Tag Archives: Drama

Singin’ at the Guthrie

Today’s post comes from three members of the Baboon Congress, Barbara, Lisa and Sherrilee.

The Set-up (by Barbara in Robbinsdale)

My little Showtime Chorus is one of the many Twin Cities choruses that have been participating in the Guthrie’s production of The Events,   a rather heavy duty one-act play that follows the journey of a choir, and especially its leader Claire, as they seek understanding in the aftermath of a mass shooting in their own community.

According to the Guthrie, the play was written as “… a response to the 2011 Norway attacks in which the lives of 77 people were…[lost]… at a summer camp, this internationally acclaimed production delves into faith, politics and reason.”

A presentation of the Actors Touring Company of the UK, the troupe shares the stage with a different local choir each night.  In our “land of 10,000 choirs” I counted 22 different choirs on the Guthrie’s website, including not just my choir but also the First Universalist Church Choir that Lisa and Verily Sherrilee sing in.

Think of the logistics of getting all those people in the right place on the right day, knowing what they need to know! After rehearsing on our own, we attended a 3-hour music rehearsal at the Guthrie with other choirs who would be on deck that week. On the day of our performance, we attended a 2-hour rehearsal with “blocking” instructions – where to be when, who to watch for cues.

The Show (by Lisa)

We were well taken care of by Guthrie and ATC staff and the script, which outlined the scenes and cues (though without details so we could still be surprised as the tale unfolded). The intro to each song made our starting notes very clear (no having to pull them out of the air).

We were more involved than we might have first imagined. Two people were volunteered for somewhat lengthy speaking parts (but they could read them without shame – no memorization needed). A number of people were given lines of a few words.

Our only improvisation came when the character Claire decided to lead us in a Shamanic ritual to try to restore her lost soul. She instructed us to move off the risers and come to the front of the stage, and then to melt. I was near the front of the stage so I am not sure what other people did, but I did my best candle and ended up almost flat on the floor. We were then instructed to touch at least one other person and finally to vocalize and jump up as if struck by lightning, shouting, “Charge!!”

We have a blind choir member with a lovely yellow lab guide dog. I heard later that when J was on the floor, D thought it would be helpful to lick J’s face as it was at a convenient height. The improvising actress asked him, “How do you say “melt” in Dog?” The audience thought it all pretty hysterical.

It was good to have some lighter moments as the whole play was dealing with an extremely disturbing subject without any easy answers. The positive message, though, was that community (such as found in community choirs) is our greatest hope for responding to these tragedies.

The Songs (by Verily Sherrilee)

There were six songs assigned for The Event plus each choir started out their show with a prepared song of their choosing.

We started with the Norwegian Coffee Song as a warm up, each time through a little faster than the time before.  Hopefully there weren’t too many Norwegians in the audience to hear how bad the pronunciation gets when you sing that fast.  Soul was a very short piece that we did during the main actor’s monologue about losing her soul.  Ohm.  Soul.  Ohm.  That was all but it was amazing the amount of work put into hitting those four notes and growing the sound.

The third piece was Bonkers by Dizzee Rascal.  This was a big hit in the U.K. a few years ago although our version was slower and “more epic” according to the musical director.  The lyrics pointed to a life in chaos and depression but had a beautiful resolution at the end.  Then there was How Great Thou Art.  As part of the play, Claire was having trouble with the song, since she was struggling with her faith.  So she stopped us midstream, asked us to hum, asked just the altos/sopranos to hum and eventually let everybody sing but quite softly.

If there was a production hit, it was Gavrilo Principe, a high energy song about making your mark on the world.  We were encouraged to rock our air guitars, throw in a lot of movement and clap.  The final song was We’re All Here with a repeating chorus that the audience was encouraged to sing along. After 90 minutes of a tough subject, it was soothing and hopeful.

The songs were all really different and without the play to anchor them, they initially seemed a little bizarre.  But with the dialogue and movements of the actors, they made more sense and contributed to a powerful presentation.

Tell us about YOUR 15 minutes of fame?

The Holiday Pageant

Today’s guest post comes from Sherrilee

Teenager and I attend a Universalist/Unitarian church in southwest Minneapolis. It’s a place with some rite and ritual, but not too much, which is just perfect for me. Like many institutions, there is a lot going on around the holidays, but my favorite, bar none, is the Holiday Pageant.

Like most pageants, we have Mary and Joseph and shepherds. But we also have wise folk, who bring frankincense, myrrh as well as diapers and other things babies need. We have the wind and also angels on wheels who delivery the baby to the manger. And because the idea is to include as many kids as possible, we have lots and lots of angels and a wide variety of manger animals. Over the years we’ve had dragons, kittens, and bees. One year a kid brought his Golden Retriever.

