Mankato, Rochester, St.Cloud, MN

It’s finally happened. I have lost track of the days, letting them blur into each other like so many Vikings Jerseys in the lobby of this Minneapolis hotel restaurant. Three shows have gone by and my instinct is to tell you the really important stuff, like, this hotel has real eggs!

Or – that it’s SNOWING right now. Snowing. I just noticed.

We’re all so excited to be in a city it really almost took me by surprise. Hello, Minneapolis!

Thank god for photo reminders: Top L to R: Mankato cake post-Act I Scene 6; Centenary United Methodist Church in Mankato, arrival at the church while strong winds threatened to knock our publicity down.

One of the perennial challenges of acting is that of not anticipating – standing in the flow of each moment and letting events land on you as if for the first time – or its twin,   not repeating (oh last night was so spontaneous let’s do it again just like that). Speaking personally,  the Albion show had been such a peak experience, both in terms of an artistic breakthrough and the powerful exchange with the community afterwards that it was hard not to think either lets do it again just like that! or well, it won’t be like that again.

So it was imperative to head to Minneapolis with Actor’s Mind  (here I hear my former acting teacher intoning Open, Available, There To Be Done To…) intact. I needed to continue to remain open to the unexpected and to experience the Thing again as if for the first time.

Mankato was another show in an actual church,  a roughly octagonal space with thick close walls and ‘tornado shelter’ signs. The night was produced in collaboration with the Guthrie Theater, Blue Earth County Homeless Response Team and Centenary Justice Ministries. There was an odd vibe I couldn’t place until after when I realized – duh – the audience was a mix of Theatre People, church attendees who may or may not “attend the theatre” (as I’ve noticed people putting it lately), and homeless folks.  One guy I think from the latter community couldn’t get over how it wasn’t like acting, you guys were just talking to each other!  A couple that I think I place in the church crowd came over I just wanted to shake all your hands, really, thank you for bringing this to Mankato, I’ve never seen anything like it.

Here’s the thing: theatre isn’t dead. It is not dead. It is not irrelevant. It is not “over”. It is not unnecessary. There are just people who – really, for real , everywhere- don’t know about it. Who appreciate it and need it and flat out don’t usually have access to it, socially or financially. And they should. Ok. moving on.

I remember at one of the Ohio shows someone making a comment that they loved all the characters but there should be at least one Marxist. (!?)And in Mankato, we got him, but he was in the audience,  giving an impassioned history lesson and a lecture on the evils of Capitalism. And this time the person saying I liked it a lot though you all could have done it with a lot less alcohol and swearing was an African American teenage boy . (Don’t anticipate, don’t assume). And, damnit, I don’t remember a lot of the talkback so I’m going to move on to other shows before I lose them too.

Heinz Center Commons in Rochester MN, also a co-pro with the Guthrie. Stan prepares the bar, Jessie’s Cake, playing space.

I loved Rochester. We were in a community college rec room I think, with no closed in walls or doors, surrounded by fluorescent-lit hallways with vending machines, and yet, as with this whole tour, the environment was part of the show. The first 30 min was, as it often is, a surf through who are they and what kind of show is it and it was quiet and I wasn’t sure if it was going to be Work or Magic. They were a Polite Theatre Audience who were, as a passionate (white) high school teacher in the crowd pointed out afterwards, pretty homogenous and white, and a lot of Guthrie folks and Public theatre visitors and family of one cast member and a little like we were back in NYC maybe except not.

But I said what Ive gotten comfortable calling a prayer backstage beforehand to the gods of Not Anticipating, and asked that the show be useful and moving and effective no matter my piddly little feelings of I’m tired or I’m not in it or my ego yammering for me to feel Special and Awesome. And you know what, I was not, I thought, great, that night, but so be it.

And then – and ok, this could be a ridiculous Ego thing to put it in the blog, but it was meaningful to me and It’s My Blog after all – as I was coming out of the bathroom en route to the stage for the talkback, I ran into a young woman. She was teary and apologizing about it I’m not usually this emotional! and she told me that Jessie’s monologue (about having planned to go to India on a spiritual quest as a young woman, and never going, and her regrets) changed her life. That is what she said You changed my life. 

