Pre-Fringe Profile: The Problem of the Body: Why Is Our Society Ashamed of Bodily Urges?

SHOW TITLE: The Problem of the Body: Why is our society ashamed of bodily urges?
PRODUCER: Prof. Rudman
SHOW DESCRIPTION: Like John Waters channeled through Sir Kenneth Clark, Prof. Rudman examines contemporary American attitudes toward bodily urges by comparing recent media coverage with jaw-dropping imagery from other cultures.
WHAT CAUGHT MY INTEREST: The combination of the political and the historical. It’s a bull’s-eye for my corner of geekdom.

Just who do you think you are, anyway?

Damon Rudman is the Jonathan Wad Endowed Professor and Proctor of Scatology and Sexology at the Upper United States University (Up.U.S.U.). (Actually, it’s a nom de theatre, but I got a mortgage to pay, and it might be hard to work if every time someone Googles me they get what they may consider “salacious filth.”)

So what’s the big idea?

Many people decry the amount of sex and vulgarity in US media today. They feel that our society is losing its way, and they long for restoration of “traditional” decency. However, history and anthropology prove that prudishness has seldom been the norm. On the contrary, in comparison to other cultures, we still stand out as uncommonly ashamed of our bodies and their urges; acknowledging them is seen as perverse and suppressing them is seen as natural.

By juxtaposing contemporary media with artifacts and verbal accounts from other times and places, this show will deconstruct contemporary attitudes surrounding our urges for sex, food, sleep, and the defecatory urges (including belching, spitting, nose-picking, farting, pissing, and shitting).

How did you come up with a screwy idea like that?

Our bodies are always near at hand. Urges arise regularly. Isn’t it nuts to feel ashamed about them? What virtue is there in repression? Why should prigs hold the moral high-ground?

Why should I care?

Expect mind-blowing edutainment! Fun for your whole family—if your family don’t mind dirty pictures and stuff.

Justify your show’s existence in haiku form.

Bodies not dirty
Repression is perverse
Laughter can free us


Pre-Fringe Profile: Agamemnon

SHOW TITLE: Agamemnon
PRODUCER: Shadow & Substance Theatre
SHOW DESCRIPTION: In this darkly comic adaptation of Aeschylus’ 458 BC award-winning tragedy, Agamemnon comes home after ten long years at the Trojan Wars to a wife who is plotting to kill him and a ghost who is bent on revenge. Hilarity, violence and incest ensue. Join us for this murderous family reunion!
WHAT CAUGHT MY INTEREST: I ran into this dude hanging out with an old friend from high school I hadn’t seen in years. When I described my show as following the old Fringe formula of “It’s like this, only it’s set in this!”, he sheepishly confessed that that was the nature of his show, as well. Fiddling around with Greek nonsense? I’m surprised this didn’t land on my radar before now. Also, he coins the term “Logorrheic.”

Just who do you think you are, anyway?

Shadow & Substance started in 2007 as my brainchild out of two desires, though it took a while to get going, with several major life changes for me—being out of work for a few months, changing careers, and finding a satisfactory balance between my personal and work life. I wanted to form a company around the group of creative friends that had come together over several years, and build on the network of artists, directors, designers and actors I came across—people I wanted to work with, who have similar artistic philosophies and aims, and just want to do theatre. Second, it was in response to the belief that much of theatre today has gotten away from the main objective of telling good stories in favour of making a profit—the catch-22 for any creative person or group today, that you’ve got to make money in order to make art. With the heartbreaking closing of the Jeune Lune in 2008, I knew that I had to take Dominique Serrand’s words to heart to come up with a vision to create “agile, nomadic, entrepreneurial theatre.” And now the dream is finally coming together.

So what’s the big idea?

We decided to take a classic, beloved, hallowed piece of dusty ancient Greek theatre about a woman tired of her husband coming home late after work (ten years late, to be precise); twist, bastardise and maim it into something silly and comedic; and serve it up chilled with some after-dinner cocktails and a flagon of whiskey.

In the original there’s lots and lots of talking and hinkle-pinkling around, and Clytemnestra spends most of her time brooding and trying to decide how to kill her husband who has suddenly returned from the Trojan wars. Arguably she had ten years to think this through (one of the worst documented cases of procrastination ever), but she was busy fucking her husband’s first cousin (or first-cousin once removed—those incestuous family trees are so tough to trace) so it’s understandable how that might have slipped her mind.

Our version is much less logorrheic. Modern audiences really can’t handle that much prolonged talking (ourselves included), so we try to do as little of it as possible in this production. We’ve retained a skeletal outline of the plot of Agamemnon, so the basic show is there. We just updated it with a sort of psychedelic 70s feel.

How did you come up with a screwy idea like that?