You have to be least five to be in the pageant and when Teenager was little, she could hardly wait to be part of the presentation. On the first Sunday of pageant sign-up I asked her what part she would like to play. She responded by asking what she could be, so I trotted out the litany of options for her. “You can be an angel, you can be Mary, you can be a wise one, you can be a shepherd….” I didn’t even get to finish the sentence before she said “I want to be a leopard.” Sure she had misheard me, I said “Did you mean shepherd?” Nope, she had said leopard and she meant leopard.


Leopard it was. I splotched golden brown paint onto a black sweatshirt and sweatpants and we borrowed a fuzzy tail and ears from a friend. I know I’m her parent, but even so, she was absolutely the cutest thing. As all the animals trooped through the sanctuary that morning, there she was, waltzing up the aisle, swishing her tail back and forth. She completely fit into the menagerie of the manger that day.


In following years, she played a wise one twice (she had me make her a Mulan costume for this), an angel and finally she was old enough to play an angel on wheels, for which she wore all black and rode her scooter. When she was 10 she decided she was old enough to retire from the pageant, so now I sit and watch other children play these parts every holiday season. But I always see her in my mind’s eye, in her leopard outfit, completely sure that she fits into the pageant as well as anyone else.

When have you been the one to add an unexpected twist?

Men in Tights

Today is the anniversary of the debut of the musical Camelot on Broadway in 1960.

There is some comfort in this story for those who fear that if things start off badly, they will end badly too.

In its out-of-town productions, Camelot was a mess, far too long, disorganized and overly wordy. The director had a heart attack and the playwright/lyricist was hospitalized. Scenes were cut and songs were added and removed with little notice. But the music was great and the cast recording became the number one selling album in America for more than a year – a thought that is laughable today. Powerful casting and timely performances on the Ed Sullivan Show helped make it a success.

And no one could sing this song like Robert Goulet.


Goulet exuded so much manliness in the role of Lancelot, he temporarily made it OK for young men to wear tights (as long as it was understood by everyone that there was no enjoyment in it – this was simply part of the job). There were plenty of high school stagings in subsequent years where the Lancelot aura provided some cover for teenage boys, including the Macon High School production of 1973.

You can see by my face that I have momentarily lost my Goulet-inspired confidence, and am looking for an exit.

Years later I met Robert Goulet when he came in for a radio interview. He exuded all the joie du vivre I expected from him, and though he was 70 years old and in his third marriage, he flirted with our young red-haired receptionist and whispered to me as he left, “that’s my kind of woman”!

Of course I told her, and she was delighted to hear it. It’s not every day that a genuine star takes a fancy to you. I wonder if she would have felt the same way, had he been wearing his tights.

Describe a time you’ve felt self-concious about your clothes.

Some Pig!

Beth-Ann sent a link to this video that has been viewed on You Tube well over one million times in the past two days. A baby goat at a petting zoo is in distress. Apparently the goat’s foot is stuck underwater and the animal can’t get out of the pond.

For reasons that will soon become clear, a pig is sent to the rescue.

Some people (and animals) are just good in a crisis. Others (like me), tend to stand around and watch, not knowing what to do.

Researchers have studied crisis situation response and based on their reports most people misjudge how they would respond in an emergency. We all tend to think we’d behave better than we actually do. A more common response is to over-think the situation, resulting in paralysis.

it is obvious that this heroic pig, let’s call him Wilbur, refrained from pre-judging the conditions and simply responded with common sense to the facts as they presented themselves to him.

Goat in trouble. Goat needs a helping push. Let’s swim out there and push the goat.

Not a lot of agonizing there about a possible lawsuit or getting in trouble for jumping in the pond or privacy worries should this wind up on You Tube or that a tabloid photographer would snap and distribute a topless pig photo or any squeamishness at all over possibly swallowing some goat flavored water – the pig simply did what had to be done!

Or maybe the pig thought the goat had found something good to eat and went out there to investigate. Heroism sometimes happens by accident.

A potentially drowning baby goat is not the same thing as Hurricane Katrina, but this is a good opportunity to note that what is left of September is still part of National Preparedness Month.

Of course, if I was a different sort of person, I would have been prepared to observe this several weeks ago!

Are you ready for an emergency?

The Tragedy of Lonesome George

When I read about the death of the Pinta Island Tortoise Lonesome George and the species unfortunate extinction, I thought “what a tragedy.”

When I saw his picture, I thought “ … by Shakespeare”.

Not only does George wind up dead at the end of the tale (a major requirement in any downer by the Bard), but he’s probably misunderstood and totally delusional. After all, wouldn’t you be?

