BareBones Puppet Halloween – 25 anniversary – creepy but cool

BareBones has been doing outdoor puppet Halloween shows for 25 years. We’ve been going for the last 5 or maybe 10 years. It is one of my favorite Halloween events.

The show is different every year but it revolves around the idea of Halloween being a day when there’s a bridge between the living and the dead. A day when the generations of ancestors and future progeny coexist. One generation learns from the next – hopefully in time for the generations to continue.

There’s also an element of conservation and social progression. Often there’s a scene with fish swimming in the sea until a tidal wave or other tragedy. It’s one of my favorite scenes in show and luckily they reran it this year. A new scene this year includes chipmunks with suitcases. The chipmunks unpack their individual bag, go along with their tasks, then they get moved along by a large boom from above. So they scutter, turn around and set up their suitcase again and do it all over again. Hard to see that without thinking of the homeless encampment, especially in St Paul.

The show includes universal and very local themes. And it’s very visual. I think even the toughest customer in our group liked it, at least a little. But that’s pretty good for an 8 year old boy!

Happy May Day with the Annual Heart of the Beast Parade

Today was one of the best days for May Day I can remember – shocking given my lake expert informed me that ice out happened on Minnesota yesterday! There are three parts to our May Day event: the Parade, the Tree of Life Ceremony, and a Festival in Powderhorn Park. We caught the tail end of the parade, part of the ceremony and the festival.

The theme this year is – What You Feed Grows – it’s all about love. There were the usual actors for the ceremony – the red boats that cross the river, the gods and goddesses with some new ones including my new favorite pink birds. It’s amazing to see the work that folks do in creating their costumes.

May Day is an ancient holiday – going back to 29 BC and possibly before. It was originally a festival of flowers, which makes sense given the spring timing. In more modern time the May Day was associated with the May Pole or even with the religious ceremonies crowning Mary, the mother of Jesus. I can remember collecting lilacs and doing a march for Mary at some of my schools as a kid. In the last 19th century, the Socialists decided to make May Day International  Workers’ Day. So there’s also a historical tie to Socialism.

The Powderhorn Park version of the holiday is heavy on celebrating spring, socialism and opportunities for inclusive approaches to life and politics. The parade includes floats and puppets that carry the theme – as well as a host of supportive/supported groups. The Women’s March marched. And many candidates march. The festival includes music, food, and booths from various organizations. The ceremony happens on the shore of the lake, featuring characters from the parade, and culminates with the giant sun coming by boat to the shore.

Art is … Black Light! PaviElle curates a show to young Black Women Artists

Last night I was introduced to three amazing young artists: Amani Ward, Yoni Light and ShaVunda Brown. They were all selected by PaviElle French to perform as part of the Art is series at TPT. Each performed and then answered a few questions from PaviElle; each clearly had a nurturing relationship with PaviElle and a strong sense of community. It was awesome to see how each had thought about how her community had an impact on her and how she would have an impact on her community.

It was also awesome to see the community in the audience supporting the performers. It would be nice to bump this show up to LowerTown Line status. To get the promotion and production power of LowerTown line behind these women to help lift them up – because they are worthy of the heights! And the audience deserves to be let into this powerful  community.

First to the stage was Amani Ward, starting with George Gershwin’s Summertime. She has been performing since she was 8, which maybe wasn’t all that long ago. She’s young but her voice is powerful and she has ease on  stage. She chose a set list that include greats from the past – such as Nina Simone. When asked about her greatest influence the answer was – her mom. So already I love her. She was wise beyond her years when she spoke about learning to have the confidence to present yourself in your situation.

Second to stage was Yoni Light, a multi-disciplinary artist who sings, dances and does spoken word. She’s inspiring. Like the other young women, she had a message for all ages. She said she had learned that she didn’t have to sacrifice herself to give. That is a message I hope my daughters hear. That is a message that I hope I learn to heed. She has the grace of movement and presence of someone stays in control, someone who takes it to the edge but will only cross the line on her own rules.

