MN Opera twittergate, Workhaus-aholics, and TC Film Fest- it's news and notes

by Levi Weinhagen • Apr. 17

News and notes |

A jolly good day to you all!

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Apparently, the folks over at the Workhaus Collective have something to prove this week.

In the interest of full disclosure, and so I can pretend this writing has anything to do with journalism even though it absolutely does not, I should state that Minnesota Playlist’s Editor in Chief, Alan Berks, is a member of the Workhaus Collective. This usually causes me to avoid writing about Workhaus. Also, ignoring the work of Alan and his chums is the only way to show him he’s not the boss of me. But Workhaus Collective has too much going on this week for me to pretend not to notice them and instead try to frame a staging of the Righteous Brothers musical as a new work.

Jerome Fellow and McKnight grant recipient Christina Hamm had a play premiere this past weekend at Red Eye theater called ‘Crash Test Dummies.’ It looks to be about a self-destructive family, which is timely and maybe fun.

Playwright Jeannine Coulombe has a play called ‘The Mill’ opening this Friday at the Playwrights Center. ‘The Mill’ also focuses on a family in turmoil but it’s also got workers fighting a union. Maybe you’ll get to hear someone shout “SCAB.” Coulombe also has another play opening later in April at Stages called ‘Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.’ I assume it also revolves around a fractured family but that’s just a guess.

Workhaus members Gregg Moss and Tory Stewart also have plays opening this week at the Guthrie’s Dowling Theater. These plays were written specifically for the University of Minnesota’s 2012 BFA class to perform so it’s a chance to see new works as well as fresh faces that may show up more and more over the coming years.

In lieu of links to all the various shows and playwrights just head over to the Workhaus Collective website and you can get to any of these projects from there. Go to any of these shows and tell them Levi sent you and you’ll get a confused stare.

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The Minnesota Opera attracted some attention this past weekend with a fake live tweeting of the opening of their latest production of Madame Butterfly.

If you’re not up on Minnesota Opera’s twitter activity here’s a brief recap.
Prior to the start of the opening performance of Madame Butterfly they tweeted this:
“@MNOPERA Don't forget to tune in to our Twitter tonight! We've heard rumors that someone is sneaking in to the opening night of Butterfly to tweet...”

What followed was then a series of tweets throughout the run of the show meant to appear as thought they were being sent from someone watching the show. For a more thorough recap of the tone and content of the tweets I recommend reading the response written for the blog CakeIn15 by Carl Atiya Swanson.

Let me also say that if you operate a twitter account for any size organization it’s worth taking a few minutes to read the Cakein15 post as it’s full of helpful guidance on the dos and don’ts of twitter.

If you don’t have the time or the interest to read what Carl wrote, a tweet from Minnesota Opera the following morning captures at least some of the response to their tweets. They said: “@MNOPERA apologizes to any of you our experiment may have offended last night. Meant in fun, certainly not to minimize Puccini's masterwork.”

There were some interesting responses on twitter both against and in favor of Minnesota Opera’s twitter experiment. In so far as getting attention to the @MNOPERA twitter feed and starting a conversation on twitter I would say their experiment was a success. Which is the argument presented by Jay Gabler for his evaluation of the fake live tweet experiment in a write up on TC Daily Planet.

However, I have some objections to Minnesota Opera’s twitter experiment and not just in the ways eloquently and thoughtfully laid out by Carl, although I do agree with pretty much everything he wrote.

In a tweet responding to @CakeIn15 I described the @MNOPERA twitter experiment as cynical. In Jay Gabler’s write up in praise of the @MNOPERA tweets he used my quote describing it as cynical to respond to those who felt the experiment was “a cynical and condescending attempt to grab the attention of a young audience.” Large arts organizations desperately trying to appeal to young people is obnoxious and embarrassing but that was not the source of my objection.

When I said the Minnesota Opera twitter experiment was cynical what I was objecting to was how clearly Minnesota Opera’s twitter feed demonstrated they don’t think twitter is a legitimate or worthwhile outlet.

Perhaps I should explain what I mean.

The Minnesota Opera’s official twitter account as of this writing has posted 1,225 tweets in over three years. That’s just about 1 tweet a day. That’s not a lot. That’s the kind of usage you see from an organization using twitter largely for marketing their products. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But it means the person or people managing that twitter account probably haven’t gone beyond the basics of the medium. Again, nothing wrong with that. Then they decided to do something experimental on twitter. Despite limited experience and skill. Because twitter is just some dumb thing on the internet that no one really cares about. That’s cynical.

