, and silly costumes. Creature Feature has been on the Twin Cities improv scene for more than a decade, and has found a good home in Huge. An improvised monster movie and sequel, with a random, bizarre monster, this time the actors had to deal with the horror of an invisible dinosaur, “Dino See, Dino Kill!” After introducing each of their characters, along with suitably absurdest motivations. Another favorite, Survivors of the Undead Plague riffs on zombie movies, complete with plenty of gun play and desperate survivors attempting to survive waves of the walking dead- the trio of Buffalo Wild Wings employees and their quest to survive in the BWW bunker in Austin was among the funniest of the night. Finally, the Dungeons and Dragons Improvised Campaign, performed by the Bearded Men group, brought back some great nostalgic memories of gaming in the basement. Complete with die rolling to accomplish actions (to allow for dramatic criticals and critical fumbles) and capes, our half elven and half orcish ranger and druid rode a shape changing horse to try to save a floating island, The live musical accompaniment and sound effects throughout the three shows were great, too, and I particularly loved the bucket splash effect for blood effects. All of the actors

The shows start at 8:00 and go until midnight. $18 will get you into all three. The Huge offers shows every day except Tuesday. The Saturday show this fall, Twin Cities Secrets, also looks right up my alley; maybe I’ll see you there!

Huge Theater, 3037 Lyndale Avenue South

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Opening night at Huge Theater, September 2014, Creature Feature, Survivors of the Undead Plague, Bearded Men’s Dungeons and Dragons: The Improvised Campaign

 

 

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2014

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Rarig Center, Fringe Fest night at the U of M

Well, the Minnesota Fringe Festival is officially over, but it was definitely an interesting year. I managed to catch four shows across Minneapolis over the last two weekends, and each were, in their own ways, an adventure.

From the corporate spires of Downtown, to the trendy streets of Uptown, to the blocky grey edifices of the University of Minnesota’s West Bank (to mention a few), expectation defying productions spring up at theaters and venues over Minneapolis in the dog days of summer, as July turns into August. In the Twin Cities, we are known for our love and support for live theater, and no event showcases this tendency more than the Minnesota Fringe Festival, which this year showcased 169 different productions at 19 different venues, from a plethora of backgrounds, genres, styles, and art forms. There are shows for kids, shows for adults, and shows for adults who are kids. You could choose your favorites from among musicals, dance, improv, or drama. Whether you are looking for humor, horror, pathos, the sublime, the absurd, or the genre defying, there is something to peak just about any interest, even those whose interests are very, very specific.

I have been going since seeing a production of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls,” a one man show staged by local actor Tim Uren in the basement of the Mill City Museum in 2006, and it was so awesome I’ve been going back every year since. Every year was a surprise, and every year offers something completely different; I’ve seen musicals about giant balls of tinfoil and xenophobia, a mime production of Hansel and Gretel, an adaptation of Robert Anton Wilson’s, ”Mask of the Illuminati,” and a comedy about squirrels and self actualization.

According to the City Pages, the Fringe had a record amount of tickets sold this year. The four shows I saw (beating the general average of three shows seen in 2013) each had a totally different take on the art of drama, though it was hard to decided on just those four- there were at least six others I had wanted to see as well! This year included probably the least successful show I’ve seen as well as among the most successful, and in general, a fun time was had all around.

Here are some short reviews of the plays I saw, along with a nearby restaurant recommendation.

Amateur Hour by English Scrimshaw Theatrical Novelties

The first show I made it to was “Amateur Hour” at the Illusion Theater, tucked away on the 8th Floor of the Hennepin Center of the Arts on Hennepin avenue. Before the show, I enjoyed some delicious pomegranate gelato over on Nicollet Mall at the great little crepe place Le Belle Crepe. I’d recommend this place for lunch in downtown in particular, I stopped by a lot when I was working or volunteering downtown.

As for the show, it was a fun and amusing production that I enjoyed from beginning to end, a great opening to the Fringe. Featuring a cadre of dancers, comedians, and actors showcasing their evolution and background as performers and artists by showing off their juvenalia, the first dreams that nudged them onto the stage. Whether adorably awkward poetry, adorably awkward dancing, or adorably awkward and terrible jokes, everyone’s story was both heartwarming and also super funny, and it brought on some major nostalgia of my own early attempts at writing stories and plays. Should I even look back?

