Friend a Day – Deborah Johnson

 

Photo by Lena Nicole

Photo by Lena Nicole

 

I’ve known Deborah for about ten years now.  She is Chair of the Entertainment committee at the Siouxland Renaissance Festival so I get to deal with her every year when we work on The Dregs contract.

The first thing I will say about Deb is that she is very patient.  I’m a bit of a flake when it comes to paperwork and she frequently has to gently remind me that mine is overdue.  I know I’m not the only person who has that problem (she is working with artists after all) but I still appreciate that she is able to handle my flaky nature.

She clearly has a love for the Renaissance Festival culture.  Even though she lives in Sioux Falls, she works a shop in Minnesota every fall.  I think my commute from St. Paul is a pain but that is easy when compared to a commute from South Dakota.

You don’t do that sort of thing unless you love it.  There isn’t enough money to do it for any other reason.  It just has to be your passion.

Deb makes working for the Siouxland Festival a dream.  She is communicative and she always makes a performer feel important and welcome.    When it comes to worrying about a show, I never worry about Siouxland.  It is a comfortable and welcoming show.  Deb is a big reason for that.

Because of the nature of the Renaissance World, I see her infrequently and when I do, we are both busy with other things.  She’s always very willing to listen to thoughts or suggestions for her show and I feel like she always has the best interests of her performers in mind.

I also have to appreciate anyone who is a fan of my band and whose two favorite songs are my leads.

On the festival circuit, you get to know all types.  They are all great people and I’m happy that Deb is one of the great people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet.

 

Friend a Day – Josh Carson

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Fringe week stumbles on!

I’ve known Josh for about five years now.  He’s one of those personalities that is linked with the Fringe for me.  I can’t imagine Fringe Festival without Josh Carson.

You always know when Josh is in a room.  It isn’t just because he has a loud voice.  It’s because he is so animated.  He doesn’t ever seem to stand still for very long.

Because his writing is a lot like that, I have to assume that Josh’s outward personality is a reflection of his mind.  It just doesn’t stand still.

When I write a show, I’m frequently concerned that it is too short.  I’m never convinced I had enough to say.

Josh’s problem is the opposite.  He has so many jokes, he runs out of time to tell them all.  When I watch one of his shows, I’m almost afraid to laugh for fear of missing the next punchline.

Problem is, I can’t help but laugh because his jokes are too good.

I’m not going to lie.  I resent that a lot.

His shows are popular because he writes scripts that appeal to just about everyone.  I could (and should) bring my kids to his shows.  They wouldn’t get every joke but they would get a lot of them.

At fringe central, Josh’s table is one of most crowded and the loudest.  He’s got a personality that draws people to him.  And the people he attracts are a lot like him.

It is the nature of the Fringe that it brings together so many creative minds over a ten day orgy of artistry.  I’m naturally drawn to the comedians because I feel I understand them.

Or at least I want to understand them.

Josh is a perfect example of why I love the Fringe so much.  He and I might never have met had it not been for our mutual involvement in this big weird theater thing.  I’m a better person for knowing him because watching what he does and who he is makes me strive to be better in what I do.

Of course he has a show at the Fringe this year and of course I’m going to see it.  You should too.

Shit that Pissed Me off – 7/25

Syrians are Destroying Sculptures Because Allah

Dear everyone in the world:  Just because your particular strain of god does not approve of something is no reason to take that thing away from the rest of us.

When you destroy a sculpture that is thousands of years old, you can’t just make a new one.

This has existed for thousands of years and Allah has done nothing about it.  Therefore we must!

This has existed for thousands of years and Allah has done nothing about it. Therefore we must!

Unfortunately, this sculpture ended up in one of those places where the prevailing belief system says that historical significance is not a good enough reason to keep something around if there is a face on it.

So thanks, religious extremists, for taking something away from the rest of the world because you believe it will lead to eternal damnation! You guys are the best!

Read More…

Friend a Day – Jen Scott

Jen Scott

Fringe week continues!

I don’t actually remember when or how I met Jen.  I’m including her in Fringe week primarily because she performed in my show Story Time: Time Bomb a few years go.

She doesn’t always perform at the Fringe.  I can only assume this is because she turns down the opportunity to perform.  If it is because nobody asks her, I need to make sure I ask her every year.

Jen has a personality I would describe as jolly.  I realize that personality trait is typically associated with men who wear red suits and live at the north pole but if you know Jen, I hope you know what I mean.  Whenever I see her, she is smiling and filled with energy.

As an improviser, she is quick-witted and oh so clever.  The improvisational nature of Story Time: Time Bomb was why I immediately wanted to get her involved.  I knew she would completely nail what we needed for the show.

And she did.

I don’t see Jen that often but I enjoy it when I do because she makes you feel interesting.  When you talk to her, she makes eye contact and smiles and nods and laughs.  I imagine that is one of the reasons she is so good at improvisation.  She is in the  moment and paying attention all the time.

When she’s in a show, she’s one of those actresses that I notice.  It isn’t just because I know her.  It is because she creates memorable moments and I want to make sure I don’t miss them.