Because I’m someone who enjoys the beating of dead horses let me now extrapolate a bit and give another example to demonstrate why this bothers me. I like dance a lot. I like to go and see dance performances and I have occasionally danced myself, mostly at weddings and fake office parties. I have zero dance training and a dance skill level that accurately represents that level of training. I can keep a beat and am in decent cardiovascular shape but I have no business performing a piece of experimental dance theater.

If I were to put on a show of my experimental dances the audience would rightly be annoyed and confused, people who know even the basics of dance have every right to take offense, and at least one of my friends should smack me in the face. My doing experimental dance sends the message that I don’t think dancers have any real specialized skills and dancers who experiment and push the form are largely just mucking about. Even if my intentions were sincere it would be a cynical act.

Why am I spending so many words on this? To be completely honest it’s because the only thing that really offends me is people trying to be funny who aren’t.

If you are a phenomenal opera company that actually pushes the art form then focus your energy on that. If you’re doing work as well as Minnesota Opera does you don’t need to dress anything up by being clever or funny. If you want to tweet jokes hire a joke writer. If you want to make hipster jokes just stop because making fun of hipsters has already become boring and hacky. Besides, I don’t know any twitter jokes that can top “@MNOPERA CONGRATS to composer Kevin Puts for winning the Pulitzer Prizefor 'Silent Night' (which MN Opera commissioned and premiered in 2011)!!!”

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Recently on Facebook I posed the question- “As an actor, playwright, director, tech, designer, etc. what do you think about just before lights up?”
There was a wide array of responses. Here’s a snapshot.

Sid Solomon Logistics. Checking my fly, making sure my glasses are off (or on) as needed, etc.

JoAnn Schindler As a director...will the audience love it as much as I do??? They better!! :)

Jane Hammill-Golembeck "what's my first line?"

Will Conley "Bladder empty? Check."

Katherine Mary Engel I chant/meditate under my breathe to stay grounded/centered & concentrate on every moment, in the moment, as I tend to rush ahead in my mind otherwise - helps me to trust rather than second-guess.

Alison Anderson As an actor: "Wheee! I get to play now!"

Paul Reyburn "Crap! I have to pee again!!"

Autumn L'heureux As a tech person hoping my lights work and all props work smoothly....and all the actors get to their places on time...

Marie Cooney Sometimes I'm really sad that my 20 year career ended after a work related Traumatic Brain Injury. But then I remember the years during my recovery when I couldn't even attend shows as an audience member because of sensory overload due to the BI. Now, when I sit in an audience, I take a deep breath and feel alive again because I can attend shows again with some necessary precautions. The curtain opens, lights go, another story is told! Life is altered and changed post-BI, not ended. Thanks for producing "What's the Word For"!

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Another question posted on Facebook this past week was- “Is intermission for the audience or for the performers?”

I had honestly never wondered this before I asked it but I was reminded about how much happens during intermission by the responses.

Jeff Angell Bladders are only so big. Even Hamlet needs to pee.

Ben Kreilkamp The audience. I can't imagine a performer wanting to take a break in the action, but sitting and watching can be difficult.

Tobias Miller Sales!

Heather Baldwin Both, but I think mainly for the audience (esp if kids are in attendance). It really depends on the show and the theatre co. I stage managed a play last year that was 1:45 w/ intermission, and after two of our six performances, we all decided to nix the intermission, so the cast/crew could get home earlier.

Angelique Powers Don't forget the crew. Often major scene changes happen during the intermission.

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We’re in the midst of the Minneapolis/St Paul International Film Festival. Running from April 12th through May 3rd there are over 200 different things to watch.

You can see the work of a lot of Minnesotans in this years festival as well as stuff from all over the world.

I’m particularly interested in God Bless America directed by Bob Goldthwait and Of Dolls and Murder directed by Susan Marks.

Go here for showtimes and more detailed information - MSP International Film Fest

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I’d like to mention that we’ll be rolling out a few new essays and articles each week for the next few months so please give them a read and let us know what you think.

And if you’ve got something you’ve always wanted to write about don’t hesitate to let me know. I like ideas.

Hope you have a week with an empty bladder or a nearby bathroom

-Levi

Comments

Good points!

I've added an update to my blog post, considering your comments.

http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/arts/music/column/jay-gabler/minnesota-oper...

thanks

Jay-

Thanks for reading and responding.

Levi