The Ohman Stone,” by It Works

Oh, the Ohman Stone. Oh man, the Ohman Stone. What to say? I basically HAD to go to this one, promising “THEE” most controversial show ever on the Fringe (debatable) as, during my time as a masters student of history, the Kensington Runestone was my chosen thesis topic. Like many people who happen upon this topic, I find myself intrigued by the weirdness around this roadside attraction. I could go on and on, believe me. This obsession was definitely evident in every minute of this play, which I believe could safely be called a “labor of love,” in which every cast member “put in their heart and soul,” so passionate were they towards the authenticity of the runestone (or KRS, to aficionados).

Hosted by Intermedia Arts on Lyndale, I enjoyed some delicious tea a few doors down at La Société du Thé, a great place to peruse an exhaustive list of loose teas as well as enjoy a pot of it. The show, sadly, was not quite so tasty. The story of the runestone, hoax or “authentic” is a rich vein to mine from, and a musical celebrating this Minnesota icon with ghosts seems a great idea, you betcha. However, in what could have been an amusing take on the ridiculous nature of the debate, there was instead a deep undercurrent of bitterness and spite running throughout the play.

I do not want to go into any long winded debates here, but suffice it to say, as a runestone skeptic (one of those horrible villains), this was an insulting, exploitative, heavy handed piece of pro-runestone propaganda. When they weren’t mocking people for not buying their conspiracy theories, they were pausing the proceedings to deliver preachy pedantic “power point” lectures that would glaze over the eyes of anyone, let alone someone who had never heard the story or its background. The bizarre and frankly creepy love story tacked on added nothing and seemed really out of place. The music seemed almost an afterthought to just repeating pro-runestone arguments to the audience, with the ghosts, romance, and afterlife motifs being mere set dressing. Sadly, while there was some nice music, the lyrics and dialog were often cringe worthy.

“The Ohman Stone,” I feel, will not change anyone’s minds who were not already decided on the topic; in fact, my friend who had never heard the stone prior to the event felt he was insulted by this one sided attack. Okay, enough about that!

The History of Minnesota Unscripted, by the Theater of Public Policy

I was very happy to see this show (again, because Minnesota history), and was excited to go down to the Bryant Lake Bowl, home of some great craft beers and a place where I’ve often seen some quality improv. I’ve seen the Theater of Public Policy before and was always impressed with their brand of political discussion and improvised humor and this was a great way to do it! Each show at the Fringe invited a different local historian to share a story of Minnesota history, which would then be riffed on and interpreted by the talented actors of the Theater.

I was lucky enough to be at the show hosted by Doug Hoverson, author of Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota. He told some fascinating stories about the history of brewing and beer in Minnesota, and I’m glad I picked up a pint of Steel Toe Sommer Vice to enjoy with the show. Nothing like a tasty beer while learning fun facts about the first brewery in Stillwater, Andrew Volstead, and the invention of malt liquor in Minneapolis (who knew?), the theater took Hoverson’s thought-provoking background and used to poke hilarious fun at Minnesota, our love of beer, and it’s changing status in the state. Who knows? Maybe next time they’ll be joking about how we used to not be able to buy beer on Sundays? You never know!

Twelfth Night by Rough Magic Performance Company

The last play took us to the U of M Rarig Center on West Bank, the home for us history majors at the U. For this one, I invited my parents, and after dinner across the river in Dinkytown at the great Wally’s Falafel and Hummus– I highly recommend checking this place out, and the tea, in particular, is great (served with fresh mint, sage, or other herbs).

As for Twelth Night, it was a funny, heartfelt, and intriguing take on Shakespeare, this was charming interpretation of the famous play, with what seemed to be some influence from Wes Anderson movies. Great customs, evocative acting, and sharp humor, this is really showcases the best of the Fringe.The gender bending and shifting romance were played up here, though one can definitely see the Shakespearean origin of “insta-love,” and it was all condensed into an hour. I would definitely see more Shakespeare interpretations from this team (sadly, I did not make it to it’s companion piece, What You Will, which may have explained the guy in the socks!). I will definitely look out for this group next year!

