Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
I don’t like vertical drop rides. I don’t like the way your stomach feels like it is sliding up into your mouth. I don’t like the sensation of falling. I don’t like heights. Vertical drop rides are the sauerkraut pizza of amusement parks. I don’t understand why someone came up with the idea in the first place or why anyone else decided to try it.
However, I’ve eaten sauerkraut pizza. The first time I had it, I discovered I actually liked sauerkraut pizza. I can’t tell you the name of the pizza place that produced the sauerkraut pizza I liked but I can tell you I’ve never been there again and any other time I’ve tried sauerkraut pizza, it was terrible.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios, then, is the version of sauerkraut pizza that I like.
Disney World has managed to make me try all kinds of rides I thought I hated. I thought I hated roller coasters. I was wrong. I thought I hated log flumes. I was wrong. I thought I hated haunted house rides. I was wrong.
I also thought I hated vertical drop rides. I’m still right about that one, actually. But I love the Tower of Terror.
The queue for Tower of Terror is easily one of the ten best queues at Walt Disney World. You step into a garden on the grounds of a 1940s era hotel, the Hollywood Towers. It looks like it was once opulent but everything has fallen into disrepair. The plants are the kinds of plants you’d seen in a well kept garden but they are overgrown. There are even weeds. At Walt Disney World. Weeds!
You wind your way to an decorative pool with no water in it. I imagine Disney wanted to create something with brown standing water but someone reminded the Imagineers that such a feature would breed mosquitos and you can’t have your guests getting bitten by bugs while standing in line. So the pool has cracks in the bottom where the water apparently drained away some years prior. Oxidizing copper lily pads sit atop twisted posts. They would look to be floating on top of the water if there was any water left. Now they look kind of lonely and tired.
Lights are still in the pool. Some of them work. Others are broken or just flicker. You can hear some ethereal music playing that sounds vaguely of the 40s but has lyrics you can’t make out and sounds as if it is coming from underwater even though the water is gone.
From there, you enter the lobby of an old hotel. It is covered in cobwebs and filled with creepy touches like a stuffed bird in the corner. A hotel bell person stands at a counter and shuffles you to a door where you wait to be shown into the library. Behind them is an elevator door but it is most definitely out of order.
When the library door opens, you enter into a room filled with so many objects, it would take years to catalog them all. There are books everywhere as well as any number of apparent souvenirs from trips to flea markets. All seeming to suggest the owners of the hotel were well travelled but looking more like they were just trying to cover every inch of the room with random weird stuff.
The doors close and the lights immediately go out. A television you probably didn’t notice begins an introduction video featuring a very good Rod Serling impersonator in which you learn that many years ago, five people stepped on to an elevator in the middle of a thunderstorm. Lightning struck the Hollywood Towers and, apparently, transported those five people into the Twilight Zone.
Fake Rod tells us that we now get to ride a maintenance elevator, which doesn’t seem like a very good idea but we have no choice. A secret door opens and we are ushered into the boiler room.
The room is noticeably hotter than where we just were. It isn’t like being outside in the heat of a Florida summer, but it is warm. There’s the low hum of machinery and every now and again we can hear some ancient electrical equipment spark. We move past rusted pipes to another bell person who shows us to a number on the floor in front of the doors of an elevator we are assured is actually in working order.
Soon, the doors open and we step into the elevator. We are shown to our seats and instructed to put on our seat belts. Then we have to pull up on a yellow strap to make sure they work. Then we are given safety instructions and the doors close. We are alone. With twenty other people.
The elevator rises a few floors and we see a hallway. I don’t really know how to describe what happens here except to say the special effects are remarkable. We get a little more exposition telling us that, yes, we are now in the Twilight Zone and we have probably made a very bad choice. It is at this point someone who is on the ride for the first time starts to low key freak out.
At one time, this person was me. I knew we were on a vertical drop ride. I hated vertical drop rides. I was anxious and every time the elevator went up, I knew it would, at some point, have to come back down.
The doors close again and we go up a few more floors. The doors open and the elevator starts to move forward.
Not up or down. Forward. This is not how we’ve been led to believe elevator cars work.
We glide past some dimly lit figures of those five people who were transported to the Twilight Zone all those years ago. So far, things seem creepy but…not so bad…
In front of us, a vertical line of light appears and then splits as another unseen door opens. We move forward and then we stop in total darkness.
Those people who were low key freaking out before are no longer so low key about it.
Again, this was me. I guess I was more low key than most as I grabbed my wife’s hand and squeezed it super hard. I was pretty sure they had put off the drop as long as they could and I was definitely getting to the part I was going to hate.
Then the elevator drops suddenly. Or it shoots up suddenly. You don’t actually know what is going to happen because every ride is different. You find yourself shooting up and then plummeting back down for several seconds. At some point, you are high enough that doors open in the wall and you can briefly look out over the grounds of Hollywood Studios before you fall again.
It’s a vertical drop ride with character. You aren’t just lifted and dropped. You are told that you are about to get onto an elevator you shouldn’t get on. You are immersed into the story. And when the drop comes, it might even be a bit unexpected.
Instead of hating the sensation, I loved it. Maybe it was being in the dark that erased my anxiety of heights. Maybe it was the uncertainty of the rise and drop. Or maybe it was just the fact that they had set up the ride to be about so much more than just the cheap thrill of bouncing up and down.
When it is over, your elevator door opens and fake Rod welcomes back everyone who made it. I’ve always made it. But someday I might not. Fake Rod suggests that is a possibility.
And if that’s how I’m going to go, I’d be happy to sign up for the experience one more time.
2019 Fringe Reviews – Day 8
A rare day off from performing allowed me to spend the entire evening watching other people’s shows!
I had a lovely end to my evening at the Red Stag Supper Club, home to Fringe central. I arrived early enough to order some food, which has proven to be a challenge on other occasions. I was able to socialize with some people I see not nearly enough. I’ve always enjoyed Fringe Central as a place where I can make connections with people I barely know.
I’m not nuts about the Red Stag Supper Club. I know that finding a good Fringe Central venue is one of the biggest challenges the Fringe faces each year and the ultimate solution will, almost certainly, result in complaints by most everyone because if there’s one thing everyone involved in Fringe loves to do, it is complain about Fringe Central.
