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Susan Albright retires from MinnPost; ‘The Alpinist’ may trigger your acrophobia

ALSO: “The Bias Inside Us” at St. Cloud State University; St. Paul Chamber Orchestra opening weekend; and more.

Susan Albright, managing editor of MinnPost since the start (in the early years, she shared the job with Roger Buoen; both were formerly with the Star Tribune), has retired. Everyone at MinnPost is happy for her, sad for us.

Susan Albright
MinnPost photo by John Whiting
Susan Albright
She’ll now have more time for biking, going to arts events, hanging out with her charming husband, Richard Knuth, and their adorable, energetic whippet, and whatever else she feels like doing. But what about us? We can’t speak for everyone she edited — we’re not even sure we know everyone she edited — but we’re feeling a little unmoored at the moment.

It was Susan who asked us very late in 2011 (or maybe it was very early in 2012) if we’d like to write “a newsy, twice-weekly arts column that will focus on arts institutions, personalities, performances, money and arts politics. It will encompass all manner of arts – theater, museums, music, film, festivals, dance, puppets, touring shows – you name it.” It sounded, um, challenging. Daunting. Impossible? Plus the new column would launch in mid-January. But if Susan Albright thought we could do it, how could we say no? Fueled by her confidence, we said yes.

And then she let us write it. She didn’t tell us how to write it, or what or whom to write about, though we recall one request: a remembrance of Joan Mondale, a great supporter of the arts, when she died in 2014. There might have been a few others. Susan would occasionally forward emails about arts news and events, mostly to make sure we saw them. She edited our writing, especially the excesses, with a deft touch and without ever introducing a single error. She knew way more about AP style than we did and always will. (Curse you, AP style! Why can’t we use the Oxford comma?)

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During the orchestra lockouts of 2014, Susan kept a watchful eye on Artscape and enlisted seasoned journalist Doug Grow to do some of the heavy lifting. In July 2014, Artscape went from twice-weekly to four times a week, where it has stayed. When COVID hit and much of Artscape became irrelevant overnight, she could have put the column on hold. We thought she might. She didn’t. Instead, we worked out ways for Artscape to stay of service.

The Artscape column count is approaching 1,700, and Susan edited nearly all of them. And we haven’t even mentioned the years before Artscape, when she edited a group of arts writers after Casey Selix left MinnPost for Finance & Commerce.

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When someone reads your writing for 12 years and makes it better without being mean even once, you get attached.

The affection and gratitude we all feel for Susan was made official in a MinnPost Proclamation signed by board chair Rebecca Shavlik and read aloud by executive editor Andy Putz at a retirement event last Thursday evening. A few excerpts:

Whereas, she treated everyone she worked with, from a former governor to a student intern, with exactly the same level of dignity and respect …

Whereas, she was absolutely incapable of snarky behavior or snarky headline writing;

Whereas, she showed us all that you don’t have to be cynical to be good …

Be it resolved on this day, August 17, 2021 … that, on behalf of the entire MinnPost staff, we wish her a retirement filled with family, travel, arts, culture and the pride that comes from knowing how much of a difference she has made to MinnPost, and just how much she will be missed.

Review: ‘The Alpinist’ may trigger your acrophobia

If you don’t want to watch someone scale a 900-foot mountain alone in Patagonia in the winter, toeing his crampons into ice, digging with his hands through snow, emerging on the summit, which is not very wide, don’t see “The Alpinist.”

Much of this eye-popping documentary, which opens Friday in theaters, shows young Canadian climber Marc-André Leclerc climbing — or flowing — up rock walls and frozen waterfalls. He’s clinging to a mountain or hanging in mid-air, trusting his life to tiny fissures, razor-sharp flakes, the strength of his fingers and the friction of rubber-soled shoes. We see him close-up, filling the screen, and from a great distance, a small dot on a vertical surface.

Leclerc is the unwilling star of “The Alpinist,” a film by Peter Mortimer (“The Dawn Wall”) and Nick Rosen that has been called this year’s “Free Solo.” That film told the story of Alex Honnold and his hair-raising free climb of El Capitan. It won the 2019 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature and eight primetime Emmys.

The Alpinist
Courtesy of Universal Pictures Content Group and Roadside Attractions
But while Honnold, who appears as a talking head in “The Alpinist,” is outgoing, Leclerc is reclusive. He’s interested in just one thing: the adventure of the solo climb. Well, two things. His girlfriend, Brette Harrington, is also a highly skilled climber. When they meet, Leclerc is living in a stairwell, and she eventually moves in with him. Later, they upgrade to a small tent.

A free spirit in his 20s with faraway eyes, an easy smile and an unruly mop of hair, Leclerc was diagnosed early with ADHD. His supportive mother homeschooled him and fed his voracious reading habit with adventure books. He started climbing as a child and kept it up, climbing higher and faster with greater confidence and ease.