Several years ago, writer and director (and titular character) Eric Netterlund showed me the first couple of pages of an adaptation he was writing of an ancient Greek tragedy that he was doing up as a dark comedy. I’d seen some of Eric’s writing before and knew that it was brilliant, hilarious and engaging, and those first few pages were wonderful; but he didn’t do anything with it for the longest time. Then came time for the 2009 Fringe applications, so I told him that if he would finish the script I’d enter it under my company and produce. It took some persistent, patient prodding, but eventually we brought a completed first draft to the lottery in February. The rest is history. One thing I will say is that each character in this show bears resemblance to characters from Alice in Wonderland in terms of the madcap nature of the story, with a little more violence and hilarity.

Why should I care?

Murder! Revenge! Betrayal! Ghosts! Sock puppets!

Justify your show’s existence in haiku form.

When you knock up your
daughter to kill your brother
bad things will happen.

Pre-Fringe Profiles: Summation

Pre-Fringe Profile: Spermalot: The Musical

SHOW TITLE: Spermalot: The Musical
PRODUCER: The Change Co-Operative
SHOW DESCRIPTION: Original material takes a prolific and pompous poke at American sexuality and human reproduction as a parody of the Knights of the Round Table.
WHAT CAUGHT MY INTEREST: I am the king of the rulers of all Arthuriana geeks. Also, I met these guys in the 2007 Iowa Fringe Festival but didn’t get the chance to see their show.

Just who do you think you are, anyway?
The Change Co-Operative is a joint venture of Theater … for a CHANGE and The Comedy Co-Operative.

CHANGE is in its fifth season producing shows in the Des Moines area and its founder, Thatcher Williams, was instrumental in organizing 2 of the 3 years of the Iowa Fringe Festival. We have produced over two dozen shows in those five years, including the Iowa Premiere of David Mann’s CORLEONE (a 2005 Minnesota Fringe Festival hit). Also, CHANGE produces free Shakespeare in the Park performances in the summer and is the co-producer of the 711 Theatre Project, a deadline-driven short play competition festival. More information about Theater … for a CHANGE can be found on our website.

The Comedy Co-Operative is a comedy sketch and theater group that has been performing for about six years. All material performed by the Co-Operative is created from talent locally in the Des Moines area. SPERMALOT is the second musical that founders David Brooks and Karen Swanson have worked on. Their first, TENT CITY, opened in Des Moines to wonderful reviews in late 2006 and will be performed with updated material in the fall of 2009. More info can be found at this website.

So what’s the big idea?

SPERMALOT: The Musical takes the King Arthur legend and throws it into fertile ground, the human reproductive system. Mixing a little Avenue Q into the mix, King Arthur and his Knights are sperm puppets (their sperm heads being about the size of a playground beach ball) sent on their quest by the Lady of the Labia (actress decked out in her full pinked glory). Their quest is for the chosen one to unite with the Holy Grail – the ovum, Ova Eggavere Benedict. Along their way, the Knights travel through the both the male and female reproductive system and are met with challenges and obstacles. Besides having to navigate the river of fluid shot forth from the Seminal Vesicle, they must make the leap of faith from the male prepuce into the vagina and meet up with the Little Man in the Boat. And they must battle their way against Black (Jedi) Knight Samuel Jackson, Red Knight Aunto Flo and Green Knight Chlamydia. All the while, the Ova is growing older and is tormented by her biological clock and is watched over by the over-protective Cervix. It all ends with a reality-show like competition between the best of the Knights to gain the Holy Grail. With songs like the title track “Spermalot,” and “One Brave Sperm,” “My Time Has Come,” “C’mon Ova,” “I’m Chlamdyia,” and the touching “Something New With You;” SPERMALOT is a vas deferens from other musicals that have come before – and may ever come again.

How did you come up with a screwy idea like that?

Thatcher haphazardly announced at the end of the 2006 Iowa Fringe Festival that in 2007 SPERMALOT was coming because he wanted something that was catchy, a little controversial and a lot funny. He had the basic concept in mind, but not a drop of ink had spilled onto the page. Gathering together Dave and Karen, he also brought on several other Des Moines area actors – John Cisar, Larry Mahlstedt, Kevein Spire and Amy Stanwood to help write the book and songs for the show. Even before the group got together, less than 2 weeks after the 2006 Iowa Fringe had closed, SPAMALOT attorneys had contacted Thatcher with their concerns
(and legal threats) should the show have anything to do with Monty
Python’s SPAMALOT. Thatcher assured them it wouldn’t and had to revise his initial basic concept a little bit. Bringing on one more actor – Warren Westlund and puppet maker Morgan Beary, the group got their creative juices flowing and performed the world premiere at the 2007 Iowa Fringe Festival – where it became a top 3 in ticket sales and huge fan favorite.

