Indie film "Nobody" begins pre-production on St. Patrick's Day

It was odd enough that a writers’ group called Eat, Drink & Be Published would be eating, drinking and dishing at Ensemble, a Linden Hills boutique, instead of at our usual wine bar. Odder still was the distinct segmentation of a crowd that usually blends.

Sitting in folding chairs were 25 or 30 women, mostly veteran writers. More writers’ group members, including half a dozen men, stood in back, by the beverages. At the front of the room, surrounded by a beginner entourage—his producer and a few college buddies—perched diminutive screenwriter Rob Perez, clutching a St. Paddy’s Day Guiness and looking not a day over drinking age.

“Uh…what are we talking about?” asked Rob after he’d been introduced by PR maven Rebecca, forgetting his manners—he really should have thanked her for gushing.

“How did you get into the movie business?” prompted Rebecca.  read more »

The art world loses a talent no less engaging than his smile

Last year I was surprised by the news that a gallery of African art was to open in Richfield, a suburb in which “Black or African American persons” total only 6.6 percent of the population. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau: State and County QuickFacts)

I visited the new Ampah Gallery, and though I had planned to look around for 20 minutes, I ended up hanging out for hours. The owners, Felix Ampah and his wife Silvia, handed me hot cider and showed me around. I was family.

The owner-curators explained the symbolism in Felix’s work, most of which depicts the people and traditions of his native Ghana. I stayed for a class that Felix taught for the community called “Living with Art.” More chat, more cider, and the photo above, which is exactly how I will remember Felix, who died on February 26, 2008.  read more »

FROZEN: Playwright Bryony Lavery asks some cold, hard questions

You know you’re seeing good theater when the characters seem as real as your next-door neighbors. You know you’re seeing great theater when the characters who don’t appear onstage, but who are described by the actors, seem so real that you swear you saw them standing there. This is how I’ll remember Park Square Theater’s production of FROZEN, a story that will make you want to hug your children (or your teddy bear).

I’m so grateful that the West Bank Ensemble, a quintet of soaringly talented University of Minnesota students, performed in the lobby to bookend this play. The transformative power of that music wrapped a comforting stole around the shoulders of a play about forgiving the unforgivable.

Having read the synopsis of FROZEN, my companion and I clung to every last note of the ensemble, then wadded up some tissues in our hands in preparation, and stepped from the “light, bright and clear” into the dusk. Onstage loomed a stage prop wall of ice. It was cold in there.  read more »

Jeune Lune's "Fishtank" is bubbly fun (but watch for life's big questions floating by)

Last night I accompanied a friend to Theatre de la Juene Lune for a performance called Fishtank. No one ever says they’re going to a play at Jeune Lune, even though it’s a theater in which actors tread the boards. It is always a performance. That’s because Jeune Lune’s work often defies categorization—which is the beauty of it. Hard to explain, though. I might be best off saying, “Go. Dive in. See what you think.” But I do like to render my opinion, so here’s a bit of seaweed to chew on.

First of all, I liked Fishtank. Someone at the pre-show reception said they’d heard it was a slapstick comedy. Ugh. Slapstick appeals to me like saltwater tea. My friend saw me look at my watch, then glance at the exit. “No, I heard it’s more like theater of the absurd,” she interjected, steering me toward a bowl of tail-on shrimp.

Not everyone agrees with me about Fishtank. Click here for my debate with Jay Gabler, arts editor of Twin Cities Daily Planet.

As it turns out, Fishtank is a lot like watching kids inventing games on a playground, except that the characters are spouting existentialist dialogue.  read more »

Hosting a party? Choose an art space!

People often ask me for suggestions as to party venues. Not that I host many parties…but I’m pretty good at finding them! And some of my very favorite soirées tend to happen at spaces normally dedicated to the arts, including museums, art and photography galleries, theaters, sculpture gardens, pottery studios, college art department classrooms, and places like The Loft Literary Center, where you can rent space for so little, you might feel like donating extra.

