Congratulations to Nimbus Theatre! Last year, the company had to pull up stakes on their Northeast Minneapolis space after their landlord jacked up the rent. They've been in the wilderness ever since, searching for a new home, and they've been pretty tight-lipped about the whole process. No matter how many times I badgered them for answers, they never budged, which is good, because I need to recruit some people who really know how to keep a secret. I can't tell you what for, but let's just say that I believe that part of the plot of Ocean's 11 is possible in real life.
Then, just last week, Nimbus partially lifted the veil of secrecy and allowed a few of us chosen ones into the inner circle. We had been invited to join their dark coven in secret at a barbecue in (*gasp*) their new location! Unfortunately, I couldn't tell you all about it last week, because I swore a blood oath to them, binding my tongue to their cause, to keep the affair in the shadows until the time of the Great Announcement. Plus, it would have been kind of a jerk move to betray their trust after they gave me a brat, some potato salad, and that giant fruit kabob.
But, now, friends, you can become part of the circle, for Nimbus has finally officially announced their new location! It's still in Northeast Minneapolis, but this time they have twice as much space, and it's not right next to a railroad track. Looks like getting forced out by the landed gentry paid off this time. Hopefully, they'll be back in the business of being a Fringe venue next year.
The most wonderful time of the year
Speaking of the Fringe Festival: the Fringe Festival is almost here! Last week, we were treated to the first round of previews for the upcoming shows; and I just spent a nerve-wracking three minutes on stage downing alcohol and babbling incoherently in a mad attempt to plug my own show at the second round of previews.
Still being taught
Sometimes I feel sorry for the Guthrie. No matter what they do, nitpicking little bastards like me feel the need to take potshots at them at every turn. Under the new regime of the new Joe they have promised to start the long process of dismantling the metaphorical ramparts that the old Joe built around the big blue castle on the river. They're inviting the community up to the 9th floor. The new director of production is working to finally diversify the backstage staff. They're giving away an incredibly powerful meditation on race and performance for free. They seem to finally be doing everything that everyone has been begging them to do for decades.
But, despite its best intentions, our local giant can't help lumbering into another group of naysayers looking to say their nay. This time around, it's about the Guthrie's choice to put up the old Rodgers and Hammerstein chestnut South Pacific. So, yeah, the G is throwing a bone to their regular audience by putting up a big, brassy 70-year-old musical, but the Haj himself is in the director's chair and he thinks he can wring some life yet from this creaky old contraption. At first blush, I guess South Pacific is a good compromise between where the Guthrie has been and where they want to be: the Pulitzer prize-winning show is jam packed with songs that plenty of people know, and it also sneaks in a blow against racism in one of its signature songs, "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught."
But, the Don't Buy Miss Saigon Coalition is here to say "NOOOOOOOOO!"
Surely you remember the Don't Buy Miss Saigon folks? They were pushing back against the Ordway's decision to bring Miss Saigon and all of its troubling representations of Asian people back to the Twin Cities. They didn't stop the production, but they did get an apology from the Ordway, and they didn't go disband just because the Ordway promised not to do the show again. As it turns out, there are still plenty of plays that have questionable representations of Asian people, and they happen to think that South Pacific is one of them.
So, new Joe, you might want to have your apology pen ready to go. In the meantime, maybe the rest of us can think about, maybe, just maybe, picking a show that is actually from the modern time when we're setting to make a show that comments on our modern time. Or even making something new so that you know that it's of its time. It sounds crazy, I know, but it can work.
Or you can just set a Pokemon lure in your theater. That works, too.
The subject of today's political debate: politics
OK, America, I get it. You're scared silly. Everything is just going straight to hell, and this is the worst crisis in the history of our nation (except for all those other worst crises in the history of our nation that seem to happen every four years). I just got done watching the Republican National Convention, where I learned that Hillary Clinton is a transdimensional succubus that will devour the life-force of the planet if we don't clamp her in chains, and I am getting prepared for the Democratic National Convention, in which I will learn that Donald Trump is a seven-headed beast arising from the hoary depths to devour all in his hideous, gnashing maw. At this point, I have been reduced to a piteous mass of trembling fear and frothing hate. Perhaps it's time to ask myself the real question: "Why settle for the lesser of evils?"
In a brief moment of clarity, though, I stopped pissing myself in unrelenting terror to ask a more cogent question: "Why am I feeling this way?" I went to WebMD, and it told me that I have cancer, Crohn's disease and just a touch of the dropsy. After I spent six hours panicking about that, I looked at the news sources and discovered the more terrifying answer: theater.
Political theater, to be more precise. As I am reminded every four years when we go through the charade that is the major party conventions, this is all performance. It's meant to elicit gut-level responses and switch on our lizard brains. Huffington Post has been teaching me all about the political theater of Donald Trump. The Christian Science Monitor analyzed Ted Cruz's sly non-endorsement at the RNC as "Shakespearean," and the New York Times backed them up by saying which Shakespeare plays it reminded them of. (Hint: "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.") And, lest you leave thinking that the whole convention was some sort of carefully calculated pageant, the Washington Post wants you to know that it was more like an improvised farce.
I guess now that the original Hamilton cast is scattered to the winds and the only other thing we have to look forward to in the theater world is the resurgence of the hairy, prancing godbeasts we thought long ago vanquished, we are left with only the realm of political theater to obsess over.
It kind of sucks for our reputation as theater artists that the only time "political" and "theater" get paired together in the news media is when it's meant to roll off our tongues burning with an acrid taste of acid. Years ago, I was at an artist's retreat, working on writing a script, and I met a fairly famous and respected playwright, with whom I really had no business occupying the same space. He read my script-in-progress and said, "It's good. Very funny. Very political." I instinctively recoiled at the "political" portion of that comment, because I was trying to write something that felt intimate and personal and wasn't screaming an ideology at the audience, to which he responded, "No, no, no. All good theater is political."
The next day I got food poisoning, which has nothing to do with this story, except that the worst two days of my life were spent vomiting and crapping (often at the same time) in the same retreat center where luminaries like Truman Capote, Flannery O'Connor and David Foster Wallace had once written (which, now that I think about it, could be an apt metaphor for how American politics works).
My point is that I learned from this playwright that it's possible (and, indeed, probable) that you can make striking, cogent, lasting political statements in your work without beating your audience over the head with "POLITICS!" But, unfortunately, every four years we enter into lizard-brain mode, where every single sentence that any presidential candidate utters is stripped apart and analyzed at a molecular level to find all the clues that point to the way in which he or she will destroy you, your world and all that you hold dear.
We in the theater community are guilty of blatantly contributing to the political fear-mongering every four years as well. Mike Daisey is out monologuing it up about Trump. Every classical theater company in America is desperately twisting whatever Shakespeare play they were going to do anyway to be about Trump. If you take a quick spin through the nation's Fringe festivals, you find Trump and more Trump. Doing a search on the Minnesota Fringe Festival website for "Trump" brings back five different shows (though, to be fair, one of those is only there because it has someone who plays a trumpet).
So, brace yourselves, America. We are entering into the final act of our quadrennial pageant. I hope you went to the bathroom at intermission, because it will last a little more than the next three months.
All this politicking does have real world consequences, though. The unbridled fear of terrorism that has been whipped up into a fine frenzy has made travel more and more difficult, and this can affect real people. For example, due to multiple misunderstandings in airports, actor Michael Caine was forced to change his name… to Michael Caine. It's always the little people who suffer.