Bedlam Theatre The outer limit of the local imagination since 1993 Sun, 30 Oct 2016 16:32:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Bedlam Lowertown closing on November 2 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:16:28 +0000 Read more »]]> With a fully stocked all-you-can-eat buffet of emotions, we announce that Bedlam Lowertown will be closing on November 2. While we are sad to lose this venue that has become beloved to so many in Lowertown and beyond, we want to spend our last few weeks in celebration of the vision that was tested and tried, the relationships made, and the community investment that allowed Bedlam Lowertown to exist for 2.5 years.

Please join us for a packed two weeks including:

With significant community support, Bedlam opened a state-of-the-art facility in May, 2014 in time to be in Lowertown for the heavily anticipated Green Line Opening. In its 2 plus years we served over 50k audience members and presented nearly 1000 unique music, theater and community events. Bedlam’s opening was delayed a year due to construction and code issues including the need to overhaul the buildings heating and cooling system. The project overran its anticipated cost by 600k. After nearly closing on its first anniversary, community, board and staff rallied to keep it open for another year while multiple stakeholders strategized to overcome the debt situation. Though serious efforts were in the works, the clock has run out on some significant debts and we must close.

This was a highly ambitious project and there are many whys and why nots and coulda-shoulda-wouldas. We welcome this conversation and aim to be as constructive as possible toward future efforts of this kind. We hope that something equally if not more magical happens in this venue going forward. We don’t see this as a failure though we recognize the impact such a venture has had–the ups and the downs and the unpaid bills. The Bedlam Board will continue to trouble shoot the debt. The fate of Bedlam Theatre is unclear at this time. We will keep you posted.

Our most heartfelt thanks go to our staff, artists, supporters, donors, audience members, and everyone who has been part of the Bedlam community throughout the years.

— Maren Ward, Artistic Director and Dan Spock, Board President

Please send questions or comments to

]]> 0
Monkey Bar: The Finale! Tue, 02 Feb 2016 01:18:32 +0000 Read more »]]> 1- Non's clown character, Auguste, for a non-dance performance- photo by Scott Pakudaitis

Non’s clown character, Auguste, for a non-dance performance. Photo by Scott Pakudaitis

So it’s the Monkey Bar Finale and Intergalactic Tutu Day. Should I come to Bedlam Lowertown on 2/2?

ABSOLUTELY! Monkey Bar is about fun and play. Intergalactic Tutu Day is about wearing tutus or whatever else you want to wear and hanging out on February 2. Both are (sort of) about dance. Monkey Bar is free. Monkey Bar is informal – you can still socialize with all your awesomely-clad neighbors, go to the bathroom, and order a drink without disrupting the performance. Monkey Bar has a raffle, and this time we’re not just giving away things we’ve found abandoned in our apartment complexes and unwanted gifts from our mothers! Plus there’s a dance party post-show.

What is Monkey Bar? How did Monkey Bar start?

We are Minneapolis based dancers and choreographers Non Edwards and Missa Kes.

Monkey Bar is/was a 10-week dance residency with two performances each week with every show being completely different. Are we nuts or just ambitious? This is a question we’re still grappling with , but even if we don’t have our sanity, at least we know we’ve got both courage and rigor.

Even when Monkey Bar was “the durational project,” back when we were still trying to figure out who would support this series and where to hold it, we knew it was a wild idea. We were first thinking of a doing this project as an installation in a gallery or some other art-like-but-not-theater-like venue. But once we paired it with Bedlam, we went to check out the space and we talked to a few members of the staff, and then we came home and we wrote the best pitch we could. We sent it off to a booker and we got a response back from Maren Ward. We did not expect to get the things we asked for (would YOU like to house us for 20 shows over ten weeks?). We felt like we were asking for the world, but Maren was excited and had a ton of ideas to combine with our own, and somehow we ended up being offered even more than we could have hoped for. Lesson 1: Ask and ye shall receive.

It’s also worth mentioning that Monkey Bar began as an idea to prevent the ever-familiar winter blues many of us experience in MN. By keeping busy with a low-stress project that wouldn’t have a huge build, performances, and then an ending, we also avoided the ever-familiar post-show blues many of us dance and theater makers experience.

2- An earlier duet written by Missa

An earlier duet written by Missa

What do we know about Monkey Bar now?

We have a pep talk, or a pep saying, that the most important thing about Monkey Bar is to have fun. Certainly we mean this for our audience, but we also mean it for ourselves. When we started to get overwhelmed or feel down about not producing masterpieces each show, we had to continuously remind ourselves that Monkey Bar is low-stakes, playful, and experimental. By keeping a sense of humility, we’ve managed to get back on stage two days after performing what one of us might imagine is the worst dance we’ve ever made and to perform something equally exciting and terrifying and unfamiliar.

While the first goal of Monkey Bar is to have fun, the second goal is to learn something. It’s a fast turnaround between shows, so we haven’t had a lot of time to process and draw conclusions about much of the work, but we have learned a thing or two. A phrase that we used when beginning this residency was: “Performance as Process,” a contrasting approach from how we viewed our last production: “Process as Performance”. We’re now both comfortable improvising in performance for long periods of time. We have both done two solo shows in Monkey Bar, so we know what it feels like to hold the stage by ourselves for an hour and more. That in itself is a huge accomplishment. Our last production had less than three minutes of improvisation in it. With Monkey Bar we’ve done well over 20 hours of improvised performance.

We have a better understanding of time and how many tasks or prompts or ideas we need in order to not get bored or lost while performing. We have pretty good internal clocks for certain intervals now. And we know that we like creative writing, which is an unexpected product of Monkey Bar!

3- Country Show raffle winners and our featured guests- Photo by Scott Pakudaitis

Country Show raffle winners and our featured guests. Photo by Scott Pakudaitis

How have things evolved over the course of the residency?

Back in the early days of Monkey Bar, we had evenings with attendance as low as four. We’ve since seen our audience grow with most every performance.

We’ve tried to evolve the way we write scores. One challenge has been to write non-chronological scores. These have ended up being more task-oriented or scenario-based, as opposed to some of our first scores which were chronological lists of prompts for interpretation.

Our first scores were co-authored and simple. Then we went through a phase of single-author scores that grew progressively more complex. Then we started to question the way scores looked and functioned. Lately, we’ve been co-authoring more scores, but now they’re far more complex than the first ones we made. Sometimes the scores are so complex we can’t memorize them, but that’s OK because we’re also more skilled at improvising now, so we don’t freak out when we forget the score.

Favorite Monkey Bar moments:

Non’s favorite moments (in no particular order):

• Witnessing Missa perform “A Star is Born,” the first solo I wrote for her for Monkey Bar. One of the prompts was “Giving Birth.” She totally delivered, agonized screaming and all. Post-show several members of the board commented on the way her shrieks relieved the tension during the board meeting happening in the basement below us.

• The Late Nite Show. How everything felt like it was falling apart, but we just kept telling each other “It’s Monkey Bar!” and then at the end the crowd was stomping and cheering for us – we came up the stairs to the sound of them chanting, “We want more!”

• The solo shows. Feeling so anxious for days in advance and then performing and feeling satisfied. Both times.

• All the things we were underprepared for but went over-the-top with anyway: the Epic Magic Show, the entire Elvis show, Auguste-my clowning non-dance performance…

• The improvised unison dolphin mating call with Theresa Madaus.

4- From Missa's solo show- Circuit Rhythm and the Swarming Melancholy of the Endless Sea- Photo by Peter Atkins

From Missa’s solo show: Circuit Rhythm and the Swarming Melancholy of the Endless Sea. Photo by Peter Atkins

Missa’s favorite moments (in no particular order):

• When we first began our small audiences were an intimate treat for both us and them. We chose to view it from a perspective of not what (or who) we were missing, but what kind of gift we could share with those who did.

• Non’s character “Sherri Truthbender” cracks me up every time in “Hard Hitting Journalism”, a recurrent interview piece.

• Feeling proud of a score that I wrote, whether or not the performance went well. And feeling proud of a performance of a dance whether or not I had confidence in the structure. Especially seeing our abilities to grow together as performers, being able to employ performance tools we’ve picked up.

• I’ve loved the participatory moments when the whole audience had an up-for-anything attitude. Musical chairs and the line dance come to mind. With both, we had every person out of their seats and playing with us.

• I would also like to mention the improvised unison dolphin mating call with Theresa Madaus. I don’t often share my secret talent of dolphin crying; I was thankful for Monkey Bar to have the opportunity to showcase that particular skill of mine.

5- Show 17- Photo by Scott Pakudaitis

Show 17. Photo by Scott Pakudaitis

Every show is different. What are the core components of Monkey Bar?

  • • Ritual Opening
  • • Ritual Closing (& Raffle!)
  •     ◦ Non-Dance Performances (Ukulele, Monologues, Drag, Karaoke, Magic, Clowning, Hula Hooping, Acting a 5-Minute Play, Lip Syncing, Drawing, Poetry)
  • • Vocal Scores
  • • Participatory Events
  •     ◦ Trivia (Dining etiquette/playgrounds, Elvis)
  •      ◦ Rogue Karaoke (Late night, Elvis)
  •     ◦ Playground Games (Rock Paper Scissors, Arm Wrestling, Charades, Musical Chairs, Purses Pockets and Wallets, Hot Potato)
  •     ◦ Line Dances
  • • Solos (written by self or other)
  • • Duets (written by one or both)
  •      ◦ Contact Improvisations (something that was a challenge at first, but we have made improvement with over time by continuing to push through)
  •       ◦ Performance Play Dates (Holo Lue Choy, Theresa Madaus, Laura Levinson, Alys Ayumi Ogura, and Crissy Tolson) & Solo Shows

What it’s like to create for a multipurpose environment/hybrid venue?

Bedlam has been booking primarily three time slots: Happy Hour, Prime Time, and Late Night. We are lucky enough to have been able to do Monkey Bar in all three time slots, and to have a recurring time in both the Happy Hour and Prime Time. Part of what shaped the attitude and format of Monkey Bar was having half our shows during Sunday Happy Hour. We knew the music had to fit in at a bar, that we couldn’t perform in long bouts of silence without killing the atmosphere, and that potentially a large portion of the patrons at Bedlam would not be there to see us. This also was incentive for us to bring in audience participation. Passing out raffle tickets and getting the audience involved in trivia, game night, or one of our non-dance performances increased the chance of converting these bar-goers into theater-goers.

It’s nice to take advantage of people who are coming early for the show after us but catch part of Monkey Bar. Maybe these people would win the raffle when they didn’t even intend to see our show! We’ve met a lot of people at Bedlam, and made a lot of new connections with other artists and performers, which is exciting.

Our goal with Monkey Bar has been to be as low-impact to Bedlam as possible, so a number of bigger productions have happened in the theater and on stage during our residency. We just try to stay out of everyone’s way and work with the space however it’s set up. Sometimes we have lights, sometimes we have to bring our own because we’re performing in the corner where there are no stage lights. Our first few shows we performed with just work lights. We take what we can get and we improvise the rest.

