Take spoken word performances – of poetry, essays, book excerpts, stand-up comedy – and put them on the same program with chamber music by living composers. What do you get? A 21st-century curated variety show. The reinvention of a TV genre that was once wildly popular.
Donnie and Marie, Sonny and Cher, Tony Orlando and Dawn, meet Sam and Carrie.
Except Sam is Sam Bergman, violist with the Minnesota Orchestra since 2000, co-creator (with conductor Sarah Hicks) of the “Inside the Classics” series, and trained at Oberlin Conservatory, where he hung out with the new music kids. Carrie is Carrie Henneman Shaw, in-demand soprano, member of Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble and Chicago’s ensemble dal niente, and teacher at Bethel University. And Outpost, their live performance series, is more than entertainment. It’s a thinking, feeling person’s variety show.
The two first worked together in 2012 on “Slippery Fish,” a new dance work by choreographer Penelope Freeh and composer Jocelyn Hagen. At first, Freeh was a little vague about what they would do. “By the time we got to the performance,” Bergman remembered with obvious relish, “this thing had Carrie carrying a hugely muscled male dancer on her hip around the stage while singing a high A. It had me shoulder-rolling off a chair while playing my viola.” Turns out Bergman and Shaw are risk-takers. “We both love walking out on the limb, and if it breaks, it breaks.”
After that experience, they talked for years about doing something together. They ultimately arrived at a live performance series that would mix spoken word with chamber music. They called it Outpost “because it seemed to speak to what Minnesota is, both as a place and as an arts scene. It’s a quality place on the outskirts, and we like it that way.”
They broke the mold of assigning themes to each performance. Printed on every program are these words: “There’s no specific theme to the performance unless you perceive one, in which case that’s the theme, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” Bergman explained: “One thing we knew we wanted to do was invite performers and then ask them to do what they wanted to do, not what we wanted them to do. We realized very quickly that if we were going to do that, themelessness would be an asset. It was our job to build a show around the people we invited, not expect them to tailor what they do to us.”
Bergman and Shaw started with the spoken word artists – people they liked and wanted to work with – and then chose the music, shaping each performance so the parts would complement each other. Almost like creating a record album. “Or a mixtape,” Bergman said.
And they held the series at the Hook and Ladder Theater in Minneapolis, a venue better known for rock, roots and honky-tonk than classical music.
Outpost premiered on Sept. 14, 2018. The first show was an unprecedented blend of people who don’t usually share a stage: actor Steven Epp, stand-up comedian Brandi Brown, and Minnesota Orchestra musicians Silver Ainomäe and Roma Duncan, to name a few. The music was by Sarah Kirkland Snider, Judd Greenstein, Hagen and other living, breathing composers.
The fourth Outpost will take place this Saturday, Jan. 11, back at the Hook. Kao Kalia Yang will read an excerpt from “The Song Poet,” her award-winning book about her father. Journalist David Perry will read his essay about the medical profession’s sad history of mistreating people with Down syndrome. (He has a son with Down syndrome.) Dakota poet Rosetta Peters will perform with guitarist J.G. Everest. Nearly a dozen musicians will play recent works by contemporary composers Karim Al-Zand, Gabriela Lena Frank (“one of the luminaries of American composition,” said Bergman), Kimberly Osberg, L.J. White, and Greenstein again (“a personal favorite of mine”).
The final show of the 2019-20 season is set for Saturday, June 20. It will feature poet Anna George Meek, actor H. Adam Harris, some twisted Scottish folk tunes arranged by the performers and a string quartet by rising star composer Gabriella Smith. Bergman and Shaw are already thinking ahead to 2020-21. “We have a meeting on the books for next week, to start sketching out what we want to do,” Bergman said. “We would like to keep this going for as long as people find it fun and useful.”
Doors at 7:30 p.m., show at 8. All ages. Tickets $20, $15 students and seniors (at the door only).
Tonight (Thursday, Jan. 9) at the Textile Center: Opening reception for “A Common Thread 2020.” The annual member exhibition, now in its 20th year, will include diverse works of stitching, quilting, knitting, crochet, sewing, weaving, dyeing, felting, needlework, lacemaking, basketry, beading and more by over 100 artists. Reception from 5:30-7 p.m. After tonight, the show stays up until March 14. Free.
Tonight (Thursday, Jan. 9) at the Parkway: “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” In Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 cult classic film, David Bowie is Thomas Jerome Newton, a thin white ET who comes to Earth to get water for his dying planet. This is Bowie the actor, not Bowie the pop star, and his performance is considered one of the best by musicians in movies. Pre-show live music tribute to Bowie by Little Man. Doors at 6:30 p.m., music at 7, movie at 8. FMI and tickets ($9 advance, $11 door).
Tonight, upstairs at the Milkweed building: David Shove Midstream Reading Series. Mimi Jennings will host an evening of original poems read/performed by their creators: Athena Kildegaard, Michael S. Moos, Paige Riehl and Timothy Young. With 15 books and chapbooks among them, this is an accomplished group. The Milkweed building (not to be confused with Milkweed Publishing or Milkweed Books) is at the corner of 39th and East Lake. Milkweed is the coffee shop downstairs. 7:30 p.m. Free.
Friday through Sunday at Open Eye Theatre: Puppet Lab. The first of two weekends of experimental puppetry – where, if you think about it, anything is possible. This is the ninth year of the program created by Alison Heimstead for Heart of the Beast; now independent, still helmed by Heimstead, it’s moving to Open Eye. Weekend One will feature Ty Chapman’s “Tales of a Trickster” and Karly Berman’s “How to Be Lonely.” Weekend Two (Jan. 17-19) will include Eva Adderley’s “The Deer Child” and Oanh Vu’s “Phantom Loss.” Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Recommended for ages 13 and up. FMI and tickets ($15; $10 Economic Accessibility, limited number; pay-as-able at the door, if not sold out).
Saturday at SteppingStone Theatre: Theatre Unbound: 20th Annual 24:00:00 Xtreme Theatre Smackdown. Within 24 hours, six new plays will be written, rehearsed and performed – all by female artists based in the Twin Cities. Among the writers: Lana C. Aylesworth, Kit Bix, Cristina Luzárraga, Jena Young. The directors will include Sarah Broude, Grace Barnstead and Casey Holmes. There will be 18 actors. Everyone will take risks (including the audience, because who knows if the plays will be awesome, awful or somewhere in between?). At the end, the audience will choose the winning play, and the winners will get prizes. 8 p.m. Tickets $18-20.
Sunday at the Parkway: Liquid Music: An Evening with Pekka Kuusisto and Nico Muhly. Liquid Music’s first solo event as an LLC is nearly sold out, so you might want to get tickets now. Finnish violinist Kuusisto and American composer/pianist Muhly are two superstars in the classical/new music world, and great friends besides. Both are in town for a weekend of concerts with the SPCO. The Parkway show will be an intimate evening of music-making. Doors at 6 p.m., show at 7. FMI and tickets ($19 advance, $24 door).