Imagine – everyone around George hesitates to put it into words, but they look at him with a profound sense of pity. He is, after all, the last of his kind. They try to make his sad predicament more bearable by providing the company of one or more Lady Tortoises, but George feigns a lack of interest. He is actually quite randy, as old tortoises go, but he is waiting. Only another Pinta Island Tortoise can win his love.

Although there is this ONE she-tortoise, Gregarious Jane, who looks pretty good … great, in fact. But George cannot allow himself to fall in love because his responsibility is to the ages.

It breaks his heart, but he must remain available in case another Pinta Island Tortoise comes along. What are the chances? Almost nil, and yet …

Meanwhile, the Lady Jane confides to her (hilarious) Reptile-in-Waiting MeShell that she IS, in fact, a certified, pedigreed P.I.T., but she forbids anyone to mention it to George because she does not want to be loved only as a means to forestall extinction. If he can’t love her for who she is without regard for the effect it might have on posterity, well … maybe it’s better that the species disappears forever.

Lovers always think the world revolves around them!

Hmmm. Now that I consider it, there could be some silly hijinks, a bit of cross-dressing and a little mistaken identity back-and-forth with various characters hiding in their shells while other tortoises parade across the stage and talk as if no one else is in the room … and it could wind up as a comedy after all.

But George and Jane would have to realize their true identities and see that they are, in fact, right for one another.

But no. He dies. So alas, it’s a tragedy. Unless you have a better idea.

What ho! Supply a character, a line, or some story element for your version of Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy (or Comedy) of Lonesome George”.

Happy Autonomy Day!

First things first – thanks to the guest bloggers who made my week-long holiday possible. Jacque, Steve, Beth-Ann, tim, Chris, and Anna kept Baboon land lively through the week and set comment records. Thanks for the wonderful writing and fun discussions! Clearly the baboon tribe can thrive without a leader.

Speaking of that, today is Autonomy Day, an official holiday in the Åland Islands. I love the name – “Autonomy Day”. Not quite “Independence,” but close – the sort of thing that might be made available to an 18 year old if they have a history of making good decisions about piercings and tatoos.

The Åland Islands are a collection of rocky outcroppings with enough strategic importance to put them in a perpetual tug-of-war between Sweden and Finland.

I’d never heard of the place before today, so I’m no expert and of course I’ve never been there, but I love Wikipedia’s serpentine description of Åland Islands status:

They are situated at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia and form an autonomous, demilitarised, monolingually Swedish-speaking region of Finland.

What? Swedish speaking but a region of Finland? Not only that, but Swedish speaking by law. But how can a place be autonomous and also a region of some other place? Both Sweden and Finland strike me as particularly fine places to visit, so the Åland Islands could be like their love child, combining the best qualities of both, right? Or they could be the children of a messy, bitter divorce, torn between resentful parents.

The Contested Area

Apparently there were hard feelings during the Åland Crisis in 1917 and 18 when the custody battle was especially intense. Swedes argued that the Åland Islands were culturally Swedish. Finland contended they were geographically Finnish. Oh, and the Russian Revolution had an influence on the discussion, which became heated. The tussle was even expressed on maps of the day, which makes the terrain sound like a political issue alternately described by Fox News and MSNBC. Again, from Wikipedia:

On the Swedish map, the most densely populated main island dominated, and many skerries (small rocky islands) were left out. On the Finnish map, a lot of smaller islands or skerries were, for technical reasons, given a slightly exaggerated size. The Swedish map made the islands appear to be closer to the mainland of Sweden than to Finland; the Finnish map stressed the continuity of the archipelago between the main island and mainland Finland, while a greater gap appeared between the islands and the archipelago on the Swedish side.

But as a result of all this back and forth, we have a rocky sea-land situated between two great nations, politically autonomous and perpetually demilitarized, culturally Swedish and technically Finnish. And somewhat ambiguously mapped.

Switzerland with surf? Sounds like a fun place to visit, but what an odd history.

Describe a time when you had to unravel a case of divided loyalties.

Birth of the Bard

Today is Shakespeare’s Birthday, we assume.
Three days hence the books note his baptism
Counting backwards experts all presume
For natal days, this one must be his’n.

Wrote sonnets and some pretty famous plays.
Penned some lines that surely are immortal.
With “bated breath” and other turns of phrase
that give us pause and cause enough to chortle.

No bigger star in scribb’ling has there been,
Nor likely will there be tomorrow.
All who write have lost ‘fore they begin.
Naught to do but read, admire and borrow.

What gift for Shakespeare’s birthday? But of course!
A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!