6- A co-authored duet score from show 17

A co-authored duet score from show 17

What it’s like to perform in STP?

We took on St. Paul because Bedlam was in St. Paul and Bedlam seemed like the right place to do Monkey Bar. We knew it was an uphill battle because, collectively, we can count on two hands the number of times we’ve been to see dance shows in St. Paul, and that number falls drastically if you discount the O’Shaughnessy. We had some lofty goals of bringing the people’s dance to Lowertown and building a community here with our audience. It’s not clear how successful we’ve been at that, but we have garnered some loyal followers, and we did accomplish our goal of reminding the dance community that Bedlam is a viable place to make work.

It’s the Monkey Bar Finale. What’s next?

If you want to see what we’re up to next, come check out our next endeavor: A new evening-length work premiering at The Bryant-Lake Bowl April 14-16. You’ve seen what we can make in just a couple of days, come see what we can make over the course of two and a half months! We promise it won’t be Monkey Bar.

7- Show 18- From Within The Veil Nebula- Photo by Scott Pakudaitis

Show 18: From Within The Veil Nebula. Photo by Scott Pakudaitis

–Non Edwards & Missa Kes

]]> 0
Maren Ward Sat, 24 Oct 2015 20:08:31 +0000 Read more »]]> maren

master of ceremonies – performing director (founding artist and board member)

Maren Ward played Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Templeton the Rat in Charlotte’s Web and Miss Piggy in the Muppets before she turned 10 years old. Dreamy and ambitious, crabby and loyal, glamourous and gluttonous. These roles pretty much sum it all up. In 1993, Maren graduated from Macalester College with a degree in liberal arts theater. After auditioning for Streetcar named Desire at Theater in the Round and the Diary of Anne Frank at the Jungle, Maren rallied together with her peers from Mac and decided to produce some things under the common mis-conception that to produce theater one must start a theater company, Bedlam was born. In its 20 years of existence Maren has performed in or behind the scenes of most of Bedlam’s work, most famously playing Tana in Freewheeling in the Attic of Whim, Alfred Hitchcok in Unhinged, Mucklejohn Magglepot in the Turducken, Coach Rick Dick Thunderhat in Love in the Time of Rinderpest, and Mindy McConnell in the YASKY news. Maren is also famous for starting the phenomenon known as the 5 Minute Movie, a popular feature in Bedlam Romps. Maren’s directing highlights at Bedlam include the annual Bedlam Community Ten Minute Play Festival (2002-2012), 2012: The Musical (with Rhiana Yazzie and New Native Theater), The Million Dollar Museum (2009), and West Bank Story (2006).

Outside of Bedlam, since 2004, Maren has directed the zAmya Theater project, an annual creative collaboration of people with varying experiences with homelessness, where she now holds a part-time position at St. Stephens Human Services. From ’98-‘08 Maren worked as pageant co-director for the Barebones Productions Annual Halloween Outdoor Puppet Extravaganza, a position she will hold again this fall. She has worked as a performer with Open Eye Figure Theater, Theater Novi Most, Theater Unbound, Frank Theater, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater, and 10,000 Things Theater Company. She has directed and taught at Augsburg College and the University of Minnesota. Maren received a 2005 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant, a 2007 Jerome Travel/Study Grant to attend the Cornerstone Summer Institute for Community-Based Theater, a 2007 McKnight Theater Artist Fellowship, and a 2009 TCG Future Collaborations Travel Grant to work with Bibi Bulak, an educational theater troupe in the small island nation of East Timor.

]]> 0
John Bueche Sun, 25 Oct 2015 00:52:22 +0000 Read more »]]> john1


chief artistic officer – executive director (founding artist and board member)

Multi-faceted theater maker: director, collaborator, playwright, lyricist as well as scenic, installation, site-specific and venue design. Project building, problem solving, turning unforeseen synchronicities into new possibilities.

Performance History: At the age of 10 he was pulled out of the audience and into a campfire skit to play a “sucker” in a fishing skit. In the transition to highschool, his sister pointed out that the “musicals” were basically long, indoor campfire skits. From there, it has been a lifelong use of performance for making connections, team building and a tool to manage his otherwise socially awkward existence. 

Project History: Work as a writer/director include projects such as freewheeling in the Attic of Whim, Top of the Heap and To Shining Sea: The Imperial American History Pageant and co-author of Teminus, Cave Man Play etc. As a director most recently Ku Soo Dawaada Xafadeena & Aniga Adiga, the crowdsourced dreamscape of Come to DADA 2009 and the beginning of Bedlam’s Shakespeare in the Parking Lot The Hystery of Queene Margaret 2007. Collaborative creations include the book and lyrics for West Bank Story 2006 and Interact Center’s The Universal Church of the Handicapped 2005. As a designer, he’s created numerous warehouse and odd space installations for numerous enterprises, including the Twin Cities Frank Theatre since 2001, recent design projects with Workhaus Collective, Alan Berks Productions, Footprints Collective, Mu Performing Arts. Onstage a couple times with Theatre de la Jeune Lune.

Civic Leadership: 2013 Theater Communication Group Audience (R)Evolution national advisory committee. 2012 first national Sustainability in Theater Conference Task Force. 2010 fellow of the Creative Community Leadership Institute. Twin Cities Arts and Cultural Policy Study Group. 2007-2010 he served as the Board Chair of the Cedar Riverside Neighborhood Revitalization Program.

Organizational Leadership: Key in the evolution of all Bedlam’s physical spaces. Co-wrote the Bedlam Social business plan 2007. Founded the Community Ten Minute Play Festival in 2002. A mix of good and bad ideas over a couple decades.

]]> 1
KEEP BEDLAM ALIVE! Announcing Bedlam’s Urgent Capital Campaign Fri, 07 Aug 2015 16:14:30 +0000 Read more »]]>

Announcing Bedlam’s Urgent Capital Campaign
Dear Bedlamites. Thank you so, so, so much. Over the last year in Lowertown and the last twenty in the West Bank and beyond, you are what makes Bedlam possible. You are the wind in our sails, the lifeblood of the animal, the beercan in the Romp, and without you, Bedlam would simply not be Bedlam.

We need your help in a major way right now. You may have noticed that we opened a venue, and we’ve had a fairly quiet and grant/loan-focused capital campaign that raised $1,095,000 to make that happen. We wanted to give you the chance to build the experience, and boy did you ever. You’ve helped us do some incredible things: you showed up for over 358 individual events, drank more than 44,000 beers, and scarfed down 17,000 condiments with your meals (that’s a lot of habañero aioli!) You showed up in a huge way at the 3,000 beer night, helping us to have our 2nd best day of ALL TIME. Over the last few months, we’ve doubled our monthly revenue, our labor and expense costs are dropping, and we are at the point where we see what a sustainable Bedlam looks like.

And now that we’ve hit our stride, we’re hoping all those gobs of mustard and new shows will inspire you to join Bedlam’s capital campaign. The bold faced numbers show that we need to raise $400,000 in a capital campaign, and we need to do it by December for our 2016 to start right. Without these funds, we face complete closure, both in Lowertown and as an organization.

So we’re inviting you and yours to invest in Bedlam in all the fun ways (and some of the traditional ways). We’re crowdfunding toward a goal of $75,000 via IndieGogo by September 15th (donate now here), and we’re booking Bedlam Lowertown with a series of 21 Beer Nights for Bedlam in the style of both the 3,000 Beers for Bedlam and in the spirit of the Romps that funded early Bedlam Social’s rent back in the 1501 space. Come out with a crew to donate and drink in person each Tuesday starting August 11th thru the end of the year, and you’ll get to see some wild performances too. We’re hoping to raise $125,000 through those beer events, and an additional $200,000 through major donors and new income initiatives.

Soon we’ll be hosting a Town Hall style meeting to answer any questions and hear awesome ideas from you folks. In the meantime, if you have any ideas for prospective major donors, brilliant entrepreneurs, or partner organizations and individuals who may want to share the costs of our space, shoot us a line at Maybe you’re a food truck needing a kitchen, a promoter needing a venue, a theater looking for a build space, or another kind of thing that would pair well with Bedlam, like peanut butter and pickles. We’d love to talk with you.

These fundraisers combined with rising sales will allow us to eradicate this shortfall and keep doing what we do, with you. But we need to stay open to do that. Your support at this critical time will make the difference. Please help us keep Bedlam alive!

The 5 things you can do to make the most impact:
1) Contribute with your dollars. Give to the IndieGogo. Match funds from the IndieGogo campaign. Show your support through the moneys, and share this campaign with your friends!

2) Come in and have a beer! Bring your friends. Introduce new people to Bedlam. Eat the food and share the love, every Tuesday and beyond. Check out what’s playing here.

3) Volunteer! Run box office for an event, or staff a phone bank, offer us professional consultations, or flier the neighborhood. We’ll be posting ways to get involved in this Facebook group.

4) Bring your event here! Birthday parties, office gatherings, meetings, etc. Or, if you have a show or event and want it to happen here, that’s great, too! Check out this page for a rundown on our box office splits, info about the space, and the series of dates and times we have available in the next two months.

5) Be a reward. Help us out with our IndieGogo campaign by donating visual or performance art. If you’re interested in contributing something to the campaign, let us know at at

UPCLOSE: Alana Horton Mon, 15 Jun 2015 19:29:49 +0000 Read more »]]> Alana in Lowertown

Alana in Lowertown

As a close of this series of the Bedlam blog project, I thought it’d be pretty kewl and awesome TO HAVE the ONE AND ONLY, Alana Horton be a part of my last interview. Who’s that you ask? IT’S MY FRIGGIN SUPERVISOR… the one who’s been here with me all along, duhhh! But no, seriously, she’s more than that! As some of you may know, Alana is an actor in the Twin Cities. She’s actually NOT from Minnesota. She came to Minnesota for Midwestern air but what she got was a degree from Macalester! Alana is actually from the East Coast if you all were wondering.

To end off the blog series, I’ll give y’all some shtuff from my journey as an intern… well here goes nothing…

I don’t know what else to say except I had a VERY good internship at Bedlam (and now I’m working here. lols), with this also my very first internship. Everything was all new to me, Alana, and Allison (my Faculty Advisor). We were all like… what the heck, are we doing this and that right? I mean yeah… I guess we did because I am finally a graduate. YAY!!! You all are probably wondering why it took so long for me to post up these blog thingys but it’s because I was trying to jump over hurdles and I just kept getting hit in the face… I’m trying to make this a metaphor of what finals at skewl was like, but nope. It was actually like I was in a tornado but somehow I survived. Is that better? Yehhh. I mean c’mon! Senior year. Okay, hopefully it doesn’t sound like excuses, because I don’t want it to sound like excuses but plowing through this last semester I’d have to say was tough but probably one of the most special and educational semesters EVAR. Everything hit me. Everything had finally made sense. My blog, what I was doing, and just everything I’ve learned up till now, it was like all these pieces to a puzzle coming together building me up to become this person I now am. I mean, some things are just never expected. I never expected to make it this far. I guess I just ever saw the end of what it would be like of graduating or with my project. I think one of my fears of even beginning this blog project was just not wanting fail so I just didn’t want to do it at all. It was Alana who (THANKFULLY) kept asking me what I was going to do for a project. Man, I was scared. I didn’t want to talk to people because I didn’t know how to talk to people. But then I got support from Allison as well and they both helped me and worked with me to guide the way. There are some things I wish I could have done more for and on this blog or even worked on more with myself but these are all things that I can learn from and do better the next time around. Thank goodness for second chances. Eeeek! So exciting. I’m so glad I had a voice at Bedlam because I definitely think it’s what they give you when you work here in any capacity, whether you’re in one of their Short Shorts, or their Marketing intern. I hope I didn’t fail you all with my blog project… I hope you enjoyed it because I did! Thanks for being awesome blog readers. Peace out and go change the werrrrld!

