Production Report; Grimaldi’s Chicken.

Minneapolis, 8-15-10

Well. That’s done with then. The Twin Cities did not burn down. I am not rich or famous. Steve Martin did not come. Still, the show is over and the players have entertained Minneapolis. At the very least our friends and family in and around the Minneapolis area. It was a fine show. One I can be proud to put my name on. A good experience. If not chaotic and strange. Birthed from grim circumstances to rise and stand, on its own two feet, amidst the theater of our modern age. Take that MN Fringe festival. Take that to the bank and cash it.

The first fringe I ever submitted to was back in 2004. My piece; An Interview With Guy ManCock; Rock God, had themes of rock and roll and school shootings. It preempted the Red Lake shooting by 2 months, but the NYC Fringe would have none of it. Shelved that show. Still has yet to be performed. I submitted to them again in 2007 with English Nonsense Chapter 1; Turkish Delight, another of my works that has yet to be produced. This was also submitted to the MN Fringe. It was then that I found out that the MN Fringe does not choose their pieces based on merit or quality. It’s all random. Lottery. Neither randomness nor a juried panel would touch the piece.

I don’t know how to feel about a lottery to determine shows. I think that it’s a system that lends itself to exploitation and mediocrity. You see, many companies don’t even bother writing a show until they find out they are selected. Only when they have secured a slot do they invest their energies into actually creating a show. This strikes me as terribly backwards. For my part I think that you should create a piece of quality that you then want to share with an audience. Of course, this theory has yet to get me into the NYC Fringe. Which is probably just as well. Some audience member would no doubt have ended up with a sword in their face.

I submitted to the 2010 MN Fringe through a program called “First Steps”. It’s a program reserved for those who never produced or only produced once for the MN Fringe. It pairs inexperienced producers with “Next Steps” participants; companies that have produces three or more shows at the MN Fringe. Not as much interested in receiving mentorship, I got into it for two reasons; 1. You don’t have to come up with the full $450 to participate in the MN Fringe, only half of that up front [the remainder comes out of the box office before payout], and 2. There is a smaller lottery from which companies are drawn. How to win the lottery? An inane but relevant question indeed. It worked. I watched the lottery drawing online. I was drawn third. The show; Grimaldi’s Chicken.

I wrote Grimaldi’s Chicken in September of 2009 for KG Entertainment’s “Out of The Hat” production. Greg Gasman, the producer, first saw this method in Duluth. The idea is that you produce a show in 24 hours from concept to performance. Actors, writers, techs, and directors gather on a Friday night at 7 PM. Every participant writes on a piece of paper, an object, a location, and a first line. At 8 PM writers draw, at random, these things, as well as the number of males and females in their script. They then have 12 hours to write a comedy piece that integrates these elements. At 8 AM, actors, techs, and performers gather. Directors receive their scripts and casts at random. They have 12 hours to rehearse, memorize, and stage a performance. At 8 PM it hits the stage.

For the first go my object was “a rubber chicken” [ha ha], my location was “a 1950’s diner”, and my first line was “I want a divorce… again.”. 2 men, 2 women. At the time I wrote it I was taking care of my terminally ill grandmother. Between writing I would check on her. Adjusting pillows. Fetching water. That dear, poor woman. At the time I was miserable. I would like to say that it was an easy job, but it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s funny that, after she passed, I just wished I could have had her here longer. Would have been more than willing to adjust her and clean her and help her if only she was around. But she is in a better place now. I only mention it to provide a context. I needed escape, and a script is the best way to free yourself of the real world. I hammered the script out in three hours. Did a quick copy edit and called it a night.

There are really two schools of thought when it comes to “Out of The Hat”. One is that you take the elements and take liberties with them, cramming in the necessary components where they fit. The second school, the one I subscribe to, is truly letting the elements define the show. So, where-as putting a rubber chicken in a 50’s diner could be as simple as having a gag in the piece involving the freshness of their food is an easy out, I decided instead to write a piece with the rubber chicken as a central character. Rough and tumble research showed that there is no one person attributed with inventing the rubber chicken. Yet it is everywhere. Iconic. Ridiculous. Who did invent it? What sort of person were they? What sort of life did they lead?

Humans are curious by nature. As a question to the brain that it can’t answer and it will work on it until it gets a result. For my part I just plugged in the components, named the characters, and let them talk to one another. I just transcribed. The story was done quickly. Writing it down took some time. The amazing thing is that, after I wrote it, I knew that the performers and crew would then work a solid 12 hours on it. That’s something you never get. Ever. That was what really drew me to the idea. Originallity? Yes. A group of performers working on something for 12 hours? Impossible. I’ve worked on shows with a month production schedule where you don’t get 12 hours of rehearsal. Or, if you do, people are late, or gone, or sick, or stupid. But you have to be spot on when you know there is going to be an audience watching you. It’s great.

