Football team lifting one man above their heads

We are sharing memories from some of our favorite shows every Friday. Here is Jack Reuler’s perspective on 2014’s COLOSSAL. 

COLOSSAL may have been my favorite Mixed Blood production of the 21st Century. Playwright Andrew Hinderaker had been challenged to write the unproducible play, and I, for one, don’t have the word “can’t” in my vocabulary. With 25 actors, many of whom needed to be dancers or athletes, an amazing tale was told in exactly 65 minutes: four 15-minute quarters and a five-minute half time.  The amazing Will Davis, right out of grad school, led these two dozen artists, anchored by Tobias Forrest, a performer with quadriplegia.

We had auditioned, cast, and contracted Toby long distance as he resides in LA and we in MN. I had arranged for a van service (Driving Miss Daisy) from MSP with a lift for Toby’s power chair. As we sat on the curb at Terminal 1 awaiting that van, Toby let me know he’d lived in Minnesota but left when he was nine years old. Not realizing he’d been to our fair state before, I asked what he had last done at nine. “I testified against the man who murdered my mother,” Toby confided. Seeing the look on my face, he explained:

Toby’s hippie parents moved to Hawaii when he was two. Five years later, with authorities in pursuit, Toby’s father fled and disappeared, never to be seen again. His mother moved back to her hometown of St. Cloud, MN. There she met a man, who became her boyfriend but he ended up murdering her, leaving Toby as the witness. (That person served 25 years in Stillwater.) Toby then moved in with his aunt and uncle in Memphis, where he eventually went to Valley Forge Military Academy before Northern Arizona University. His aunt/mom stayed home to help raise he and his sister along with their 2 cousins while his uncle/father owned a medical company that created devices for people with spinal cord injuries.

Shortly after graduation, Toby and some friends went to the Grand Canyon. Diving at Havasupai Falls, Toby suffered a C5 spinal cord injury, was rescued after drowning, and airlifted to Flagstaff, all the while his uncle/father calling in orders to the doctor on how to minimize the impact of the injury.

16 years later Toby returned to Minnesota as the lead in COLOSSAL playing a former dancer become quadriplegic who had been injured throwing a bad block in a football game while trying to protect his lover, the man running with the ball on his way to a championship touchdown.

For me, five minutes after meeting him, the fascinating complexity of the lead actor was more fascinating than the remarkable unproducible play itself. His relatives came in droves to fawn over their Toby and the cast of 25 vied to be his wingman. Toby Forrest allowed COLOSSAL to have the best artistic life possible, but also created community among a connected unit of actors, athletes, drummers, and dancers that ranged from 15 to 61 years old, from women to men to trans artists, gay and straight, spanning the racial continuum, and playing to adoring audiences, personifying Mixed Blood’s value of being predictably unpredictable.

Warren Bowles as Mammy

Warren Bowles as Mammy in NEIGHBORS

We are sharing memories from some of our favorite shows every Friday. Here is Jack Reuler’s perspective on opening night of 2011’s production of Neighbors.

Theater practitioners all have “war stories.” They get together and compare stories like Quint on the Orca in Jaws, one upping each other over and over. The bigger the gasp, the wider eyed the reaction, the better the yarn. On September 16, 2011 I earned bragging rights that one up the uppiest…and wish I hadn’t.
A 26-year old Brandon Jabobs-Jenkins had been in residence for four weeks with Nataki Garrett as director on Branden’s controversial NEIGHBORS and September 16 was the opening night of the show, of the season, and the first day of the launch of our much ballyhood Radical Hospitality.
In NEIGHBORS, an African American professor, his white wife, and biracial daughter (played by Bruce Young, Sarah Agnew, and Brittany Bradford) move from the west to east coast to take on an adjunct role at a prestigious institution. The professor sees the Black neighbors as iconic minstrel archetypes – Zip Coon, Mammy, Sambo, and Topsy – who disrupt his perfect post-racial upwardly mobile world. It’s wild, lewd, and, mildly, provocative. Several actors boycotted auditions.