By the way, don’t forget to read about Alana. Here’s some lil’ facts about her: She graduated from Macalester in 2014, double majoring in Directing and English Lit. (WHOAA!) She’s the Communications Director here at Bedlam (DOUBLE WHOA!) and O.M.G. had her first intern at the age of 23 (AHHH! Btw, the intern is moi and now I’m her Communications Assistant!) Okay let’s get down to it! Put your back into it (reading this interview that is!)


Interview with Alana Horton

Can you tell me a little about yourself? Where you’re from?

I am originally from the West Coast; that’s where I was born. My dad is in academia and my parents were working at Reed College when I was born, so I spent my first two years in Portland, Oregon. Then my dad went to grad school, and we moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts so he could finish out his Doctorate in Statistics; he was teaching at B.U. for a while and then we moved to Northampton, Massachusetts where he was teaching at Smith and now he teaches at Amherst. So, I kinda hopped around a little bit as a kid.

I would consider Massachusetts my home and specifically Northampton, it’s where I was from middle school through high school a.k.a. “the formative years”. So I spent time in Massachusetts in my formative years and then I went to Macalester for college, and that’s how I ended up in Minnesota. I ended up studying Theater and English and then joining on with Bedlam and I guess the rest is history. I sort of pursued doing stuff in theatre and also doing graphic design and a lot of communications work as my main occupation, which has been really important to me.

How did you hear about Bedlam? How did you become involved at Bedlam? How did you and John Bueche meet?

I feel like these are three intertwining storylines because the time I met John Bueche is a little different from when I heard about Bedlam and when I got involved with Bedlam was way after those things happened.

I think the first time I ever heard of Bedlam as a force in the Twin Cities was when my friend and current roommate, Chris Garza, did a short play in [Bedlam’s] Ten Minute Play Festival. I remember going to the Bedlam webpage at the time and being like “What is this place? Weird… I don’t know how I feel about this… I’m not gonna go to this thing” [laughs]. And that was probably in early 2012, maybe 2011.

The next time I heard of Bedlam at all was when Sam Johns, who’s a local artist around town—she was putting together a dance piece [for 9×22] and I heard from a friend that she was looking for a group of like fifty people and my friend couldn’t make it to the rehearsal but I decided to go just by myself and the rehearsal was in [Bedlam Lowertown] before it got renovated. So what the space looked like before, if you can imagine, there’s a huge wall through the middle of the whole space, that kitchen wasn’t there. The bar wasn’t there. We really gutted the place and renovated everything in [Bedlam Lowertown]. I remember doing this dance rehearsal there and that’s actually when I met John Bueche for the first time. I remember he was wearing a shirt that was–I don’t remember the brand of tea.. it’s like the brand of tea that makes Sleepytime but it was something about mint tea and I was like, “I like your shirt!” and he was like “Thanks!” and I didn’t realize it was John Bueche at the time either. I didn’t really know where I was, didn’t know really who was in the room with me. But I was at this dance rehearsal and I did that dance and then a couple months later, John Bueche shows up at Macalester to do a scenic design for a play that I was stage managing for and I sort of put the pieces together and was like “Oh! You’re that guy! But you run Bedlam Theatre! What?”

John Bueche, he’s also a Macalester alum, he graduated in class of ‘92 so sometimes he comes back and what he does a lot in the Twin Cities as well as being the head of Bedlam is does all the scenic design, so he’s designing for a show called Hip Hop Hopes and I was working at Macalester at the time as their publicity person for the theatre so I also worked really closely in hand with set design and thinking about concepts for the show and I made the poster for that and all the promotional stuff for that and at the end of Hip Hop Hopes, I was like, “Can I get involved in Bedlam? Can I work for you guys?” and John Bueche was like, “Sure. Just shoot me a line.” And then there was of course school, so I didn’t for a couple months and then I was like, “Augh! I really should’ve talk to Bedlam!” So I sent out this last ditch like, “Let me work with you guys!” and they’re like, “Okay!” and I was sort of like, “Can you pay me?” and they’re like, “Ah—” and I was like, “Please!” and then they’re like “Ah–okay.”

So, that summer, I worked with Bedlam and I did a bunch of graphic design, I was an intern. I just sort of sat around and did what people told me to do and eventually I was like, “Oh, maybe I can do some stuff that people aren’t directly telling me to do.” I got involved with one of our big productions that year, The Big Lowdown, and did a bunch of work on that with outreach and press releases and all this communication stuff and when the school year came around again, they kept me on staff.

What was your experience being in Space Girl like? And how was it playing multiple characters/roles?

Space Girl was the most fun I’ve had in a production in a very long time. I had a lot of fun making and putting it all together. Pretty much everyone in that cast are people that are my friends, are people that I hang out with and it’s just amazing to make really good quality stuff with good quality people. As far as playing multiple roles, I think that’s a lot of fun. I often prefer it to just playing one because you get to keep on doing different things and flexing different performance muscles.

Was it difficult playing different roles? Or what is it that you like about playing just one role?

I wouldn’t say it was difficult, I would say I had trouble finding some of the characters. Like i played this character Arcabio, who was this evil space criminal and a space goose. The way it was originally written in the script by [writer Peter Rusk], was that the character only said things with long O’s so instead of being like “I love my kickstand” [doing character’s original voice] it’ll be like, “I lOOooooove my KickstOOOooond”. And I just couldn’t get it to work, it wasn’t funny, it was just really bad and I just kept trying and trying with this text and it just doesn’t come out of my mouth in a funny way like it would come out of Peter’s in a funny way. So I just started playing around with it and getting some different variations on the character and eventually we ended up with this weird sort of sexy, Southern, cougar as Arcabio, [in a Southern accent] “I love my Kickstand, please don’t take her away from me!” That sort of stuff.

I think that the trick to playing multiple characters is about letting yourself find different things and being okay with trying to differentiate what you’re doing. And that’s a really fun task as an actor, I think because when you’re just playing one character, you can get really deep in it but in a play like Space Girl, where you’re not doing realism, it’s clearly not aiming for a realistic kind of thing, there’s no need to go that deep. It’s just sort of finding the surface tics and some maybe funny voices and some funny mannerisms because that play moved so fast that you just didn’t need something else to define character. So it’s just fun to sort of switch between these costumes super quickly, be this different character super quickly… I really liked it.

What are your goals as an actor?

I’ve been trying to work with as many people who are doing new work as possible. When I think about what I’m really interested in doing in theatre, it’s about creating new work and often creating new work in an ensemble, it’s sort of what we call devised theatre or physical theatre, it’s new work. What it boils down to for me is being in a room with people, having an idea to start with and shaping it into something–breaking away from a more “traditional” way of making work, where a playwright writes a play, a theatre decides if they’re going to do the play, the theatre hires a director to direct the play, the director finds actors to do the play, and you have this like top down system where it’s all very regimental about roles and whose role is what and how people contribute in the room so that the director isn’t messing with the words or the text and the actors aren’t changing what happens in the play because that’s the director’s job.

I’m really interested in more collaborative forms of working where the text is generated by everyone in the room or everyone has a say in that. I think it’s still helpful to have directors and to have a framework of who’s in charge in those rooms but I think there’s something really beautiful that comes out of ensemble creation and I think it’s a way of thinking imaginatively and also politically, I think it’s an important thing [laughs] to work together in a room in opposed to reinforcing structures of power that already exist in the world. And in the work that I want to create, I want to create it with people, not enforce my creative vision onto people necessarily.

In college I actually ended up with getting my major in Devising, so I made a project called I/Macalester which was a script that I envisioned, the structure of it and then I brought that to a group of actors and we were able to collaboratively shape parts of it in the last part and move text around. As an actor, I’ve been trying to really work with people that are doing new work and people that are doing Devised work. I just worked with Savage Umbrella on their piece, These Are The Men and that was a production of a script that had been created in an ensemble process and as we rehearsed it, it shifted a ton and everyone’s suggestion were something was welcomed in the room in terms of like staging or changing lines or like what makes sense. So it’s still this living body of a script and the play really reflected that and I’m excited to be working with them again this summer, workshopping a new idea for a script in a play called Penelope.

I’m really glad to be in those spaces and just in general, it’s something I really admire with Bedlam. Every time I’ve worked on a Bedlam production, especially in Short Shorts, you have these rooms where collaboration is essential. You come into Short Shorts for an Ideathon and it’s like anyone who has an idea is welcome and the people who are in this room are gonna help you realize that idea and it’s by working together that you can see what you want to see on stage manifested. It’s a structure that gives you the resources and empowers you to create. Sure, you can bring a script to an ideathon but you can also just bring a random idea and the group of people there will help you create it into something more. I’ve been a part of most of the Short Shorts. I actually was a part of a Short Short right before I came into Bedlam, like right before I was becoming an intern, that was my first time performing with Bedlam too.

When you were growing up was there someone you looked up to that inspired you to be an actress?

I didn’t get into theatre until I was a junior in high school, that’s when I was in my first play ever. I was like, sixteen. I remember just being so scared I was gonna puke everywhere [laughs]. I don’t know if there was necessarily someone who inspired me to do that, I think it was more of a thing I had to prove to myself. I had a somewhat serious hospitalization when I was fourteen or fifteen. I got a really bad kidney infection and I ended up in the hospital for like a week and a half and right after that, my dad took a sabbatical in New Zealand and so we moved there for a year. I had this like what felt like a near death experience at the time. I was in the hospital for nine days and lost fifteen pounds in that time and after I couldn’t really walk for six weeks– it really put in a different mindset about how fragile my body was or like, that I’m not quite invincible.

I think when I was in middle school and early high school, I was just so afraid of being the weird kid, or being the too loud kid, I was just constantly apologizing for being myself. I remember having this moment in middle school where it was like, “If I’m gonna be smart, I have to be the nicest to everyone or I’m just gonna be bullied until I can’t do it anymore”. I was just super small in rooms and really–apologizing all the time which is a habit I’m still trying to break. And I remember going through this experience where my body was at stake and I was literally at my fragilest and smallest and weakest and then going away from my school and home and having to start over in a new place in New Zealand, not knowing anyone….

