June 2011 Arts Calendar

10 Hot Picks: 6/4

It’s 3 a.m. Do you know where your favorite local artists are? During the Northern Spark Festival, an all-night art extravaganza from sunset on June 4 to sunrise on June 5, they will likely be outside. Organized by Steve Dietz, the Walker Art Center’s former new-media guru, some 60 local and national artists will take to the streets to make art using the environment around them. Ali Momeni will project mammoth videos on the façade of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Philip Blackburn will use sewer pipes as an organ. Wing Young Huie will project his photos during an outdoor ping-pong tourney. Jim Campbell will create a giant light installation near the Science Museum of Minnesota: tiny LEDs suspended in a cube, blinking on and off to mimic the forms of pedestrians. Based on similar “festivals of light” in Europe, it’s a chance to prove the Twin Cities’ reputation as an art center—one that never sleeps. northernspark.org


Joe Ely brings his gritty Americana to the Cedar Cultural Center. thecedar.org


The Nisswa-Ståmman Festival celebrates Scandinavian music and culture in the north woods. nisswastamman.org


Ira Glass shares stories about This American Life at the Fitzgerald Theater. fitzgeraldtheater.org


Guys & Dolls swaggers into the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. ordway.org


Steampunk Dreams brings Victorian science fiction to life at the Southern Theater. southerntheater.org


Minnesota writer Joseph Goodrich won a 2008 Edgar Award for Panic, an homage to Hitchcock, now at the Park Square. parksquaretheatre.org


Joe Dowling, with a wink, directs the Guthrie’s second staging of a Gilbert and Sullivan musical, the satirical H.M.S. Pinafore. guthrietheater.org


Gary Burton and Danilo Perez headline the Twin Cities Jazz Festival in St. Paul’s Mears Park. hotsummerjazz.com


Cirque du Soleil parks the grand chapiteau at the Mall of America for its new, insect-themed show, OVO, featuring three former Olympic trampolinists. cirquedusoleil.com


Strip Teaser

Summer-stock theater grows up

Six years ago, when Zach Curtis became the artistic director of the Paul Bunyan Playhouse in Bemidji, one of the oldest summer-stock theaters in the country, he was worried. Curtis had founded Fifty Foot Penguin Theater in Minneapolis, notorious for its regional premiere of Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical. The Bunyan is aimed at vacationers, presumably looking for a few laughs after stowing the Jet Ski. A previous director, chafing at the theater’s prudishness, had staged a wanton Cabaret, a kind of screw-you to the town.

“I joked that I’d have to put up warnings saying, ‘This show features French people and discussions of science,’” Curtis says. It’s now his last season. He’s staged Tommy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and even The Drawer Boy, about war and memory (“No one wants to come off the lake and see a kid get shot in the head,” he worried beforehand). He’s only received two complaints, one because an actor tweaked North Dakota in his bio.

“People have said, ‘Thank you, at least it wasn’t The Mousetrap again!’” Curtis says.

This summer, Curtis himself will perform Kevin Kling’s 21A, about oddballs on an urban bus. For the finale, he’ll stage The Full Monty, with its famously, er, stripped-down ending. “I’m pushing it,” he says. “It could be the best or the worst way to go out.” • The Paul Bunyan Playhouse season opens June 8 with Forever Plaid. paulbunyanplayhouse.com

The Patron

A quiet force for art steps out

In the program for Pillsbury House Theatre’s In the Red and Brown Water, playing through June 5 at the Guthrie Theater, a curious co-producer is noted: the Mount Curve Company. No name, no bio—a theatrical cipher.

One morning, at a lovely red-brick address on Mount Curve Avenue, in Minneapolis’s Kenwood neighborhood, the cipher answers the door. “I’m Frances,” she says, as in Frances Wilkinson, self-proclaimed “theater junkie.”

“I’ve always loved storytelling,” she says. She grew up in Alabama and her parents, in the Southern tradition, told her everything from outlaw yarns to Greek tragedies. Wilkinson turned that love into a media career, working for Time Inc. in New York. In 1990, she opened an office for Time magazine in Minneapolis and soon joined the boards of Theatre de la Jeune Lune and the Guthrie Theater. When the Guthrie staged its Tony Kushner festival in 2009, Wilkinson hosted the kick-off party at her family’s New York apartment.

A couple years ago, after seeing In the Red and Brown Water, about a poor Southern black girl who declines a college scholarship to care for her mother, Wilkinson begged Guthrie artistic director Joe Dowling to let her produce it. “He said, ‘Great, but you can’t just rent out the space,’” she says. So she partnered with Pillsbury House to bring the show to the Dowling Stage. “I love the communal aspect of storytelling,” she says. “When it really works, there’s nothing more thrilling.”• In the Red and Brown Water runs May 12 to June 5 at the Guthrie Theater. guthrietheater.org

Booze Tunes

A toast to Minnesota’s role in Prohibition

Patricia Hampl, the writer, and Jordan Sramek, the director of the Rose Ensemble, are perfectly sober as they gather in Sramek’s St. Paul office to talk about drinking. Still, Sramek breaks laughingly into song: “He’ll make you drink ’til you’re dry!”

To those who know the Rose Ensemble for its medieval numbers, it sounds incongruous. (“You haven’t heard Jordan sing ‘Volare,’” says Hampl.) But the choral group is singing Songs of Temperance and Temptation this month: tunes decrying drink as well as tunes of bootleggers and good-time gals. Both varieties were once warbled by Minnesotans, among the country’s biggest party-poopers in the run-up to Prohibition, a.k.a. the Volstead Act.

“People today are like, Volstead who?” says Sramek, whose quarters are coincidentally down the hall from the state’s former Prohibition office, in the Landmark Center. But Andrew Volstead, the chief sponsor of Prohibition, was a St. Olaf graduate and Republican congressman from Granite Falls. And the Hutchinson Family Singers, for whom the Minnesota town is named, were among the nation’s most popular temperance tunesters. (Their greatest hit: “King Alcohol.”)

“Temperance was a progressive cause,” says Hampl, who will narrate the shows. “The same people who were for women’s suffrage were for Prohibition.” But, she notes, good intentions don’t guarantee good lyrics: “What rhymes with Volstead?” • Songs of Temperance and Temptation is performed June 16 at Weber Music Hall and June 17 and 18 at the Fitzgerald Theater. roseensemble.org