So, at the risk of being a cliche, I too will complain about Fringe Central.
I think one of the biggest problems with Red Stag is the fact it isn’t really near anything. It takes a long time to get there once you are done Fringing for the day. At least if you are on the West Bank where more than half of the Fringe venues are located.
Aside from that, it is really freaking difficult to actually get food. The kitchen is was closed before I arrived at least once. I’ve been going to shows since 5:30 and I’m hungry. Why put “Supper Club” in your name if I can’t get supper?
And they close at 1:00. Theater people are all night people. All of us. Except that one guy but we don’t talk about him.
As I mentioned, it is hard to find someplace that wants to be Fringe Central so I’m not sure what is to be done. I guess I’ll just complain about it because that’s what we do.
Friday night was a good night of Fringing. Here’s the four shows I saw and enjoyed!
This show was basically everything one might expect from a parody of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. If you were to expect anything at all.
Link is our protagonist but as an actor, I’d be delighted by the number of lines I’d have to memorize. Which is pretty much the perfect way to write Link.
The show is something of a kitchen sink parody of all things Legend of Zelda but mostly Ocarina of Time. A lot of jokes land. A few jokes don’t. Some of the actors are quite good. Others could use a little polish.
But the end result is a lot of fun. I’m a fan of the Zelda franchise but never actually played Ocarina of Time. Even so, most of the references were easy enough to recognize. My kids, who had a lot more familiarity with Ocarina of Time, recognized a little more.
Pop culture parodies are one of the most common pieces of the fringe puzzle (says a guy who has written a lot of them). Some of them are great. Some are not so great.
Zelda falls in the middle. But a lot closer to great. I had a good time.
Mad as Nell, or How to Lose a Bly in Ten Days
The odds of me not liking a Josh Carson show are pretty low. Mostly because he’s that good but also because he’s typically firing jokes right into my strike zone.
This year’s show lists Carson as one of four co-writers and, coincidentally or not, that may be why I think it is one of his best.
I mean let’s be fair, none of his shows have sucked. This one, though, has a voice that is a little different and, while engaging in broad parody, somehow has more heart. There were times where the voice of the show didn’t feel like Josh and that worked really well.
Look, the subject matter – Nellie Bly’s expose of a women’s mental institution – is pretty serious stuff. So a broad, slapstick comedy about it seems completely without being disrespectful.
Yet somehow this show is both wildly funny and deeply respectful. That’s a hard balance to strike and I couldn’t help but be impressed at how well it was pulled off.
My only complaint was a few moments where I had difficulty hearing and understanding a few of the actors. However, I’m over fifty and I will allow that maybe I should just get hearing aids.
Unproblematic Faves: Best of Ladybrain
This sketch show is pretty much exactly what the show name suggests. A series of sketches pulled from past Ladybrain performances that they decided were some of their best.
Having seen none of their shows, I’m going to have to assume these are, indeed, their best. Or at least their favorites.
I suppose your enjoyment of the show would depend a great deal on whether or not you agree with their choices. Fortunately, I did. Starting with a somewhat inept serial killer in need of some guidance and moving on through a brewpub apocalypse and an unexpected sex party, almost every sketch was clever in the way it somehow subverted expectations. If there were any sketches that feel flat, it wasn’t long until the audience had a new one to enjoy.
For my part, there was only one that, while still funny, felt a lot like other sketches I’d seen before. The rest of the show landed well enough for me to think I should try to see more shows by Ladybrain.
I guess that would be the point. Well played.
Which Middle Name of “Philip Seymour Hoffman” Are You?
I imagine one will look at the title of this show and ask “what is the show about.”
My answer is “exactly what the title says.”
I recognize that isn’t the least bit helpful. For that I apologize and yet I can’t really explain anything about this show without, basically, walking you through the entire show. Even then, I’d probably be asked why I thought it was so fantastic because the description makes it sound…kinda stupid.
This show is about as absurd a show as you will watch at the Fringe. It has a premise that sounds like something the producers came up with while high one night.
Maybe that’s what happened. If so, they need to get high more often because it is clearly when they do their best work.
So far, this is easily the most surprising and yet most enjoyable show I’ve seen at the 2019 Fringe. It’s a manic show in which the audience gets caught up in the completely inconsequential stakes and every time you think you know what’s coming next, you are probably wrong.
2019 Fringe Reviews – Day 7
So much of Fringe is people taking a chance on something. You have to respect that even when it doesn’t end up working. And you also have to accept that your tastes are not everyone’s tastes.
I’ve gone to many shows that were good shows but I didn’t like them. How do you rate those? How do you review them? I don’t want to pretend that I liked them but I also don’t want to pretend that what I like or don’t like is what everyone likes or doesn’t like.
Being an artist at Fringe means I can go to as many shows as possible for free. And if you are an artist at Fringe and aren’t taking advantage of that benefit, you still have a few days to change that.
Obviously, we all have lives and maybe it doesn’t make sense for some of us. But over the run of Fringe, I learn more about acting, directing, and writing than I do in the rest of the year because I watch so many shows. I learn from what people do right but I also learn from what they do wrong.
I supposed that’s why I go through the process of writing my reviews. So I can actually have a record of what I learned.
I saw three shows last night and they were all good in one way or another. They all also had major flaws. So I’m going to see what I can learn from each one of them.
A Cult Classic feels like a play that has everything going for it and that’s why I’m not sure why it didn’t have more of an impact. The story of a bizarre doomsday cult that may or may not realize how idiotic their entire belief system is before it is too late is well staged and performed. The writing felt strong but it maybe it had too easy a time making its point?
I found myself mildly amused with the comically weird cult members who had been convinced they needed to forget how to read and thus were incapable of accomplishing the most basic of tasks without their leader (who has disappeared). There were sinister undertones as well but somehow those undertones and the comedy weren’t balanced.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how much I really wanted to like this show but never felt fully engaged. I never felt like the comedy was broad enough or the danger real enough. Maybe I was too fully aware of how cults work and so I saw most of the twists coming before the characters did.