When I got back to the United States, after that experience, of being hospitalized, after living abroad and having to start over, I really needed to prove to myself that I could do something like that, that I could go on stage and be in front of people, that i could be, like, big in a way. And it’s what I wanted more than anything. I don’t know, I’ve always been a really stubborn person [laughs]. I think in that moment especially, I was just like “I’m gonna do it!”

I also think that my mom is an inspiration. She’s just super smart and super sweet and also has dyslexia so always.. struggling against this like, communication thing. She’s always kind of taught me about that balance of strength and yet humility and empathy. She also acted in a short film that she showed me from when I was a kid and I was like “Oh! That’s so cool!”

What is a stage play that resonates with you? What is a play/movie that made you cry?

I cry all the time. I cry at most things that hit my emotional triggers, which is like everything. I just probably have overactive tear ducts. And it’s to the point where I’m just bored by crying so I’m going to twist the question and talk about the thing that I want to see and the thing I search for in the theatre I see and the theatre I want to create are these moments that like—I don’t know how to explain it–transcendentalism. Like, you’re transcended, like you feel this rise in your soul and heart in such a way that it feels like you’re expanding upside yourself. I think it’s something I feel with music, I think it’s something really easy to provoke with harmony and song. But I’ve seen it a couple of times in theatre when it’s like hit me in the heart like a lightning bolt. It’s like the moments that you’ll never forget. And I think it’s what live performance can bring that something on film can’t and the first one that burned in my mind is when I was a teenager and first saw a show at Double Edge Theatre.

They’re a theatre in Ashfield, Massachusetts that does a ton of physical training which then translates into their work. So they’re all like super gymnasts and super athletes that are making theatre and they did a show that’s the summer spectacle, they do every summer and their theatre is on a farm, they run a farm and make theatre. They were doing a show called The Firebird, which is this Russian folktale about this bird, this Firebird, a woman that’s been enchanted by this magician and the way they do the summer spectacle is that they do scenes and then the whole audience walks to the next scene and then the next scene and walk to a new place and do a scene. They do it all, just as soon as the sun is about to set. So the show starts when it’s still day and by the time it ends, it’s night. And it’s a Russian folktale, so they incorporated a ton of music throughout sort of Russian harmonies, if you’ve heard Russian folk songs but they’re like haunting in a way that makes you like kind of like have the chills. There are three moments from that show that I can’t forget.

One was, we were brought to the side of a stream running through their farm and it was dark and you heard this ethereal voice off in the distance and you start to see a woman walking through the stream playing guitar, coming towards you into the light. And she was sort of like a–supposed to be a fairy in the woods and you believed it because she was magically coming out of this mysterious place you didn’t even see her coming and then a man with a wolf’s head bounded up to her and it was just like this moment of [gasping of air] I don’t know how else to describe it. Like you don’t expect… you can’t do that on a stage. You have to do it just like that, outside in a stream.

Second moment, we were led into their garden, now transformed into the magician’s lair. In the story he would enchant people so that they were frozen. So there were all these people there, holding candlesticks, like candleholders, in arabesque. They were holding their feet and they were holding it perfectly still for fifteen minutes. Like impossible physical feats.

Third moment from that show, it was like at the end as like the Firebird was going to be set free. We were walking through the woods on this path and there were these large trees and these shrines on each tree with beautifully painted paintings of the Firebird lit by candles. It felt like we were walking through like a church. There was this choir somewhere around us singing these Russian folktales as we walking through… it felt like a sanctified, holy space, and just as we walked out of the woods, there was this big hill that we were approaching and the Firebird was running all the way up the hill, and she was on fire. Her wings were on firel. And as she went, actors were setting off these large lanterns with candles within them that floated into the sky as she was running all the way up this mountain. And you could just see her as a speck all the way up that mountain and these lanterns rising high into the sky…. [Pounds on the table with a fist] THAT’S theatre! That’s the kind of thing!–I don’t know.

That was the moment where I was like… this is incredible. It’s a kind of worship, it’s a kind of thing that you’re not gonna find looking at a screen. It’s the act of like coming together as an audience and witnessing something together and feeling this moment where you feel connected to every other person around you as this communal witnessing. I think when we think about theatre and the root of that word and the ritual of to be whole or to see, I think there’ something that is totally sacred in that I think that’s what it can provoke at it’s best. And that’s the reason to still do it. It’s a shame because I think it’s really hard to find that in our traditional models of theatre where despite the fact that we’re beyond it, as in like the fourth wall, you’re still like going to a proscenium, watching a show, it’s happening in front of you. Sometimes there’s those moments where you feel connected. I think it’s harder and harder the more we are used to the isolation that becomes super familiar and comfortable when we look at just screens or want to be shut off in ways. And it’s a really vulnerable space and really difficult place to get to when you can get to a performance that can get you to feel like it’s ripping you open or that you’re exposed or vulnerable in a way. I think that’s really beautiful.

I thought I was gonna go to school for visual art, that theatre would be my second passion but it’s weird now that I’m like doing theatre as my passion and graphic design is what I get paid for [laughs]. So it’s like I’m making this art but I don’t really do my own practice of visual art anymore, it’s mostly to get paid which is really strange and I feel very lucky that that’s true. Most of my freelance work is paid graphic design. I did not go to school for that [laughs].

Do you have a dream role or a character you would like to play?

No. I don’t think I’m well versed enough in scripts to be like “This is my dream role!”

Is there a character that you would like to make up/create and play that character?

Well, okay. The piece that I really want to create is around this woman, Evelyn Nesbit. I think she’s just a really fascinating person. She was an artist model at the turn of the century and when she was about fifteen she moved to New York City with her mother. She ended up being a Broadway actress and being courted by all these (often) older married men. She ended becoming the lover and mistress of this very famous New York architect but ended up marrying this heir to a railroad fortune. He was kinda mentally unstable, and she went to Europe with him and he really.. physically abused her, they came back to America and her husband, then in a fit of rage murdered her ex lover, on the roof of Madison Square Tower in front of like two hundred people and she was brought on trial for driving these men insane. His insanity defense really was like, she was “Too provocative!” and she “Drove them insane!” and it’s “Not his fault that he killed this guy!” “Of course he did, look at her.” It’s a story, a slut shaming thing, that completely goes on today still and really resonates with me. She was driven through the dirt in newspapers in this just coming out of the Victorian era America and really socially shunned.

I really want to make a play about her life, spoken through some of her words, specifically thinking about how women are allowed to use their beauty, how society dictates how women are allowed to control their own image. I mean, she was the most photographed woman at the turn of the century, in all the magazines. But it seems to me that when women try to control their own sexual image, and gain sponsorship or husband or money, we have these terms to describe women like “golddigger,” “slut,” “vain,” etc. I mean, think of the Kim Kardashians and Miley Cyruses in our own day. This is not a trend that’s ended.

I really want a group of five actresses that are all playing her at times because one thing I’m really interested in also battling is the way that gaze works on the stage and I think when you have just one woman in a role, it just falls into the same vein of how we view women everyday. For instance, if I had one woman playing Evie, you get to take her in and view her, if you get multiple actresses playing her as the same person, you don’t know where to look, you don’t know who’s looking at you. It’s taking back some of implicit power of that gaze.

I think my work in general, I’m really interested in history, especially history of women. I worked in an archive for a couple years as you know, doing Oral History interviews. So, a lot of my work is about forgotten or untold histories and trying to give life to stories that exist and have existed, yet aren’t totally present in society or are forgotten in some way and bringing life back into them and displaying them as multifaceted stories. History is, it’s a fight between different versions of story and the ones that get presented in history books is not the complete picture. History is never objective. It likes to pretend that it is. But the more that we can add nuance or the different voices that make it up, the more useful and there is such thing as a truth to be had, that it’s in letting the different things fight it out in view of the world. Voice to the voiceless. Or something like that [laughs].

I know you played characters that are thought to be male, Arturo Ui and God, how did you go about your interpretations of them?

I just know I don’t particularly care for playing ingenues. Playing Ui was amazing. I know you have a question later on about playing men’s roles. And I think it’s so liberating as an actor to be given the chance to play something so out of your physical boundaries that you actually get to re-create everything like the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you stand, the way you approach people because the process of casting for your looks or for your type sometimes it feels like you’re just playing a version of yourself because that’s what people see you as. It’s really… not that interesting. I’d rather play a sexy space goose or a crazy Brooklyn dictator.

God actually wasn’t very male when I did it. I would say she was more like a good midwestern business woman, that’s how I’d say it, like, “What are you worrying about?” But Arturo Uri definitely was one of the most challenging and fulfilling roles I’ve ever done. And some people have done Ui as a woman but it’s most commonly a man so I really give credit to Barbara Berlovitz for casting me as such. And it was in the Macalester Theatre Department so maybe less high stakes but I think the production is really great and I had to go through a complete chord and vocal and body transformation in order to play that character. My hair, I dyed it. I got it really really short on the sides, it was basically Hitler’s haircut because the show is an allegory for Hitler’s rise to power. Before the Second World War was over and so instead of Hitler taking over Germany and Austria, it’s Arturo Ui–Brooklyn gangster who’s in Chicago and takes over Cicero. So I had to do a lot of accent training to do that and Cheryl Moore Brinkley was our vocal instructor and worked a lot with me on the accent and working on getting my voice lower. And my voice has come back up since but for a while I was doing that show a little after, it was about an octave lower and I really worked on get it all the way [voice dropping] down here. I had to do a lot of vocal singing exercises to get it all [voice dropping lower again] the way even lower than that. So I had this booming chest voice. I really actually got to unlock my chest voice which I never had before but if I warmed it up still, I can get down there just not quite as low. So I worked about a month on getting my voice low and deep and like BOOMING AS IT POSSIBLY COULD BE. I don’t know, I don’t sound like that most of the time.

I also worked a lot on posture and learned a lot about how power is conveyed through posture and look and studied a lot of gangster films, a lot of The Godfather or other mob bosses and it’s interesting. Also, power is about stillness. It’s really interesting non-verbally, if someone’s trying to be tough but they’re not really tough, it’s all about chin up. Real power doesn’t need to, real power just sits and pulls the strings. It was also a fun process too of playing someone who’s rising through power and their beginning presentation is like a little mannequin. The most intimidating power is one that’s the calmest. I was actually watching the Star Wars movies again last night and I think Luke goes something similar, like in the beginning of the movies, he’s sort of whiny and bratty and doesn’t know but by the end he’s like [calmly] “You’re making a grave mistake,” And it’s so calm and there’s power behind it because it’s calmness in these situations of chaos. That’s something I worked with when creating this character and I think it was really successful. I got into a physicality that’s completely not my own. It was a lot of fun. But it took me awhile to get back into my body. I think that’s why I’m growing my hair out to be honest. I think I’m still not quite over Ui.

In general, how do you think your gender has affected your art?

