Spirit in the House festival puts spirituality at center stage

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Arts experiences don’t come much more intriguing than Spirit in the House: Interfaith Spiritual Performance, a ten-day event using varied genres to express and explore spirituality—without confining “spirituality” to “religion.”

For a full schedule, see spiritinthehouse.org. Individual tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, and $8 for youngsters. There is a group rate of $8 per ticket for orders of ten or more. Multiple-show discounts are available. For tickets, see uptowntix.com or call 651-209-6799.

Interview: Dean J. Seal

Dean J. Seal, producing artistic director for Spirit in the House, is a firmly established presence in Twin Cities arts. His credits include having produced the Minnesota Fringe Festival and being managing director at the Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater. His writing and performing have been a hit at venues throughout the Twin Cities, with Mr. Elk & Mr. Seal being a strong standout. With partner Rob Elk, he formed a duo that spared no sacred cows and arched more a few eyebrows when it came to social commentary. They released the CDs Oral Hygiene and Downwind From Your Stinkin’ Heart and made a HBO pilot, The Mr. Elk & Mr. Seal Show. These days, Seal continues to make social commentary, but his work focuses on the heart and soul more than anything else.

You’re achieved a hard-earned status as a significant presence on the local arts scene. How’s that feel?
Some years have been better than others. I worked really hard at the Fringe and at the Bryant-Lake Bowl—then, I went to seminary for three years. [Spirit in the House] is a combination of things I really care about. There’s a lot more people who care about [spirituality] than I thought. When I started talking to artists about doing spiritual work they said it would be great to do something like that. So, it feels really good to be in the company of other people who [have spirituality] in mind.

You say it’s not just entertainment, that it’s entertainment with meaning.
I decided on [artists with material] that has not necessarily religious [content], but some sort of spiritual or ethical content. There’s an atheist, several agnostics, and people who are doing their own spirituality. There are shows that are trying to do something deep—especially Dr. King’s Dream, which Mixed Blood Theatre is doing at the festival. Dr. King is the center of my spiritual awakening. I kept going back to him and saying, “This guy is amazing.” Letter From a Birmingham Jail still blows me away.

You’ve got a wide range of art forms at the festival.
That’s what the artists brought to me, and I think that’s a great way to go. It’s not just a theater festival, it’s a performance festival.

You’ve been a pretty irreverent guy for someone who’s now running around talking about spirituality.
A lot of people have a different approach, which is more about personal purity and stuff like that, and they lead a quiet life. That’s fine for [them]. We’ve got some shows that are about social action, like [Ochen K.’s] I Voted For Gummi Bears. It’s about felony voting laws.

You gonna perform?
Actually, I’ve got a movie, Dropped On My Head!. It’s a film of a live show I did ten years ago at the Bryant-Lake Bowl. Ben McGovern directed and produced it. [Dropped On My Head! is screening on Saturday 5/24 at 3:00 p.m., Sunday 5/25 at 3:00 p.m., Tuesday 5/27 at 7:30 p.m., Thursday 5/29 at 5:30 p.m., Friday 5/30 at 7:00 p.m., Saturday 5/31 at 1:00 p.m., and Sunday 6/1 at 7:00 p.m.]

Anything in general you want folks to know about the festival?
It’s an exercise in interfaith dialogue. How do you talk to people you disagree with, and do it respectfully? The best way is to start by listening. You can come to the festival and listen to a show and learn a lot about somebody’s faith tradition. It’ll give you insight into how they see themselves. The next step is to find out how they see you. At that point, dialogue can happen. That’s what the whole thing is about.

Dean J. Seal will be speaking about the Spirit in the House festival on KFAI radio at 11 a.m. on Friday, May 23.

This is a festival of theater and performing arts, now in its second year as an independent Minneapolis event. (It was previously billed as Manna Fest and, before that, The Spiritual Fringe at the Minnesota Fringe Festival.) Spirit in the House showcases 32 productions—dance, storytelling, theater, spoken word, poetry, music, and readings—each with five performances over ten days on a rotating schedule. Spirit in the House runs from May 23rd through June 1st, in six spaces at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church right outside downtown Minneapolis—just across from the Walker Art Center at 511 Groveland Avenue.

Some highlights:

The festival presents a rare opportunity to see Native American Theater done with integrity and cultural authenticity. Author-actor Marcie Rendon has been a powerful force promoting Native theater, notably for establishing Raving Native Productions, the Twin Cities’ only Native company. Creator of such work as the wildly satirical play Free Fry Bread and the scathing prose-poem “What’s An Indian To Do When White Girls Act More Indian Than Indians Do,” for Spirit in the House she’s curating Stands Alone, a work looking at the connections between the supernatural and the natural world. It’s playing in the Art Gallery on Saturday 5/24 at 5:30 p.m., Sunday 5/25 at 7:00 p.m., Thursday 5/29 at 5:30 p.m., Friday 5/30 at 7:00 p.m., and Saturday 5/31 at 2:30 p.m.

Another promising production is Native Pride Dancers’ Dancing Through Life, featuring modern Indian folk dance, regalia, and musical performances. Dancing Through Life stars Larry Allen Yazzie, Native American educator and world champion dancer. It’s playing in the Sanctuary on Friday 5/23 at 7:00 p.m., Saturday 5/24 at 7:00 p.m., Sunday 5/ 25 at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday 5/28 at 8:30 p.m., and Saturday 5/31 at 8:30 p.m.

Jerry Seifert’s Dachau Dreaming, with Sandy Rosen and Koby Feldman, gives us a neglected old man, one of the first to enter Dachau, whose grandson is trying to connect with him. The man is now committed to a nursing home, haunted by his war experiences. Playing in the Art Gallery at Sunday 5/25 at 5:30 p.m., Thursday 5/29 at 7:00 p.m., Friday 5/30 at 2:30 p.m., Saturday 5/31 at 8:30 p.m., and Sunday 6/1 at 4:00 p.m.

Ke Alaula by Halau Hula O Ka Hoku Akau (Hula School of the Star of the Northern Sky): Hula is the vessel of memory, tradition, spirituality and legend for Hawai’ansi. The traditional dance recalls the origins of the Hawai’ian people, preserves stories of the ancients, and affirms the sacredness of nature and its relationship to humankind. See Ke Alaula in the Sanctuary on Friday 5/23 at 8:30 p.m., Tuesday 5/27 at 8:30 p.m., Thursday 5/29 at 7:00 p.m., Friday 5/30 at 8:30 p.m., and Sunday 6/1 at 7:00 p.m.

One of four films in the festival is Greg Ruud’s Falls from Grace. Shot at Patrick’s Cabaret, the performance on film exemplifies grace in four religions: Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. It’s playing Saturday 5/24 at 1:00 p.m., Sunday 5/25 at 1:00 p.m., Tuesday 5/27 at 5:30 p.m., Thursday 5/29 at 7:30 p.m., Friday 5/30 at 5:00 PM, Saturday 5/31 at 3:00 p.m., and Sunday 6/1 at 5:00 p.m.

For good measure, there are such ringers as Back of Beyond from Kevin Kling and Claudia Schmidt, Ragamala Dance Theater’s The Path is Hidden, and Dropped On My Head! by Spirit in the House producing artistic director Dean J. Seal.

Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.