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Off-Leash Area to start 7-town garage tour; Julie Snow wins AIAM medal

Courtesy of Off-Leash Area
A scene from Off-Leash Area's “Stripe and Spot (Learn to) Get Along.”

Theater can happen anywhere, even in someone’s garage. In 2003, Off-Leash Area’s Paul Herwig and Jennifer Ilse began staging productions in their own two-car garage in the Longfellow neighborhood. On Friday, they’ll open their fifth Annual Neighborhood Garage Tour in Stillwater, the first stop in a seven-town run that will also take them to host garages in Brooklyn Park, Mendota Heights, Bloomington, Isanti, and Plymouth before they return to Longfellow. Twenty-one performances, many miles, and seven times packing and unpacking a 15-foot truck full of sets, lights and seating.

Off-Leash Area was founded in Minneapolis in 1999. A “design and movement collaboration,” it creates original performance work that combines theater with movement. (Herwig is a scenic designer/builder, performer and director, Ilse a choreographer, dancer and director.) It has won Ivey, Sage, various Best-of and Artist of the Year awards, along with NEA, Minnesota State Arts Board, MRAC and McKnight grants and fellowships. To date, Off-Leash has created 21 original productions. Its Annual Neighborhood Garage Tour has reached 2,149 people in 39 locations with 79 performances.

This tour’s production is “Stripe and Spot (Learn to) Get Along,” a title that sounds like a children’s board book. It’s a family-friendly show – Off-Leash is about accessibility, community-building and inclusiveness – but it’s also serious theater, with professionally designed costumes, makeup, lights and sound, original text, choreography and music, and an amazing, revolving, interactive set. The cast – Taous Claire Khazem as Spot, Herwig as Stripe, Ilse as Mr. Moon and Jesse Schmitz Boyd as Ms. Sun – all bring years of experience to the show, the idea for which first came to Herwig some 30 years ago. Now that it has finally taken shape, he’s happy with it. 

“Every once in a while, we do a show and look at each other and think, ‘Can we really do this? Is it too weird? Is it too much fun?’ ” Herwig told MinnPost earlier this week. “In the past, that’s been a sign that it’s going to be a really, really good show. … Sometimes, as an artist, you need to hang up temporarily the notion of changing the course of art history and just have a good time. For us, this show has turned out to be that. It’s just so much fun.”

We saw “Stripe and Spot” earlier this year and liked it a lot. The learn-to-get-along message is simple; the way it is delivered – with hilarious vaudeville-inspired bits and silent film melodrama, seamed together by music, on a stage that’s part Lazy Susan, part Rubik’s Cube – is not. Just 60 minutes long and jam-packed, the performance is fiercely imaginative and visually captivating. Suspend your disbelief and you’re easily convinced that the small stage is a large island, that the main characters walk miles and miles, that years go by. And when the lights dim and the curtain opens, you forget you’re in a garage.

Performances of “Stripe and Spot (Learn to) Get Along” start Friday, Aug. 29, and continue every weekend through Oct. 12. Here’s the schedule. Seating is limited to 40, so reservations are encouraged. You won’t be asked to buy a ticket, but there is a suggested donation of $5–$15. Following each show, the hosts provide snacks and beverages, and people hang out to meet the artists and talk with their neighbors.

Architect Julie Snow has won the American Institute of Architects Minnesota’s 2014 Gold Medal in recognition for “a lifetime of distinguished achievement and significant contributions to architecture.” Snow spent six years at HGA before beginning her own practice. She and Matt Kreilich now lead Snow Kreilich Architects in Minneapolis; their firm is part of the project team for the new Lowertown Ballpark. In a statement, AIA Minnesota president Tom Hysell praised Snow’s “graceful modernism.” Snow recently won the American Academy of Arts and Letters Architecture Award, which described her as “a ballerina who can dance in work boots.”