Unfortunately, she is not in a show at this year’s Fringe festival.  If she was, that show would be on my must see list without question.

Jen’s an awesome person and I’m glad I know her.

She performs over at Huge a lot. Keep an eye out for her there.  You’ll be happy you did.

Friend a Day – Ben San Del

Ben San Del

Fringe week continues!

I’ve known Ben for a few years now.  I think I was introduced to him when I first mounted a show at the fringe in 2007.

Ben, like a lot of my comedian friends, is always thinking about the philosophy of comedy.  It isn’t enough to write a funny joke.  It is more important to understand the nature of what makes jokes funny.  We had him on Geeks Without God earlier this year and he talked about how one approaches telling certain types of jokes to certain types of audiences.

While Ben has written some very good plays, he primarily identifies himself as a stand-up comedian.  He did a stand-up show at the fringe three years ago with a lot of material about being an atheist.  The way he was so open about that part of himself got me thinking about how writers and performers integrate their beliefs into their work.

Ben is in Jumpin’ Jack Kerouac with me and I think he views it through a similar lens.  We both feel completely out of our element as dancers but we enjoy the challenge.  We are both also very happy that we are only going to be doing this once.

In rehearsing the show, I’ve gotten to hear some of Ben’s writing about being social.  The thoughts that go through his head are similar to mine.  He lives in his head all the time.

Whenever I talk to him, I get the feeling there are two layers of conversation.  One is the actual conversation we are having and one is the internal dialogue he is having with himself about the conversation.

I guess we all do that but with Ben, I can actually watch it happen.

All of this analysis results in one very important by-product.  It makes Ben a very funny and insightful writer.

Ben also once told me that he thought I was in my mid 30′s and not my mid 40′s.

For having said that, I think he is one of the best people ever!

In addition to Jumpin’ Jack Kerouac, you should check out Ben’s other Fringe show: Fiddlestick Conundrum!

Friend a Day – Robin Gillette

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Fringe week continues!

I wrote about current Fringe Executive Director Jeff Larson yesterday.  It’s only fair I write about his worthy predecessor today!

Since she is no longer director, there is no danger it will appear as if I’m sucking up!

Last year, Robin did something that a lot of us can’t even imagine doing.  She stepped down from a job she really loved because she realized it was time to move on.  That takes a tremendous amount of courage.

Organizations like the Fringe can benefit from a little upheaval.  Knowing that is one thing.  Making the difficult decision to initiate that upheaval is entirely different.

My first Fringe Festival show was in 2007 and Robin impressed me right away because she treated every artist with respect.  It didn’t matter if this was your first time on stage or if you’d been performing for decades.

Certainly, that is part of the job.  It wasn’t an act, though.  She genuinely wanted to see every artist succeed and she wanted to make sure we all knew that.

Conversations with Robin over the years have typically taken place at Fringe central and almost always begin with her asking my how my show is going.  Again, that was the job.

But I always felt it was more than an obligatory question.  I always felt like she really wanted to hear how my show was going.  Her question may have been part of the job.  Her genuine interest in the answer was not.

Robin has moved on to other things but her love of the Fringe is still evident in the fact she still comes to the lottery, the previews, and the shows.  I haven’t been to a Fringe event this year where I didn’t see her.

She’s still very much a part of the community she helped foster and everyone seems happy to see she hasn’t gone away.

In itself, that seems like the best legacy of all.

Friend a Day – Jeff Larson

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Fringe week continues!

I’m reticent to write a blog post about Jeff because as executive director of the Fringe, he needs to be neutral when it comes to the artists producing work.  I totally get that.

But I really like the guy so I’m going to write about him anyway.

One of the things I like about Jeff (and the rest of the Fringe staff) is the hard they work to ensure bias is taken out of the system.  Many of them produce shows themselves.  All of them have friends who produce shows.  Yet the Minnesota Fringe is about as unbiased as they come.

When he was on Geeks Without God a few weeks ago, we carefully avoided talking about my shows so it wouldn’t seem like he was endorsing my work.

Jeff just took over the position of Executive Director this year and he always talks about how stressed he gets when he has to get up on stage and introduce things.

The dirty secret?  He’s really very good at it.  He’s charming and funny.  He makes up stuff on the fly.  He gets all the important information out in small, easy to digest bites.

I can tell that the social aspect of the job can be a little trying for him at times.  He came from tech theater and most techies have some social anxiety.  I think that’s why they all have jobs where they talk to each other on headsets in the dark.

But if there is a little social anxiety, he manages it well.  He knows that his job is to interact with the audience, artists, and press.

His job is to make things easier for dozens of producers every year and I can’t even imagine how difficult that is given most of us are flaky divas who are incapable of following clearly written instructions.

Jeff has also given me a ride in his Porsche and it was pretty sweet.

So thanks, Jeff, for taking on a tough job and doing it with grace and style.

Also, I expect no special treatment for writing this post.

Although another ride in the car would be OK…

 

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