Nuts & Bolts of Touring, with Seth Lepore

CAVEAT: I have known Seth on the Fringe circuit for several years now.

TITLE: Nuts & Bolts of Touring, with Seth Lepore
PRODUCER: Seth Lepore
HAILING FROM: Massachussetts
DESCRIPTION: Join performer, educator and constantly touring artist Seth Lepore for an intensive workshop on the Nuts & Bolts of Touring, covering essential topics like self-producing, insurance, networking, presenting organizations and funding.

When: Saturday, August 10, 10:00 am – 1:30 pm
Where: Nimubs Theatre, 1517 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN
Tuition: $30 Advanced registration at http://www.springboardforthearts.org/product/august-10-nuts-and-bolts-of-touring-with-seth-lepore/

Seth is one of those guys you see on the circuit who’s constantly asking questions. This is notable, when most of the rest of us have settled into our roles as jaded hipsters.

What I mean is, I’ve seen plenty of artists who turn their collective nose up at the business aspect of what we do, as though it somehow soils us, corrupts our creative integrity. (I’ve always had a hard time being patient with that perspective. Sure, everyone wishes their job just revolved around the fun, personally fulfilling stuff. Everyone wishes they could ignore the grunt work. They can’t, and neither can we.)

Seth never has, and he’s always turned a keen, analytical eye to the unique marketing problems that face touring professionals. He’s never hesitated to pull someone aside and pick through their years of experience. And he’s always understood one of the strangest aspects of what we do: that there’s no such thing as a business decision that isn’t also a creative decision, and vice versa.

If you’ve ever toyed with the idea of hitting the road yourself, I’ll wager that this is one of the best crash courses you could find. And, hey, you can do it without missing more than a single Fringe slot.

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Minnesota Fringe Festival: How to Become a Complete (Southern) Woman

SHOW TITLE: How to Become a Complete (Southern) Woman
PRODUCER: Rachel Austin
HAILING FROM: Minnesota
SHOW DESCRIPTION: A new solo work inspired by and celebrating the women who raised me, this piece is a testament to the strength, determination and wisdom of women, along with our foibles, quirks, and insatiable zest for life.

This is an interesting review to write immediately following my review for No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying, because I think they play to some of the same instincts. By nearly any critical standard, this is the stronger show, technically, structurally, and otherwise: it paces well, the performer is practiced and assured. But at the end of the day, I had a better time at the one with an 8-bit soundtrack. Why?

I think a lot of this comes down to rituals of despair. Rachel’s rituals involve reclining on a couch and eating ice cream out of the bucket, involve belting out songs made famous by pop divas. I recognize these rituals, but I don’t identify closely with them. (I certainly don’t have a problem with them, and they’re no more ridiculous than my rituals of pounding whiskey, playing nineties RPGs, reading Grant Morrison comics, and masturbating furiously.)

Her rituals aren’t as familiar to me, they’re less intimate, and so I suspect I was feeling what the non-gamers in the last show were: a sense of distanced admiration. Much of the laughter I heard from the crowd here was laughter of recognition. This is built for a very specific audience, one that I don’t belong to.

With that said, I do recognize a skilled and accomplished storyteller when I see one, and what she’s doing here is a competent balancing act of warmth and whimsy and reflection. She’s just likeable, damn it, and knowing full well what an illusion a stage persona can be, I still walked away wanting to chat and get to know her better. On a cynic like me, that’s an impressive feat.

Minnesota Fringe Festival: No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying

SHOW TITLE: No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying
PRODUCER: 1UP Productions
HAILING FROM: Illinois
SHOW DESCRIPTION: Two 80s kids build a life-long bond upon their love of Super Mario Bros. Set upon a giant Nintendo with wild 8-bit music, this comedy romp with a dash of heartbreak takes friendship and love to the next level.

When I was a kid, Final Fantasy was my drug of choice. The games in the series are infamously long, and the underlying mechanic mind-numbingly simple: to play through an endless series of turn-based battles, improving your characters’ skills until reaching a sufficient level to undertake the next series of turn-based battles. (In other words, absolutely designed for kids with compulsive tendencies.) There’s an epic fantasy story taking place in the background, and it’s rarely impressive, usually composed of a hodge-podge of tired fantasy cliches (and I’m saying this as a kid who grew up reading Dragonlance novels, for fuck’s sake).