September 16 was also the first day Jamil Jude was Mixed Blood’s house manager and the first performance for which Amanda White was Director of Radical Hospitality. The audience filled exactly as the architects of Radical Hospitality had planned and hoped: young, spanning the racial and economic spectrum, and eager. Mixed Blood’s entire board and staff were there as were the families of the cast and crew.
While we pride ourselves on the four best words in the American theater (90 minutes no intermission), NEIGHBORS was 2-1/2 hours long. Inspiring wrath and outrage, some people left at intermission. With 15 minutes to go, actor Warren Bowles – in blackface and dressed as Mammy with ballast breasts that shot fluid in a projectile manner – was delivering a monologue during which he performed the greatest stage fall in the history of drama. For a nanosecond the entire audience thought, given the unpredictable nature of their past 135 minutes, that it was intentional. But the staff knew otherwise. Warren had gone into cardiac arrest on stage in front of a full house!

Staff jumped into action. I sent Jamil to the stage to check on Warren. I ran to the box office to use a landline to call 911. Production Manager Cailtin Schaeffer raced to the stage and asked the audience to stay in their seats until paramedics arrived. Playwright Aditi Kapil raced to Warren’s wife, who was in the house. I knew of a doctor and EMT amongst the patrons and beckoned them to the stage. Warren was breathing lightly, eyes rolled back in his head. By the time the EMT’s and paramedics arrived (seven minutes that felt like a century), Warren had flatlined – was dead. The professionals pulled out the paddles and attached a LUCAS (mechanical chest compression cylinder) to reveal a violent on-stage event as the piston drove Warren’s sternum into the stage floor and the defibrillator lifted his body from the stage with each of its 20 jolts. After 20 minutes of flatline unresponsive behavior, Warren miraculously coughed up sputum and opened his eyes. Off to the County Hospital, the best Level 1 trauma center in the region and only a few minutes away.

Warren Bowles had, at that time, been my friend for 34 years and is Godfather to my daughter. Marketing Director Beth Richardson sought guidance on external communication, as this was a private event happening very publicly. I asked that all internal and external communication go through me and sped off after an ambulance. Warren’s body was cooled and he was put into an induced coma. At the theater was food and booze for over 220 people that the cast and crew (18) devoured in comfort-eating. Twitter was new and word swept through the Twitter world so quickly that I got a call from South Africa by the time I got to the hospital. The media wanted info.

In true the-show-must-go-on manner, a replacement was hired the next day and rehearsal started the day after. We missed two performances. When Warren was awakened three days later, everyone asked me if he had suffered brain damage. “It’s worse,” I explained, “He is fully Warren Bowles again!”
Mixed Blood quickly acquired its own AED. Nataki is now the artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the nation’s largest non-profit theater. Branden has been named a MacArthur genius and been a finalist for the Pulitzer twice. Jamil is now the artistic director of True Colors in Atlanta. Amanda is artistic director of Daleko Arts. Brittany Bradford in on Broadway. I am still at Mixed Blood. And Warren Bowles is still directing, acting, and being a wise ass to everyone’s appreciation.

Time Loss text image with stylized font

Reflections on my pre- social distancing interview

On art, community building, and audience engagement

 

With Hayden Bui, Tori Hong, and Tim Komatsu

 

Check out the interview from 3/3/2020 with Tori, Hayden, Tim and myself here:

I cannot believe this interview was recorded only four weeks ago. Prior to the opening of Interstate at Mixed Blood Theatre, I had the opportunity to sit down with visual artists Tori Hong and Hayden Bui, along with MBT’s Audience Engagement Manager, Tim Komatsu, to talk about Tori and Hayden’s recent exhibition, Time Loss. The exhibit was installed inside the lobby of Mixed Blood Theatre just days before Interstate’s Preview Night. Time Loss was going to remain on display through the full run of Interstate until the end of March. 

image of Time Loss exhibit installed on white background

Time Loss, 2020. Image provided by artists, Tori Hong and Hayden Bui

Of course, in the interest of public safety, Interstate at Mixed Blood Theatre closed to the public two weeks earlier than planned. Not only at MBT, but the show production, community outreach, general administration, and means of income for many of those in the theater and live performance industry recently came to an all but total standstill in the midst of a public health crisis. As we are all too aware. While the Twin Cities is certainly home to a few relatively endowed theater companies, the majority of smaller organizations do not have the resources to weather over one season’s worth of lost revenue. These organizations, and the people depending on them for income, face challenging and unprecedented questions about the future.

