by Jaime Kleiman
August 6, 2007
Think you have it covered with the Fringe? Well, there's some tassels hanging out beyond the Fringe, and . . . it's the Manna Fest, taking place at Augsburg through the 12th. Jaime Kleiman interviews some players.
This August, thereís another Fringe-type festival going on. Itís called the Manna Fest,
and itís run by Dean Seal, a former executive of the Minnesota Fringe Festival. All twenty-two shows focus on spirituality and/or religion in some way or another, and Seal has gathered an excellent lineup for the first annual event, including local and national performers. I spoke with three of the participating artists about their thoughts on faith, spirituality, and their shows. All Manna Fest performances are at Augsburg College, August 3-12. Go to the site
for detailed schedule and box office information.
Slash Coleman: The Neon Man and Me (Richmond, VA)
Whatís your show about?
The Neon Man and Me
is a tribute to a friend of mine who diedÖafter the wind blew him into a power line. A month after he died, his girlfriend found out she was pregnant. I [originally] prepared the show as a care package for all the things I wanted to give to his [unborn] son. I sat down to write stories and it ended up being 300 pages. I pared it down from that. I initially gave 100% of the money to his son and [the sonís] mom. Now I give a percentage to nonprofits.
There are nine stories and four songs I play on my guitar. Each of the stories is broken down into a major theme: trust, love, passionÖ. Itís not about the dark parts of friendship. It makes people feel good about the friendships that they have. And itís a comedy. My friend comes back to life when Iím onstage.
What does this have to do with religion?
Iím Jewish and he was a fundamental Pentecostal. It talks a lot about our unique customs and the [cultural] languages that we speak and how we found a common bond even though our beliefs were very different. We were both jazz musicians. Right before he died, we were both divorced. We experienced the same things but went on very different paths to find it.
This show has toured all over, right?
Yes. Itís been running since 2005 and has toured across the country. The big thing is now, PBS in Richmond, VA, is going to film it on October 20. Weíre doing two live shows there for free for a Richmond audience and it will air regionally this year. Itís been two years in the works, so thatís kinda cool. You can read more about it on my website
Dane Stauffer: I'm Ready to Talk About My Narcissism (San Diego, CA)
Youíre based in San Diego, right?
Iíve been here nine years doing Triple Espresso,
but Iím originally from Minnesota. Iíve worked with the Brave New Workshop, the Playwrightsí Center, the Jungle, Illusion, and the Cricket. Iíve done a lot of work with Beth Gilleland, and we have an extensive history together as a team. Iíve got another show in the Manna FestóMrs. Man of God
What does your narcissism have to do with spirituality?
The show is about my personal journeyówell, itís personal, but itís in Technicolor, for dramatic impact.
During the show, I have a phone conversation with a virtual therapist, thereís a Greek chorus thatís filling in for God, funny stuff like that. Mostly I talk with the audience. Iím grappling with the idiosyncrasies of technology and how we can email and text people and yet feel more disconnected in some ways. We feel disengaged from the political process and from what happens to us politically and spiritually, and [disempowered]. They say that your belief creates your reality, but is that only true if you believe it? Thatís one of my questions.
Heavy stuff. What does Isaac Hayes have to do with it?
Iím wearing one of Isaac Hayesís actual jumpsuits. I acquired it from a store in North Hollywood that was selling one of his touring suits. I really have to suck in my stomach when I wear it. Iím not the person to ask these [spiritually minded] questions, but Iím the first one to do it in sequins. See my webiste for more on this
Beth Gilleland: Mrs. Man of God (Minneapolis, MN)
Thatís a provocative title. Whatís the show about?
I wrote it with a friend of mine [Donald Bazzini] whose partner is a minister, so itís a true story. Itís about what itís like to be partnered with somebody in a church that is non-reconcilingómeaning they donít recognize GLBT spousesóand having to be a silent partner. Otherwise, the ministerís job will be threatened. Itís about the conflicts that arise between what Christianity purports to do and the literal aspects of the Bible, how some people quote Leviticus andÖthose issues that arise. The show has a lot of humor in it, but all of the anecdotes have been lived. Itís told through song.
What are your personal religious beliefs?
I was raised in a Congregational church, very liberal and Christian. I am a spiritual being and am kind of a church-hopper at present. I donít have a home church or home religion at the moment, but the Congregational church that I was raised in is in my bonesóthe songs, the stories, the people. So I seek out that same atmosphere, I think.
How did you get involved with the Manna Fest?
Dean Seal approached me. Mrs. Man of God
was originally done for Fresh Ink at Illusion Theater, I think in 2006. Then we were invited to perform in the national Voices United Conference, which was held at Hennepin Methodist Church. From that, we were invited to perform at the 9th Annual National Reconciling Convocation. Weíll perform for that in Nashville, Tennessee, at Vanderbilt University, on August 3. The Human Rights Campaign is flying us there.
What do you hope people take away from your show?
There should be no closed doors to human beings who want to come together and worship God, whoever they consider that to be. Everybodyís included in the love quotient.