I don’t know how I’d change this play to make it work for me. And maybe that doesn’t need to happen because while I know I didn’t care for it, I can’t point to any one thing that made it a bad show. It wasn’t a bad show. But it should have appealed to me and it didn’t. I’ll let everyone know if I figure out why.
Backstory is a two actor play about the backstory (get it) of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Instead of Jimmy Stewart’s perspective, we get the perspective of the conspirators and their plan to trick him.
Since I love Vertigo, I was definitely the target audience. And that’s part of the problem. If you haven’t seen Vertigo, I feel like this show would be nearly impenetrable. The story can be understood without having seen the movie but I don’t think you can understand the relevance.
And the thing is, you could have included some of Vertigo to help an unfamiliar audience. The show only runs 35 minutes. There was a lot of time to fill in the blanks.
The show also suffers from a lack of emotion. These two characters are talking about emotional challenges but they aren’t showing them. We are to believe that one of them is growing more concerned about the plot but she doesn’t seem more concerned. She just says he is.
And the other character is a controlling asshole who is selfishly trying to change his life but he seems kind of…bored.
At 35 minutes, the show is short. But if you don’t know Vertigo, I’m guessing even 35 minutes will feel long.
If you do know Vertigo, and you accept that this is what actually happened to these characters when the camera wasn’t running, I feel like you’d understand why Hitchcock decided not to include it.
This is a good play. The performances are solid. The writing is exactly the writing this is needed for the story they are trying to tell. I have to say up front, if you like the kind of show they created, this is a very good example of that kind of show.
And I’m going to do my best to describe the show because it is the kind of show I pretty much hate.
But my hatred of this type of show is my problem.
Chorus follows a bunch of college students and their teacher on a bus tour across the country. It is told in a clipped, ensemble fashion with monologues often split between the entire cast. One line at a time. It’s a kind of poetic, distant recollection of this one time in their lives and what it meant to them.
There are so many characters and each of them gets an arc. Minor ones. One that could, on their own, be an entire Fringe show.
There’s some music. There’s a moment when a shocking news story is partially healed through song. There’s a teacher who has lost his family because the choir kids are his family.
It’s all well done and…I remember doing this kind of show in High School. It is so earnest and so deep and yet also so very shallow. To me, anyway.
The audience in the theater with me loved it. Loved it.
So that’s why I say that this is a good show. It achieves everything it sets out to achieve and everyone involved is doing their jobs well.
It is the best example I’ve seen of a show style that I really don’t like. I mean that as a complement even if it doesn’t sound like one.
Our penultimate performance went well with a much better than expected attendance for 10:00 PM on a Thursday.
It’s interesting being in a mystery show where the whole idea is to tell people as little as possible. You don’t want to give away all your secrets. You want the audience to experience them on their own.
I care so little about spoilers. The show can completely stand on its own. You can know what is going to happen and still appreciate the journey.
That said, I respect the desire of our producer to keep things a secret. You will note that even as I say I don’t care about spoiling the show, I’m not actually spoiling the show. Once the show closes, I’ll totally ruin anything you like, though!
About Swan Song, or Endgame, or whatever! I’m your one stop spoiler shop. DM me!
Until then, though, we have one more performance. And my lips are sealed!
2019 Fringe Reviews – Day 6
First observation of the day – every post I’ve made up until now doesn’t include the year. So many years from now when I’m gone from this Earth and the show pages have been archived, nobody will know what year all of this took place. Historians will need to piece that information together from other of information gleaned from the stone tablets on which my words will have been engraved shortly before the world lost all power and the internet became useless.
So to confused future generations, I’m extremely sorry.
Second observation of the day – I have a cat constantly stepping on the power button for my laptop as if she knows which one it is. And she probably does. So if it seems like something is missing at any point, it is because she fucked up my writing before I had a chance to save it.
Aaaand she just knocked a stuffed TARDIS into my lap. On purpose.
I only watched one show on Wednesday and I appeared in one other. This recap shall, therefore, be brief. And if all you care about is the show I watched, you don’t need to read the second part in which I discuss audience reviews! So that should save you some time!
Kind of Funny But Also a Little Sad
Theater in the Round has a crazy spectacular lineup this year. I’ve seen almost every show at the venue and haven’t been disappointed by one yet.
Kind of Funny But Also a Little Sad is, I’m led to understand, a re-mount of a show staged at Strike at some point in the past. So that’s another show I should have made time to see and – you know – didn’t.
Fortunately, Mike Fotis and Rita Boersma remounted the show at the Fringe. That way I could feel guilty about missing it the fist time!
Good comedy can take many different forms but some of the best is when the comedy is just a little bit real. When it cuts just a little too close to home. When the performers lay bare their own insecurities and have the courage to make fun of them.
I laughed as much as I’ve laughed at any show this year but there were moments in almost every sketch where I was moved by the vulnerability Rita and Mike displayed. It all happens so naturally that it is easy to forget that this kind of thing is really hard to do.
Making people laugh is hard work. Making them laugh and feel something at the same time?
It’s great comedy, yeah. But it’s also just really great theater. If you, like me, didn’t see this in the initial run at Strike, I guess we should all try not to make the same mistake the next time these two amazing artists put on a show.
I should also quickly mention that Heather Meyer has been involved in three shows I’ve seen at Theater in the Round (she directed this one) and she apparently has more talent in one strand of hair than most of us have in our entire circle of friends.
OK, so let’s talk about audience reviews. Because Fringe artists have a love/hate relationship with them.
They are super necessary. Assuming mostly positive reviews, the more reviews you get, the more it draws other people to your show. It’s the reason savvy artists make sure to ask you to write a review – they genuinely help you find an audience.
They aren’t nearly as important as word of mouth. When someone tells you they loved a show, they must really have loved it because they are making an effort to tell you.
But the reviews reach more people. And as the run of Fringe continues, having that number be a high number really helps out.
Side note: If you’ve seen “The Lunch Bunch” and haven’t written an audience review…
Thing is, reading critiques of stuff you’ve worked on is really hard. And even if you’ve got twenty five star reviews that say your show is awesome, that one two star review that calls you a hack writer who doesn’t understand human emotion is the one you’ll actually remember. Forever.