Well, it’s definitely affected the work I want to do because I think I do work that’s a lot about women’s stories. And I think it has definitely affected some other roles I’ve gotten. I’m almost never asked to do roles that are “sexy”… According to most casting directors I’m like an ingenue or like the innocent one or like the one that doesn’t know anything or just really naive and innocent and a little silly [laughs]. That’s what I get cast as for a lot of things. But I am pretty silly.

I feel lucky to work in places that my gender doesn’t matter as much to whether I’m cast in a role. That’s not a thing a Bedlam. I’m about to play Luke Skywalker at the Romp… it doesn’t matter that I’m a woman. It’s not an issue as much here.

I think I have a dual fear that “I’m not getting jobs because I’m a woman” and “Maybe I’m getting jobs because I’m a woman and not because I’m good at it” and I think sometimes that is very basis of what feminism comes down to for me. I want people to be treated equally in a space and not given preferential treatment or less preferential treatment.

What is one food you could eat for the rest of your life?

Rice. Give me rice. All the time. I love rice. If I could put it in multiple forms too, that’d be nice too. Like, “Oh now I can have fried rice! Now I can have sushi with rice… or just a bowl of rice with an egg on it!” I swear I’m like a rice addict sometimes. I really like rice.

If you could have one Pokemon as your sidekick, who would it be and why?

Okay, I played a lot of Sapphire and I had a Blaziken that I raised from a Torchic. It’s a level 100 Blaziken. It’s the BEST Blaziken ever. Actually, Torchic because it’s cuter than Blaziken because Blaziken is actually a 1970s disco fire thing but Torchic… cutest cutest. Fun feelings.

What is one or two things you would like to tell your younger self if you had the chance to?

Apologize less and trust yourself more. I hate to think of all the time I wasted being scared to take the next step and not feeling like I had the tools or the intelligence or resources in myself to make it happen. And I still don’t. I still struggle with that. I still have tons of insecurities about what I can do and taking those impulses but I’m getting a lot better at it, I think.I think my next big hurdle is doing my next big directing thing out of college because it requires asking like six actresses who I really admire to be a part of it. And I think I still have this fear inside of myself that I’m not good enough or won’t want to when my logical brain is like “Just ask. They’ll probably say yes.” Taking the first step is the hardest part of the process sometimes.



UPCLOSE: Ifrah Mansour Wed, 10 Jun 2015 19:33:45 +0000 Read more »]]> Ifrah


Hi Bedlamites!

I have had the wonderful experience and opportunity to have been a part of Bedlam and intern for the AH-MAZING Alana as her Marketing intern. I’m very pleased with all that I’ve learned here and especially the support I got from Alana with this blog project. But YOU KNOW, what’s actually funny is that I’m now her Communications Assistant! WHUHHH, how did that happen? Oh yeah, it happened. She hired me forreals and now I get to be a part of Bedlam PART-TIME. OH YEAH! SUMMER JOBBING! MONEY! Gonna buy mah momma a new house. Not really just yet, but I’ll get there someday.

ANYWAYS, ‘Hope you all are doing well with rainy/humid/sunny Minnesota weaTHAAAR! I’ve got some good news! Some time back when, I had the opportunity to interview Ifrah Mansour! She was such a lovely lady and made me laugh a whole bunch! Truly inspirational. I want to share with you this awesome interview I had with her and hope that you enjoyed learning about her as much as I did!

Some of the things I want to inform you all before you scrooooll away is that Ifrah has this really kewl IM series that she’s been working on! I posted a couple links below next to the questions(and one of them is a video on her IM Series) so be sure to click and watch the videos! By the way, another video includes Ifrah’s Short short piece that she did not too long ago. It’s pretty awesome so prepare to be blown away, ALRIGHT!?

K. Cool. I hope all that PLUS the interview will lighten your day and make you a smiling unicorn. Goodness, I love unicorns. Okay, that was super random. But off you go, you wonderful, crazy, beautiful people. Have an awesome Wednesday!

Ifrah in Lowertown

Ifrah in Lowertown


Interview with Ifrah Mansour

Can you tell me a little about yourself? Where you’re from?

I’m from many places but geographically speaking, I’m from Somalia. I lived a little bit in Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Seattle, Washington. I now live here in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota world. I consider all of those places home because I have many rich experiences and memories from all of these places. I also like nature [laughs]. No, really, I really do like nature. I just go on a long walk to the river, but now that I am making specific artwork that are tied to my history, I feel I need to go more into nature. One of my very fond memories come from being a with nature. Especially being on my grandmother’s farm. We’d walk, almost two hours of walking never getting tired, to the farm from the city. We’d loved leaving the urban life and into the rural and nature life. We would get to play the longest hide and seek and run ahead from adults. I would get to see my other cousins who were in school the whole week. Such fond memories indeed.

Currently, I’m trying to be a multimedia performance artist, weaving digital media, movement sound with and working in community involvement. In addition to that, I am a bilingual teacher and I also try to learn how to fix bikes.

Was there a person that you looked up to and inspired you to choose the career path you have chosen?

The first person that I actually fell in love with was Regina Williams. She is just magical. Like, I finally got to work with her this past year, it’s been a while. I saw her in a play, and Regina really stuck out to me, I was like “I wanna be just like her!” But I’ll always be shorter than her [laughs]. As I learn more about the arts, I am now interested by works of Marina Abramovic and Sarah Jones.

What was that moment where you knew you wanted to do art or performance? How did your family react to you choosing this path?

In last year of college, I was looking for small job and found that “Mixed Blood Theatre is looking for someone to market their work to the community.” I got that job. One of the things that I had to do was that I had to watch plays to make sure it was community appropriate or relevant. I got to learn Mixed Blood’s radical work and their interest in wanting to work with artists of color. Later on, Mixed Blood, Bedlam, and another theatre got a joint grant and started producing an actual Somali play where I was a part of the production team. When we finally couldn’t find enough actors, I was told, “Ifrah, you can talk to people, so go be on stage!” I was like, “Oh, sure.”, And that’s how it was all started. It was long term production and somehow meaningful and just thinking back to how conscious and how tentative and how culturally supportive Bedlam staff people were. They still worked with us, they taught us some acting and improv skills. At that time I was in school almost completing a degree to be an elementary teacher. I didn’t like it at all.

My family doesn’t know what I do. I’ve been keeping that way [laughs]. I just tell them I go to work and I really do go to work in my mind and that’s all they need to know. My brother recently found out a film I did. He still lives back in Seattle and he called me and he was like “Oh so you do that, huh? I wanna see more of your stuff.” And my older brother’s the most strict. But then again, my siblings and I have a very different life and we grew up different here in America so no one really has power to tell the other what to do with their lives. But still, I think my sister knows a little bit. My dad knows a little bit about it too, but I feel maybe… I’m blessed because of how I had to be on my own and being independent from the get-go. This gave me the freedom to what I want to do without family restrictions. So I am grateful for my misfortune, because very few people are able to do what I do because of how close they are to their traditional family.

Can you talk more about why you hold back from telling others about what you do?

At the beginning, a lot of people really shunned me. I was getting a lot of hate mails. There were places where I decided was not safe for me to go. That was how it was at the beginning. And now, this year, I don’t know what happened but people are like sending me encouraging emails. There were several parents that are reaching out to me saying that their children are interested in acting and if I can offer classes and I have to tell them, “I hope you know that I didn’t go to school for it and that I only know of American theatre.”

Also, I’m too close to what brings pain to the greater community and I never wanted my life to be used as an example of yet another pain brought to the community from the community. So for me, I was really conscious of that. I was alright if I am choosing to do something that I’m gonna make sure that I don’t use it as way to fight for a certain lifestyle or way to put forth an alternative to say “Now all Somali girls have to be be artist because that’s important for self expression and for developing oneself” and what not but granted that I was.. Knew that we–the community would be capable of accepting anyone that does amazing work and I am so hopeful about that and that’s why I really kept it to myself and I feel like I’m still doing that. I’m hopeful that someday they’ll come out to my show.

What interests you about fashion and wearable art? Do you think your gender has played a role in that interest?

What I really enjoy about wearable art is that often times, I get really excited about animating an object with the help of an actor. I’m trying really hard I guess to have the characters really embody these objects. And so I’m aiming as an artist to tell the story of the dress and not necessarily the dress wearer. Fashion is suppose to define who you are to the external world, especially for women. It’s so important in my culture where modesty is often solely judged by outward appearance. Fashion and beauty will always stay in trend and I, as an artist am interested in this. It will always be important for woman allegedly. I have some ideas for the next IM series that I’m really excited to share very soon I hope.

Video to IM Series

What advantages could you have had if you were born male?

It’s pretty important. I do wonder how much I could’ve gotten away if I was a male. I’ve been doing some crazy yet radical stuff of my own. In my culture, there is specific gender roles, there’s some things that women do, some things that male or females do. So much had changed though, we’re seeing more and more amazing women do more radical works. East-African women lead organizations, and really changing the gender-norms.

There was a Somali photographer who’ve gotten so much community love, and he worked really hard and it’s always tough working with the community. I was amazed at the amount of support that he has gotten, granted that he was doing something from a social justice standpoint but nonetheless radical and out there like, my art work. It makes me wonder if my art path would have been different had I been a male. Would I have gotten support from the community from the beginning? Could I have been reached more?

What was your inspiration when creating “how to have fun in a civil war”? What were the steps to creating that piece?

I was waiting for a friend who was late to meet me at a restaurant and I was like “Oh boy, what do I do with my life?” I’m someone who doesn’t feel very confident about my writing so I’m always trying to do some writing exercises to make myself sound okay on a paper.There’s this writing exercise that says, “Pick a moment from your life that you can think of with so many details.” And I was like “Oh that’s fine. I’ll just pick a moment.” And I did that, and then it says “Write as much as you can and write at least 1500 words” and I was like “Oh, I can do that, it’s just free-write” and I wrote for almost two hours. At this point my friend got to me and I made her read it, and I remember her asking, “What will you do with it?”.

The projection, of a burning match that’s there throughout the show was intended to add really exciting, sense of urgency, a sense of time to it because it was going, it’s becoming something, it’s going away, but then I’m trying to add on to it, “Oh, it has a meaning but you have to see the next part of the story, or the end part actually”. I feel like the sugar beet becomes an important thing, the projection becomes an important thing. I’m also playing with the idea of not seeing all the other characters, not seeing them also could have an important thing. As an artist, who’s really interested in playing with ideas and stories and concepts, I feel like I’m really excited about creating an experience that is part true, part exciting, and part fun.

I was really amazed how many people connect to this story. It’s about one individual, one location, very far away, I was amazed that many diverse people found ways to connect to it. And I’m someone who’s really excited about that. I’m really interested in finding ways for us to really connect in stories we think we could never connect to. And I feel like you’re able to do that by allowing yourself as an artist to really play.

Watch Ifrah’s Short shorts video here

UPCLOSE: Francisco Benavides Mon, 01 Jun 2015 23:14:16 +0000 Read more »]]> Francisco at Bedlam Lowertown!

Francisco at Bedlam Lowertown!

