A Minnesota Fringe Festival production has dropped out of the festival after outcries of sexual assault during a show.
Bad Thoughts with Wolfie B Bad was an improvisational puppet show starring Daniel Mohr and Wolfie, who, according to the show’s description, is a “dirty minded puppet.” During one show Mohr, speaking as the puppet, asked an audience member if she would teach the puppet braille.
Dawn Krosnowski, who was at the show, explained what happened next in a review she posted online: “Apparently, that meant giving the puppet consent to touch her breasts and then berating the audience when we reacted negatively,” she writes. “Then the puppeteer implied that the puppet wanted to touch the female audience member's genitalia. When she said no, the puppeteer kept pressuring her. After multiple noes from the person, audience members spoke up saying, no means no, and the puppeteer relented.”
The post has since been deleted, along with the show’s Fringe webpage.
“In addition, the puppetry technique was deplorable. If you enjoy watching sexual assault, then this is the show for you," Krosnowski’s review concludes.
In a non-public statement posted on Facebook, which was shared with City Pages by someone who saved it, Mohr apologized and announced that he would be canceling the show on Tuesday morning. (Mohr did not respond to our request for a comment.)
Krosnowski attended a performance of the show on Saturday, August 3. As a puppeteer herself, she was interested in the production, and loved the idea of doing improv and puppetry together.
“I wanted to see what this was going to be,” she says. “I did walk in with the expectation that it would be on the raunchier side, so I was expecting some of that.”
The basis of the show was that the puppet, carried around by his handler, Mohr, would speak to people in the audience and do improv based on how people responded.
The controversial moment happened when an audience member was invited onstage.
“Shocking is a great way to describe it,” Krosnowski says. “The puppet responded with, ‘Hey she gave me her consent!’ We said, ‘No, she didn’t. She literally did not give you her consent to touch her breast. She gave her consent for you to teach her braille.’”
When the puppet persisted, someone from the audience responded: “No means no. You have to stop.”
Tim Wick, a performer himself who does a lot of audience interaction, was also at the performance.
“If an audience member tells you don’t go there, you need to respect their boundaries,” Wick says. “It was really shocking to watch. How can someone be so unaware of how to treat another human being?”
Fringe Festival’s executive director Dawn Bentley says that Bad Thoughts with Wolfie B Bad was added late from the waiting list after another show dropped out, and while the Fringe does not curate content, it does have content warnings -- if provided by the artist -- at the box office. A cached version of the show's page warns of “adult language” and “sexual content,” and states that the production is appropriate for audiences age 16 and up.
In response to a question about whether the Fringe has a sexual harassment or code of conduct policy, Bentley writes: “Minnesota Fringe requires all producers to abide by all federal, state, and local laws and ordinances. If direct evidence is presented that any laws are broken, the producer and their show will be immediately removed from festival participation.”
Hannah Wydeven is on the leadership team for Fair Play Minnesota, a collective of women, trans, femme, and nonbinary improvisors in the Twin Cities who work with theaters and improv companies on gender equity. She believes that the Fringe needs to make a public statement, and that its response thus far is inadequate.
“We don’t need this person to file a police report,” she says. “It should be an easier process to remove this show.”
Fair Play has worked with Huge Theater, Brave New Workshop, and other theaters around town and throughout the country to help develop policies to pre-empt this type of incident. “When theaters have policies, it’s easier to take action. It’s not so subjective,” says Wydeven. “I think they should make a public statement about it and say what they are going to do to fix it.”
- Astronautalis spent 24 hours at the Gathering of the Juggalos, and all he got was this spiritual awakening
- Cat Vid Fest, sour beer sampling, 'Drop Dead Gorgeous': A-List 8.7-12
- Good eats at the Guthrie Theater: 'Floyd’s' serves hot dish on post-prison life
- Scream it off Screen is literally the most fun you'll have at the movies this summer (or ever)