You can have dozens of people tell you personally how much they like what you created and that one person you’ve never met is the one who crushes your soul.
Which is not to say people shouldn’t write negative reviews if they don’t like a show. I mean, what’s the point if you can’t say you didn’t like a show?
But as an artist, you really have to find your zen about these reviews. If the bulk of reviews are positive, you probably wrote a decent show. So you have to accept that someone isn’t going to like your show.
And maybe try hard to remember the good reviews instead of the bad ones. And try to take the kernels of truth out of the bad ones. Because you can do better. Just maybe not in the way that audience member who clearly didn’t actually see your show says.
Fringe Reviews – Day 5
I took Monday off of Fringe entirely. I typically take one day off a year if I can. Fringe is a hard fortnight and if you don’t give yourself a little time away, it can wreck you. Or at least it can wreck me.
I expected this would be a light evening as well. I had a meeting that was going to take up one time slot, I was performing, and I didn’t think I’d make it in time for a 5:30 show. As it turns out, I made it after all!
We are reaching the point in the Fringe where the shows I know I want to see, I may not actually be able to see. Timing doesn’t work out. Or the show is very good and is in a small venue and I’m not going to be able to get in with my artist pass.
Which is fine. I’d rather a producer had a paying customer instead of me. It sucks that I don’t get to see shows I’m really interested in seeing but that’s the way the lottery ball rolls.
Here are my thoughts on the shows I saw Tuesday night!
This adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser known comedies was performed by a cast of women and, while it stuck to the original (abridged) text, it calls out some of the more problematic lines in the play. A brother asking his sister to sacrifice her virtue in exchange for his life, for instance.
The cast is stellar and I haven’t seen Mo Perry on stage in a while (I’m sure she has been on stage – I just haven’t seen what she’s been in) so that was definitely worth it.
The biggest issue I had with the show was in the difficulty I sometimes had understanding the language. Trimming a Shakespeare play to under an hour meant the actors were sometimes rushing their lines to get everything in and Shakespeare suffers a little when the language is rushed. The Southern also has a tendency to swallow up dialogue a little and this was a play where you didn’t want the dialogue swallowed.
The cuts to the script were very smart and kept things focused very intently on the way the men in this play treat the women in the play. Even the sympathetic ones. Yes, Shakespeare was written in a different time but I think the point here is that this kind of behavior isn’t new. It was a clever way to take something that already existed and change the audience’s perception of that material.
I haven’t mentioned up to this point but Swan Song is written and produced by a first time Fringe Producer. It is really easy to get caught up in finding shows by producers whose work you’ve grown to love but first time producers are the future of the Fringe.
Cara has put together a tight and suspenseful story of…well I probably shouldn’t say. And she’s filled with enthusiasm for getting other people to see her work. She’s wandering around Fringe with a stuffed swan and postcards at the ready. I remember what that was like.
It’s great to see the new producers trying like hell to get an audience in front of their work. Someday, many of those producers could end up being the next Josh Carson don’t miss Fringe star.
I’m not saying that being a Fringe Star is the end all of existence (sorry Josh) but for those of us who really love this time of year, the unexpected is just as exiting as the expected.
Tess Jones: Space Archaeologist
This show is exactly the kind of concept I could see myself writing. A classic radio show that slowly develops a life of its own sounds like a really wonderful concept.
What the show lacked, I think, was urgency. I wanted things to be more manic. More out of control. The moments where it felt like the show might go there, everything was frustratingly reigned in.
I would have liked to see things start out as an actual radio play and slowly devolve into the real adventure except the characters continue to be aware they are in a radio play. That, of course, is my mentality as a writer being projected on to someone else’s work.
Another issue that was not the fault of the show was the fact one of the leads was played by an understudy reading from a script. That happens. I don’t know why the original actor was unable to perform but I’m certain that a lot of the timing was thrown off as a result. There were also a couple of actors who were hard to hear, which is actually something of an accomplishment in the Rarig Arena.
I should mention that Laura Bidgood as Tess Jones was delightful and I love her.
I should also say I thought a lot of the writing was clever but some of the delivery meant it ended up falling flat. This is where a crispness to the show would have helped.
The show has a lot of promise as an idea. I feel like it only delivered on part of that promise. But I think I would be interested in seeing it again with a full cast. Nothing against the performer who gamely stepped in to take over, but I feel like I didn’t see the show that I was supposed to see.
Fringe Reviews – Day 4
I know a lot of people who create a Fringe schedule and stick to it. Planning on seeing a show everyone has told you is bad? It’s on the schedule! Turns out there is a show that you hadn’t heard of and it’s really good? Too bad because it’s not on the schedule!
I don’t want to harshly judge that plan because if it works for those people, that’s great. It is how they do Fringe.
My technique is typically to plan each day as it comes. Look at the schedule in the morning and make decisions. And if I can’t make up my mind about a particular slot, go to whatever is closest.
Choosing a random show is what I call “fringe roulette.” You don’t know what you’ll get. Sometimes it’s spectacular. Other times it…isn’t.
I played a little Fringe roulette on Sunday. The results were not great. But that’s the way Fringe roulette goes.
I’m currently working on an idea for an escape room show for a large audience. Escape rooms are typically for about 3-10 people and I want to write it for 150. As a result, I’m going to a lot of things with escape room themes.
This show, about four people in an Escape room that has a lot of puzzles requiring people to answer embarrassing personal questions, was a little bit of research for me. At least that’s what I told myself.
The show wants us to laugh at how the escape room operators are airing the dirty laundry of these characters – a couple that has been together for a while and a couple that has been together for a few weeks – but it just wasn’t all that funny. I know Fringe shows are only an hour long but if you want me to care about the characters, you need to make me care about them before you start damaging them.
One character also bore the heaviest burden of blame in the show. Virtually every embarrassing reveal was for the “new” character. The one the others didn’t already know.
That’s boring. Of course she would have the most embarrassing secrets since the others knew each other already. Better to have the people who know each other be the ones who had the most damaging secrets.
Escape THIS has good performances but I feel that the characters weren’t really given any opportunity to be interesting. Which is a shame because the basic concept was interesting. It fell down in execution.