Even when Leclerc was accomplishing amazing feats, even though climbing has exploded in popularity, very few people knew much about him or the type of climbing he was doing. An Alpinist is someone who climbs big, technical mountains. It’s not just a sport, it’s an ideal. The ultimate expression of freedom is to climb alone. Half of the leading Alpinists have died during climbs.

While Leclerc agrees to let Mortimer and Rosen make a movie about him, he doesn’t really know what that means. At one point, he gives the directors the slip, going off to Baffin Island and Scotland, his climbs showing up in other climbers’ social media posts. He doesn’t share information about himself. He doesn’t have a phone. “I had one for a while,” he says, “and I left it in a stuff sack with some smoked salmon and it got stolen by a wild fox. I feel I’m better off without one.” In Harrington’s words, he’s “super socially awkward.”

To Leclerc, a solo climb isn’t a solo climb if anyone else comes along, including someone with a camera. He’ll do the climb on his own first, then do it a second time for film. But the first time belongs only to him. “You control what you’re doing,” Leclerc says at one point. “You can’t control what the mountain is doing. The mountains are alive all around you and you’re kind of at their mercy.”

If you liked “Free Solo,” you’ll probably (mostly) love “The Alpinist.” It’s in the family of alluring documentaries that follow the fearless ones, those who climb impossibly high mountains, go on polar expeditions, fly into space and journey to the very bottom of the sea. We can’t imagine being them, but we’re drawn to them and their stories. “The Alpinist” opens Friday at the AMC Eden Prairie 18, AMC Southdale 16, Emagine Lakeville 21 and Rosedale 14. Here’s the trailer.

The picks

V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.

The Bias Inside Us
Courtesy of the Science Museum of Minnesota
The Bias Inside Us
L Now in the Atwood Gallery at St. Cloud State University: “The Bias Inside Us.” A traveling exhibition and community engagement project from the Smithsonian, “The Bias Inside Us” started its 40-city national tour at the Science Museum of Minnesota earlier this year, where its stay and accessibility were cut short by COVID. After zipping around the Midwest, it has settled into St. Cloud State until Sept. 19, when it will pack up and head to the Arts Partnership in Fargo.

St. Cloud isn’t that far from the Twin Cities, the exhibition is free and the topic couldn’t be more important or timely. Bias is part of being human; bias influences our behavior; bias has serious consequences; we can learn to recognize, understand and counter our implicit bias. The exhibition is designed for middle-school children to young adults. Imagine the conversations you’ll have in the car on the way home, and for years afterward. 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, noon-8 p.m. Sunday.  FMI. Here’s a preview. Note: The exhibition is partially funded by the Otto Bremer Trust, which is also a sponsor of MinnPost.

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L Tonight (Wednesday, Sept. 8) at Icehouse: Park Evans with Brandon Wozniak, Jake Baldwin, Brian Courage and Greg Schutte. What a lineup! Guitarist Park Evans now lives in Seattle, bassist Brian Courage in New York. They used to live here as part of our active jazz scene, and they both happen to be here now. They have assembled a stellar group of friends — Brandon Wozniak on saxophones, Jake Baldwin on trumpet, Greg Schutte on drums — for what can only be a joyous reunion (for fans, too) and a great night of music. Indoor show. FMI and tickets ($16 cover).

V Thursday, Sept. 9, 7:30 p.m. on Facebook Live: Theatre in the Round Players: TRP Readings in the Round: “As We Knew It.” When tragedy and loss happen at a distance, we see them as happening to others. When we know someone involved, we have an opportunity to change our biases. Linda Paulsen will direct a reading of L. Robert Westeen’s new play. With Samuel Joseph, Diana Jurand, Hugh Kirsch and Gretchen Nelson. TRP plans to return to its stage at Seven Corners for its 70th season starting Oct. 1. FMI.

L Friday and Saturday, Sept. 10 and 11, 8 p.m. at the Ordway Concert Hall: St. Paul Chamber Orchestra: Opening Weekend: Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. After what the SPCO calls “an almost unbearably long hiatus,” the orchestra will perform for a live, in-person audience this weekend. The audience will be capped at 50% and other COVID protocols will be in place. The music — by Rossini, Tyson Davis, Viet Cuong, Valerie Coleman, Osvaldo Golijov, Bach and Tchaikovsky — will be led by SPCO musicians. FMI and tickets ($12-50 adults, free for kids and students).

Stuart Loughridge etching
Courtesy of Groveland Gallery
Stuart Loughridge etching
L Saturday, Sept. 11, 12-5 p.m. at Groveland Gallery: Opening reception for “Stuart Loughridge: Prints & Paintings.” When we first met second-generation artist Loughridge, he was sitting at the bar at the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul, creating watercolor sketches of jazz musicians. Most recently, we ran into him at the State Fair’s Fine Arts Show, which included one of his copper-plate etchings. This will be Loughridge’s first solo exhibition at Groveland Gallery, which specializes in local and regional art. It will feature more than 30 works of art, all in handcrafted frames made by the artist. At 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18, and 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, Loughridge will give etching demonstrations of printing the copper plate. FMI. Closes Oct. 16.