So, speaking of next year, the Fringe will be scheduled between July 30 and August 9, 2015. So go and check it out- tickets are $12 each, along with a $5 admission button that is used for all shows and also can get you discounts at other productions throughout the year- next year, I’m thinking about getting a 10 show pass and checking out even more shows!

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West Bank Arts Quarter, outside the Rarig on a warm August night

Moth Story Hour at the Fitzgerald Theater

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Still some dinosaurs near the old Science Museum.

As a history major who later, unexpectedly, obtained a masters in history on top of that, I love stories. It is the narratives of people and places throughout the ineffable expanse of time that really drew me into this field, more than the dates, and the names, the trappings. Stories that reflect on the human condition, what changes, what stays the same; how all of the stories of all of the people of the world are unique and how all of them reflect the unity of the human condition. This is probably why I am such a fan of This American Life, and of course, as I have no doubt already made clear, I am a big fan of themes. Also, the Twin Cities are one of the biggest markets for public radio.

Taking a look at the stories of place is another interest of mine, and the Twin Cities, Minnesota in general has, like many other places, a lot of stories. As I travel through the streets and sidewalks of Minnesota communities, I often find myself reflecting on what had happened there, what will happen in the future. How many other people stopped there? Stories of tragedies, stories of triumphs, and stories everywhere in between.  There are stories everywhere and I always find myself riveted by them.

I mentioned This American Life, but there is another great public radio program focusing on “true stories told live” that I have come to follow over the last few years, the Moth Radio Hour. Catching it on NPR on Sundays or downloading the podcast, I find the variety and diversity of the voices offered by the Moth to be amazing. Started in New York more than a decade ago, the Moth has been expanding and over the last year or so, has been recording shows in the Twin Cities. Sadly, I never was able to make it to one of their weekday shows at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall in downtown St. Paul.

Last Saturday night, though, my sister and I braved the chilly, empty streets of St. Paul to head to the Fitzgerald Theater where we attended the first Twin Cities Moth Grand Slam. Before the show began, we checked out some of the familiar landmarks of downtown St. Paul, the old Science Museum building which has recently been taken over, if you can believe it, by the Scientologists. Weird. The Fitzgerald Theater is one of my favorite places for live events in the Twin Cities, known of course for Minnesota’s own public radio show the Prairie Home Companion, and more recently, Wits, which is like Prairie Home Companion for the under 40 set. I’ve seen both, as well as Talking Volumes with such luminaries as Michael Chabon and Margaret Atwood. It was a pretty august location for the Moth Grand Slam.

At the Grand Slam, winners of previous Minnesota story slams slam off to be crowned the most awesome story teller in the state. The theme was “fish out of water,” so the storytellers were tasked with exploring a time in their lives in which they felt out of place, an outsider, out of their loop (I totally relate) Host Peter Aguero, a New Jersey native, quickly found himself feeling this as he became lost in the face of our Minnesotan inside jokes about muskies. Along with some fun audience participation, where members wrote down their own experiences to be shared with the theater by Aguero  (one of my contributions was read, which is always icing on the cake for me),  it was all in all a hilarious and heart rending show.

There were tales of deception in America Online, immigrants in Australia, venerable West Bank Minneapolis bars, and travels to France to be confronted by a naked intruder to a hotel room, among other great true tales of longing, worry, and humor. The audience, in turned, filled the theater with uproarious laughter and gasps of sympathy. The winner, Ward Rubrecht, told a very interesting story of his relationship to his sister after she converted to Orthodox Judaism.

In the meantime, I am totally inspired to brush up on my storytelling skills and try out some public speaking.

But, oh! I really cannot wait for this weekend’s events at Northern Spark, which is looking like it is going to be an awesome nocturnal adventure and will no doubt by out into the wee hours listening to music, participating in art and performances, and just people watching on the streets of Minneapolis. For those who have not been, I urge you to check out the beginner’s guide put together by MinnPost, which is a great place to start and hopefully I’ll see you there. Check it! I will be sharing some stories of my  experiences at Northern Spark in an upcoming post.