High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Re-Seduced: Minnesota Fringe Festival, Day 2.

On Sunday, we once again rearranged dinner plans slightly to accommodate our theatre schedule. Also, Saturday was just a leeettle overindulgent on the food and booze front, so a later dinner was not a bad idea.

First up, Steampunk! Anyone who knows anything about me knows that a show called Robot Lincoln: The Revengeance (The Musical) is like crack tailored to my specific nerd receptors, so that was our first show on Saturday, back at the Thrust (STOLL!) stage at the Rarig Center. (See previous entry for bitching about the building, but liking the actual space.) As we waited in the traditional second of 2 lines, I tweeted gleefully about the warning sign outside the theatre (guns, strobe lights, adult language, and violence), and broke the rules about no photography (only realized that I was breaking a rule in retrospect; also I'm not sure taking a picture of my program counts as rule breaking, even though I was in the theatre) to capture the Best. Dramatis. Personae. Evar.

Sadly, the show itself was pretty disappointing. The "plot" was convoluted and there wasn't much in the way of fun dialogue. The performers were singing to taped music, which led to a lot of problems. (I feel like an utter shit mentioning that—my homeless, underfunded theatre group had to do the same with a production of Mother Courage and Her Children, and it was a nightmare.) On the plus side, the group seems to have paid a lot of attention to the design, and that paid off. Robot Lincoln's costume was terrific, and there were a number of other great visual touches.

The "love duet" between Booth and Robot Lincoln was everything I think the show could have been with more time and stability for the production. Jason Garton was terrific as Booth, and Libby Slater was hilarious as Mary Todd Lincoln (less so as "Uncle Samantha," but that character was a very sketchy).

From the Rarig Center we were off to the Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul for The Duties and Responsibilities of Being a Sidekick by The Barkada Theatre Project. Other than being a sucker for superhero stuff, we hadn't chosen this show for any particular reason, but I'm so glad we did. The show was really well written (an interesting, compact story—no mean feat with a maximum of 60 minutes), had great fight choreography, and the cast (featuring Randy Reyes, whom we'd loved in Brain Fighters on Saturday) was just great from top to bottom. Also, great pre-show and entr'acte music, even if they DID cut us off on the theme from The Greatest American Hero just when we were taking it to the bridge.

From the Gremlin back to Theatre Garage for Those Were the Days by Blue Umbrella Productions. TV themes arranged swing-choir style with a minimal, but well-done framing story? Yes please! Really great arrangements, great ensemble and solo work from the whole cast (I forgive the mishap with the Jem theme, though it is dear to my heart), fun choreography. I'm not sure I would have done the whole Eight is Enough theme, but it's not my show, now is it? Shutting up, sir.

And finally, back to the Thrust at the Rarig Center for The Smothers Brothers Grimm., by Comedy Suitcase. This was the show we'd rearranged our dinner plans for. It had some great highlights, especially the closing "silent film," but the whole show was uneven.

The framing premise involves Milton, a young boy (wonderful work by Andrew Moy) who has recently lost his comedy-obsessed grandfather, and whose parents are convinced that he is not dealing with the loss. The parents try to get him to sleep by telling fairy tales, but Milton insists on "punching them up like grandpa would." We get Hansel & Gretel as told by Laurel & Hardy. Our group was divided on this. I mostly liked it, but felt it went on a bit long (then again, it's Laurel & Hardy . . .). Next was Rapunzel a la I Love Lucy, which just felt awkward and as if there weren't a lot of there there. Bob Newhart responding to the 911 call from the Three Bears, suffered from not enough Bob Newharty goodness. Some of the interstitial stuff with the parents and lovable drunk uncle were really good, and some fell a bit flat. The epic silent Sleeping Beauty segment was epic.

I was hit really hard by the realization that my fun at Fringe was over. I'm still trying to talk myself off the ledge of crazy renewal of my involvement in theatre.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Songwriter's Navel: Week 26, In Which I Write a Happy Song About Eschewing Unhappiness

Recording (I'm out of practice at everything. Be gentle.)

Behind again. Got a summer cold. (And I am a giant baby.) Then my grandmother died. (She was 94, lived independently until about 2 weeks before her death, and was fully with it until about 12 hours before the end—so, as ways to go go, not bad.)
This leaves me not just temporally behind, but 2 songs short for the session, striking fear into my heart.

The Kernel gave us a bunch of "-ing" phrases (e.g., "standing on the corner of bitter and fine">) to use in our lyrics, or we could make up our own "ing" phrase to use. For musical requirements, we were to establish a pattern of 2 or 3 chords, then move the same pattern up a step, a 3rd, or a 4th.

I got a "participant" trophy on this one. I misunderstood the instruction about the portable chord pattern. We were supposed to keep the same tonality, so if the pattern was major chords like C to F, then the moved chords should also be major (e.g., C to F, then D to G), so that the song would have an interval-based pattern, rather than being tied to a key. My song was all in 4ths, but the way I used them resulted in it being a boring old song in C. I also didn't use any of the provided phrases, nor did I really "get" that the "-ing" phrase was meant to be the hook.