If the title plus the show image is giving you an idea of what kind of show this would be, you are almost certainly exactly right.
This show is a broad comedy in which there are a lot of deaths, a lot of strange bible verses, and a lot of flashlights. I like the show a lot but there were a few obstacles that kept me from loving it.
First was the volume of some of the actors. I just couldn’t hear their lines. Second was the use of flashlights for a lot of scenes. From the front of the house, the audience could probably make out a lot more. From where I was sitting, I couldn’t see much at all. I feel like there needed to be a blue wash whenever characters were using flashlights. Sometimes there was a dim wash, but it needed to be a bit brighter.
And there were times the show slowed down with a lot of dialogue that felt extraneous. Where Escape THIS made me care about the characters, I don’t really want to care about characters in a parody of a slasher film since you are going to kill them off anyway.
But – the show is silly. And not as sacrilegious as you might think (which isn’t a problem for me anyway).
The show we’d planned to see sold out so we ended up here. Fringe roulette achieved! The result? Well….
Basic premise of the show: Three one act plays in which there is a waiter, an agent and an actor. They are all about addiction. Each play is written by a different writer but the same three actors are in all three and they switch roles.
OK. Fine. The result was…kind of awful.
I feel like I could get any three people I know who write plays to sit down and write this show and they would manage to come up with three scenes that were different. This show had three scenes that were, basically, the same. Actor is addicted to something (cell phone, gambling, alcohol) and pissed agent can’t get them work. Agent basically tells actor “I can’t get you work because of your addiction.” Actor says “it’s not my fault you can’t do your job.” Waiter mentions that they act (ha ha). Conversation goes around in circles for another ten minutes.
The blocking was also the same for all three. Two people sat at a table and the waiter showed up every now and again. They hardly stood up at all.
So for an hour, we were watching two people sitting at a table having the same conversation.
Addiction is a serious issue and whether you are writing a comedy or a drama about it, it deserves better treatment than it received here.
Let me begin by saying this show image is absolutely amazing.
John Heimbuch, who is one of the most gifted playwrights I know, performed this solo show but it was written by Charlie Bethel. I don’t know Charlie but he recently passed away and John wanted this show to live on.
It’s a great show. And Charlie’s writing is great. It retains a lot of the lofty language of Beowulf but somehow manages to make it accessible. It is dramatic and grand and uplifting and funny and scary and sad. All the things a great script should be. So I understand why John was so drawn to it.
But I need to reserve some praise for John. Because great writing is nothing without a great performance. And John, fully committed in both body and voice, sold this show.
He has some history as a dancer and that makes his movements powerful and dramatic. As he shifts characters, you can see that he is not playing the same person in the way he carries himself and the way he speaks. He is, not to put too fine a point on it, damn good.
I would go see this show again. Props to John for wanting to keep Charlie’s work alive. But props also to him for recognizing that he needed to bring something special to the show to give it a chance. He did.
Reverend Matt’s Monster Science Presents: How to Come Back from the Dead
Monster Science is Matthew Kessen’s brand. He is very good at it. One could criticize him for coming up with a concept in which he simply reads from a book, both educates and amuses with tales of monsters, and puts together a deck of mostly hilarious power point slides.
The only reason one would criticize him for that, I imagine, is because one is pissed that he thought of it first.
You shouldn’t be though, because I can guarantee if you thought of it first, Matthew would still do it better than you. His deadpan delivery is the key. The way he treats everything like a real lecture and he includes real information as if he could somehow help you become a vampire.
And I believe if anyone could, it would be him.
For Fringe, Matthew has added an assistant (Elora Riley) and if I have a quibble with the show, it is that this addition just isn’t quite solidly integrated into the show yet. The exchanges between Elora and Matt sometimes slowed the momentum.
I liked the add, mind you. And I think it can only get better. Because what Matt does is, all on his own, really great. But I appreciate that he looks to evolve his show into something even grander. This addition may not have been perfect. But I still liked it a lot.
A Man’s Guide for Appropriate Behavior in the 21st Century
Man’s Guide is not a show in the tradition sense. It is a series of conversations about important social topics featuring diverse panelists. The talk I attended was supposed to be about gender, sexuality, and intersectionality.
Host Scot Forelich, on the advice of his panelists, opted to change the conversation based on the fact two mass shootings had occurred in the previous 24 hours. So the conversation still touched on gender and intersectionality but it ended up focusing a lot more on race and societal oppression.
If I have a critique about this show, it is only that one hour is not long enough to have these conversations. I wanted more time to hear what these panelists had to say because it was important.
It is good Scot is giving these people visibility and amplifying their voice. I’m glad I went. If anything, my disappointment came from the fact that I had to leave.
Our third performance at 10:00 PM on a Sunday. Not a great time slot. But the audience was of decent size so that was nice.
I had a couple of friends whose opinions mean a lot to me tell me how much they enjoyed the show afterwards. That was nice to hear because this show was a challenge for me to write. There are a lot of reasons for that but one was because I had decided to make one of my characters transgender.
That isn’t a spoiler. You find it out in the first five minutes of the show.
It felt right. In watching The Breakfast Club, I heard a lot of language that I’d heard from friends who are transgender. So I made the character transgender.
I had never written a transgender character before and I’ll be honest, it scared the shit out of me because I didn’t want to get it wrong and it isn’t my story. Fortunately, my director and the actress playing the role are both transgender and were willing to give me honest feedback on where I needed to go with the character.
I’m not going to say I got it right. But I do believe I got it less wrong than I otherwise could have.
Two more performances of this one to go! 8:30 Wednesday and 7:00 on Saturday!
Fringe Reviews – Day 3
Fringe shows can be good or bad or in between. That’s the beauty of the Fringe. Anyone can do a show as long as they can afford the producer fee.
I’m writing this as a preface to talking about a show that wasn’t just bad. Because bad is fine. You can learn a whole lot from bad. If you are aware of the mistakes you make, you can write a better show. Not everyone, however, is aware of their mistakes and that’s the way of the world. If everyone had the ability to fairly assess their own abilities, we’d all be a lot better at what we do.