Susannah Schouweiler reminds us that the St. Paul Saints are playing their final games this week at the old Midway Stadium. If you go Wednesday, you might come home with a lithograph of Andy Nelson’s 1993 Midway Stadium mural, free to the first 1,500 fans. Listen here to a set of eight baseball-themed songs by local musicians, co-produced by the Saints with MPR’s The Current. FMI and tickets.

Once the Saints have moved out, the St. Paul Port Authority will take over the 12.8-acre site on Energy Park Drive, which will eventually become part of the Energy Park Business Center. We’re feeling a bit nostalgic about other arts and culture destinations that were once on the Drive — like the Dakota, which opened in Bandana Square in 1985 and moved to downtown Minneapolis in 2003. By then, Bandana Square, originally conceived as a festival marketplace, had become an office center – a ghost town after dark. The Minnesota Children’s Museum was there from 1985–1995, when it moved to downtown St. Paul. Still at Bandana Square after all these years: the Twin City Model Railroad Museum, worth a visit for its detailed O-Scale exhibit of historic Minneapolis. Admission is $6 for adults. Kids get in free. FMI.

What we’re reading: Chris Riemenschneider’s deliciously lengthy piece on touring with Duluth’s Trampled by Turtles. It took up four pages in Sunday’s Strib.

The Picks

Tonight (Tuesday, Aug. 26) at the History Center: Ukrainian Village Band. The History Center’s annual summer gift to the cities, “9 Nights of Music” ends with Ukrainian verchirka (party) music. Formed in 2007, the Ukrainian Village Band is a group of area musicians including one Ukrainian, three Ukrainian Americans, and others simply smitten by the music. You might have seen them at Kramarczuk’s in Nordeast. Dance instruction from Tapestry Folkdance starts at 6:30 p.m. Live music and dancing begin at 7 p.m. 

Tonight at the Dakota: Dakhabrakha. This “Ukrainian punk folk circus rock” group hails from Kiev, where the band was created by members of an underground theater troupe. Led by Marko Halanevych, featuring three women singers and percussionists wearing very high hats, Dakhabrakha layers folk music with global sounds and rhythms to create what they call “ethno-chaos.” Given recent events in Ukraine, expect a more somber than usual edge. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25–$35). Also tomorrow, same time, place and ticket prices. Here’s a video from a live performance. What’s Ukrainian for “wowza”?

Tonight at Magers & Quinn: Three authors of books about dogs. It’s National Dog Day, and Magers & Quinn has partnered with Underdog Rescue to present Jan Dunlap, author of “Saved by Gracie,” about an adopted rescue dog; Linda Anderson, co-founder of the Angel Animals Network and author of several books about dogs; and Pat Bettendorf, author of “Ruby’s Tale: A True Rags to Riches Story.” 7 p.m. Free.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) at the Fair: Read + Ride Day. Show your public library card at the gate for discounted admission, then head for Carousel Park and a day of family fun with live performances, a scavenger hunt, dozens of author (including Kevin Kling, Erin Hart and Julie Karmer) characters, crafts, games, and photo opps.

Monday at the Dakota: Salif Keita. The Grammy-winning African singer broke a big taboo to become a singer. In Mali, only the lower class makes its living from music, and Keita is a direct descendant of Sunjata Keita, who founded the Mali Empire in 1240. Salif spent time as a street musician and a member of the band Les Ambassadeurs before moving to Paris and signing to Island Records. His current acoustic tour is a return to his roots and a look back at his career. Sept. 1 at the Dakota, two sets. Here’s the tour trailer. FMI and tickets ($50).

The Weekend

Sunday at the Jungle Theater: Connie Evingson Sings More of the Best of the Ella Fitzgerald Song Books. After two sold-out shows in June, Evingson and her terrific accompanists – pianist Jon Weber (host of NPR’s “Piano Jazz” and a great favorite of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival) and bassist Gordon Johnson – return for more songs made famous by Lady Ella. 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25).   

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