Hi blog readers!

I’VE JUST RECENTLY GRADUATED!!! And you’re probably wondering why I’m still posting on the Bedlam blog but it’s because I have three interviews (including this one) that I have yet to post! Senior year is always a tough year to get by but I got through it! As for the interviews, I will post them as quickly as possible so you will get to read about the lives of these very wonderful artists. I hope that you all enjoyed my Bedlam blog project: UPCLOSE and learning about the lives of artists along with me. Hopefully I didn’t bore you guys, BUT if I did, I’m sorry. Haha not really. Joking. But seriously, any feedback would be lovely to hear! As a writer, I’m always in need of doing a better job at what I do! As a professor at St. Kate’s once said to me, “Writing is re-writing”. That’s the honest truth. And yes it hurts because you always think you’re finished and done with a piece and then BAM! You’re not done! Writing is full of edits.

Anyways, this blog post will feature an interviewee and artist by the name of Francisco Benavides! He was super nice and it was a pleasure getting to know many new things I never knew about theatre and performance arts.

Francisco Benavides was born in St. Paul, MN. Raised in Maplewood (East St. Paul—woohoo! represent!). He spent his childhood winters in Guadalajara, Mexico, where his parents are from. He’s a multidisciplinary theatre performer, more specifically in clowning (NOT like a birthday clown). He started in the visual arts and then became a performer later on.

He also attended SAIC in Chicago but left sometime after to pursue other endeavors. At SAIC, Francisco was specializing in sculpture and performance. His roots of performing began there, as well as puppeteering and states, “performing through this object was kind of a start”. That is really amazing! Artists always have an outlet of expressing themselves and it’s really interesting how Francisco used puppeteering to find that outlet for expression and art!

Francisco is also looking to reach out and create more theatre in the Latino community and you can learn more about him and what his creative journey is like by taking a look below at the interview!

ALSO, to watch Scary Pelicula (one of the Short Shorts that Francisco was in) click here!


Interview with Francisco Benavides

Can you describe the goals you hope to achieve with the Latino community?

I wouldn’t say goals with them–for some reason it implied that I was in charge in a way and I definitely don’t feel like I have a lot of authority. But I want to be a service to the Latino community. I’m very fortunate in my life to have been given a lot of privileges that a lot of people, who are the children of immigrants don’t have. I feel very aware of that. I have a lot of access to things that, in turn, give back to or use those privileges in a way that’s helpful to the community I’m part of. And also through theatre, I think, kind of expand what Latino is as a culture in the United States–I feel like it’s often viewed one-dimensionally, both by the people outside and also sometimes by us in it because the prevailing culture outside tells us its this one thing sometimes. So yeah—I wanna create something dynamic that presents the diversity and power behind this culture, but also to be a service to it.

What’s the dynamic of the Latino culture?

In general, I think the Latin American identity in the United States is new and shared among the people here, regardless of where you’re from in Latin America. I mean, in general, there’s an identity specific to the children of immigrants. Like, when I grew up, my best friends were actually Filipino and Hmong and Black–and it was because we were these kids of minority in the suburbs and the way we related was the fact that our parents were from a different place than us. And we were in a space in between of being American and being, you know, Hmong, Filipino, Mexican… and I think having that existence of being in between two cultures and having to negotiate existing in two while simultaneously being accepted by both, yet not completely belonging to either puts you in this place where you’re kinda an outsider–and I usually find that leads to really great art–like the stuff I’ve seen from others in these communities. It gives you a perspective that a lot of people don’t have about identity–I usually find that makes really great work. That for me, pushes the right button and it deals with issues of identity that we face as a country that is applicable to everyone but it’s always so specifically something these communities deal with firsthand. ‘Cause I mean, you can ask what American is and it’s always “it’s kinda this” and that’s always an issue in my life of what that means to be Mexican and what that means to be American and what it means to be both.

I deal with that through art–at least really dynamic art. And I think looking at history too, for me, having studied a lot of art history, a lot of the more amazing things in general, lower-class communities of ethnicity, like Black communities create a lot of amazing art forms and in New York City, Puerto Rican art has been very influential in the country in ways people don’t know and I think in L.A. as well. The Mexican community has been very important in the way art has been created there and usually happens in a grassroots way where it doesn’t become visible–it usually becomes co-opted or part of something larger that distances it from its origins. But I always find looking at the roots of a lot of the art in this country, it’s very tied in experiences of immigrant communities and underrepresented communities. And it’s just amazing amazing work–I mean I’m thinking entirely right now of perspectives of art but, um, yeah, it’s powerful. The power of that culture, the different kinds of music, I mean people love the blues for example and I think there’s a reason where you listen to that stuff and it just speaks so truly to an experience that you can empathize for a little bit to what that was like. Or even, there’s a revival of this kind of music called “Jarocho” that’s really famous and it’s becoming really popular in L.A. It’s originally from Mexico and it relates to deep roots of Mexican culture that everyone’s reconnecting to–I think especially in this country now that we’re all trying to figure out who we are, we’re looking back at Mexico and this music, like making a narrative for yourself through it.

How did you hear about Bedlam? What do you think about their mission and how do you hope to tie that in with your hopes and dreams as a performer?

I was actually back from Chicago for a little bit and they were having the Full Moon Puppet Show when it was over at the West Bank. A friend had invited me and I went and I immediately fell in love with the space and community of it. I wasn’t living in Minneapolis at the time and I hadn’t actually spent a lot of time in Minneapolis up til then and yeah–I remember going there and falling in love. You can really feel a sense of community and identity to it that I was attracted to immediately. And then after that, I started only really becoming active with Bedlam in the last maybe year, year and a half. They definitely place an emphasis on bringing in the communities around them into their work and I really appreciate that and I think when they over at the West Bank, you could see the way they would involve the Somali community which was amazing. And other than St. Paul, East St. Paul and West St. Paul have Latino communities that for me is interesting to see how they can tie that in because they’re really well represented in these areas. For me as a performer, I think–I mean I don’t come from a formal background of theatre and I very much come from an experience now of the way I make things the way I produce art and learn through trial an error and kinda figuring out first-hand which can be a little painful sometimes but it’s like a great place to do it because it’s very encouraging, it’s very open to people coming here and trying things and being willing to fail–which is I think, a weird thing to say because sometimes people shy away from the word failure but I kinda love failure because it’s the most important thing I think of as a performer if you’re trying to grow is to engage in failure and in a positive way. And I think this is a really safe place to try ideas that maybe you’re like nervous about–you’re worried about failing, but if they did, I don’t know, I think people would just be like “Great! You tried it! It’s what you’re supposed to do.” And I don’t always feel that everywhere when I’m performing or in every venue, necessarily.

When you were growing up, was there a performer that you looked up to and inspired you to choose the career path you have chosen?

That’s an interesting one because growing up, I didn’t think I’d ever be a performer. I mean, I actually grew up wanting to be a Renaissance painter and I also grew up really into anime [laughs] I was really into anime. So when I was a kid in grade school, I wanted to be an amazing artist because I wanted to make anime—really different path. I mean that’s going back to really grade school stuff. But I think I would say as I’ve really decided to become a performer which has been very recent, there’s definitely been a lot of people who I looked up to during my childhood and there’s clear examples of things I want to do. I was raised on The Simpsons, even though they’re not actors, The Simpsons are something that has influenced me profoundly in terms of pop culture. Otherwise, as a performer, I’m super influenced by this guy named Chespirito, who actually recently just died. He’s nothing short of a humongous icon, he made these entire set of TV shows in Mexico in the 70’s. It had very physical humor, really kinda hindering back to Abbott & Costello and Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin in that era of performance which is also something that influences me–but he did it and it is was the kind of thing where it spread all over Latin America, so you’d ask anyone of the last few generations, “Did you watch this TV show as a kid?” and they’d be like “Yes! I totally recognize that guy.” It’s like this weird binding thing among all these countries. And, it’s was definitely a huge influence of me and I think–I recently made a piece that was kind of playing off of my childhood desire to be this character that he created, so he’s someone I’d want to perform with, [Chespirito’s real name] Roberto Gómez Bolaños. People now… Sacha Baron Cohen, or if I could be a cartoon, I would love that. Like if I could exist in the world of cartoons.

Was there any anime character you wanted to be?

Oh this is great! This is like my inner child awakening like, “YES!” I gotta remember. Um, I really wanted–this is weird but I really wanted to be Ein [her name is actually Ed] from Cowboy Bebop, she was like the most interesting character to me. No wait, Ein’s the dog, well I guess it’d be cool to be the dog too. Otherwise, I identified with a lot of the male characters from different shows. Like, Spike [from Cowboy Bebop] was really cool. There were different universes of Tenchi Muyo!, but I can’t remember enough to say I wanted to be him.

I like Hero Yui. I was really shy and introverted as a kid so this dark and mysterious guy that was cool was always really appealing.

As a theatre performer and visual artist, do you think they compliment each other and how are they different?

This is not a satisfying answer but I think that they do compliment each other and play against each other. I ended becoming more of a theatre performer because I found it had something that visual arts lacked and I found that out by going through visual arts school and not really being satisfied. [Visual arts] is a little more passive, it can be very intellectual, you know you can sit there with a piece of art and you take it in and you kind of experience it analytically, well a lot of people do while other people they just take it in as a phenomenon. Or as I feel with theatre, especially the really great stuff with me, are the things you experience first-hand and it kind of hits you viscerally and you either enjoyed it or you don’t but when you’re enjoying it, you’re really engaged and then usually after for me, I then look at it more critically but the things I really like, I experience very emotionally, viscerally, in the moment and in present with this kind of thing, this art that really attracts me is that there’s an immediacy to it–to that kind of communication. And a social aspect to the production of theatre that I really needed and really like. There’s something separate about visual art that is appealing that a lot of the time, for me, is when I do work on it is that it’s very meticulous and craft-based and very solitary and there’s something great with the showing of it, that becomes a communal activity, but the social aspect of it are very important for me especially and theatre is just so communal that I’ve gone more with that. And yeah, being in front of an audience.

Do you notice differences in the ways female and male directors have worked with you in the past? Do you see general differences in approaches in theater according to gender?

That one’s a bit of a tough question. Just because for me, I haven’t worked with a big enough volume of directors that I feel I can make an accurate comparison between genders. It’s very much me talking about individuals because I’ve only worked with a small handful of people–I do a lot of work with my friends and with few directors that I work with a lot. Most of them are men, which I think it telling you in itself about the theatre community. Differences, I guess I can’t tell myself if they’re stylistic differences as much as gender differences in directing because it seems uncomfortable to make that distinction– “Oh you direct this way because you’re a woman” as much as like, “Oh that’s just your style”. Overall, I think I’ve worked with maybe two, if definitely not three female directors, versus four or six male directors. The only thing I’ve really noticed between those two is that one of them is more organized, but I’m not sure if that’s a gender thing or not [laughs].