What’s your favorite line from Shakespeare?

Artichoke Bruschetta C.S.I.

Yesterday’s post was intended to start a conversation about marketing, but I’m amazed at how carefully at least three baboons examined the photo of my Artichoke Bruschetta jars for evidence about what goes on behind the scenes here at Trail World HQ. I guess it’s just human nature. Because I say so little about it, my life must seem mysterious and exotic and just a tiny glimpse allows fertile imaginations to run wild.

Oh, what tales they tell!

How else can I explain Dan in Woodbury’s generous compliment – that I am as careful and organized as Dan and his grandfather – that I clean jars and use them to save nuts and bolts in a basement workshop. A basement workshop? Dan, I can only imagine you have something downstairs that resembles the Bat Cave. My basement is a workshop for mice!

Or tim’s observation that one jar was dated (“11/14”) and one wasn’t – a clear indication that somehow I knew the second jar would be gone soon, thus there was no reason to date it. Yes tim, but how does this connect to the fact that the victim had a glob of Artichoke Bruschetta lodged in his windpipe? C’mon, put the pieces together, man!

And then there’s Steve, who took the time to learn that Artichoke Bruschetta is a delicacy in the frozen midwest, with one jar costing in excess of $7 at Cub! Outrageous! And here you thought I was eating the low-priced spread! Am I no longer one of the 99%? What did you expect, Steve? Of course I have extravagant tastes – I own my own blog! And believe it or not, at this very moment I AM drinking a glass of champagne, flavored with Grey Poupon!

Truly I am flattered by your interest, and sorely tempted to concoct some elaborate explanation as to why I saved the jars, why one had the date written on the label, and how I can afford to live the extravagant life of an Artichoke eater when by rights I should barely be able to afford ordinary groceries. But that would take some extra effort, and at this point the truth is easier.

Dan, the jars are clean because I recycle them, and I read somewhere that they’re supposed to be clean before you put them in the bin. I always try to do what I’m told. Boring, I know.

tim, one jar is dated 11/14 because that’s when I opened it and I wanted to remember how long it had been in the fridge for the next time I decided to make pizza. One unfortunate characteristic of Artichoke Bruschetta is that it looks like a science experiment from the first moment you twist off the top. I didn’t trust myself to know if the stuff could be safely eaten the next time I opened the jar, which turned out to be about six weeks later. Being cautious, I decided staying healthy was worth the expense and I bought new jar, dumping the old and yes, rinsing the container.

And Steve, what can I say? Yes, I am an effete Bruschetta-eating snob who is out of touch with the common American. I have worked at government funded non-profits all my life while indulging in a hard-to-support fondness for foreign delicacies served on toast! For this reason alone I decided it would be a waste of my time to run for President. And yet, though I have forsaken my opportunity to lead this nation as I was meant to do, you insist on smearing my name in this way, just as a blob of Artichoke Bruschetta is smeared across a piece of anti-American crisp bread! At long last sir, have you no decency?

As for the not-so-subtle suggestion that my spending is out of control, I refer to tim’s question about the second Artichoke Bruschetta jar. tim guessed that I must have known jar #2 would not be around long because I didn’t take the time to write a date on the label. Yes, Mr. Holmes, that is correct. Not wanting to waste another overpriced jar, I used only the amount that was necessary for that night’s pizza, and bagged the rest in carefully pizza-topping-sized amounts that are now waiting in the freezer so they won’t spoil like the unlucky contents of the jar labeled “11/14”.

I’m sorry that the truth is so dull, but there it is. Believe it or not, that bland flavor in your mouth is very similar to the taste of Artichoke Bruschetta!

Have you ever been misled by a photograph?

Casual Observer

Today is the birthday in 1904 of Moss Hart, a New York playwright and a theater guy who worked with some of the biggest names on Broadway (Irving Berlin, George S. Kaufman) and won a Pulitzer for “You Can’t Take It With You.”

You would have to include him in your list of 1940’s New York sophisticates (he married Kitty Carlisle, famous for being on the TV game show “To Tell The Truth”) even though Hart grew up far from the bright lights of Broadway. His first visit to Times Square happened when he was 12 years old and he did it on the sly, running an errand for the owner of the music store where he worked, purposely NOT asking his mother for permission to go, as he was told to do.

The family struggled to make ends meet, but somehow there was always money for his eccentric Aunt Kate to go to the theater. It may have been allowed because she brought some of the glamour of Broadway back into the house. In his autobiography, “Act One”, Hart says the family was “grateful for this small patch of lunatic brightness in the unending drabness of those years.”

