The McManual

Blogging my little heart out in poetry and prose.

Category: Minneapolis Events I've Attended

How to Host a Play in Your Garage

This weekend, Jay and I had the wonderful experience of hosting a play in our garage.  If you have the chance to be a host, I would highly recommend it.  I don’t know how many options there really are out there, but if you live in the Twin Cities and surrounding area, you are lucky enough to be close to a theatre company that has just started doing a “garage tour” this year.

It just so happens to be my absolutely favorite group, “Off Leash Area,” whose website you can check out at  If you have read my blog before, you may have read my review of “Ivan the Drunk and his Terrible Tale of Woe” a few years ago.  Same people.

The show that they are performing for this year’s garage tour is “A Gift for Planet BX63,” which they developed a few years ago with playwright Max Sparber, who also wrote Ivan.  It’s a cool show.  It’s just under an hour, there are three actors who present a story which makes you think about the consequences of having ‘stuff,’ as well as our place in the universe and what makes people happy (or not so happy…).  It is spacey and cool, the set and props are interesting, and it is very well acted.

Probably the most important step toward hosting the show was speaking up and volunteering, and then following through with emails to the group.  I don’t think it’s too early to send out an email today if you seriously think you might want to host the show next year.  If you’re like me, if you don’t send an email right away when you are thinking about it, you will find yourself remembering too late later.  If you, however, aren’t a horrible, forgetful procrastinator, then you could probably email them in the spring.  They are touring 8 garages this year, and are hoping to do 12 next year, so I’d say your chances are pretty good.

Once I talked with Jennifer Ilse from OLA and expressed an interest, we arranged a time for them to come out and see my garage.  They measured the space, and we talked about how much area needed to be cleared out.  I had a garage sale to get rid of some things just to be sure that I would have enough room.  It was good motivation to have the sale – I’ve been talking about a garage sale for several years, but only did it the weekend before the show!  That was nice, too, because I was able to hand out fliers to the people who came to the garage sale.

One thing I would recommend as a host is to try to see the show before the weekend that you host.  OLA did have a reception for the last dress rehearsal, which I unfortunately had to miss, and I think it would have made a difference for me in telling people why they should come to my garage to see a play.  (Beside the fact that it’s just a flipping cool idea…)  I didn’t have a great grasp of what the play would be like before I saw it, although I was confident that people would like it.

Another thing that’s important is having a space for the actors to use as a ‘green room.’  That is, a room where they can change and warm up and put on makeup etc.  It worked out well for us because I have an extra room with a vanity, but I didn’t even think about it until the day they were doing the first performance.  I would have arranged it a little better for them, but I think it worked out.

Probably the most important task in hosting is to get the word out.  I contacted the Sun-Post, who put the play into the calendar, which was very nice of them.  There was also an article in the Star Tribune.  I also invited people on Facebook and in person.  OLA provided postcards for advertising, which I brought around to some local businesses.  I wish I had dropped some off at the library, as I had planned, but I completely forgot.  Maybe taking notes is a good idea.  Yeah, I’ll do that next year!  OLA also provided a cool sandwich board for my yard, with a sign saying which nights the show would be and where to call for reservations.

As far as other work, there wasn’t too much.  OLA did all of the set up as far as putting together the set and the risers.  I did set out some treats for people after the show and invited people to stay and meet the cast.  Paul and Jennifer do this when they have a show in their garage, and it’s really nice.  I think people enjoy meeting the cast after a show.

All in all, we had a great experience hosting.  It was fun, the cast and crew couldn’t be nicer people, and it just feels good to provide a space for people to come together as a community and see some world class art!  If you’re thinking about it for next year, I highly recommend it.  If not, at least be sure to go see the show!

This year’s tour is ongoing at ‘press time’ for my blog – check out OLA’s website to see where you can go catch the show!  Maybe Jay and I will see you there! (Yes, twice wasn’t enough for me, we are going to see it at someone else’s garage, too!)


Theater Saves Me Every Time.

This week has been hard.  I am grateful that I have been able to volunteer this week and see six Fringe shows.  I saw: The Most Massive Woman Wins, Thrower of Light, Spermalot, Needs/Wants/Desires, Danny is Going to Die, and Bard Fiction.

Between these shows, my father-in-law passed away.  This has been very stressful on all of us.  Some people react with simply crying, some drink, some grow angry and hurtful.  Me?  I go see plays, get lost in the plays, calm down completely and think about writing plays in the future.  Plays are my gin and tonic.  Plays are my beer, my meth, my crack cocaine.  My cigarettes.  I don’t need any mind-altering drugs – I see a play.  Even a crappy play – doesn’t matter.   Plays let me out of my life.