Finally ShaVunda Brown took the stage. She is a young mother, originally from Texas and came up here for the Guthrie. She is wow! The imagery of her poetry is vivid, so even if you haven’t been in her shoes you feel like you get it – a little. She speaks (and I abbreviate hugely) ” My name is poetry …blues… jazz… hip-hop…the residue of resilience.” She has a poem about the creativity of African American names. There’s a wonderful line about how these might not be names designed for a resume’ – they are names for becoming the owner! How wonderful! A new lens. Well, a new lens for me and I have gratitude that I got to see through it for a night. Her presence is luminary.

Antigonon, un contingente epico – mythology, Cuban revolution and a lot of sexual energy

Teatro El Público, Antigonón, un contingente épico (Photo: courtesy Lessy via The Walker)

It takes some amazing actors to make me forget that everyone was naked for the first 10 minutes of a show. Because, well naked is naked. But despite the fact that the cast of Antigonon, un contingente epico were partially or fully naked through most of the show, that wasn’t the most uncomfortable part. The most uncomfortable part was my woeful knowledge of Cuban history.

Antigonon, un contingente epico is part dance, part spoken word performance. It’s in Spanish with English subtitles. The subtitles are kind of helpful in that they are fast and they are narrating non-linear monologues and brief disjointed dialogues. So I read the words but they didn’t always sink in because I was distracted by the “exotically absurd costumes” and action on stage.

The performance starts with two women and two men on stage – stark naked. They dance in couples, exchanging partners and eventually end in a heap together. That gives way to the vignettes of solo performances, conversations and inquisitions. There are repeated themes – brothers and sisters together or not and fighting with or for each other. I was expecting more Antigone (Greek tragedy – where Antigone, daughter/sister of Oedipus fights to get her brother buried, gets caught burying him without permission and kills herself in defiance of being buried a live a weak answer to Creon’s decision not to kill her for burying her dead brother but just bury her alive) and more dance but I wasn’t disappointed with what I got.

The monologues are not straightforward but there is a feel for oppression that is kind of colonial but not quite, which could parallel US invasion of Cuba, Cuban independence from the US, Fulgencio Batista’s rule before and after his military coup (after the coup allowing US companies to dominate the economy), Fidel Castro’s revolution and the current tenuous relationship between US and Cuba. Although I’m seeing this from American eyes; there are also hints at the international take on for in Cuban with mention of Nazis and Russian history.

The overwhelming impression is that the show is intense. There is a scene when one of the women is talking to her husband (played by the other woman); the husband is willing to buy his bride anything but all she wants is a flower, although no subtlety was used in conveying the fact that a flower meant physical relationship. Even reading the fast paced dialogue, the intense, violently sexual actions on action were striking -and kind of funny – but mostly intense.

The dialogue, the costumes, the action are all shocking. Yet, they aren’t as wrenching as some of the historical video of violence in Cuba. There’s a deception of sleight of hand that’s at work in the show that draws a strong reaction without a full understanding of what has happened. If I were to see this show every night this weekend, I think I still would feel woeful in my knowledge but the show is so compelling that I’m tempted to try it.

Antigonon, un contingente epico will be performed by Teatro El Publico Jan 4-6 at The Walker.

Hatchet Lady: Carry Nation, Angel of Destruction – the must-see musical

Crazy or chosen? That is the question that I’m left with after seeing Hatchet Lady, performed by Walking Shadow Theatre Company. Are larger-than-life zealots driven because they are crazy or chosen (by God)? And who gets to decide? A timely question for so many reasons!

Historically, Carry Nation was a passionate member of the temperance movement, known for destroying taverns with her hatchet. Hatchet Lady is inspired by her story and her modern-day, fictional biographer (Frances) who bemoans her own lack of passion or courage, striving only for “what will make people like her.” Frances presents as a third option to the “crazy or chosen” option – damned by mere adequacy.

And the story is a musical!

That idea of “crazy, chosen or adequate” gets to the root of some of the feminist themes in the play. Girls have traditionally been taught to aim for adequate over chosen or risk being labeled crazy. The title character sings a song comparing herself to John Brown, American abolitionist who believed in violence. They are similar in some ways; different in others. Both were religious and both were violent. One fought against slavery and the other against alcohol. Or is it that one was a woman and one was a man? If the story were about Joan of Arc, the important difference would be clear. The fact that we’re comparing Brown to Nation leaves room for deeper consideration.

