THEATER: More from Cat Brindisi and Sun Mee Chomet
Cat: I am so into self-producing right now. So many people are doing it and having so much success. It’s interesting to me how when you’re producing and constantly working you feel like you’re going crazy, but at the same time it’s feeding your soul.
Sun Mee: Yeah, it’s one of those things that is so much work, but in the end we’re doing what we love.
Cat: Exactly. I just couldn’t stand being in New York and realizing that auditioning was the job. I want theater to be my fulltime job.
Sun Mee: So how did you do it [for Hair]?
Cat: We raised all our funds with Kickstarter. We sold out every night—it was a pay-what-you-can—and went over what we thought we would make at the door, so it all equaled out. I mean, we’re not making anything, but that’s fine. From the beginning we just wanted to break even with our first show, and we’re going to, which is great. But yeah, “just” being an actor is a luxury. I can’t wait!
Sun Mee: It’s funny, because before you self-produce, you’re with all the actors and you commiserate with them. But then you start to produce and you’re like, “How does that artistic director do it? How does that person handle their budget?”
Cat: Yes! I look at all these theater companies and I don’t know how people are still alive! It’s so taxing.
Sun Mee: It’s so much work.
Cat: So how did you get connected to South Korea?
Sun Mee: I’m performing at the International Korean Adoptee Association (IKAA) conference. It’s a group of 700 adoptees from 17 countries; I’m the only one performing. Minnesota actually has more adoptees than any place in the world, so there’s a lot of arts about adoption happening here.
Cat: That’s so interesting! Our goal is to export and bring things in and out of Minneapolis. I think that’s the one really big void here: we actually don’t get a lot of international shows or guest directors coming in. I’m fascinated you have these connections.
Sun Mee: When you self produce, you just have to find those organizations and grants.
Minnesota Monthly: How did you both get into acting?
Cat: I got started young; both of my parents are in the arts. I went to school for musical theater in Duluth then went to New York and tried it out there for a bit, but it wasn’t quite my city. I didn’t really connect with anyone there. I was back and forth a lot, and now I’m here.
Minnesota Monthly: Is it tough being in the business as the daughter of Chanhassen Dinner Theater artistic director Michael Brindisi?
Cat: It’s been a challenge to fight against “director’s daughter,” but you get used to it and learn to twist it into a positive thing. My parents are actually two of my closest friends so it’s never been competitive. But I do choose to not work at Chan as much as I can. Even if I can prove it’s not nepotism, you feel like you’re constantly having to prove to yourself over and over. But once I started working with Theater Latte Da, I felt confident on my own.
Sun Mee: I got into it young. I went to a performing-arts high school in Fresno, California, that ended up giving birth to all this artistic life. It was 24/7 theater—a little Fame school. Then I went away from acting for undergrad—majored in sociology and anthropology, traveled a lot. I came here to the U for grad school, but I left because I wanted something bigger. I went to NYU for seven years and the whole time I kept dreaming about Minnesota! It was just not me. I grew up with skies and trees. I didn’t trust people there like I do here.
Cat: Yeah, I was nervous all the time there.
Sun Mee: I was so anxious! I actually came back to Minnesota to quit acting. I was running an insurance company because I was burned out. Then my friend Jeannie Park wrote a play (100 Men’s Wife) that was at the History Theater and the lead actress dropped out and Jeannie asked me to do it as a favor. I’m just now finding what my place is in theater.
Cat: I think it’s all choosing different things and making it come together. You have to find a way to be grounded in this crazy business; you have to figure out how to be happy. That’s really what it is.
Sun Mee: Sometimes you just happen upon things you’re meant to do, and you feel like it’s coming from an authentic place and people can feel that—that this is some type of calling.
Cat: That you’re meant to be there.
See Cat Brindisi in The Chronicles of Kalki at Mixed Blood Theater October 5–27 (mixedblood.com). See Sun Mee Chomet in How to Be a Korean Woman at Guthrie Theater September 19–22 (guthrietheater.org) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Ten Thousand Things theater October 10–November 3 (tenthousandthings.org).
MUSIC: More from Haley Bonar and Eric Pollard
Haley: Are you fishing for labels for your upcoming album?
Eric: There are a few that are interested, so we are going to see where that leads us. And if not, we’ll just, I don’t know.
Haley: Whatever—put it out yourself.
Haley: Which is good but not always the best.
Eric: No, it doesn’t get you distribution and it doesn’t get you into record stores.
Haley: It gets you street credit.
Eric: It does. It gets you street credit, and that’s about it.
Haley: Do you have all the verses memorized for your 17-verse song?
Eric: No, no, I still don’t. I have about half of it memorized.
Haley: Okay, good, cuz I was gonna be like, “Dude, are you sure you’re sober?”
Eric: I’m sharp, but I’m not that sharp.
Haley: Actually, I’m going to skip ahead to a question that has to do with that. You’ve been sober for quite a while…
Eric: Almost two years.
Haley:: …Two years, that’s a long time.