Rarely have a I seen a show cross over the boundary between “bad” and “irredeemable” but I saw a show like that on Saturday. It’s super hard to look at a show by someone you know and say “this has crossed a line and there is no coming back.” You want to believe that they can rescue it.
But they can’t. There’s nothing to be done but to tell people the show doesn’t deserve support of any kind. I’ll get to that show soon enough. Here are the shows I saw/participated in on Saturday!
SIZE is an anthology show looking at the challenges of being someone who is bigger than other someones. It looks at fat shaming and how living with something other than the ideal body is a constant battle – especially for women.
Most of us are caught up with this issue. But we’ve only recently begun talking about how body image can be such a unstoppable emotional burden. Society tells us we need to be a certain size. If you are in theater, it is a lot easier to get a role if you are a certain size. We talk about loving our bodies but do we really love our bodies?
SIZE touches on all of these issues and many more. It is remarkably empowering because it involves some very fierce women speaking their truth. And that truth is something most, if not all of us, can relate to.
I think the great thing about the show is this idea that we can and should talk about these issues but also that we spend way too much time talking about these issues in the wrong way.
I wrote the show and I’ll be at every performance so you are gonna hear about it five times. Sorry. That’s just how I track these things.
When you write a show like this, audience is such a huge part of the experience. The show is a drama but it starts out as more of a comedy. Not a “five laughs a second” comedy but something that should seem a little light.
If the audience laughs and enjoys that beginning, they are going to respond better to the emotional beats that are going to hit later.
All of this is to say our opening night audience was cranked and laughed at everything and that was great. This performance, the audience was considerably more subdued and that made it a little harder to get a handle on their reaction. Apparently, we got some people to cry, though. So that’s super good, right?
Bad Thoughts with Wolfie B Bad
Here we go.
Wolfie B Bad is a bad show by a bad performer who had a bad idea. And if it was just bad theater we could leave it at that and move on.
Thing is, the show is worse than bad. Because in the show I saw, the performer groped an audience member without consent. So yes, the audience witnessed sexual assault. I’m not making this up. It was sexual assault.
What the performer failed to realize is that consent is not just about getting someone to say yes to a prompt. It is about making sure the audience knows what they are saying yes to. And it is about not putting that audience member into a situation where you have all the power. Then, even if you are asking for consent, they are not really in a position to give it because they are going to feel compelled to say yes!
Having assaulted an audience member in the first ten minutes, the rest of the show was simply an attempt to engage in audience interaction with a puppet. By a bad puppeteer.
Generally what would happen is he would ask someone what they did. He would then repeat what they’d said back to them and wait for a laugh that never came.
I don’t know if future performances will feature sexual assault. I have to hope they won’t. But I can guarantee you they won’t include anything even the slightest bit funny. This isn’t just the worst show at the Fringe this year. It is possibly the worst show I’ve seen at any Fringe.
The Civil war is over. And yet, we are still fighting it. And losing.
A Confederate Widow in Hell is a (mostly) one person show in which the audience encounters the ghost of a southern plantation owner. She is genteel and charming and devout and a complete monster.
Yet, at the same time, she is the product of a society where she herself was oppressed. As we look at this nesting doll system of oppression, we see how the societal structures of her day and the structures of our day are not very different at all.
The show features two actors. One bears the most heavy burden of playing the protagonist. The other, a headless “assistant” who provides sound effects, lighting effects and a body that is put to some good use later in the show. Both are exceptional.
This apparition of our past is a difficult creature to see because she reflects our present. And that is what the show ultimately wants to show us. That the difference between the monster on stage and the audience is so very little indeed.
The Late, Great Uncle Danforth
Kelvin Hatle has long produced some of my favorite shows at the Fringe. His wry, witty takes on life are often punctuated with moments of the absurd (Karate Elvis makes an appearance in this show) followed by moments that are touching and honest.
Uncle Danforth is a video will from Danforth Auslander-Fish, who has some things to say to his inheritors. It remains to be seen until the end of the show if he will ever actually get to the point. Along the way, though, he has a lot of thoughts about a lot of different topics.
Kelvin’s dry delivery means that jokes frequently wash over the audience. At first, a few people laugh and then more and more as everyone fully comprehends the depth of the humor.
He also finishes his shows rather late in the process. What that means is typically the final performance will be better than the first. I saw his first performance and thought it was fantastic. I an only assume those who have the pleasure of watching a later performance will see something even better.
Our second performance of Swan Song featured an audience that was, much like the audience for Lunch Bunch, a little more subdued. Or they simply latched on to the creeper aspects of the show a little bit earlier.
I have to shout out to our director for this show. I have worked with Jason Kruger before but only as a writer and a director. As a director himself, he has the ability to really figure out how to give actors notes that help them improve their performance.
Those directors are hard to find. I’m not sure if he knows how good he is. Someone should probably tell him.
Stuck in an Elevator with Patrick Stewart II: The Wrath of Fandom
OK, this is going to sound weird coming from a white guy who frequently includes commentary on social issues in his work.
This show seemed so much like a play written by a white guy making commentaries about social issues. I don’t think that is bad. White guys should notice and comment on social issues. They should come up with ways to lampoon and belittle Incels and Men’s Rights activists because – and I don’t use this term lightly – they are trash.
But this show was a white guy lecturing his audience. It badly needed a woman’s voice. The Incel had a sympathetic backstory because this show is a sequel and in the first show, he was our protagonist. I didn’t see that show but there were enough references to it that I couldn’t help but wonder how someone who was a fan of that show would feel about seeing a character they liked being turned into such a jackass.
Patrick Stewart, who is a well known women’s rights advocate, was written to completely miss the Incel in the room for the longest time. And the Incel in the room was given enough history to make us care for him when the message needs to be “who gives a damn what made him this way because he’s just trash.”
The woman in the room had to carry the burden of confronting the Incel. She was the one who had to do the hard work.
There was also a secondary story that really had little to do with the main storyline and used up a lot more time than it needed given how little actually took place.
This show treaded much the same ground as Xena and Gabrielle Smash the Patriarchy. The difference was that that Xena and Gabrielle kept me entertained while talking about toxic masculinity. This show just talked about toxic masculinity. I agreed with everything this show had to say. But I can’t agree with the way in which it was being said.