The action of the play is driven by vignettes narrated by a community radio talk show format (think SNL skit) and punctuated with musical numbers from punk to country. Admittedly the flow could grow tiresome if the writing and acting weren’t as good as they are. As it stands, it’s a good way to convey info (I might not have passed a test on Carry Nation) and start conversation on themes of isms and historical perspective.

The acting is suburb. Keeping with the SNL references, Maren Ward as Carry Nation and her biographer brings the physical humor of Melissa McCarthy. Megan Burns nails the community radio personality. Maureen O’Malley as the intern sent to work with the seasoned biographer is a good wide-eyed balance. Chelsie Newhard rounds out the cast playing several roles, including Mr. Carry Nation. The writing (Savannah Reich) is clever and thoughtful. It’s the kind of writing that makes you happy to have an MA in literature and sad that you can’t discuss the work in great depth in class the next day. So many levels.

The music (by Luc Parker) stops the action in important places and allows for total turnaround in plot. It sets the tone. The band includes Britt Collis on guitar, Katelyn Farstad on drums, Pamela Laizure on violin and Shannon Boyer on bass. Dressed as angels with wings and halos, the musicians are part of the performance. The music in integral but not overbearing.

Remaining performances:

  • Thursday, Dec 14, 7:30pm
  • Friday, Dec 15, 7:30 – post-show discussion
  • Friday, Dec 15, 10:00pm
  • Saturday, Dec 16, 7:30pm – CLOSING

Bare Bones Halloween Extravaganza

Big news – Aine and I got front row at the Bare Bones show *and* we got to sit on the hay bales. Not the ground. It was our major award for being early.

The Bare Bones has been doing big puppet shows for Halloween since 1994. We haven’t been seeing them that long – but maybe 10 years. It’s done outside at Hidden Falls the two weekends before Halloween. We have been there freezing. We’re been there in T-shirts. This year was huddle together in hoodies weather.

The show was awesome. We’ve been seeing it for years. This year the show was lighter on story, higher on concept, which was really nice. It seem brings out the music and lets the puppetry seem more like art than story. That being said, each scene does have a simple theme or plot.

My favorite part was the giant skeleton. It comes crawling onto the stage and it’s so well done. It’s large movement and the bones are so bright. The skeleton later walks and dances and rides a turtle. It’s so visual. I just loved it.

Aine’s favorite part was the four live people performing as puppets. They had a repeating dance step where puppeteer becomes puppet.

Here are some snippets from the show:

Sheep shagging and more at family day at The Walker

Shhh. Don’t tell anyone but I accidentally took Aine to see sheep porn at the Walker. It was awesome!

It’s First Saturday. (Free in and lots of kid-centric activities.) Some months it’s a melancholy reminder that Aine isn’t a kid – she’s a teen. (The big girls quit going years ago; they have been teens for longer.) This month it was a celebration that Aine is a teen. It is a gorgeous day so most activities were happening in the still-pretty-new sculpture garden – including Les Moutons (the sheep) from CORPUS, a Toronto-based troupe. The premise is four actors dressed as sheep, a shepherd and (spoiler alert!) a brief cameo from a wolf!

It’s a day in the life of sheep. They are corralled into a fenced area. There’s a ram that gets kicked out for being … um … too amorous. The sheep are shorn and fed. They are milked and one pees. (Yup – super interesting costuming going on here!) The ram breaks away from his “naughty corner” and has his way with a ewe. The wolf comes. The sheep escape. The shepherd leads them out. That is the story. It was probably 40 minutes long. It’s pretty interactive. Kids get to feed the sheep lettuce and one brave kid drank the newly extracted sheep’s milk.

My favorite and often overheard comment from the kids in the crowd – Look mom it’s a cow. Not sure if we need to work on French or science in the schools. The faces of the sheep-actors were amazing. They were blank and distant. They all did body-breathing like sheep do. (I’m pretty knowledgeable about sheep after a trip to the State Fair last week!) And then there’s the whole part about sheep doing what comes naturally. Every sophomoric adult (and semi-adult) in the crowd was shocked and laughing. It was done in good taste – but it was done! It was like an old school Rocky and Bullwinkle moment where (city) kids wouldn’t have a clue about the Easter egg hidden for the teens and older. We loved it!