I can specify [on the styles]–I’ve worked with Maren [on Scary Pelicula, which Maren directed], her process in general. There was a lot of her working through the script with us and asking us questions. I really like that process. It was little bit new for me when working with like a more abstract director where it was based on engaging us in the process and like figuring out the script through a group inquiry. Then I’ve worked with people like John Ferguson, who’s very collaborative but he’s also very much the person with the final say–it feels very much like you’re a material for him to work with, like you’re sort of in this vast pool where he’s waiting through. But ultimately, he’s still at the top, if that makes sense.

As a male performer, how do you approach the male gaze when performing with a female actor?

At least when I’m performing, once you’re in that mode of being creative and playful, like a lot of things go out the window, like you forget a lot about your critical thought and it’s very much about playing and creating material through play. I think it’s safe to go there with a group knowing you’re landing on it on accident and being able to look and saying “I don’t wanna do that”. But yeah, I think overall, when I’m performing I feel a little ignorant to it, which was something I’ve been thinking about, like “Dang, I gotta think about that”. Alternatively, when I’m watching theatre, I watch a lot of movies as well. I’m very aware of it. I come from a culture that’s very full of machismo and masculinity and it really bothers me and I’m very quick to notice it. I think about what that is as a viewer but creatively… I kind of forget a little bit. I don’t know if that’s an amazing answer, but it’s very true.

I’m very experiential, I need to kinda experience something before I know what I think about it and it’s not that I want to be that way but it’s definitely how I am. Because Scary Pelicula for me–reading the script I was very curious about how I would be perceived in terms of ethnic stereotype because I’m usually very aware of people being like “Oh! Latinos! Cholos!” Because that was what I was playing on. On top of that, the idea of Cholo-Latin American dudes all staring at this one woman. So, I was aware of that at first when we were making that show and I was very much kind of like “Well, I’m going to perform it the best I can and I’m very curious at how people react” and I would want someone to tell me because I’m very open to someone being like “that’s a little off-putting”. I’m very open to that stuff because it’s like I don’t know, I need to see how this happens when I put myself in this role.

[On the role of a “masculine” Cholo]
I think that’s what I was trying to work, there’s this guy, who’s playing something very masculine–the image of masculine that everybody recognizes and failing at it. And that makes people laugh. And then hitting on this woman and failing at it and making people laugh because he’s just so bad at being this image of where he’s supposed to be this masculine Cholo guy. I couldn’t convincingly play one because I kinda of feel kind of gross of playing the stereotype. But playing someone who’s bad at it [trying to hit on a woman] comes funny to me.

What is a stage play that resonates with you?

There’s one I’m reading right now, which I’ve never really been able to see yet but I’m really attracted to the script. And it’s in Spanish, it’s called, El gesticulador, it translates to just ‘Gesticulator’ but the title needs to be changed in order for the meaning to be changed. But it of this really famous play, written in Mexico that’s kinda making fun of the Mexican Revolution and a lot of the main actors in it. It’s both humorous and very much dealing with a lot of the issues politically with Mexico and its identity because it’s like so focused on that revolution. It’s based on this character who he’s like this failed university professor and he moves to this small town in the desert in the North and he’s a historian of the Revolution and he’s very obsessed with that time period in Mexico history and it’s not long after it’s happened necessarily. What happens is that he goes there, as the same name as one of the most prominent members of these groups who were involved in the Revolution in the area so he ends up taking this guy’s identity at first as a joke and going along with it and he starts to think he is this guy. Then there’s all these problems that arise from him taking the identity of this famous person that he’s not and pretending to be revolutionary–and there’s a lot of issues with that. My interpretation of that is it’s very funny but it’s also like a lot of the theatre I would like to make, is both funny but also really good at bringing up issues and ideas. It’s not just hollow laughter necessarily although I really like any kind of laughter but yeah it’s El gesticulador, it’s a Mexican play.

With that guy pretending to be someone else and having fun with that, do you have joy you find in playing other characters?

Yeah. There’s a joy in playing other characters and playing people outside of who you are, but at the same time, I ultimately feel like it’s me on stage and I want people to know that it’s me pretending to be this person. Like that illusion–the fourth wall illusion is not so much something that interests me and I feel like there’s something really interesting that happens when everyone knows you’re pretending to play this character and then they believe that you are, even if it’s just for a few minutes and it’s like for a few moments in the play where you become that character for a second. That achievement becomes much more grand when you both know there’s a lie and you both decided to believe–there’s a game to it that’s really interesting that I really like.

And I do feel that being on stage is kind of figuring out who I am a bit. I mean, definitely. Not in a self-serving way, but it’s like exposing–you’re very vulnerable, you’re exposed and the choices you make in order to entertain people are very revealing of who you are. Ultimately, the goal with that is to go “Okay I know who I am as a performer, so I know how to better perform”. For me, I only find that out by being on stage and just existing there. I bring it back to clowning because it’s very important, kind of the most primordial form of entertaining. A lot of the exercises of practicing the kind of work are you just walk on stage and that’s it and you just have to make people laugh. You have to entertain them by-any-means-necessary-kind-of-thing and it’s very terrifying because the idea is that you walk on stage and you’re not any one but yourself. You can play any character you want, you can become character you want, but ultimately, you go back to being you. You’re just you, trying to entertain these people. I think that’s the fun… I think playing those games with people, the game of everyone falling into an illusion even though we know it is. I’m not so much interested in the search for the truth and that crazy “The truth! I’m looking for the truth!” It’s like, “No, I really like the illusion of it” and playing with people. And I think sometimes you accidentally stumble on these very truthful things but it’s never really contrived when it happens.

You were talking about clowning and making people laugh, have you ever had those moments where someone didn’t laugh or the crowd didn’t laugh? And how did you deal with that?

Yes! And those are great too! Those are really important. I’ve had them in other shows where I wasn’t supposed to be clowning or before I really came to that kind of performing and I usually just dealt with them by moving on and ignoring it which you are just like, “I’m in this world, I’m in this play, they didn’t laugh, just keep performing”, and I think–I don’t like that. I think what I like about it as a clown is you make a joke and it sucks, you can look at them and be like “Oh! sorry. that was really bad. I was really nervous because I didn’t know what to do.” You immediately, become engaging, to me because you’re connected to the audience because I think a lot of the theatre where like a prop breaks and something goes wrong.. they ignore it. It really bothers me because it means you’re ignoring your audience and I just can’t–I mean, why else are you there except to perform for an audience. That connection is super super sacred to me, not in any, that’s a strong word, like, I’m here for you, you’re here for me, we’re here for each other, let’s create this event together, because your laughter is what fuels me and what happens when you don’t laugh, it just means I’m going to keep trying and keep finding–you know it just puts you in this panic where, “Oh! I have to do something to keep you awake” and I find that energizing and actually, terrifying, and it sucks sometimes. But at the same time it really feels like you’re alive and present with people, because they’re being honest with you, like “Eh, that wasn’t funny”. Yeah… there’s an honesty to it, to bonding and just being there and like “Yeah, I totally bombed and you’re not enjoying this show, which means I’m going to keep playing the show”, script or not, you can do the same, you can realize no one’s reacting to a script. You can be there on stage and realize these people aren’t liking it, I should change how I’m performing it to see how they’ll react and it becomes this experiment. There’s a lot of freedom as a performer that way when you really listen to your audience and recognize whether they’re liking something or not. And not making it so condescending where they just didn’t get it. I think being in front of an audience and doing something and not having them laugh is a great experience, it’s not necessarily a pleasurable one every time, but I think it’s necessary.

What was the most rewarding moment as an actor?

For me the most rewarding moment most recently is figuring out both I’ve started to realize a way of connecting with an audience and having them be present with me in the space and then just finding the most basic ideas of these are the things I want to say with this time and this space and finding that voice, like this is what I want to talk about, these are the things I want to laugh over or think about when they laugh or not laugh or cry. I really like making my own work, there’s always that issue of what do I want it to be about and figuring that out is just super rewarding and having people react or be like “I haven’t thought about this” and they laugh about this.

Do you have a dream role or a character you would like to play?

I mean, I guess, Chespirto. I am playing him in a show.. or I’m trying to play him. Otherwise, not really, like there’s not a lot of like traditional theatre roles and it’s like, look, I have to play that one day. More than anything I want.. there are kinds of theatre I aspire to–like I want to really bring that to life and Clown’s one of them and I think it’s probably because I like being me and I get to be the stupidest, like most vulnerable, silly, ignorant version of me and that’s something very exciting. And that becomes a character. And then there’s Commedia dell’arte. It’s this old form of Italian theatre where they would play characters with masks on and the characters was the mask. So what would happen was that you would put this mask on and you never brought any of yourself to it. It was very much–sometimes people would describe it as ‘shaman-isticky’. But the idea is that you put this mask on, and you become this character, like it inhabits you, it takes over you, you take on the mannerisms and the sounds of this person and they’ll have really distinct ways of walking and speaking. And if I could do that, that’s like a dream role, like being able to Commedia.

If you had the chance to tell your younger self anything, what is one or two things you would like to tell them?

This might be a weird answer, but I would tell myself not to go to college. Or at least, I would tell myself not to go to the college I chose. This is a very different discussion but I think I chose the school I went to as a nineteen year old who was very idealistic and romantic about what being an artist was and I really think most nineteen year olds don’t have any idea about what they really want to do. And I think the way of figuring it out shouldn’t be of going to a school where you’re gonna accrue a massive amount of debt which I did. ‘Cause I figured out what I wanted to do but it costed like forty grand. I think that has a lot to do with what people older than me told me, and the expectations of generations were told to like go to college–and it’s not a bad idea but I feel like people need to think more about what it means to go to college and what kind of investment that means. So I would tell myself, “Don’t go to a private Arts school.. in Chicago.” Maybe somewhere else. And the other I would tell myself is… lighten up. Just that.


Francisco and the back of Bedlam!

bedlam LOWERTOWN: oNe year IN. Thu, 14 May 2015 19:30:33 +0000 Read more »]]> LOOK WHAT YOU’ve DONE!!!!


oNe year IN.


Yes, look what YOU have done.

John Bueche here, jfb, bedlam Chief Artistic Officer.

As I reflect on one year of full operation of Bedlam Lowertown there is a lot to love. There are some things to learn. There is a lot to look forward to.

You’ve been named the Best Artsy Hang Out Scene 2015, place near the top of Ten Clubs Revitalizing the Saint Paul Music Scene, and cited as one of Eight reasons why the cool kids now live in Lowertown.


Before we get caught up in all the details, let me first and foremost LOVE the COLLABORATIVE effort. The working together. A year ago I was conscious of just how many people were working, had worked, on opening the venue, scene-making and show-making all the while. THIS YEAR I actually cannot even tell you WHO ALL was involved. In fact. May to May. I’d wager no one person can tell you. I think that once we’ve thoroughly added it up, cross referenced and added up all the information, this past 12 months of activity will be fully equally to any TWO previous years of Bedlam. Maybe three. And Bedlam’s had some big years. YOU have caused an exponential expansion of access.

bend it backWhat did you do? In a historic district, you turned a century old space into a one-room performance-club. Food and drink to welc
ome all comers. Two well thought-out sound systems. Some snazzy (though all used) lighting equipment to flexibly illuminate. Restored wood floor. Moveable steel-frame stage pieces (all at 26½ inches high). Efficient, flexible tools that let us say yes to, and professionally showcase, a wide range of performance styles, shapes and sizes; smooth enough to load-in, changeover, and sound check during open hours, as more of the creative process becomes a regular shared experience with the audience.