Fringe Reviews – Day 2
It was a long weekend and time for me to catch up on my Fringe Reviews!
On Friday, I spent the entire evening at Theater in the Round and I enjoyed all three shows. I also performed in one show. I’ll get to each of them in a minute. However, I have a general observation about performances in TRP.
Because the audience bank on the south side of the theater is so much larger and because that side of the audience tends to fill up first, there is a tendency, especially in shows with a solo performer presenting a spoken word piece, for the show to play heavily to that bank of seats on the south side.
It was where I was seated for all three shows and in two of them, I was actually a bit distracted noticing how the actors would deliver most of their piece to the south bank of seats and then do a slow turn to take in the people behind them before settling back in to deliver to the same group of people.
It was most notable in the anthology shows and I expect that may, in part, be a result of those shows not being rehearsed as a group so the director never really has time to critique something like where each performer focuses their attention.
But it’s something anyone producing in TRP should think about. The actors don’t really know how to treat being in the round without some guidance.
On to what I saw Friday night!
The Bisexual Unicorn and Other Mythological Creatures
I call shows with multiple presenters on a single topic “anthology shows.” I don’t know if that is an actual thing but for future reference, that’s what “anthology show” means.
Such shows are inherently uneven. Someone is always a little better. Someone is always a little worse. The work is sometimes curated and sometimes not.
The message of this show, which is about living in a binary world when you don’t fit conveniently into binary categories, is an important one right now. Everything is framed as a series of circus acts which is, I think, meant to give us the idea that society views these individuals as freaks. So the goal is to normalize their experience.
And the show certainly does that. I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to be more sympathetic to those who don’t fit into the convenient cis-het-white-dude bucket I inhabit but the thing is, this is all a learning process. There are always things I get wrong. Or don’t understand.
Shows like this lend visibility to the invisible. And that’s super important. This show is also very entertaining with a lot of humor, honesty, and some glass eating (which really did not sit well with a few audience members when I attended the show). I’m not going to call out any specific people involved in the show. It was an ensemble piece so I will simply applaud the ensemble.
Xena and Gabrielle Smash the Patriarchy
Basic premise: Xena and Gabrielle go to the future and find themselves at a convention that is suffering from a lot of toxic masculinity. Yeah, OK. I’m in.
I know the world of science fiction conventions pretty well. And even though, I’m told, writer Nissa Nordland Morgan doesn’t, she understood it quite well enough. The concept of toxic masculinity can be set just about anywhere but there’s something about conventions that can really distill the experience.
What is nice about the show is the way it also looks at how our patriarchal society works to pit women against one anther. It’s one of those subtle and horrible things a lot of us miss.
Oh yeah, and there are jokes. A lot of jokes. And a lot of inside Xena references.
So sure, you are receiving a little bit of a lecture about the problems with the patriarchy and toxic masculinity but you are also laughing.
And let’s be fair, we all need the lecture. More than once. If we can laugh our way through it, that’s a bonus.
Cat Confidential: The Secret Lives of the Mothers of Lions
Another anthology show – this one about women who own cats. Mostly it is about their cats.
I don’t really know how to review this one as I love cats and this is a show filled with amazingly talented women telling stories about cats. So yeah – I really enjoyed the hell out of it.
Some of the stories were sweet. Some sad. Some very funny. There were a few sketches thrown in as well. The whole show was super entertaining and I’d watch it again and again. It was better than “Cats.”
The only issue I had with this show was the blocking (discussed above). When the performers were telling their stories, they would tend to stand in the middle of the stage, face a bank of seats, and occasionally make a slow turn to briefly acknowledge there was an audience behind them. It would have been good to have them directed to move around more. To not just plant but talk to the audience, engage with the audience. And definitely to not forget the audience that was frequently behind them.
But staging issues aside, I don’t know how this show could be anything but delightful to people who love their cats. And to the dog people out there – I think you can relate. You’ll probably like it too.
I enjoy doing a lot of acting but I don’t do a lot of it. Part of it is a lack of time. Part of it is that I hate auditions. I don’t think I’m too good for them, mind you. I just don’t like acting enough to get past how much I hate auditioning.
But I was offered a part in Swan Song and I took it. Because on the occasions I get offered a part, I’ll tend to say yes (call me).
Anyway, the show is a whodunnit in the style of Agatha Christie and it has a truly tremendous cast of performers. Our opening was Friday night and, believe it or not, I actually still get a little bit of stage fright. What if I screw up my lines? What if I face plant because I’m a klutz?
It’s all stupid but it goes away as soon as I step on stage.
We had a good opening night. The audience was really responsive and I think they really enjoyed what we did. So go us!
Fringe Reviews – Day 1
I haven’t blogged for a few months because, I guess, the shit that has been pissing me off has gotten me down. I felt a need to recharge my batteries. They are mostly recharged and just in time for the Fringe Festival.
I try to review every show I see at the Fringe. This can be tough because I see shows by a lot of friends and sometimes, I don’t enjoy them. Which sucks.
But the thing is, it is all opinion so when I don’t care for a show, I’ll do my best to explain why I didn’t care for a show. Because criticisms aren’t particularly useful if there isn’t anything constructive about them.
In any case, it’s just my opinion. One noisy white dude on the internet who decided to write down his thoughts. So take my opinion however you would like. Use it or don’t. But I hope you go out and see a few Fringe shows because this Brigadoon of theater (yes I know what I just did there) isn’t around for very long and there is something for everyone. You just have to look.
Here’s what I did on day one!
I know everyone involved in this show and it is pretty much aimed directly at my strike zone. I’m about to start my 35th season at the Festival and I’m, you know, a nerd. The first scene was really strong and I was totally down for a Renaissance Zombie show. But it never really found its groove and it took me a while to figure out why.
I didn’t feel like the characters grew at all. They were freaked out by the zombies at the beginning. They were freaked out by the zombies at the end. The asshole was always an asshole. He didn’t learn. And the other two didn’t learn to cut him loose. I felt like the show needed to lean in to making fun of the Renaissance Festival, strange as that may sound.