Black Beauty Theatrical: Little bit music, little bit theater, spectacular show

Last night I found out where good theater sets go when the curtain closes. They provide the backdrop to arts happenings in East St Paul; at least they do on May 6 and May 7 (2016). So if you really hurry you might still be able to go!

Black Beauty features the Twilight Hours. Black Beauty is the name of the event and their upcoming album. It’s performed amidst the set from Wise Blood, easily the best set I saw on a stage last year.

It’s like an annotated concert. There is a staged dialog between a man and a woman, talking about how things used to be especially in terms of music. I may be projecting, but it’s just like the kind of conversation you might have if you grew up in the Twin Cities in the 1980s and didn’t listen to Journey but listened to local music instead.

The conversation gives way to the music of Twilight Hours, led my Matt Wilson and John Munson. But they aren’t on a traditional stage, instead they are dispersed throughout the art studio of Chris Larson (Wise Blood set designer), and balanced on the set from Wise Blood.

The music has an updated familiarity. They songs are catchy. It’s a little bit Beach Boys, a little bit Minneapolis sound (no mistake with the Trip Shakespeare heritage), it’s hip-twisting rock in a subtle way. It’s the kind of music you hum the day after you hear it. In the Black Box space there’s a kind of surround sound and hint of good echo. And with the musicians spaced around the room, there isn’t a bad place to stand and listen.

The album is coming out soon. They have been quietly previewing it around town; I was lucky enough to see them a few months ago at the Driftwood Char Bar. For folks who have been hoping for new work – this is well worth the wait.

And back to the set – it brought the tone and included Alice-in-Wonderland-perspective bedrooms and small town outcropping with seedy touches. Like the back porch of the gas station you’re not supposed to visit at night.

Maybe the best part was the opportunity to step into the bedrooms – something I wanted to be able to do so badly last year during the show.

It would be great to see more events like this in the future – a mashup of Minnesota’s best arts and od second marriages of sets and songs from different past lives.

Would you Harbor Me? Connecting home and homelessness

I’m very excited to share news of an upcoming event that involves my friend and running buddy Monica Nilsson, who happens to work at St Stephen’s Human Services. The show opened last night and will be presented around the Cities over the next week. It’s a nice way to help people connect home with homelessness – because sometimes it’s not just about the walls it’s about the security and the sense of self.

You can get a sneak preview of the concert (and Monica) from the WCCO clip below…

And more info from the press release…

Cantus Addresses the Crisis of Homelessness in

Would You Harbor Me?

Spring concert performed April 7-17 at five Twin Cities venues


(MINNEAPOLIS; March 8, 2016) – In Would You Harbor Me?, Cantus examines how life can sometimes take unexpected turns. Giving voice to the personal stories of crisis, homelessness and isolation, as well as resilience, belonging and community, the spring concert – performed April 7-17 – reflects on lives marginalized by circumstance and delivers a universal message of hope and inspiration through music.


Four compositions new to the acclaimed men’s ensemble will be performed. “Echoes” by Daniel Elder (Athens, Georgia) makes a profound statement on the virtue of hope using a rich yet simple harmonic palette; “Ffe Mwe, Mwe Ffe” by Joan Szymko (Chicago) recalls the energy of community coming together for the common good; “Gagòt” by Sydney Guillaume (Los Angeles), a piece sung in Haitian Creole and French, channels life’s frustrations into heartfelt music; and “Keep Us Whole,” a gospel-like song of inclusion for all humanity by local composer Linda Kachelmeier (St. Paul). The songs were added after Cantus posted a notice on Facebook and its website seeking scores to round out the program.


Songs will be interspersed with stories, portraits and a collection of first-person accounts of the experience of homelessness provided by St Stephen’s Human Services and The Oral History of Homelessness.