It's been nearly a month since I wrote this, so it's challenging to recall how the lyrics came together. Looking at my notebook, I note that this started from a SUPER-EMO place with the image of an open door looking like a square of blackness on a very bright summer day. I was certainly working the -ing words, as I have dozens written down. I guess the phrase "wasting light" came early, and I've just remembered that initially the "hook" was going to be "wasting light on the likes of you."

Oh, yes. Now I remember.

So I mentioned during the dark days of Hall and Oates that I had unwelcome communication from someone and was toying with the freeing sensation of torching one's identity and escaping such things. That situation from the past has been on my mind (and showing up in my anxiety dreams). The responsibility for the unpleasantness that ensued (and apparently continues to ensue) is on someone else, but I wondered if I had handled things differently . . . well, you know the drill. Without telling a long, boring story that even I don't want to revisit: I was very unhappy for a while, something happened that reminded me that being happy is pretty cool, and I decided to stop being unhappy. That's how the story really goes, even if I thought it went differently in the past.

As soon as I started to revisit that sensation of suddenly remembering what it felt like not to be unhappy, though, the "on the likes of you" part seemed out of place in the song, but it kept trying to creep back in. That was interesting in and of itself, because the music that started to take shape was very light and tripping. Bright and lots of motion. And it started to feel like the song was like THIS < instead of like THIS >. That will make sense to no one except my classmates, but Paul Simon talks about the necessity of writing FROM a specific point in such a way that you have lots of possibilities for what can be included in the song, rather than progressively shutting down possibilities by trying to write TO a specific point. Including the line "on the likes of you" was personal, petty, closed off, and not that interesting.

The first verse:

Breathing in the dawning day (chords are [SHOCKER!] a split measure C-to-F vamp)
Tilting back my head to catch (full measure each of Em and Am with the chord change coming on the body part [See, that's I-to-IV, too, but minor and therefore missing the point of the assignment]).
The moment spilling brilliantly (return to the C-to-F vamp)
Everlasting resolution to (Dm to G vamp [I-to-iv vamp])
Stop (Ascending C to G in split meausures, so C, Dm, Em, F, G)

So, having patted myself on the back for writing to the possibility, rather than the specific point, let me admit that I got locked into several things. I became stubborn and insistent that the second line of the verse had to have a body part. Why? Who knows. If I wanted to justify it, I suppose I'd say that I wanted to convey the sense of being so completely out of practice at something that your body feels awkward and alien. Hmm . . . that actually makes some sense.

Verse 2:

Sounding out forgotten words
Lifting up my palms, to gather
Fleeting joys and passing fancies
Making good on good intentions to
Stop wasting light

So the second verse is very like the first, structurally. Body part in line 2 and every line beginning with a gerund, save the last, where the gerund "wasting" is drawn out over the ascending chord line. I never do that drawn-out vowel sound thing, though I like it in lots of the music I consume. For some reason it scares me. Anyway, I like it here. Profound? No. Pleasing? At least to me.

Verse 3:

Stumbling through what might have been
Falling to my knees, to thank
Yesterday for moving on
Singing out my resolution to
Stop wasting light

Ooh, I broke my own rules! No gerund starting line 3. What's this verse about? Gratitude to chance, I guess. Above, I said I decided to stop being unhappy. I suppose that's true, but I don't know that I would have (or if I would have, how long I would have remained mired in the unhappy situation) without the precipitating event, for which I can't claim a lot of credit.

Now. Nobody called me on this, but look! It's a bridge after 3 full verses, with only one verse after that! Any fool knows the bridge should come earlier in the song. I don't know. It felt like it should go here.

Drifting past such simple gladness (Am to D split-measure vamp)
Slipping into sorrow, passing through (Em to Bm split measure vamp)
At last (End on full measure of Am to full measure of F)

I did get caught on the bridge not sounding distinct enough from the verses, and that was a fair cop by my classmates. I tried to remedy that in the way I recorded it, but I think it still needs something more. Oh, I just also remembered that I distracted everyone from questioning the placement of the bridge by cleverly questioning its length. In the process, I made the Kernel feel bad for implying that bridges had to be a specific length. He's never implied any such thing, although he has noted that individual bridges I have written are too brief. I suck at bridges. (He has also never said that, just so we're clear.)

Final verse!

Wandering, I am wandering
Slipping off the path, to chase
Laughter tripping off my tongue
Pressing on, no hesitation, and I
Stop wasting light, I
Stop wasting light, I

Oh, right! I had another rule. That "-tion" word near the end of the 4th line. I'm a wreck of rules.

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Monday, August 08, 2011

Re-Seduced: Minnesota Fringe Festival, Day 1

So, I used to do theatre, right? And then, quite a while ago, I broke up with it. Mostly. I mean, sure, I have been doing reviews, but that's safe, right? I mean, it's not like I'd go crazy and see 7 plays in two days and then desperately miss doing theatre, right? RIGHT?

