It probably isn't much of a surprise to learn that storyteller, author, and performer Kevin Kling is attracted to stories about tricksters and fools.
"There's a great line that 'Gods don't lie because they are never hungry.' The trickster is always trying to fill his belly. That's where the story comes in. It doesn't go right, or doesn't go the way he thinks it will. The trickster often dies in the end of the story, but he's back for the next one. He's like Kenny from South Park. There he is again in the next episode."
These stories, collected from cultures around the world, form part of Of Mirth and Mischief, a new musical piece that premieres this weekend at the Fitzgerald Theater.
Kling collaborates with artist, musician, and former Wallets-mastermind Steve Kramer for the show. "We've wanted to work together for years, but we were like two kites without a string," Kling says. "We would get too excited and go right off the edge again."
Their efforts finally gelled as part of Kling's three-year residency with Minnesota Public Radio. The collaboration will not only be presented this weekend in St. Paul, but will also have two versions broadcast on the radio. At noon on December 23, MPR's news station (91.1) will broadcast a story-driven version, while the Current (89.3) gets into the act at 9 p.m. Christmas Day with a music-driven edition.
Kling uses a moment from his own life -- spending time at a youth hospital as a youngster in the 1960s -- as a framework, but the real meat of the piece comes from the various fairy stories that are told, and the songs crafted for the piece. "There are two parallel worlds, the human world and the fairy world, and we are telling the same story onstage. The worlds intersect during the second act," he says.
Photo courtesy of MPR
Along with Kramer, Haley Bonar and James Diers of Halloween, Alaska will contribute to the final piece from the stage. "These pop and rock musicians are so game for anything. We can't give them enough things to do. They want more and more," Kling says.
For director Peter Rothstein, staging the show means keeping both the live and broadcast audiences in mind. "My work usually favors the visual element, but here, audio has to constantly win. The jokes have to land without the visual element.
Though Kramer comes from the pop-music world, he completely understands the world of theater, Kling notes. The musician does have an acting background, having tread the boards at the likes of the Guthrie Theater and Theatre in the Round as a child performer.
"His head is incredibly theatrical, and he has this quirky sense about him," adds Rothstein. (If you want to hear the fruits of this labor -- and it's certainly worth your time -- visit online to download music from the show.)
Kling also sees the piece as part of the continuing development along his three-year residency with MPR.
"It's developing into a three-year plan. At first, it felt like three one-year plans, as every year had the same requirements: commentaries on the radio, a show every year, and workshops. The workshops are picking up steam, with some of the participants becoming part of the MPR family," Kling says. "Doing this has really stretched me. In this case, I've always been an autobiographical storyteller, so telling fairy stories like these are a real opportunity."
And while Of Mirth and Mischief arrives in the final mad rush of the Christmas season, the show is more than just a holiday show. "It's not a Christmas show, but it is surrounded by the dynamics of the holiday experience. There's a need in cultures for magic, whether it's religious or Santa Claus-based," Rothstein says.
"By the end of the journey, you have the joy and lessons learned with these new friends. If it's done right, there's ownership with the audience; they will have the same sense of joy and camaraderie. That's what I'm thinking of. There will be a party at the end, but you can't just go to the party, you have to earn your way to it. Wisdom isn't cheap," Kling says.
IF YOU GO
Of Mirth and Mischief
Fitzgerald Theater 10 E. Exchange St., St. Paul
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
$29 ($2 off for MPR members)
For information and tickets, call 651.290.1200 or visit online.