Saturday night the literati hung out at Revolver at the Ritz: 12 Experiments. It was a high brow variety show with 12 chapters, otherwise know by the non-literati as skits. I overheard an usher describe the show as “like Wits but weirder” and I have to say, I can’t come up with an better description myself. I enjoyed it thoroughly – but I was an English major; worse yet I have arty graduate degrees. So I was probably the laser market. That being said, the show was sold out. We got lucky and they opened up more space by offering us standing room only and we took it. So in the Twin Cities the laser market of writers and performers and arts graduate degree holders must be pretty good.
The show, as the title implies, included 12 scenes performed by some well credentialed folk. And while sometimes an event like this can feel insular and too in for the out crowd (which would be me) I didn’t feel that at all. Maybe standing with the artists in the SRO space helped, but I felt comfortable with the in-jokes because the price of admission really was a love of literature.
While I’m tempted to rehash every chapter, I won’t. I’ll stick to the ones that struck me most.
Experiment 5 included a masked author recounting the tale of visting a beloved and feared author. A lone speaker on the stage. A creepy mask. The cadence and imagery of a Bram Stoker short story. Not Dracula, but a more obscure story – because again this is for the serious lit buffs. The narrative was engaging, the stage definitely weirder than Wits and the punch line totally unexpected.
Experiment 10 was a game show of sorts – win over the potential publisher. Two local authors (Marty Kihn and Sarah Stonich) pitched book ideas to three local publishing editors. The catch? They were pitching well-loved classics. Oh, and in the style of Password, there were certain words that they couldn’t use. So Stonich had to describe Cat in the Hat without using the terms Cat or Thing. I happened to chat with Kihn before the performance – because again I got lucky and was standing in the artist/SRO section. Apparently they each submitted 10 titles before the show and would be asked to describe three. My only sadness? James Joyce’s Ulysses was on the short list but didn’t make the cut.
Experiment 4 featured Heid Erdrich and a poem about salad. And salad shooters. And a dancer. It was nature all over the shop with fantastic details about the strawberries and the honey and the recipe. There was a nice interlude about the importance of honey and bees – a topic I think is very serious. But my favorite part about experiment 4 was Vince Moniz transformed as a butterfly. The wings were constructed of wood and some sort of plastic. They were elegant in their simplicity. Moniz wore them and could manuveur the wings like a puppeteer. He was so graceful in action, like a powerful butterfly. One of the rare scenes that wasn’t funny but so engaging and beautiful.
Experiment 11 was sort of the polar opposite – very funny and not graceful. Two poets wrestling. It’s difficult to capture the scene in words, especially when I’m not sure what is staged and what is improvised. I’ll say Nicky Tiso and Luke Finsaas are good sports, especially Finsaas, who stood in for John Colburn, who apparently injured himself the night before. Tiso and Finsaas wrestled three rounds of two minutes each. Poetry was read during the breaks. Wrestling is funny to watch. Writing poetry is a solitary experience so I’m going to say being so close to someone in front of a live audience is probably out of the comfort zone for most poets. But it was funny.
Experiment 3 featured Andy Sturdevant as the man behind Wikipedia. In the spirit of improv, audience members shouted out search terms and he provided definitions and context for the terms. As an added bonus, as he detailed the terms, someone off stage “corrected” a relevant Wikipedia article in real time and in living color via projected image at the back of the stage. I’ll have to check later to see if Rochester remains the birth place of fuzzy snakers, according to Wikipedia.
There were some musical accompaniments. A poet and a drummer performed together. Dylan Hicks performed a song written by the audience. Audience participation played highly into the performance. My favorite line came in Experiment 2 – when scientists describing poetry decided that death exonarated a person from crimes. You’ve got to love a crowd that thinks about that sort of thing. And I’ll always enjoy a show that turns that inner monologue into show!