This August, there’s another Fringe-type festival going on. It’s called the Manna Fest, and it’s 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)
What’s your show about?
The Neon Man and Me is a tribute to a friend of mine who died…after 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 son’s] 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, passion…. It’s not about the dark parts of friendship. It makes people feel good about the friendships that they have. And it’s a comedy. My friend comes back to life when I’m onstage.
What does this have to do with religion?
I’m 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. It’s 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. We’re doing two live shows there for free for a Richmond audience and it will air regionally this year. It’s been two years in the works, so that’s kinda cool. You can read more about it on my website.
Dane Stauffer: I'm Ready to Talk About My Narcissism (San Diego, CA)
You’re based in San Diego, right?
I’ve been here nine years doing Triple Espresso, but I’m originally from Minnesota. I’ve worked with the Brave New Workshop, the Playwrights’ Center, the Jungle, Illusion, and the Cricket. I’ve done a lot of work with Beth Gilleland, and we have an extensive history together as a team. I’ve got another show in the Manna Fest—Mrs. Man of God [with Beth].
What does your narcissism have to do with spirituality?
The show is about my personal journey—well, it’s personal, but it’s in Technicolor, for dramatic impact.
During the show, I have a phone conversation with a virtual therapist, there’s a Greek chorus that’s filling in for God, funny stuff like that. Mostly I talk with the audience. I’m 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? That’s one of my questions.
Heavy stuff. What does Isaac Hayes have to do with it?
I’m wearing one of Isaac Hayes’s 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. I’m not the person to ask these [spiritually minded] questions, but I’m the first one to do it in sequins. See my webiste for more on this.
Beth Gilleland: Mrs. Man of God (Minneapolis, MN)
That’s a provocative title. What’s the show about?
I wrote it with a friend of mine [Donald Bazzini] whose partner is a minister, so it’s a true story. It’s about what it’s like to be partnered with somebody in a church that is non-reconciling—meaning they don’t recognize GLBT spouses—and having to be a silent partner. Otherwise, the minister’s job will be threatened. It’s about the conflicts that arise between what Christianity purports to do and the literal aspects of the Bible, how some people quote Leviticus and…those issues that arise. The show has a lot of humor in it, but all of the anecdotes have been lived. It’s 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 don’t have a home church or home religion at the moment, but the Congregational church that I was raised in is in my bones—the 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. We’ll 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. Everybody’s included in the love quotient.