I had my guy on the inside tell me who was in the cast, and I felt good about it. Everyone involved in “OOTH” was quality. The northwood breeds a hardy and hilarious people. Used to improvisation by necessity and not training. Able to work without accoutrement or furnishing. These are not equity actors. These are renegade performers. Able to do Equus in a barn, or King Lear in a garage. Without props or set. Costumes or lights. Theater Guerillas of the Northwood Unite! I rested comfortably and came to the show in the evening.

Grimaldi’s Chicken went up first. It was a bit nerve wracking. Never having been done in Bemidji, if my script shit the bed we were all going to have to lay in it. Set the bar too low and it was going to be a long, unpleasant performance. It was great. The performers nailed it. There were some problems, to be sure, but nothing they could not handle. Particularly considering my piece was twice as long as everyone else’s. Now, I had been told that my time frame was between 15 and 20 minutes, and at 15 pages I thought it would fit in there nicely. As it turns out I use a much smaller font than most. 35 minutes was the first run time. It was good. I showed the video to my Grandma, but it was poor quality and hard to understand. But she heard the laughter. It would be the last show of mine she would see. The first thing I’d ever written staged. I will be eternally thankful to Greg and everyone involved for that.

“From the way people were laughing, people sure seemed to enjoy it.” She said.

It was good. Good enough to make me submit it to the MN Fringe. I did it. I was drawn. I immediately offered the roles to the performers who originated them. Bemidji has a habit of importing their talent from the cities, and I wanted to show the cities that our actors could go toe to toe with any of them big city players. This was putting my money where my mouth was. I got the guys, but the ladies had other commitments in August. I recast with a couple of ladies [Beaver Alumni] who were fabulously talented. Everything between the drawing and rehearsal is a blur. Then it was July and rehearsals were behind. Then it was a nightmare.

The problem with being a pauper-producer is not having any money. Originally the plan was to secure funds through advertising in our program, but that plan became less and less feasible as we drew closer and closer to performances. What at first was going to be the seed finance for a show instead turned into last minute rubber chicken hunts and negotiating for tiny chickens for thanks in the home printed programs. It’s all a nightmare. The nightmare is made less terrifying by the competence of my performers, and my family, who always steps into the fray when I need them most.

It went well. Ma did the costumes. They were great. The men were put in my Grandfather’s old suits. He would have thought it was crazy. The ladies had tailored dresses that looked great. The set pieces, portable and light weight, were constructed by my Dad, who amazes me with his ability to make things out of nothing. My brother Jared stage managed. Some would consider a stage manager without a drivers license to be a detriment, but they don’t know Jared Liend. He has the professionalism and ability of someone beyond his years.

I don’t know how it came together. I never do. I try to never take it for granted. People always say that when you find yourself in your most desperate and unfortunate nightmare;

“Don’t worry. It will all come together.”

And it does. But I don’t take it for granted. Because it’s a kind of magic, and magic is elusive. You don’t want to bank on it. For as great as I think the performances went, they were under attended. I don’t know if it’s the venue. It’s probably a lack of publicity. I can not afford print ads. The interweb is fickle and unreliable. People say they will come, but people live busy lives. It isn’t so much about the money as it is about providing my performers with an audience, and providing that audience with laughter. I wish I could figure out how to get paid to make people laugh. It’s a rough business out there. People are jaded and cruel. It’s tough to tell a love story about The American Dream and sell it. People want naked yoga and experimental rape theater.
I am proud of the show. I really think people enjoyed it. It was a real learning experience. I am proud of my cast and my crew, and consider myself blessed to have them both. I am going to try to do it again. Because past the nightmare, somewhere out there, is a dream. Waiting for me. Waiting for us.

Grimaldi’s Chicken was first performed at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse in Bemidji, Minnesota. Produced by KG Entertainment and directed by Mary Knox-Johnson

Stanley Grimaldi – Eric Nelson
Veronica Grimaldi – Bridget Stomberg
PennyBarclay – Mackenzie Lindahl
John Loftus – Joel Ward

2010 MN Fringe Production;

Stanley Grimaldi – Eric Nelson
Veronica Grimaldi – Bretanne Ostberg
John Loftus – Joel Ward
Penny Barclay – Mallory McKay

Stage Manager – Jared Liend
Costuming – Donna Liend
Set Construction – Terry Liend
Production Assistant – Vicki Stenerson

Bad Cat Creations, Bemidji, Greg Gasman, Ruth Baker, Dorothy Broste, Bethel Lutheran Church, Laurie Swenson,, Amy Rummenie, Grandma, Ma, Gods.

“The world is a dark, cruel place where people are afraid of one another and of the world around them. But in the darkness we can all huddle around the warming light of a joke… and we can laugh together. And it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you came from, or where you’re going. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor or anything. When you look into the face of all the chaos and terror you just want to scream. But you can’t scream. So you laugh. You laugh and the world laughs with you.” – Stanley Grimaldi


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