Topping my list for the year so far is Karl Reichert’s birthday party Saturday night at the Capri Theater in North Minnepolis. Transformed into Studio 44 by Karl’s partner Reynaldo Diaz, an artist and DJ, and friend Edgar Nieto, the place thundered with ’70s music and shimmered with disco balls and sequin-attired dancers.  read more »

A vicarious view of "The Gates" in New York City's Central Park

On this day in February 2005, New York City was aruffle over Mayor Bloomberg’s pet project: a piece of public art called The Gates by the artist known as Christo and his lady love, Jeanne-Claude.

I’d heard about it and had seen it in the news, but I had no idea how much controversy it had caused. Tonight I got the inside scoop at a sneak preview of the HBO documentary The Gates at St. Paul’s Minnesota Museum of American Art.

Christo is known for wrapping public buildings in fabric or in plastic—not always to the most glamorous effect, and for reasons that not even he can explain. “Do you ask a mother why she loves her baby?” says Jeanne-Claude.  read more »

Sweeney Todd is not for the squeamish

There’s a reason I don’t go to horror movies. Even mildly eerie Twilight Zone reruns keep me up at night. That’s because film cameras put you right into the scene, with your back to the psycho. You’re defenseless. And when you can see the eyeballs of the perpetrator as if you were the one chained to the tree while he warms up the electric saw, you’re getting too close.

Therein lies the beauty of live theater: you’re one step removed from that in-your-face grittiness. During intermission, you can stand and stretch, and stare at that guy across the aisle who always shows up at arts events and wearing that purple velvet blazer. Once you’ve seen that, you feel normal again. Like you’re ready for the second act.

Still, Stephen Sondheim’s “musical thriller” Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street scared me. It’s about a London barber, Sweeney Todd (David Hess), who gets locked up for a crime that he didn’t commit, and who subsequently executes barbershop patrons out of pure, powerful rage.  read more »

Peer Gynt reaches deep into your soul...assuming that you've got one (i.e. you are not a troll)

In Humanities class at Austin High, we had read about Henrik Ibsen’s character Peer Gynt (say “pare,” not “peer”)—about the man who would not make commitments to family and home; who would sell friends down the river (not to mention selling slaves) without remorse; who got himself into more fistfights than Popeye the Sailor Man and who justified himself with the very same “I yam what I yam.” At least Popeye stuck around to protect Olive Oyl and Sweetpea, whereas Peer Gynt would have punched up old Bluto and left town.

I felt giddy and grown up filing into the Guthrie that morning in 1980, my Peer Gynt ticket in hand. The three-hour and 30-minute play would be performed in two parts, with lunch in between. Our Humanities teacher (my father) would be taking us to Rudolph’s Barbecue. To have enjoyed a play in translation as much as I did (and to have stayed awake for Acts Four and Five, after barbecued ribs) thrilled me at age 17.  read more »

What a day this has been...!

And yes, what a rare mood I’m in after a day that included art, antiques, ambrosial food, and best of all, girlfriends who joined me in the admiration of it all!

This was my Saturday (arts lovers, prepare to turn green…and, by the way, where were you???):

11 a.m. visit to Thomas Barry Fine Arts in the Warehouse District for the closing day of Lynn Geesaman’s show. I am absolutely transported every time I see her black-and-white and color photography of natural settings—primarily formal gardens in Europe, but some wonderful shots from the Louisiana bayous. My friend Robin scored the last known copy of Lynn’s rare color book and is getting it signed!

12 noon-ish, stopped in at cozy Corner Coffee next door to the gallery for a jolt to get us through to lunch.  read more »

A New Year's Cultural Resolution

Whatever your New Year’s resolution, I hope you’ll add something like: “Lead a more artsful and cultureful life in ‘08.”

That is, crawl around to more art galleries and museums, squish your post-holiday butt into more theater seats, don a beret for more films produced here vs. in (nothin’ against ‘em, but) Hollywood, tap your feet to more live music and dance, open your mind to attending a cultural event where some other language is spoken, and—best of all—buy someone’s artwork or CD or season ticket. Take a look at last year’s life and, for 2008, add just one random act of artness.

At the very least, click here to find out how pathetic you are if you don’t immerse yourself in the arts once in a while.  read more »

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