THEATER | Bedlam Theatre’s 10×10 Fest heads north

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I sparked a range of reactions with my blog post disclosing and discussing my decision not to bike to North Minneapolis for Bedlam Theatre’s 10×10 Fest on Wednesday night.

Some suggested that my fears were misplaced. My friend Carl Swanson—who’s acting in one of the ten-minute plays—tweeted, “Biked here. The most dangerous part was the rain.” In an e-mail, NorthNews editor Margo Ashmore wrote that she “wandered around [the] West Broadway area looking for food at 9:30 p.m. last night, and lived to tell about it.” An anonymous commenter on the blog entry notes that “the truth is that NoMi has made huge strides in the last several years and is as safe as many other parts of the Twin Cities.”

There were also suggestions that it was not constructive of me to write about my concerns without substantiating them. “I wish you would have waited until the run was over to talk about your personal fears; or to gather some evidence of how other people felt about biking alone,” wrote Margo. “It seemed unnecessarily hurtful without other evidence to back it up; a quick reader would have to wait too long into the piece to see the nuance you were trying for.” (Read Margo’s piece about the 10×10 Fest, republished in the Daily Planet, here.)

Futher, the anonymous commenter asked, “Are you relying on your ‘gut’ or is your fear based on the stereotypes that you are perpetuating in this post? You might as well go ahead and admit that what you really fear is the racial divide that you are not accustom[ed] to.”

Then there were those who expressed support. “I have lived on the northside for ten years,” wrote another commenter, “and I wouldn’t ride my bike down Broadway at night either.” A friend I saw at the Capri Thursday night—after I took a cab there—told me that he used to date a woman who lived on the Northside, and he biked freely to and from her home until one night a police officer pulled him over and asked, “What are you doing? It’s not safe to bike here.”

What’s clear is that I would do well to get to know the Northside better, to learn more about this neighborhood about which there are so many fears and stereotypes and that I’ve visited only a couple of times since moving to Minneapolis in 2008. I’m glad that the 10×10 Fest served as encouragement for me to head north and visit the Capri Theater for the first time.

I’m including this discussion in my review of the 10×10 Fest, because it’s not an ordinary theatrical presentation—the festival is all about community, and this year, specifically about the North Minneapolis community. I saw Sets C and A, the latter of which included the play Only @ North, a piece created and performed by teens at North High. The teens sat in the audience for the remainder of Sets C and A, and it was clear from their audible reactions that they weren’t the average audience for avant-garde theater: when Carl came onstage wearing a t-shirt and briefs and started kissing and embracing his fellow actor David Isenberg in Chris Garza’s Absence Makes the Heart Grow Sour, the back corner of the house exploded with gasps and giggles. Maybe that’s not the kind of “community connection” that makes it into glossy fundraising brochures, but it was the kind of encounter live theater can uniquely facilitate.

Though the plays in the sets I saw (a third set of plays, Set B, are also in rotation) were on average not as strong as the entries in last year’s TwentyTen Fest, they were typically diverse and adventurous. I’m on record as a fan, and friend, of Paige Collette, so I wasn’t surprised to enjoy her pieces 9/TenFest/11 (a recounting, with Erin Search-Wells, of personal experiences on and around 9/11) and Nurses on Syrup (a riotous ensemble piece in which a cast of “nurses” share their struggles with addiction to cough syrup). Other fun pieces by Bedlam regulars included Molly Van Avery’s It Looks Like We’re Doing My Play, a collaboratively created excerpt from Truth and Lies About the Duchess of York, and Samantha Johns’s Wait for It.

High-energy surprises included Anton Jones’s Welcome to the Garden (the story of Adam and Eve fused with the story of The Firebird and told through movement and hip-hop) and Violent He, Violent She, a brutally lyrical meditation on domestic violence performed by Corey Walton and Laura Mahler. The least formally adventurous play in the two sets I saw was also one of the most affecting: playwright Jennifer Kirkeby’s The Glass House, with Maren Ward and Annette Kurek as a daughter and mother fighting the onset of the mother’s dementia.

But back to the setting. It was fun to see the teens onstage in Only @ North, and Set A started with playwright Darrell Coles talking about the Capri, the neighborhood, and his own personal history in Me and the Capri. Did you know that Prince was discovered onstage at the Capri? I didn’t. Clearly there’s a lot I have to learn about the Capri Theater and the Northside, and I’m endebted to Bedlam Theatre for giving my education a kickstart.