The decision to do the zombie bits as shadow puppets didn’t work for me for a couple of reasons. It took the most dramatic and potentially scary moments of the show and rendered them a little toothless. The puppetry also needed to be better if it was going to be used. Too many characters being manipulated and not enough hands doing the manipulation.
I liked this concept so much and I wanted to like this play. The audience was, even for a Thursday 5:30 crowd, tiny. And that made a difference. When an audience isn’t getting loud and into the show like this, it can really mess with the energy of the show. It needed that energy. A more full audience that is more vocal would definitely help.
The actors did very well. This is a wordy show and Sara Bogomolny is tasked with playing several different roles. The three main characters have a LOT to say and Jason Kruger, Brynn Berryhill, and James Fairbairn were completely committed to squeezing everything they could out of the roles.
Even though I wasn’t sold on the show, I’d recommend it. I feel like a different audience would make for a better experience.
Wilhelmina and Theodore’s Exquisite Victorian Adventure
This show was produced by Fearless Comedy Productions and I am the Artistic Director of Fearless Comedy Productions. I had nothing to do with the writing of the show and the first time I saw any part of it was on opening night.
Now that I’ve gotten those caveats out of the way…I loved this show. The jokes were sharp and made fun of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, steampunk, the patriarchy, Stargate, History class, and a great deal more. Things were coming at me so fast, I was concerned the show was going to run over when, in fact, it landed at just around 50 minutes.
The casting on the show is really top notch and the choices for which actors played which characters impressed me a great deal.
I think if you are going to parody something, you can’t be shy about it. I mean, you can try to make sure people who don’t know the source material have a good time (I think they will) but you can’t pretend you aren’t making a parody. The writing team on this one did a really great job. So did the director. So did the actors.
So yeah, everyone did a great job on this show. I really enjoyed the hell out of it.
News flash! I don’t just write reviews of Fringe show, I also produce and write Fringe shows!
The Lunch bunch is my ninth collaboration with Jami Newstrom and this show was a hard one for me. I was trying some new things, I was writing a character whose voice was far removed from my own, and when I watched the source material, I realized The Breakfast Club isn’t all that funny. It has funny moments but it’s a serious film.
So I had to write a show that reflected that. And it had to acknowledge some things that happen in the original film that were not OK. I couldn’t pretend they didn’t happen so I had to deal with them. And ask myself what those things might have done to those characters.
The cast for this show completely nailed what I was trying to do. Our audience on opening night was fantastic. They laughed at all the right moments and one thing about writing dramatic work is hopefully getting your audience to laugh because they are more emotionally primed to cry.
I’m really proud of this show. But it’s my show. So it’s hard to judge fairly.
Frankenstein: Two Centuries
The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society has, for the last few years, produced live performances of classic radio drama that is some of the most compelling theater at the Fringe.
I know, I know. It is just actors (very good actors) standing in front of a microphone reading a script and that sounds super boring. Trust me, it isn’t.
This year, rather than reading classic scripts, two of their company (Tim Uren and Joshua English Scrimshaw) wrote original tales inspired by Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. To make the task more difficult, they each wrote the story in the style of a classic radio series. Because they are inhuman machines and I hate them.
Anyway, the scripts themselves, one more creepy and one more comic, were both great. The two different tones complemented each other well. The introductions showed a reverence for Shelly’s novel as well as the shows to which they were paying tribute. It was both a history lesson and really great theater.
So that’s day one! I’ll try to keep up. If you are Fringing, I hope you have a great time!
Shit that Pissed me Off 5/3/19
Appeals Court Rules that Bde Mke Ska Name Change was Illegal
I’m not pissed at the court. It is entirely likely that their ruling was fully supported by Minnesota Law and their job is to uphold what is legally right. Not was is morally correct. So they did their job.
The lake currently known as Bde Mke Ska was previously named Lake Calhoun. It was named after the 7th Vice President of the United States, John C Calhoun. Calhoun was not from Minnesota (he was from South Carolina) and was a strong proponent of slavery (as I said – he was from South Carolina).
If you’d like to know what he thought about slavery, this just about sums it up:
Calhoun asserted that slavery, rather than being a “necessary evil,” was a “positive good,” benefiting both slaves and slave owners.
Before the lake was named after Calhoun, it was called Bde Mke Ska. That’s what the locals called it before the locals got told they didn’t live here any more and were told to pack up their things and move to land the people with guns didn’t think was worth anything so they were OK with people they didn’t give a shit about living there. They figured if the land turned out to be worth something, they could make the former locals move again. Because they still had most of the guns.
So the DNR and the City of Minneapolis decided the change the name back to Bde Mke Ska. Their reasoning was the name Lake Calhoun was actually a slap in the face to both black people and native Americans. Which it was. It was also kind of a slap in the face to Minnesotans seeing as Calhoun was, as I mentioned, from South Carolina.
Not everyone was thrilled about this change. And that’s OK because you are totally allowed to not give a fuck about black people or Native Americans or Minnesotans because you’ve called it Lake Calhoun for your entire life and why should you have to change?
So a venture Capitalist asshole named Tom Austin decided he hated being “bullied” by “elites” (because black people and Native Americans have historically been super elite) so he filed a lawsuit to change the name back. And he won. Because the court of appeals determined the Legislature needed to make the name change and not the DNR.
Here’s what pissed me off about Tom Austin and all the people who are thrilled that they won this court case – it didn’t fucking matter to them. If the name had never been Lake Calhoun, they wouldn’t have cared that the name was Bde Mke Ska. They just would have called the lake Bde Mke Ska.
And if someone had decided to change the name to Lake Calhoun, they would have fought that because they don’t like it when names change.
But the name Lake Calhoun was hurtful to people. So the decision was made to change it back to a name that was not. Because we’ve figured some shit out and we’re trying to do better.
Austin wasted taxpayer money on a lawsuit that didn’t fucking matter to him. He was just pissed off because he didn’t want to remember a new name and because he didn’t want to be reminded that white people in America have done some really shitty things. I mean, Tom Austin never owned slaves. And he never forced Native Americans off their lands. Why should he have to learn a new name (actually it was an old name but whatever) when none of that was his fault?
So now it is probably up to the legislature to make things right. And they probably won’t. Let me tell you why!