It is the start of the Minnesota Fringe Festival this week and I have been lucky enough to see some shows. This is the first year I have been here and not been part of a show and so I really looked forward to choosing carefully the pieces I wanted to see. We went to the Out of Towners Showcase the night before the festival opened and saw 22 snippets of shows. Of those shows only two piqued my interest.
One was Aint True and Uncle False presented by Paul Strickland playing at Woman’s Club of Minneapolis http://www.fringefestival.org/2013/show/?id=2459
And the other was The Vindlevoss Family Circus Spectacular presented by Animal Engine playing at Illusion Theater http://www.fringefestival.org/2013/show/?id=2476
I’m hugely interested to go and see these shows to see how their five-minute snapshot develops into a whole show.
There were some shows that I knew I wanted to see because I know the performers in them.
One of these The gravity of Ghosts presented by Paula Reed Nancarrow playing at the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis http://www.fringefestival.org/2013/show/?id=2515
Paula is a highly talented storyteller and I have always enjoyed seeing her work. I’m due to see it on Monday and will review it after.
The next was Bob Weidman’s rock opera Now It’s Art playing at Theatre in the Round http://www.fringefestival.org/2013/show/?id=2453
This was highly entertaining and if it isn’t on your Fringe schedule then it really ought to be. It is fast paced, funny poking fun at the art world, critics and body functions. I can’t find fault in it as a Fringe show. It is exactly what Fringe is meant to be.
The next was Les Kurkendaal’s offering Dirty Messy Love playing at New Century theatre http://www.fringefestival.org/2013/show/?id=2426
I have seen Les’ work several times before and I am always blown away by how brave he is. He tells stories from his own life and is always direct and honest and makes a real connection with the audience. In this show he teams up with Allison Broeren who is co-manager of The Rockstar Storytellers and has a list of involvements with various MN based story and poetry events and organisations.
Their show was two separate stories woven into an hour-long performance piece. I want to deal with the two stories and performers separately as they were both so different and to lump them together would be unfair.
Les brings us a very touching story about his parents messy divorce/non divorce and his own acceptance of his father, not as the man he thought he was but as the man he proves himself to be. It was honest and even though the story jumped about chronologically the thread of human warmth, kindness, compassion and forgiveness remained constant. I enjoyed the journey through the story and how Les could easily take us from a giggle to a heartfelt gasp with ease. I was moved by the ending of the story and felt a little closer to understanding Les and how he came to grips with his parents version of love.
However I was offended on several levels by Allison’s story, not only as a performer myself but also as a woman, as a human being. Her story was essentially advocating violence within relationships. It is done as three separate monologues, telling different parts of the same story, set in the 1950’s. It tells the tale of a young woman called Linda who starts a relationship with an older man and falls in love. She finds out that he has a wife and children and decides to end their relationship. He decides that ‘if he can’t have her no one can’ and hires three men to come to her house and throw acid in her face. She ends up hideously disfigured and partially blind in one eye.
The story continues with Bert’s voice and his time in prison. He was sentenced to thirty years. During his time there he helps out the other prisoners by acting as a lawyer (his previous job) and he sends the money he earns from this to Linda to make amends. Due to this fact he gets released after 14 years on the condition that once he’s out he continues to take care of the girl.
The third and final part of the story is in the voice of the protection officer who is assigned to the young woman. She shadows her for the next number of years and eventually they become friends. She watches Linda deal with Bert’s continued advances and come to terms with her loneliness and the realisation that ‘no one else will ever love her’ because she is so horribly disfigured. She encourages the young woman to reconnect with the man and eventually they get married and spend the rest of their days together. Because “he really did love her all the time”
So there, you have it, the bones of the story. Those of you who know me well, will not be surprised with the things I am about to say. I had so many issues with the story that it is hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with the basics. Let’s start with why it offended me as a writer and performer.
There are so many plot holes and/or stupid elements to the story. In the 1950’s (or at any point) no one would have been assigned a personal protection officer if they were the victim of an attack. No protection officer would befriend their case and then advise them to reconnect with the very person they are meant to be protecting them from. If anyone was to get parole from prison I doubt it would be because they were sending money to their victim. I would love to know where the inspiration for the story came from. Was it based on a true tale that she developed? Did she make it all up from scratch? There are just so many improbable elements to it and I really would like to ask her about her creative and critical process when writing a piece.
I thought of all the powerful, inspiring, touching stories she could have told and felt disappointed that she chose this one. Watching it made me wish that I was performing in the show instead of her. I’m not saying that I am an amazing writer or performer but I know I could have done something good with the concept of the show. I know I could have written a story, song or poem that balanced or complimented the one Les told. And I know the whole thing would have slotted together neatly and felt like a much more powerful show.
The other thing that made me so damn mad was the aspect of domestic violence. This story was saying that because you can’t find anything better it is perfectly normal to accept abuse as part of a relationship. She was saying that it is a form of love. This is a ridiculous notion. This makes me think that not only has Allison done no research on the topic of domestic abuse but that she’s never had a conversation with anyone in her life about human rights never mind woman’s rights. Any performer who stands on a stage and talks that way about domestic violence is falling far from the mark. The fact that Allison is a female performer made this all the more chilling for me.
It made me think of victim blaming in rape cases. In fact it took me off on a hell of a tangent about all the hideous things that human beings do to one another while others stand by and do nothing.
I want to have a conversation with Alison. I want to find out what kind of people she has in her life. I want to know what makes her think that this version of a relationship is love. I want to know what kind of conversations she and her friends have. I want to know what headlines spark their interest and what things they are reading. I want to ask if she’s ok. And yeah, I know these things are none of my business but I wonder if any one has asked her these questions.
I performed a piece I had written about domestic violence at the Woman’s Aid conference several times in Northern Ireland. I had conversations there with woman who had been abused and family members who’d lost sisters or daughters due to domestic abuse. I listened to their stories and admired their bravery. I wonder what these woman would say after listening to Allison’s story. I also know women who are struggling with an abusive or obsessive partner or ex partner, I know how angry this story would make them. On the other hand I also know plenty of women, like myself, who’ve never been abused who would be livid at this story.
I know how important it is as a performer to be able to defend the work that you have written. I have had no problem discussing any of the poems that I had written which went into Scream Blue Murmur shows. I have written about topics that many people think ‘a small, white girl’ (genuine statement from an audience member) has no business to be writing about. I have written about lynchings in the 1930’s, Hurricane Katrina, Hitler, fascism, violence and other topics that maybe on a surface level you would think I have no connection to. I have had conversations with audience members where I was able to defend my work because I know my pieces were well researched and I could stand behind the statements I was making.
I wonder how Allison can stand by the overall message in her story.
ps. these are just initial musings on the show. I’m pretty sure I will revisit this topic again as I process things further.