Dance, too.  Thrower of Light is dance.  I don’t have a dance vocabulary, but I can say that I loved it.  I felt that there was something communicated.  I had emotional reactions to what I saw.  There seemed to be a story that carried through the first four or five pieces, the story of love triangles and jealousy, I think.  Then the choreographer came out and said some things, after which there were 2 more pieces of a completely different timbre.  They were joyful and fun rather than dark and mysterious.

During the first part of the dance, I was wondering to myself how people are able to plan and execute such intricate and beautiful dance.  I literally thought to myself, “why are they doing that?”  I am befuddled by dance.  I don’t understand how it works – yet it’s so moving and it feels profound.

I had an interesting conversation with an author of one of the other shows, and he was saying that Minnesotan’s go gaga over dance, but we hardly seem to acknowledge excellent acting when we see it.  I hear what he is saying – the energy in the applause for the dance was not the same energy in the applause for the plays I saw, but maybe that is because dance itself is so energizing.

I think I like plays more than dance because a play rarely leaves me wondering why they are doing what they are doing.  In Bard Fiction, it was clear that they were doing a Shakespearian send up of Pulp Fiction.  That’s all I need to know.  It doesn’t leave questions in my mind wondering what they are up to or what they are trying to say.  It was just good fun, I recognized some lines from Shakespeare and some from Pulp Fiction.  Thoroughly enjoyable, cute at times, funny and well acted.  I’m glad I got a chance to see it.

So I mentioned crappy plays above – I didn’t think any of these plays I saw were crappy.  But some were more polished than others.  I think The Most Massive Woman Wins was probably the most polished.  But it was also an already-published work, so I think that puts a layer of polish that would be very hard to attain with the premier of a new work.  Nothing stood out as bad.  I do wonder, though, about trying to put together short pieces in order to fill up an hour, like with Needs/Wants/Desires I think I’d rather see a cohesive half-hour.  Or maybe some sort of transition to make shorter pieces flow together – this is something I have wrestled with in the past, so I certainly don’t fault them for trying.  I just thought the final piece, which was the longest, was definitely the strongest.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now.  I thank all theatre people everywhere for doing what they do.  You might feel that your show is a simple way to pass the time, maybe it’s a frivolous comedy.  But you never know who might be sitting in your audience and what your efforts might mean to them – I know that for this week, theater and the Fringe Festival saved me and helped me to remember what being human is about – connecting with other humans.

Fringe Festival Volunteering

Hey all. I’m so excited to be volunteering for the Fringe this year! I do feel like a lightweight, though, I’m only working 9 shows. There are 800 over 11 days!! I’m just not too sure of my overall schedule, and I didn’t want to commit to things I will have to get out of later.

I went to the training on Saturday, and it was really well done. I feel pretty well prepared to do my part. I am thinking that maybe Jay and I should try to do a show next year – it’s a great deal. You pay $400, and they give you the venue, some advertising, and a tech. That’s amazing. Not everyone who applies gets in, though. It’s not juried, it’s based on a lottery system. I think that’s so cool.

I can’t wait to see what people have prepared for their shows! And if you want to get in to some shows for free, you should volunteer. You get a ticket to another show free for every show you work.

Check it out!

Pride Day

I know, I know, I’m supposed to be writing my memories of Michael Jackson today, but the only thing I have is that my cousin had the Thriller album, and I loved it so much that I got my parents to buy it for me for Christmas in the seventh grade.  And one of my other friends had his pictures up in her locker.  She kissed his picture, and I remember being shocked.  I think kissing a photograph is very intimate.  Silly, since it’s one way, but that’s how I still feel.

What I am actually writing about today, after the non-related intro paragraph, is Gay Pride in Minneapolis.  As you may know, it’s set mostly in Loring Park, across from the Walker Art Center.  I love that area – Loring Park, the Irene Whitney bridge and the Sculpture Garden serve as the setting for the climax of my novel, Someotherville. *ahem, still seeking representation*  There’s something about Loring Park that is just very comfortable.

I can’t say that I had any Earth-shattering insights, it was just a nice day where I met a lot of nice people. I was especially gratified to see that there were at least three booths specifically for Transgender people.  I have had the honor of serving several Transgender students over the years, and I’m glad to see that their community is being served by at least a few non-profits.

