It was the early summer of 1999. I had been living in the Stevens Square neighborhood of Minneapolis for a year, following graduation from Grinnell College. I was working part-time for Twin Cities Free-Net and spending the rest of my time absorbing the many opportunities the Twin Cities had to offer. I was volunteering with the neighborhood organization (SSCO), among other places.
SSCO had a silent auction as a fundraiser in the spring, and I won a season ticket for the Minnesota Fringe Festival, which was held at about 20 different locations all within walking distance of my apartment. I'm not normally a fan of live theatre because I tend to feel I can get better value for my money from a recording, but this was different -- all the shows had intimately small audiences, none of it was being recorded, and besides, it was already paid for! I informed my colleagues at TCFN that I'd be mostly unavailable that week, and I decided to attend as many shows as I possibly could.
Out of the dozens of shows I saw that week, a few stand out in my memory. There was a one-woman show of The Yellow Wallpaper that positively made my skin crawl, but in a good way. Another one-woman show of The Glass Menagerie was like a punch to the gut. Lighter fare included a show called "The Car" where the audience rode in the back of three different cars while the performers were in the front seats, driving around downtown and carrying on in character. They pulled over in parking lots so we could switch cars and the performance could continue. I remember the rousing finale had all the quirky characters line dancing to "Convoy" cranked up on one of the cars' stereos.
But the one that I think of most often, I don't even remember the title of, and I don't remember most of the plot. What I remember is that the main character was a genetically-engineered houseplant with an active fantasy life. When other characters were in the room, the plant (played by a young man) was upside down in his pot with his legs waving like fronds in the breeze, but when he was alone, he mimed his fantasies of being a superhero!
In one of these scenes, accompanied by the full-length Superman theme (at right), he was looking around the apartment for ways to test his super powers, and after jumping over the sofa and such, his gaze fell on an ordinary folding chair. Somehow he felt (communicating all this through mime) that fitting himself through the hole in the back of the chair would demonstrate his powers, so with apparent difficulty he squeezed through the back of the chair. As the music continued, he did it again, more easily this time. Then again, a different way. By the climax of the piece, he took a running leap at the chair and dived through it, tucking and rolling like a Chinese acrobat! The crowd went wild!
A day or two after I saw the show, the Fringe Festival held a "sampler" event in Stevens Square Park to try to entice people to see some shows. Each show participating in the sampler got 5 minutes to give a representative sample of what people could expect to see. Since the Superman theme is over 4 minutes long by itself, that was the scene the folks from this show decided to do. I was thrilled to see it again, but out of the context of the show it made no sense to the rest of the audience. No one could understand why this guy was passing himself through a chair.
I think of this scene practically every time I see a folding chair. Most of them don't have big enough holes in the back for even a skinny person to fit through, let alone dive through, but I know it can be done!