Second to basic needs and organization solvency…

I am wondering about the impact of the interrupting space creation for communities like those gathering at Mixed Blood Theatre. As a public historian, I am fascinated with performance in the first place for its potential, as a shared space of embodied knowledge, to radically foster and facilitate storytelling and history. Theater spaces during live performances, in particular, seem undervalued as sites of public history despite their immense power in bringing communities together in witness and in dialogue over political ideas. The audience engagement work planned around Interstate, including the installation of Time Loss as well as a series of Talk Backs with local queer, trans, and Asian groups, was a core part of the theater’s community praxis.

So, where to direct the impetus for audience engagement initiatives in the midst of crisis and need for social distancing? The role of creating community spaces, not to mention art’s potential to facilitate and to inspire these spaces, has not disappeared and in fact is more important now than ever. The interview we recorded at the beginning of March does not anticipate the extent of COVID-19’s impact on Interstate’s run at Mixed Blood Theatre, let alone its implications on the entire theater industry. Nevertheless, I hope Hayden, Tori, and Tim’s insights and our conversation can contribute to the growing pool of digital resources available for both archival and community building initiatives. 

 

Andrea Manolov | Archival Intern for Interstate

Heritage Studies and Public History, MA Student

University of Minnesota

 

Time Loss Artist Statement and Bios kindly provided by Tori and Hayden

 

Time Loss text image with stylized fontArtist Statement

Weaving through space, time, and distance, TIME LOSS explores queer Asian diasporic love, intergenerational healing, and interdimensional growth. This exhibition features art from emerging artists and life partners Hayden Bui and Tori Hong. 

Through our work, we constantly question: How do we think and move throughout the world? How do we express all of our identities as a whole? How do we take moments and people of the past and bring them into the present and to future generations? 

Ultimately, we are chasing that sweetness that belongs in us all. 

Artist Bios

Hayden Bui is a full time student at the U of M, studying Art and Asian American Studies. He is an emerging queer and trans artist that is passionate about organizing and creating art for LGBTQ people of color, primarily trans and queer Asian individuals. Hayden’s work endeavors to build something unlike anything around us, expressed through paintings and sculptures that use color and movement.

Hayden Bui outside fall weather

IG: @OnlyKeep

bui00088@umn.edu

 

Tori Hong is an independent illustrator, workshop/small group facilitator, community-driven curator, and public artist. Tori explores the connections between art and ancestors, using bold lines, vibrant colors, and deep trust in her work. Through her art, Tori centers communities of color & LGBTQ communities, particularly queer & trans Asian Americans.

Tori Hong against pink wallpaper

IG: @Tori.Hong

www.ToriHong.com

tori.s.hong@gmail.com

Patricia O'Leary

Imagine living in a place for ten years. How many papers, photos, memories, do you have built up? Did you create a system for organizing these things? Are they stuck in boxes until you randomly find them again? Now, imagine 45 years. My first day at Mixed Blood, I sat here, looking at a desk full of a conglomeration of memorabilia. When you are cleaning your own home, you can recognize what you are looking at. I sat there, staring at a mountain, with zero knowledge of the terrain.

Before I became an archival intern at Mixed Blood, I worked on a similar project in southern California. I sat in a library and quietly played music while I sorted through stacks of newsletters and newspaper articles. That was a historical society, this is a historical theatre. I explored closets and cabinets to find remote control cars and a fake pile of fecal matter. I worked, while listening to people singing and rehearsing. I found strange photos and videos of a chicken in an elevator, and a commercial for frosted flakes. Even more interesting, I found photos of people like me, from the Latinx community. I saw photos of African Americans, American Indians, Southeast Asians, and so on. I found photos of powerful people in wheelchairs, of people using sign language, of people with different abilities and backgrounds creating a beautiful cacophony of performances.

Yes, I was overwhelmed on the first day, but I was also inspired. If I asked you to find a photo of you as a kid, from your fourth birthday party, how soon could you find it? If staff from Mixed Blood asked me to find a photo from a show performed 25 years ago, how soon could I deliver it? This project is quite an endeavor, but it is an endeavor I can proudly partake in.

-Patricia O’Leary