I also thought it was great that such a wide variety of Minnesota was represented.  Corporations, small independent artists, churches (lots of churches.) and in the middle of religion row, a booth from Minnesota Atheists.  A man was holding a ‘hug an Atheist today’ sign.  I was so happy to see him that I did run up and hug him.  So did Jay.  The people running the booth said that they were working hard to present a positive image of us.  It seemed to be working.  We are definitely joining that group.

I also saw students and old friends, signed about a dozen petitions, picked up great resources for future students, walked through a well-done exhibit about the history of homosexual persecution and ate a falafel.  It was a great day.  We are still waiting until Gay marriage is legal in Minnesota to wear our wedding rings, but Jay and I held hands alot, and for once it felt like our Gay friends were free to do the same.

I have to close now, but a big thank you to the organizers of Minnesota’s Pride events this year – it was really great.

Ivan the Drunk and his Terrible Tale of Woe – Theater Review

I had the pleasure of seeing “Ivan the Drunk and his Terrible Tale of Woe” on Saturday.  If it isn’t yet June 21st 2009, you haven’t missed it yet.  You should go.

The set is beautiful and cleverly transforms into layer upon layer of dream-like sequences and settings that Ivan recalls from life and returns to in his memory.  The memories are surreal – it’s not a strictly linear play – and the interaction between the music, setting, and acting/dancing are evocative of intense emotion, often with no words for minutes at a time.  Some of the scenes are nightmarish; but it is always clear that they are based on events from his life.  At no time does it seem completely random – the action is grounded in a reality, even though we as audience members only have a minimal sense of the reality, it’s clearly there.

There are light hearted moments, too, as Ivan talks to his burden, which he quite literally carries around with him.  The physicality of Paul Herwig leaves no doubt from the very opening moments that this burden is taxing.  I wondered, though, whether he would be able to share his burden with someone else if he would allow it.  He wouldn’t allow it, and thus we saw several examples of his loved ones being shut out of his life.  This is painful to watch, as it is a depiction of an emotion that many of us have felt – perhaps it is a universal emotion – of not being trusted with someone else’s pain.  The other performers, every one seamlessly controlled yet fluid and accessable, each have moments of physically embodying the hardships of enduring Ivan’s distrust.

I don’t even have a word for that kind of rejection – the pain that accompanies the knowledge that a loved one would rather choose to carry their burden alone, whether it be alcoholism, drug dependency, post-traumatic stress, mental illness, or any number of other sadnesses.  That kind of rejection doesn’t get talked about much in our society – and here is a play that articulates it beautifully – subtly, the other characters throw bruised look and a walk away – Ivan watches in horror as he realizes he has shut another loved one out – but unable to do anything but hang onto his burden for dear life.

And you get the sense that life is dear to him – even after all of his struggles in the war, after nearly being killed, after killing (in more ways than one), he wants to live.  He seems to wish for things to have been different – in one of his memories, he alienates one family member, and then has a memory-do-over and tries again, only to alienate another family member – and so on.  He can’t get it right, because he can’t rewrite his memories into falsehoods.  So we see the pain and hurt and degradation.

All the while, though, there is a sense of healing, too.  Perhaps it’s in the very beauty of the movement, the imagry, the music – but one gets the sense that Ivan does have a poetic soul.  You wouldn’t know it from his ‘tchotchkes,’ his baudy little soldier rhymes, but he must have, if the events in this play are going on in his mind.  The reasons for his pain, the contents of his burden, are slowly unpacked for the audience to see and feel – we get both sides of the rejection and pain, and realize that as personal as the rejection is for the other characters, it is a double-edge sword that hurts Ivan as much as them.

The play has no breaks – no intermissions or even black-outs, and Ivan is on stage the whole time.  There is physical and verbal comic relief, but it is closely tied to the tragedy, and by the end, as an audience member, I was physically tired just from watching and paying as much attention as I could.  In empathizing with Ivan, I had a sense of relief and anxiety for him as he approached the final scene.  I was glad to see how the resolution of the final minutes was uncompromising in maintaining Ivan’s reality, yet found a way to articulate joy and beauty in the process of life, even a tragicomic life such as Ivan’s.

In the end, I felt spent and sated – I felt trusted as an audience member to understand and interpret the action in my own way, and, surprisingly, I felt closer to some parts of my own life that have been difficult for me to process in the past.  Something shifted in my own way of thinking about rejections that I have experienced and family members whom I have not understood – maybe some room for compassion has opened up where there was only pain and rejection before.  Regardless of my personal emotional reaction to this play, I feel I can confidently say that it touches a deep chord of humanity and will give you a lot to consider, whether you have direct experience with someone like Ivan in your life or not.

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