Haley: Being in our industry, in that alcohol and drugs are always readily available and most of the time free, do you believe our industry is partially responsible for the high number of addicts in it?
Eric: Absolutely not. I think that artists are addicted to something, just being artists.
Haley: How so?
Eric: Art forces you into a different headspace. Chemicals and art have always been closely related as far as the creative process, whether it’s wine or weed or other hard drugs. So I wouldn’t blame our industry—although it is quite ridiculous when it comes to the doling out of free substances and it definitely has gotten to everybody at times—but who’s to say those people wouldn’t be addicted to something anyway, if they weren’t artists?
Haley: I guess the reason I ask that is because some people don’t realize that they’re addicts while being doled out free booze all the time, then five years into it they’re like, “Okay, I don’t know how to stop.”
Eric: Right, I completely understand that.
Haley: Then they’re left thinking, “Would I have done that if I wasn’t in the music industry?”
Eric: Yeah, I don’t know. That’s a good question. Sobriety definitely forced me to think about it. I didn’t realize I was going that hard. I mean, I don’t know, maybe it does.
Minnesota Monthly: Has being sober affected your creative process at all?
Eric: Yeah, in a good way!
Haley: Well you essentially started doing your project when you quit. All your feelings are coming out.
Eric: They are, a lot are. I had to hide a lot from people for a lot of years because of what I did. I had to go out of my way to be mean to people to keep people away because I didn’t want them stopping by my house or asking me what I was doing. I’m a lot nicer now, a lot sharper.
Haley: You’re free!
Eric: I am! I’m free to be a nice guy. I don’t have anything to hide from anybody anymore. So anyway, tell me about your new record.
Haley: It is hopefully coming out in the fall. I’m kind of in the same place where I’m talking with a couple labels; I don’t hold my breath for that but I’m hoping it works out. I’m tired of putting stuff out myself. I actually want this to be heard by more than just the Midwest. We got it done in two days. I recorded two songs in my apartment on one of those blue microphones—the yeti; plugs right into your computer. I was demoing with that and I ended up keeping it because they felt really good and I was like, “Well, it aint’ broke.”
Eric: Are you looking past this record at all? Are you going to fully emerge out of your comfort zone—make the “every girl” commercial record?
Haley: I hope this record is commercial! I want to do that, but I want to do it my way. Success is all relative: I always want to go do more, more, more, but at the same time I’m happy with what I do have and I’m grateful for it. But I do want to be bigger; I do want to be able to pay my bills and afford to tour and play for more than 30 people. (Eric and Haley high-five.)
Eric: Me too!
Haley: Yay! It’s been awhile since a record’s made it big that’s been dark. It’d be nice to have something like this that’s more fierce; this album has more balls to it than the male and female music out there. The males sound like girls now, and the girls are just sitting there singing about their high-school boyfriends. Not to diss anyone—I love music—but I just think that this could make it through the atmosphere.
Eric: Totally. I think with popular music right now, kids are making music only to get on the radio. Nothing has much of an identity. It’s two synths and a pretty girl singing something that you can barely understand. Pop radio is dominated by pop country in which all the guys sing about beer, trucks, and tractors, and all the girls sing about their ex-high-school boyfriends.
Haley: So what do think about Taylor Swift?
Eric: Funny, I’m a big fan of Taylor Swift.
Haley: Have you heard that song? That “let’s dress up like hipsters…”?
Eric: I don’t like that song.
Haley: Okay, thank you. That’s all I have to know.
Hear Actual Wolf’s self-titled debut when it’s released October 22 on local label Chaperone Records. Look for Haley Bonar’s fifth full-length album this fall.
DANCE: More from TU Dance (Uri Sands and Toni Pierce-Sands) and HIJACK (Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder)
Toni: So, why the name? Why “HIJACK”?
Kristin: Right away we wanted something that sounded like a rock band. You know, not just our last names followed by the word “company.” The word “hijack” came up in an art-criticism context in an article about Jenny Holdzer. She was saying that’s what an artist should do to expectations, to culture. You hijack.
Arwen: Plus, we undermine each other. Kristin has an idea to move this way, and then I say, “Well, okay, but now we have to do it backward.” That’s another part of the hijacking that happens. In our contact-improv class this morning, the topic was the dynamic between stability and instability. We like to have both together. You make the choreography impossible so that you have to improvise. But then you can’t get too flow-y in the improvisational world because you have to get back into your move on the right count. And that constant battle, that undermining, is very much like the battle between us, which is the meat of the work.
Toni: Yeah, you guys are creating work together. We don’t do that. Uri, he’s the choreographer for TU Dance. I always think of myself as a dancer, being inside the work. But you guys both get to be the watcher and the maker, simultaneously. It’s almost like you get to see your work three-dimensionally from day one. I don’t think we do that.
Kristin: With two people choreographing, you have a chance at relationship. I feel like we’re practicing the performer-audience relationship all the time.