But it was impossible not to get swept up into them. There’s a reason why so many members of my generation get choked up watching this really shitty scene, and it’s not because of its masterful execution: it’s because we spent weeks projecting ourselves into that fictional world, and it’s not something we played, it’s something that was happening to us. The thousand triumphs and tragedies of childhood paled before the fact that I got to spend a couple hours a day saving the goddamn world. So a lot of these sounds and lines and images resonate because they’re hacking directly into the pleasure centers of my brain. That’s how nostalgia works.

But references alone aren’t sufficient. I spent more than enough time with Mario and Luigi growing up to plant me smack in the middle of the target audience for this show, and consequently I was hooked in the first few minutes — for the same reason that the audience that didn’t grow up with those experiences will spend the first few minutes feeling quite alienated, I should think. It helps that the show is technically well-executed: its central prop is surprisingly versatile, and the sound design is mapped to the performance with an astonishing level of precision.

The show description calling this a “comedy romp” is misleading: this is melodrama, pure and simple. Punctuated by jokes and pop-culture references, yes, but at its core this is a Lifetime special. It’s textbook bromance that neatly illustrates my generation’s discomfort with open sentiment, our need to couch any expression of true feeling in sarcasm and insults, profanity and brutality. At times, and particularly towards the end, the analogy between their lives and the game becomes cringe-inducingly on-the-nose. (We can handle subtlety, I promise!)

But those are technical issues, borne out of too many years of watching and writing and reviewing. The fact is that I sat there the whole time with a big dumb smile on my face. This is strictly for members of a specific subculture, I think: but I belong to it, and boy howdy did I have a great time.

Minnesota Fringe Festival: Story Ate My Life

SHOW TITLE: Story Ate My Life
PRODUCER: kara margaret
HAILING FROM: Minnesota
SHOW DESCRIPTION: A choreographic product of personal research and storytelling, an ensemble of movers and musicians re-enter memory in moments of intimate contact, polished unison and raw physicality partnered with live music.

I believe, strongly, in using Fringe time to get adventurous. I’d left this slot open, and plunged into the theatre with no knowledge of what it contained. This…turned out to be a very odd show for me to do that.

It started out with two women on a see-saw. Then they carried it offstage. Then they thrust their heads into a tub of water for a while. Then they stripped. Then a song was happening. Then I gave up on trying to extract a narrative from this.

I certainly don’t require conventional narrative from dance, but in its place I need something else to arrest my attention: compelling images, impressive athleticism. I saw themes, surely: there seems to be an obsession with youth and juvenilia, and their assorted rituals. The performers are young and attractive and not without skill: I admire their training and athleticism. I wish they had been more interested in helping me follow their ideas.

(The fact that I’m making that criticism, as a writer often criticized for inaccessibility, is not lost on me: but I’m unconvinced that there are layers here beyond the surface, that this would reward repeat viewing.)

Perhaps unwisely, I perused the audience reviews while writing this, while struggling to articulate my thoughts; and I found the arguments of its defenders to be wholly bewildering. I’m too young to have witnessed a “happening” in its prime, but I’ve been reviewing theatre for long enough to know that every show I see that’s compared to one is one that I find somewhat repulsive — which suggests that this kind of thing has an audience that I’ll simply never be a part of.

As for the implication that this is simply too “avant-garde” for the rest of us — look, this ain’t my first rodeo. I’ve seen a lot of work like this before and I’ll see a lot more again. I don’t deny for a second that this was sincerely compelling stuff while it was being workshopped. But while there’s no denying the fact that it’s insanely well-polished, it’s also unfinished. I don’t mind work that’s complex, that invites an audience to struggle with it to achieve some deeper and more gratifying result; but I do mind work that seems to pride itself on being opaque.

Questions? Comments? Enraged invective? Check out my answers to occasionally asked questions in Notes on Notes, or the contact info linked from that page!