So, a) I can die now and/but b) a GIANT lesson about  answered prayer and about how it’s not really about you or how you think you’re doing. I hope I’m articulating this. You know, I get it, said my castmate. If I were not doing what I wanted to do with my life, I might be really hit by that speech. And Well, she’s going to India!  said another.

Something I do remember from this talkback (ugh, sorry, future in journalism) was being asked as a company how has the experience of doing this show changed us… and our ‘Tracy’ saying that it has shifted her daily perception of people in service just that much… how we talked to the people working in our hotels and some of them are working two, three jobs… they’re there when we go to sleep and they’re there when we wake up.Oscar’s ‘invisibility’ in the play was mentioned, again, and the irony of the other characters ignoring him while complaining about their own. There was a lot of nodding… and then, as if on cue, during this chat, a loud vaccuum started up in the hall next to us – a member of the college’s custodial staff doing their nightly cleanup. Many heads turned, but whether in observation or annoyance it wasn’t clear.

We wrapped up our Minnesota shows with our first matinee!

Arrival at Great River Regional Library in St. Cloud – again, thank you Guthrie Theater!, playing space/preparation, Jessie’s cake. 

OK just to Anticipate for a moment: I’m really excited for whatever town in Wisconsin called ahead to ask what Jessie wants on her birthday cake Does she have any hobbies, any references for decoration? I asked for an OM. We’ll see.

Also this just in – if you sit in the hotel lobby and write long enough someone brings you a free muffin. Try it.

The St. Cloud space was again pretty contained, in a- I think – conference room? on the ground floor. The floor-to-ceiling windows partly remained uncovered so we had daylight coming in, which I weirdly didn’t notice. Again, I said my prayers backstage, again I didn’t think I was up for it, again I loved this show in a new way and learned.

This was a very Sweat Mobile Unit Tour experience in the sense of this mix of glamour (we are so well taken care of! by our company and it’s such a priviliege to be doing this piece! and the Public and the Guthrie and NPR are here? ) and earthbound (we’re in a regional library at 1PM and there’s a loudspeaker announcement urging people to the common room to see free theater, and I have a headache and the bus ride was long.)

We had our first Grumpy Old Man in the front row whose response to the plight of the characters was They got brains, they should use ’em and who didn’t see why they spent the whole play crying about it.  Then there was a woman who made a connection for me I hadn’t seen before, about Stan’s line “Nostalgia is a disease” and the problematic entitlement of the (white) characters who cling to my family’s been here a long time, since the 20s, ok? We built this town. She talked about how that kind of nostalgia might seem natural and sentimental and loving, but that it is dangerous and blocks progress. If we’re all clinging to the ‘good old days’- I’m paraphrasing – we miss the days that are right now, and how things are supposed to change, and always are changing, no matter what.  As a person who really struggles with my own attachments to the past I really heard that. So, thanks, St. Cloud lady.

Shout out to the man who stood up to say in what I’m placing as some kind of South Asian accent You all are such a New-York-y bunch! by which he meant, basically, diverse, working together, and friends. We here (ie, in St Cloud) are all just beginning to explore our own diversity. Which I thought was a nice way of putting it. Another audience member (who, ok, was my cast-mates Mom, but she meant it) said this is the finest ensemble cast I have ever seen. A man who identified himself as working within the correctional system asked our ‘Evan’ (the parole officer character) what he did to prepare. And at least I got to hear for the first time my colleague’s story of ‘Pastor Jack’ in the Bronx who gave him important instruction in the tough love he exhibits onstage every night.

And – again, this refrain – a woman said she had never seen a play  like this, with all the lights on, and so close to you all, and you’re not under beautiful lights, and I can look into your eyes and see what you’re feeling and thinking, and you all really seem to feel what your characters are feeling, and thank you for that experience.

THANK YOU, we said. Thank YOU, Minnesota.

Ok I’m off to walk in the SNOW and explore this cool city before we head to- DONT ANTICIPATE- Wisconsin.




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