Naked Lunch

WHEN SKEWED VISIONS selected the Minneapolis Farmers Market for its site-specific installation performance The Eye in the Door, Part Two: Breakfast of Champions, the group anticipated the usual obstacles that accompany outdoor events. As it turns out, bad weather and distracted crowds were the least of its troubles. After appearing the first two Sundays of this month, the company discovered that some market-goers were disturbed by the performance and that management would not allow the show to continue without changes in content. So notified, Skewed Visions, a performance troupe that formed last year, found itself in the position of deciding whether to alter its piece or close up shop and go someplace more welcoming.

Complicating matters was the fact that the piece takes place in the Annex, a privately owned portion of the otherwise city-run Farmers Market. This left little room for Skewed Visions to charge censorship or argue for a right to express its views in public, a position undermined by a recent court decision that upheld the Mall of America's right to restrict protesters. For Skewed Visions, however, the issue has provided a chance to explore the clash of values existing between art and, in this case, a literal marketplace. "We felt we were going to the roots of theatricality, and its emphasis on commerce and exchanging ideas," says director Gülgün Kayim. "It turns out there's only freedom of speech until you start making money."

According to Annex co-owner Derek DeGennaro, economics dictated his request to "tone down" the work, a tableau vivant (or living picture) depicting upper-class culinary excess, inspired by the autobiography of a courtesan and by the work of photographer Cindy Sherman. "I received 12 complaints and that was enough for me to take a hard look," DeGennaro explains. "I can't have customers complaining about the graphicness of the piece."

After wrestling with its dilemma, Skewed Visions chose to compromise and the show went on as scheduled, albeit with Rebecca Myers's fake breast concealed and "cannibalism" scenes--where the dinner guests turn their insatiable appetites on a female "dessert"--performed with backs facing the audience. A warning sign was posted nearby, but it only served to draw attention to what little prurient provocation actually existed.

In the final analysis, Skewed Visions' performance evoked an old-world burlesque, a curiosity that drew onlookers--especially children who seemed fascinated by the possibilities of a Brothers Grimm-like feast taken to the extreme. In an environment where the audience could have thrown a few choice vegetables to register distaste with the goings-on, the work assumed a natural place in the bustling ebb and flow of the market, a momentary diversion that provided less controversy than food for imaginative thought. (Caroline Palmer)

Breakfast of Champions runs the next two Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Minneapolis Farmers Market.

...THEY WILL COME

BY WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 12, callers to the Fringe Festival Hotline were greeted with the following: "You have reached 823-6005. For information about the 1999 Minnesota Fringe Festival, which runs July 29 through August 8 in the Loring Theater District, press 1." It's a sign of either tireless dedication or a disturbing monomania on the part of Fringe producer Dean J. Seal that, less than a week after the 1998 Fringe closed, plans for next year's festival are already in the works.

But early returns give Seal and the theater community reason to be optimistic. This year's Fringe drew 6,573 people, up from 4,200 last year, and a Fringe record. For Seal, a great sign of success is the number of people who went to show after show (after show after show). Intrepid fringe-goers could buy a $50 Fringe pass, though at $8 a show, the consumer would need to attend seven shows to make the pass pay off. Seal expected the festival to sell 15 to 20 passes. It sold 75.

According to Craig Johnson of Upstart Theatre, "buckets of credit" for the Fringe's apparent turnaround go to Seal. Upstart Theatre's Four Stories drew 100-odd people more than the company's previous festival outing, The Diary of Samuel Pepys, which was one of the most-attended shows of last year's Fringe (though, perhaps the returns mark a pyrrhic victory as the woolly Victorian-clad cast faced fluid loss from the Loring's Bengali temperatures). For Johnson, the success comes from "Dean just being Dean. He makes tons of personal contacts, in the theater world, in the media, everywhere, then he calls them in."

Seal gives credit to both the media attention afforded the fest and the quality of the shows themselves, from works by some of Minneapolis's most talented young playwrights--Matt Sciple, Peter Blomquist, and Bruce Abas--to intriguing out-of-town shows like the eye-popping blink.

While just about anyone you ask will laud Dean Seal for his dedication and his organization, perhaps the most remarkable feat of all is that he is still alive and in possession of his faculties. That, Seal attributes to one of the more important skills required of producers--"lots of pain management."

 
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