by Matthew A. Everett | 8/6/09 • An Experiment With Mixed Results
“The one who looks too deep and thinks too much”
|single white fringe geek is the blog of matthew a. everett. in addition to being one of seven bloggers covering the minnesota fringe festival for the daily planet, he blogs throughout the year about theater and culture.|
One of the many things that both Mom and I like about returning favorite and Rockstar Storyteller guru Allegra Lingo is the opportunity we’ve had to watch her grow and challenge herself from one Fringe solo show to the next. Last year’s Tipping The Bucket was another step forward for her, both as a storyteller and a performer. Crescendo, in a Bryant Lake Bowl sneak preview, and the Fringe-For-All snippet which followed, promised something very different than the four shows which had come before it. Mom ended up a little more captivated by it than I did (she would have given it five stars), and I’m still trying to parse out why.
Crescendo is in many ways an experiment. It’s not the same kind of storytelling we’ve seen from Allegra in the past. The most obvious component which is different is the inclusion of music as a constant backing track to, and inspiration for, the stories Allegra spins. Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” “Down A Country Lane,” “El Salon Mexico,” and “Appalachian Spring, movements 1-3, and 6-14” tell a musical story alongside, underneath, and woven through Allegra’s tales.
Another change is the content of the stories themselves. Here, instead of tales crafted from her past, Allegra offers up some glimpses of her present life – her partner Amy, her dog James, the daily walks, the neighborhood, political frustrations, and the struggle to create. Alternating with these vignettes is the ancient story of Daedalus the artist and Icarus, his dreamer son who flies to close to the sun on man-made wings, which melt, and allow him to fall earthward.
The other major shift is in the method of performance. Though her trusty music stand is still very much present, Allegra relies on it, and the pages of story it holds, much less than in years past. This allows her more freedom of movement, and also the opportunity to perform, and not just speak.
All these changes have their pros and cons. I find the experiment with music as the spine for a story to be a very interesting exercise, but the overarching issues I have with the use of music remain. They’re the same issues I have with a bad movie soundtrack. A bad movie soundtrack is obtrusive, you are always aware of its presence. A bad movie soundtrack is also used by the filmmaker to cheat, to elicit audience emotion without earning that sentiment with the actual presentation of the story itself (feel scared here! feel sad here!). Good movie soundtracks are almost imperceptible. Just like a good director in theater is often the director you’re not aware of, you don’t see the strings, you just see a good story. In watching Crescendo, though Allegra’s stories were strong, I regularly felt that she was perhaps leaning on the music a little too hard in places, to get it to carry her words forward for her. Also, rather than being able to use the freedom she was allowing herself to perform by releasing the music stand, it often felt like Allegra was battling the music, to be heard, rather than focusing on being understood.
The two sets of stories she was telling also didn’t quite gel for me. Sometimes I was confused whether she meant for us to see her as Daedalus, the artist of the ancient story in the same way she was the artist in her own personal narrative. Or perhaps the dreamer Icarus was meant to be her shadow in the other story. I suppose it could be both. The way the story begins, it feels like Daedalus’ story, but the way it ends, it is clearly that of Icarus. So who are we following, and why? Also, the travails of the artist, as I’ve said many times before, hold little interest for me as subject matter. Allegra’s modern personal story seems a charmed one. I don’t believe she’s complaining that her life is hard, by any means. But the notion of God as an angry editor seems misplaced to me. Your internal censor is your own insecurity, it’s not an outside force beating you down. But I suppose everyone sees that differently from inside their own process. Still, it was another disconnect I felt from the story being told.
Allegra radically rewrites the tale of Daedalus and Icarus, the Minotaur and Theseus and Ariadne. Rewriting an ancient tale is common practice, and the act of doing it is often its own justification. But I wasn’t sure why the changes were being made, even when she went so far as to explain some of them. There are reasons for every change, and they inform the way the story is told and the impact you want it to have. Getting deeper inside the writer’s process might actually have been interesting to me. Here, we skim the surface.
As for performance, I admire that Allegra stepped way outside her comfort zone and was challenging herself to act – to take on the role of different characters and not just talk about them from the outside as an external narrator. That said, I think it would have been a huge help if she’d actually had a director present from the beginning of the process, an outside eye that could help her shape those moments of character. Allegra doesn’t claim to be an actress. She is a writer, storyteller, musician, she is many things, but she’s never really taken on the mantle of an actor. Here, those skills might have helped her story greatly, but she needed a guide.
This is Allegra’s swan song at the Fringe as a solo artist. She set herself the goal of performing five different one-person shows, and then setting that aside to push herself to the next level, whatever that level might be. She’s already on her way. The Fringe lottery, and waiting list, was good to her five years running. The end of that five show run came much quicker than expected. But it’s great to see her challenging herself right to the end of that journey, as she prepares for the next. Crescendo is a unique experience, and a thank you to the audiences who have helped her along the way. It’s well worth a final visit.
Her website – www.allegralingo.com
Fringe 2009 – 10:00 Sunday – show #22
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