Beaverdance Banner

Delicious, sensible, local-ish food, coffee, beers and booze, with both reasonable prices (so one always feel like hanging around) and crafty prep and presentation (so one also feels like it’s a night on the town). You stayed focused on supporting full, regional momentum of transit & liveability; you reinforced 35 years of Lowertown momentum; you created a fresh new platform, for your stories, passions and personalities firmly planted in the Minnesota’s capitol city.

Since grand opening, you’ve hosted well nearly 200 live music shows, dozens and dozens of plays, dances, showcases, cabarets, convocations, lunches, receptions, infoshares, at least one doctoral disertation and whatever-you-call-that-contemporary-performance-type-stuff we let in her sometimes.

toastCatching John Steitz’s status update a few weeks back: speaking of the 6 widely different styles of live music he was mixing at BLT over the course of a given 4 days helps me understand who’s in the mix.

Seeing scenes of 40 person choir at the Not-For-Sale Minnesota benefit this past weekend helps me understand.

Hearing the reverberations of last years For The Love festival, and the excitement for this years event spreading all over Lowertown helps me understand.

clusterMOST of the staff, curators and makers you’re loving down at Bedlam Lowertown joined the Bedlam organization just over a year ago, many the week before grand opening, some a few months or a year before, working on the ramp up. Watching the hands raise at every curtain speech and Q & A, usually half of each audience was new to Bedlam this year. Those of us who’ve been around for a few years, or decades, are so exhilarated, and even a little overwhelmed, at the breadth and depth of the be yourself/be the change goodness running so deeply in MN these days.

pianosCertainly we’ve all been learning as the year goes on: working out the pre-information for the multiple performances that use the space each week, especially, say, when this one’s bringing in a confetti cannon, or that one is bringing in a couple grand-pianos; upping the efficiency of food and drink delivery, especially on big-crush crowds and some pre-show deadlines; planning for conversation spots and overflow in back corners and basement spots; making sure we’re building the curator network in a way that helps us reflect the Saint Paul and the Minnesota we want to see in the world.

For those of us for whom Lowertown is already a 4-year project, built on a full-service Bedlam experiment begun 9 years ago, integrating the community engaged style of performance we’ve been evolving for 22 years: thaNK YOU for blowing our minds everyday with so much new, so much real; for making this thing turn out just like we planned, and so many things we’ve never even imagined.

Now, for your bonus-blogging pleasure, some video-context on how we got to Bedlam Lowertown in the first place.

Bedlam started in 1993 in Saint Paul & Minneapolis. In 2007 Bedlam’s first Club opened, and in 2009 awarded Bedlam’s social-model the Sally Ordway Irvine Award for Initiative in the Arts: Ordway Award Intro Video.

Bedlam LOWERTOWN started in collaboration with the Irrigate Project of Springboard for the Arts and the City of Saint Paul wayyyy back in 2011. Lookit this video on Irrigate: Planting Creativity – Irrigate on TPT

Since we were being all Saint Paul now, we had to do some research on Saint Paul History Bedlam performance-style: Saint Paul History Tonight 

As well as research from the Bedlam’s-actually-a-bunch-of-nerds style: Greater Lowertown Master PLan; Lowertown Heritage Preservation DistrictLowertown: Rise of an Urban Village TPT.

When we first told you about Bedlam Lowertown we actually thought we might open in Spring 2012, and we did do some stuff in there in 2012, but renovations were needed, plan, rethink, fundraise, reschedule for Spring 2013. Then. Gddammit. Spring 2014: Lowertown is (not) Open 2013

Spring 2014, made a little video for a reminder that it actually would happen: The Goodness.

The Goodness of Bedlam Lowertown from BedlamTheatre3 on Vimeo.

Yes. You did it. Bedlam Lowertown. Come on down for the One Year Anniversary May 30th, or any day for Happy Hour… and bask in it.

BT dj pointergate

And, always, give us all your money.

UPCLOSE: John Steitz Tue, 12 May 2015 22:29:33 +0000 Read more »]]>  UPCLOSE: John Steitz
John Steitz at Bedlam Lowertown!

John Steitz at Bedlam Lowertown!

Hi everyone,

🙁 I’m done with my internship as of Wednesday and I’m gonna be so sad (kinda already sad). But, overall it has been an awesome learning experience working here! I’m gonna miss hanging out at Bedlam in the mornings and I’m going to miss taking bus trips to work where there’s so much diversity going on that it’s like WHOA! I could totally write a play out of my busing experience but I have too much homework and finals is coming up. Anyways, I CALL DIBS ON THAT IDEA, ARTHUR MILLER. Haha…… sadly he’s one of the only playwrights I’m familiar with. Don’t chastise me thespians and others! I’m still learning!!

I’m graduating soon here and it always feels like I don’t have enough time to do anything. Sadness everywhere! BUT WHO CARES!? For the Bedlam blog project that I have been doing, I’ve been able to do a couple interviews for the blog now and it’s SO FUN LEARNING ABOUT PEOPLE. But because I live in a world that doesn’t give us 35 hours in a day, I actually did an e-mail interview with this cool guy name John Steitz ((WHO HAS A BEARD! Just like Erik Ruin!? He has a beard too! You’ll see in the photo I took of him.)) who is the Technical Director at Bedlam.

Though I didn’t get to interview him in person, he seems like a funny lad! From taking a Directing course at SCU, I learned that people who do the lighting for shows are sooo essential in theatre. Their skills are in demand! And luckily John Steitz belongs to Bedlam! Hahaaaz. ‘Kidding, John Steitz is a human being and he belongs to himself. So anyways, John Steitz, is totally the man for the job! He does the lighting and sound maintenance for shows here at Bedlam.

ALSO, if you want to read a little interesting bit about John Steitz, you’d be glad to know he survived one of the strangest things ever! What the heck! This includes a very close encounter with wildlife. Oh my goodnez! Read about it here:



Interview with John Steitz

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Where you’re from?

Sure! I’m a pretty normal guy I suppose. I love what I do. In my free time I practice a lot of backpacking, photography, guitar and visual arts. I grew up in the western Chicago suburbs. I spent my early teens in Salt Lake City and moved to Forest Lake, MN for my high school years. Dr. Pepper is most likely my favorite soda and puppies sometimes make me squeal in excitement.

How did you become involved with Bedlam?

I actually wasn’t too familiar with Bedlam before I was hired. I had never been to the West Bank space or the Community Design Center. I saw a posting for the gig on a website, and was yearning to contribute to something a little less, let’s say “corporate”. Immediately prior to Bedlam I was working as tech director for Valleyfair’s entertainment department, and before that for Carnival Cruise Lines. Bedlam is…different. I like to think the primary function of what I do is helping facilitate expression and I find the art to be more honest in a place like Bedlam than aboard a cruise ship or in an amusement park.

What inspired you to go into this field? Is there someone who influenced you?

Well, before I had graduated high school I was trying to figure out what I wanted to with my life and I was like, “I really like going to concerts, I think I’ll do that the rest of my life”. It’s worked out ok so far. I’ll probably never be rich, but at least I don’t have to shave or wear a suit to work.

Can you describe a favorite experience you’ve had as tech support and as a sound engineer?

Whenever Jon Mac is in his really short and shiny shorts. Either that or the time I helped do a impromptu show with Brother Ali out of the bed of a pickup up truck blocking a bridge over the freeway during protest/civil disobedience. But for the most part I endeavor to stay professional neutral… mostly.

What is most challenging about your as a Technical Director? The most rewarding?

In this space specifically, it’s the constant change and eclectic nature of the programming here that makes it so challenging. Most of my career I’ve been involved in things that are larger in scale, but for what we lack in scale we make up for it in anarchy. We often have a dance show, followed by a theatre show, followed by a concert. These things often demand different skillets and logistical considerations. I used to fight the chaos but now I sort of embrace it. This is a hard thing to reconcile with the instinct of order that comes with being a technical theatre or concert professional. In the wider world of entertainment, if it’s hectic you’re doing it wrong. Here it almost seems like a metric by which we can judge how well we are doing.

What are the opportunities for sound engineering/lighting in the Twin Cities compared to other metropolitan areas?

That’s hard for me to speak on with any real authority. I mean, all my career I’ve either been in the Twin Cities or floating on the ocean. However, I do know we have a super duper arts and music scene. I’m told we are second only to NYC when it comes to theatre seating per capita. But there are also schools like IPR and McNally Smith pumping out aspiring sound folks like crazy, so I’m not sure where exactly we fall on the supply/demand relative to other areas.

Sound engineering and Lighting (as a Tech director) are both two distinct skill sets. How did you become skilled in both?

I studied at McNally Smith College of Music to jumpstart the sound career. Schooling only takes you so far though. Immediately after school I hustled around about a dozen clubs until after a few years I was skilled enough for the cruise ship gig. That’s what you have to do if you want anyone to give you a shot. You kind of have to hustle and show a ridiculous amount of initiative, because a lot of people want to do this for a living. There are definitely things that you can’t learn in a book, things like how to deal with fragile egos, or how to suck a speaker cone back out with a vacuum cleaner. As far as lighting goes, it was more or less forced on me. If you’re going to manage lighting and supervise lighting engineers, you should probably know a thing or two about it. Now I find myself having a great time doing the lighting design for most of the productions here in Lowertown, it’s almost like a creative outlet for me now.

[Questions pertaining to gender and work]

I haven’t noticed many female sound engineers around. Is sound engineering largely male? Why do you think that is?

I know, right?! I’ve always wondered why this is. It’s a wholly male dominated field. Certainly the most male dominated field in theatre so far as my experience suggests. I’ve worked as a sound professional for a dozen years and have never worked with a female engineer. Haven’t even met one. This makes me sad. I’ve met plenty of female lighting engineers, lighting designers, scenic designers, stage managers, even some female sound designers. However when it comes to audio engineering and live mixing, it’s a real bro-fest out there. I’d be very happy to see that change.

Many people equate certain musical instruments with gender, like the flute or piano with women. However, these are known to be stereotypical references, but in your own experiences, how do the associations people have about gender affect the way you work with sound?

Well, I imagine they aren’t surprised to find out I’m a cisgender male given how disproportionately we outnumber everyone else. Perhaps not in relation to all industries, but certainly in the performing arts. Again, it would be great if this were to change.

What is your favorite sound?

Silence or maybe a Loon’s call.

What is one or two things you would like to tell your younger self if you had the chance to?

Good instincts on the music thing. You would have made for an awful salesman. Also, spend more time outside and don’t get too caught up in politics.