For the April 7 concert, Cantus welcomes the Minneapolis Community and Technical College Vocal Ensemble in a special appearance at Antonello Hall at MacPhail. StreetSong-MN, a choir made up of people who are currently or formerly homeless and those who advocate for them, will make a special appearance at the April 10 Ordway concert.


“The Cantus vision is to give voice to shared human experience,” says tenor Zachary Colby. “This concert is especially meaningful because it allows audiences to engage in issues and challenges that we think we’ll never encounter but really, they can happen to anyone — even you or me. Music can be a great equalizer that helps us feel compassion and empathy for those we may feel we know nothing about.”


Would You Harbor Me? concerts will be presented:


Thursday, April 7, 2016, 7:30pm

Antonello Hall, MacPhail Center for Music, Minneapolis


Saturday, April 9, 2016, 7:30pm     

Trinity Lutheran Church, Stillwater


Sunday, April 10, 2016, 3:00pm      

Ordway Concert Hall, St. Paul


Thursday, April 14, 2016, 11:00am 

Colonial Church of Edina


Sunday, April 17, 2016, 3:00pm 

Wayzata Community Church, Wayzata


Single ticket prices vary by concert venue. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling 612-435-0055. Student and group discounts are available.




About Cantus

Recognized for their artistic excellence and musical  persatility, the nine members of Cantus rehearse and perform as chamber musicians, working without a conductor or music director, allowing audiences to experience a direct connection to the singers. Committed to a cappella presentation of significant music, Cantus is renowned for adventurous programming spanning many periods and genres, including newly commissioned work. The ensemble enjoys a vigorous schedule of international touring, concerts in its home of Minneapolis/St. Paul, educational outreach programs and recording.


One night only – Weill and Brecht – A Twenty First Century Celebration

brechtI love a show that teaches you something surprising. Last week I learned that the line “show me the way to the next whiskey bar” from The Door’s Alabama Song is actually taken from the lyrics of a song written by Bertolt Brecht and composed by Kurt Weill.

That’s what I learned at the Weill-Brecht Smorgasbord performed March 21 at the Southern Theater. Sadly, it was a one-night only event. Happily it was well attended and deservedly so. Presented by University of Minnesota Theatre, Music and German Studies departments, it was a vaudeville approach to showcasing some of the lesser works of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. Weill is a composer – perhaps best known for Mack the Knife. Brecht is a playwright known for absurdist show such as the Good Woman of Szechwan and Chalk Circle.

The next whiskey bar line comes from the Mahagonny Songspiel, which was performed by the University of Minnesota Opera Theatre. It was song and played in turn. It’s a dark and silly opera – as only Brecht can be. It was a rare treat to hear such an intimate performance. And the operetta was only one fifth of the show.

The show began with the audience on stage – a move that will always scare me to pieces. But really we were just led to our seats through poetry. Very immersive but painless and interesting to hear the different renditions of the same lines from Brecht’s City Dwellers as given by Live Action Set. Funny to hear how friendly, sarcastic and menacing one line of welcome can be. Maybe picture your mom, dad and grandma all inviting your weird uncle to stay as long as he wants; the intention is all in the inflection.

Theatre Novi Most did a bleak rendition of The Downfall of an Egoist. Bleak referring to the social commentary, not the acting. They did a great job with sparse props which clearly center the action on a battlefield but leave enough to the imagination to make an easy metaphorical transfer to more every day locations. There’s a gruesome solidarity building as they play a Russian Roulette of sorts – and realize there will be no winners.

At the opposite end of absurdism, the Four Humors Theatre performed a very immersive version of The Elephant Calf. I am relieved to report that I was a seat away from one of the two unsuspecting audience members brought up on stage. (And I owe my less lucky friend a beer for taking one for the shier side of the team.) The story and the performance is reminiscent of the Rude Mechanicals show in Midsummer Night’s Dream – funny, bawdy, a little uncomfortable and meaningful. Props to the performers dressed in sheer white, jumpsuits with plenty of give. I will find a way to see the Four Humors again.

Finally the Nautilus Music-Theater sang water songs – show tunes about the Mississippi. An absurd ending to an absurd show – but just the right size and taste for the grand finale.