Insert insane cackle here.

So I went to Minneapolis for my bunny-faced friend's birthday, and this just so happens to coincide with the first weekend of the Minnesota Fringe Festival: 168 plays, each no more than 1 hour long, running in rotation at 18 different venues. Um . . . ok, when I write that out, I don't sound like someone committed to recovery and breaking with my codependent ways . . .


We were set up with a 10-show pass and 3 buttons initially, and on Saturday, we were headed to Intermedia Arts for I'm Making This Up as I Go on Saturday afternoon. It was not the most auspicious beginning. The crowd was small and the sets were . . . of uneven quality . . . however, the last comedian, Mike Lester, was bizarre and quite funny.

Next, we were off to the Minneapolis Theatre Garage for Vampire Lesbians of Sodom by Brazen Theatre. I'm pretty sure I saw this show in Chicago more than a dozen years ago, but couldn't remember much about it. Having refreshed my memory, that's not surprising—it's a funny concept with a lot of potential, but the show itself is a bit ho-hum. As for the production: Its wigs were truly magnificent and Mark Hooker/Margo Caprice was fantastic as one of the titular sinners. In fact, he was so fantastic, I nearly failed to suppress my fan-girl-itude when we saw him 112 Eatery later that night. (Fear not, my pathological introversion raced to the rescue once again, and he and his companion were left in peace.)

The highlight of Saturday was definitely Brain Fighters by Joking Envelope on the Thrust stage (aka STOLL!) at the Rarig Center on the U of M's campus. As you can see from the linked photo, this building was forged in the bowels of architectural hell.

When we arrived, there was a line out the door for securing tickets (the system for multi-show pass holders was to hand over the pass for the appropriate number of punches in exchange for tickets), and then we had to trudge through the belly of the beast to wait in a second line into the theater. With no real sense of how big the venue was, we were worried—so worried that we did not get ice cream from the ice cream truck, despite my having loudly yelled "ICE CREAM TRUCK!" upon seeing it. I had tweeted a couple of pictures of the lines and made public my fear of missing the show, but the lovely Sara Stevenson Scrimshaw responded to say that we should not fear, as the theater was large.

And it was! Despite the building being ugly and having nothing resembling a plan for flow of actual people, the space was great and the show was greater. It's a three-person, all-ages show written by Joseph Scrimshaw, whom you may remember from such awesome cruises as JoCoCruise Crazy. (Can someone please tell me why Joseph Scrimshaw is not superextradoublefudgey famous?)

The script was funny and wonderfully paced. The three actors (JS himself, Randy Reyes [whom we'd have the pleasure of seeing in another great show on Sunday], and Mo Perry) worked flawlessly together and nailed the physical requirements of the story (ok, that sounds weird unless you know the plot, which involves being able to turn yourself into anything you can convincingly imagine). Oh, just go see it if you possibly can.

We'd initially had a dinner reservation that would have conflicted with Brain Fighters, but we rearranged our schedule to support our local Sea Monkey. This left us with a 9:30 reservation at the aforementioned 112 Eatery (and I would like to note once again that I DID NOT fangirl all over anyone there) and time to kill in between. We'd intended to go to Moto-I on Friday night, but we were seduced by champagne cocktails, chocolate chip cookies, yoga pants, and Ike, who thinks he is a lap dog.

The downtime between theater and dinner on Saturday gave us, as a group, time for sake and snacks at Moto-I, and me, as an individual, time to contemplate breaking and entering so that I could pet Casper the Great Pyrenees, who IS SO FLUFFY! Really enjoyed the sake flight at Moto-I (Junmai Nama Genshu was the best!), and the many yummy snacks we had that are lost to the mists of the sake flight and the Ginger Mistress.

Fear not, puppy lovers, I did eventually get to cuddle Casper (who, as previously mentioned, IS SO FLUFFY!), however briefly, before we headed to 112.
A word about 112 itself before getting to the good parts: Loud loud loud loud loud. LOUD. I wish that it weren't so loud.

We shared a bottle of a Turley Old Vines Zinfandel and continued our communist ways all through the meal. We had truly amazing scallops with oyster mushrooms, frog legs that are very nearly as good as those at Brigtsen's (I do not say this lightly), the 112 steak tartare (which kind of buried the lede, if one assumes the steak is the lede—it was weirdly chicken salad–like, and we wished we'd gotten it "unprepared"), and fried Shishito peppers (we liked Moto-I's version better). For our mains, we shared the prociutto ahi tuna (amazing), the stringozzi w/ lamb sugo (amazing fresh pasta, but the lamb didn't shine through), and the nori encrusted sirloin w/ ponzu (good . . . not great, though).

For dessert, the butterscotch budino (I don't like butterscotch at all, but this was relatively tasty), the lemon cheesecake, and . . . this is not good: I cannot for the life of me remember what I had. It was good. It was probably chocolate based. it is not on the menu they have up online. Olive oil chocolate cake! (Thank you, bunny-faced one!)

Ok, this is already a bit long, so I'll do Day 2 later on.

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