Uri: Our relationship is shaped more cone-like, where the conceptual idea or starting point is always with me, but then it starts to wedge out. We start with enormous amounts of phrases, steps, and movements, and then it just constantly gets reduced and reduced to this sort of nugget that everything revolves around. In the creative process, for me, a lot of material that we generate in the first four days doesn’t even make it into the work. It’s almost like priming the pump.
Uri: Do you start with the music first? Do you start with a concept? Sometimes it’s title first.
Toni: There you go, names.
Uri: This new piece we’re working on, the title came first. I wanted to call it Smalls. I thought, “What about just a lot of tiny pieces or parts? A bunch of short phrases—a collection of small or modern steps.” But then I challenged myself on that, and I said, “What if Smalls were more like an ironic antonym, so everything is huge! Like an 80-minute work!”
Kristin: Your dance school in St. Paul is a gorgeous space.
Uri: One of the main reasons we founded it is to provide access to dance to people that wouldn’t otherwise have it. When we started the organization, I thought, “Uri, you can do the choreography hustle, hit the grind, get commissions. Or you can do the master-teacher hustle and try to teach classes around the world.” But that isn’t what we need. We don’t need dance artists frantically running around the world—we need a single place for dancers to be cultivated. So what if that could be our contribution?
LITERARY: More from Kate Hopper and Kevin Kling
Kate: I had a question for you about writing and healing, which I know you’ve talked about in your interview with Kristin Tippett last year. It was so interesting how you talked about how in the U.S. we’re so focused on solving problems and curing things, instead trying to really focus on feeling. For me, certainly, writing is healing, and I know it is, too, for a lot of my students who have lost children or have kids with special needs—to process that loss of dreams is critical. I wonder if you’d talk a bit about how writing and storytelling has been healing for you.
Kevin: That’s one I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. Simply, I think when you can tell a story about something then it doesn’t control you anymore. It’s in your vernacular. I was thinking about that a lot when I was looking at your work—that there are certain things you can’t prepare for. Like when you talk about traveling, there’s the trip you plan and the trip you go on. Motherhood seems like that: I don’t care what you plan—it’s not going to be your trip.
Kate: Exactly, that’s totally right. I always talk about fear and how it can be so debilitating; it can actually control you. But what happens when you write it all down? I know that some of my students have talked about how it feels to do those exercises and how once it’s down on the page, it loses some of its power. It still exists, but in a different way.
Kevin: That’s part of the power of the arts—it puts it out there and reveals those parts larger than ourselves. When we put them in our own context we take a sense of control over those larger things.
Kate: Another thing you mentioned that’s interesting is being able to get people together who are not going to agree—people who are opposites but can listen to a story or read the same thing and say, “Oh, wait a minute, I see a bit of myself in here.” And that’s always one of my goals, to connect people.
Kevin: Working in the world of disability you’ll find that tolerance and compassion have a shelf life, but recognition doesn’t. Recognition in that I see you and you see me and by helping you I’m helping myself. It is so important in this day and age where we can choose what we read and whom we talk to; we don’t often find those essential connections with people who aren’t like us. Most of my storytelling is done for people who don’t vote like I do. That’s the fun stuff. They know it and I know it and we don’t care. It even feels better when you connect with someone who doesn’t agree with you. Because that’s the only way we’re going to solve things.
Kate: In my writing guide it was very important to me was to have a diversity of voices—moms with kids with special needs, adoptive moms, lesbian moms. Some of my favorite comments are, “I would never have read this person otherwise.”
Kevin: You bring up some pretty tough topics that I’m sure people wouldn’t read unless they were already in your momentum and already trusted you and went, “Okay, I know who she is so I’ll go there.” You’re dealing with things that are in peoples’ sacred areas, and you’re offering them these different choices and opinions. I think that’s vital. You don’t have to agree when you can at least understand.
Kate: One thing you do that I love is you sum things up in a way that isn’t like, “Duh, I knew that already.” Many beginning writers will tell the whole story, and then neatly sum it up.
Kevin: That’s not how life works. And that’s one thing I loved about your work—it made me think, “I know about life, but I still don’t know how this is going to go.” It wasn’t formulaic. It’s interesting how that kept me engaged.
Kate: You need to trust the reader but also trust yourself as a writer. It’s hard to just let it lie and let people take away what they will. How did that evolve with you?
Kevin: A buddy of mine, Bill Harley, a wonderful storyteller, says it takes about 10 thousand tellings. And I think he’s going pretty fast (laughs). But you’re looking for that point where you’re challenging the audience right up to that point. I saw the most wonderful reading by Robert Bly once, where he finished the poem and everyone sighed. And he goes, “Did you get that?” And we all went, “…No.” Then he said the coolest thing. He goes: “Me neither. But I almost did!” And we all go, “We almost did, too!” There was so much to that because there he was: a poet who put it all out there even though he still didn’t get it. But he needed to get it out there. That was a good lesson for me.
Look for Kate Hopper’s memoir, Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood, in stores October 1. Kevin Kling’s children’s book, Big Little Mother, and compilation of stories, plays, and essays, On Stage with Kevin Kling, will both be in stores in November.