Why should I care?

After the 2009 Minnesota Fringe Festival – SPERMALOT heads to the New York International Fringe Festival. This is your chance to see it before stuffy east coast people do. It has had the opportunity to be workshopped at a University in the UK and much of the updates are from our experience in Des Moines and that workshop. It’s fast-paced, with a lot of video elements for backdrops, entertainment and has a nice level of current event and cultural references. Besides being a musical comedy with a mix of puppets and actors, it is also quite educational. Every effort has been made to be anatomically correct and biologically sound, even if literary license is taken. Also, we’re giving away a free condom supplied by Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa to every patron who attends the show (while supplies last). And when was the last time you saw a woman-sized vulva being stroked on stage? Hmmm?

Justify your show’s existence in haiku form.

Sperm – a lot, Ovum:
Without them life would be nil.
Catch the show, live on!

Pre-Fringe profile: Burning Man and the Reverend Nuge

SHOW TITLE: Burning Man and the Reverend Nuge
PRODUCER: Tommy Nugent
SHOW DESCRIPTION: The magic and mayhem of one man’s journey from pentecostal preacher to atheist street magician looking for enlightenment at the annual Burning Man festival in northern Nevada.
WHAT CAUGHT MY INTEREST: I’m a sucker for journey-of-faith narratives, and that includes journeys away from it. Plus, hey! Magic!

Just who do you think you are, anyway?
Of all the many pentecostal preachers turned strip club bartenders, turned professional gamblers, turned street magicians, turned motivational speakers, turned Fringe solo show artistes and Burning Man devotees…I’m by far the best.

So what’s the big idea?
I tell the above story with humor, heart and the occasional handling of dangerous objects (i.e. razorblades in my mouth).

How did you come up with a screwy idea like that?
I figured if I could get a successful show out my adventures, my parents would feel better about me dropping out of law school and my wife would keep letting me go to Burning Man events.

Why should I care?
You get to hear about the time I helped cast demons out of a fellow Bible College student here in Minneapolis. And there’s the razorblade thing…

Justify your show’s existence in haiku form.
I cast out demons
Then ran wild in Sin City
Next came Burning Man

Pre-Fringe Profile: Was My Brother in the Battle? Songs of War

SHOW TITLE: Was My Brother in the Battle? Songs of War
PRODUCERS: Stephen Swanson & David Gompper
SHOW DESCRIPTION: A recital of songs about the individuals involved in America’s historic military conflicts, their friends, and their families.
WHAT CAUGHT MY INTEREST: As I’m currently developing my own military-themed Fringe show, I’ve been immersing myself in Gulf War memoirs — a bit of research that’s rapidly evolved into an obsession in its own right. So when I found out that there was a show coming to town actually exploring this stuff, I sat right up.

Just who do you think you are, anyway?
For twenty years I was an opera singer in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Now I’m a professor at The University of Iowa. David Gompper is a composer and pianist. He is also a professor at The University of Iowa and is Director of the Center for New Music there.

So what’s the big idea?
We live in a time when war is brought to our nation in made-for-cable-news sound bites, when our government censored photographs of flag-draped coffins, insisting that the death of our soldiers was a personal loss, not a national loss. I use songs to bring my audience face to face with war in its many facets. These songs present the grim determination of those fighting to maintain the Union in the Civil War; the fervent nationalistic patriotism of World War I; reflections of World War II by veterans on the 50th anniversary of D-Day; the dark humor generated by the fear of nuclear annihilation; the Vietnam generation’s disillusionment with indiscriminate use of military power. It is not my purpose to be judgmental, but rather to present the human side of a nation at war. As I wrote in my program notes: “If in some small way this recital can bring the personal reality of warfare closer to you, it will have served its purpose.”

How did you come up with a screwy idea like that?
I found the media build up to Operation Iraqi Freedom to be jingoistic and trite. We seemed so caught up in the idea of “shock and awe” that we didn’t consider what a primal force war is and how it changes everyone and everything that it touches. Letters to the editor and my Congressmen only added to my frustration. My wife finally suggested that I sing about it, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last four and a half years.

Why should I care?
The concert is full of beautiful, funny, poignant, thoughtful songs that will make you laugh and cry and sometimes cringe. You should care because these songs may open a small window into the reality of what “being in harm’s way” really means. You should care because one of the reviewers of the CD of this recital wrote: “I checked out Mr. Swanson’s website and saw that he and Mr. Gompper are continuing to take this program on the road in 2009. Too bad NYC is not on the list, as I would love to hear it in concert.” (Complete review at this link.)

Justify your show’s existence in haiku form.
war changes nations
all suffer some aren’t aware
winners also lose