Friends remember theater technician Andrew Wagner

Earlier this week the Duluth News Tribune reported that a hiker had discovered Andrew Wagner’s body inside his car on a logging road near the city of Orr, Minnesota.

The cause of death is believed to be suicide.

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Andrew Wagner

Wagner, known in the Twin Cities theater community for his inventive set pieces, went missing on May 3, a week after his good friend lighting designer Jen DeGolier died.

Before disappearing Wagner said goodbye to several people, and visited the grave of a friend who had died five years earlier.

In the weeks following his disappearance, friends led a search effort for him.

Now those friends and colleagues are coming to terms with the reality of his death. I asked a few of them to share their memories.

From Bedlam Theater’s John Francis Bueche:

I think of Andrew as a WHY NOT kind of person constantly ruffling feathers in an I DON’T KNOW MAYBE kind of world.

Not flashy and out front, but where it really counts, behind the scenes, grabbing on to visions and making ‘em happen. He was a skilled, determined workhorse who filled the smoke breaks speaking philosophically, poetically and passionately about why performance mattered.

He was full of fun onstage as well, whether straight up theater, fronting a band or impersonating Elvis. Produced/directed consistently mad cap adventures. But his extreme generosity as a collaborator is what truly identifies him.

For Bedlam’s 2002 sci-fi hit TERMINUS we had a few hundred bucks and Andrew Wagner to engineer a 36ft diameter spinning spaceship to wrap around the audience. 2004 I think of him working with the creative team of UNHINGED to help them become their own designers, in a few hours skipping over years of schooling to discover what a wide open community effort can accomplish. 2006 with a teetering load of rusty bicycle frames heading to the A Mill Machine shop to invent the world for Frank’s MOTHER COURAGE. All nighters to make holiday sets for Miss Richfield through the early 2000s at Illusion Theater. Last year, one of my favorite projects was installing 178 local-made puppets into the McGuire auditorium at the Walker – Andrew was there to smoothly say, yes, this other puppet should fit, yes, its worth this one being twisted just three feet to the left… refusing to stop until every little creature was just so.

In the meantime, there were wash-tub basses to create the soundtrack to a cabaret, heading out to see what a “Draft Horse Field Day” is all about, discussing the next big idea over pancakes.

There are thinkers, and doers… Andrew was both and then some.

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Andrew Wagner and John Francis Bueche transporting the wagon from Frank Theatre’s production of Mother Courage

Image courtesy Wendy Knox

From Frank Theatre’s Wendy Knox:

Andrew helped Bueche build the set for MOTHER COURAGE, including building a wonderful old cart out of recycled bicycle parts. It was awesome and when the show closed, we couldn’t trash it. It was part of a “parade” from the A mill where the show took place to Andrew’s then home in Seward, where it lived in his back yard, serving as an outdoor bar and other things for a few years. When Andrew moved from that apartment, he called me and asked if I wanted the wagon. Of course, I said yes. So he and Bueche walked/dragged the wagon through the Seward neighborhood, across the then new Sabo bridge, past the Hi-Lake shopping center, through Corcoran to my house, where it has lived for the past several years.That trip caused more people to stop and wonder than you can imagine; it was an awesome piece of performance art. Just last April, I said to Bueche that I thought the wagon needed one more outing and that I thought Bedlam should take it for a ride in the May Day parade. Bueche had been texting Andrew about that possibility just before he disappeared. During the time that he has been gone, the wagon has sat behind my garage as a kind of haunting memory of Andrew, but the memory of the absolute ridiculous day that the guys dragged the thing over here is a heart-warming reminder of Andrew’s fabulous spirit.

From choreographer Megan Mayer:

I was so sad to read about Andrew’s death, even though we’d suspected he wasn’t coming back based on what folks had known of his leaving town. Still, so very sad.

I didn’t know Andrew well, but I had the pleasure of working with him a couple times. Once when he was crew chief for the Walker/Southern Momentum New Dance Works (2009) and he made us laugh and feel so at ease backstage when I was terribly nervous. Then again a few years ago shortly after he’d left the Walker. I needed some set pieces built for a dance piece I was premiering at The Southern (June ’10), and he enthusiastically offered to do the work. Not only did he make beautiful work that exceeded my expectations, he charged a generously fair price for his efforts.

I knew he’d done work with Bedlam, and my impression of him has always been to be extremely supportive of the artists involved with any work he did. He believed strongly in what people were doing and did everything in his power to help execute that vision.

If you have a memory of Andrew Wagner you’d like to share, please add it in the comments section.