“My mother and I always waited up for her return, and then she would re-create the entire evening for us. She was a wonderful reporter. She had a fine eye for irrelevant detail and a good critical sense of acting values. Her passion for the theater did not include being overwhelmed by it, nor was she a blind idolater of stars. She always sat in the gallery, of course, but she always got to the theater early enough to stand in the lobby and watch the audience go in – in order, as she expressed it, to get all there was to get! She must have been a strange figure indeed, standing in the lobby, her eyes darting about, “getting” everything there was to get, her conversation, if she spoke to anyone, a mixture of Clyde Fitch and Thomas Hardy; her own clothes a parody of the fashionable ladies going into the theater. But little indeed did escape her and she regaled us with all of it, from the audience arriving to the footlights dimming, and then the story of the play itself. She would smooth out the program on the kitchen table, and there we would sit, sometimes until two o’clock in the morning, reliving the play …”

I admire anyone who can be such a keen observer and instant – playback storyteller. It’s not unusual to hear someone say that they enjoy people watching, but it is one thing to have a great eye for detail, quite another to have clear recall, and still another to be able to act it out coherently. Aunt Kate may have been aided in her dramatic re-creations by a touch of insanity, but regardless, she is a major character in the Moss Hart story. Her obsession with the stage may be responsible for the creation of some lasting works from the pen of her fascinated nephew.

Are you a people watcher? And do you remember anything you see?

Be Kind to Your Arts Volunteer

The Minnesota Fringe Festival begins this evening, and if you haven’t considered attending a few shows this time around, you should. Almost anything can happen on stage with one major exception – the show can’t last more than an hour. This is a major draw for theatergoers with active bladders, as well as those who want their entertainers to get to the point or at least get it over with.

One reason to be hesitant – the festival relies on the support of an army of volunteers who take tickets and run the stages while being informative, courteous and efficient. Another reason – I am one of those volunteers.

Given what we know about my memory (or at least what people tell me about my memory), “informative” can be a challenge, sometimes. Especially when there are 168 shows at 18 venues. Still, I stand by my off-the-cuff statement to one curious patron last year that the show “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” did not include an actual appearance by Shel Silverstein. I totally guessed on that one because Silverstein is dead, and I turned out to be right in spite of the strength of Fringe shows that feature zombies. “Courteous” is a strength area – I’m fairly certain I do OK on that one. “Efficient”? I admit I’m a work in progress.

Here’s my dirty little secret: though I have been in the employment pool for over 35 years, I have never had a paying job that required the physical handling of money. There are no burger joints in my background, no movie theaters, no coffee shops – in fact, there are no cash boxes anywhere in my resume. Also, I am a uni-tasker. I do one job at a time and I try to do it carefully, even if that’s not the fastest way to move the line (and it never is). You could say I’m retail – impaired.

This is a significant, self-inflicted handicap. In the crush time before a show starts, Fringe volunteers need to quickly decipher and make note of each type of admission various patrons will present, including the “all show” Ultra Pass, the 10 Show Pass, the 5 Show Pass, the Kid’s 5 show pass, and single show admissions. They must keep track of discount admissions (senior, student or MPR member), and if the patron cannot produce a Fringe button, the volunteer must explain that one is needed along with the ticket. It’s a one-time purchase ($4) but an every-show requirement, and if you forgot it on the kitchen counter you will have to buy a new one. And volunteers must be firm if anyone attempts to enter the theater after the doors have closed. All Fringe shows begin on time and there is no late seating.

Did I mention that I freeze up in a confrontation? Not total paralysis, but there might be long pauses, stammering, sad eyes and some gulping – more than enough to dull my persuasive powers. I’ve learned that people will not cede an argument out of pity.

Fortunately, Minnesota Fringe volunteering is the perfect entry-level experience for someone with my unique collection of shortcomings. The audiences are polite art lovers who have a high tolerance of ambiguity. They come to the festival predisposed towards forgiveness, whether they are being patient with an artist who thought he could build an entire monolog around his cat’s tumor, or a volunteer who can’t add. It is a rare and beautiful quality for an audience to possess an open and adventurous spirit. People at the Fringe expect to have their expectations challenged.

Note to one of last year’s customers: The blank look, the fumbling around in the cash box and all the finger-counting that accompanied the process of my making change for your fifty dollar bill was not, as you may have thought, incompetence. I was presenting a tiny drama about the value of paper money when offered in exchange for the fruits of a creative mind. Question: Can anyone truly “buy” an idea?

I hope I gave you something to think about, and I encourage you come back. I’ll be at the same place wearing this year’s volunteer shirt. My new show asks if it’s really possible to “control” a crowd.

If you had to create a piece of solo performance art, what would it be about?