In bad weather, the show must go on

This morning newscasters were warning pedestrians that “exposed flesh will freeze in two to five minutes.” Lovely.

Thankfully Mother Nature’s version of payback has hit the Twin Cities on a Monday, a day when most performance companies and arts venues are dark.

But don’t think today’s cold weather would have stopped artists from giving their all.

I asked folks to think back to some of the most challenging weather conditions they’ve had to perform under, and stories came flooding in.

From actress Annie Enneking:

Many years ago, when I was a student performer at the Children’s Theatre Company, there was a pretty incredible snowstorm. Eight people made their way to the theater to see “The Mystery of the Tattered Trunk.” Wendy Lehr and I went out on stage to talk to the audience. Wendy thanked them for coming, but said the storm was going to get much worse while we were all in the theater together. We said we’d do the show for them, but that they should feel free to leave and get their money back. A woman good naturally hollered, “Well, we’re here and we’re staying!” And we said, “We will gladly do the show for you!!” We had them all clump together in the fourth row and did the show. It was my favorite show.

Tim Uren, Joseph Scrimshaw, Kathy Welch and Alayne Hopkins performed in a downpour to an audience in Como Park.
(Photo courtesy of the artist)

Actress Kathy Welch writes:

In summer 2005 when Como Town at Como Park was just opening the Old Gem Theater was hired to perform our “Goldilocks and the Three Hawaiian Bears” on an outdoor stage. We had been rained out for several days so when there was finally a day that was merely cloudy, we were anxious to do the show. As the sky darkened, we decided “well, as long as the audience is willing to sit through a shower, we will perform. If they stay, we’ll play.” I remember sitting down to a bowl of “too hot porridge” with Tim Uren (Papa Bear,) Joseph Scrimshaw (Baby Bear) and Alayne Hopkins (Goldilocks) as the sky opened up and drenched us while dissolving our papier mache porridge bowls. The audience ran for cover under nearby trees but continued to watch so we finished the play getting soaked to the skin while they looked on in dry comfort.

From singer Anna George Meek:

Philip Brunelle is [in]famous for never canceling a rehearsal, not once in 45 years. When the sky was purple, we congregated at Plymouth Church anyway, and as the tornado ripped through downtown Minneapolis, we merely went to sing in the basement instead. Once during a snowstorm, the electricity went out in Plymouth Church; we just plowed our way to a neighboring church and picked up where we left off. I have skated, pushed, plowed, rowed, and slid my way to sing for VocalEssence, no matter the weather or audience size. Tomorrow night, we’re scheduled for our first rehearsal of 2014. Will we still have it, despite -13 degree weather, before windchill? Yup, you betcha.

Lillian Egner, Program Manager at The Soap Factory, reminded me that her gallery’s building has no heating, which has led to a few installations that were challenged by the weather:

In 2009 we installed Clive Murphy’s “Almost Nothing” exhibition. At the time I was a volunteer helping with installation. We learned a couple of important lessons about installing at The Soap Factory in the winter. First, tape (even special “cold weather tape”) doesn’t stick when it’s below freezing. We were taping together segments of black plastic bags for his inflatable, geometric sculptures. Our volunteer team worked out a system of ironing the tape during assembly to bond the plastic & adhesive. It was a cold and tedious process. But, the finished sculptures were sturdy and stunning… until a visitor sat on one during the opening.

Andrea Steudel writes that even before the performance, site specific rehearsals can get pretty intense:

Back in 2009 I participated in the first Art(ists) on the Verge fellowship through Northern Lights and my project, “Mobile Shadow Projection Theater” brought mobile shadow puppetry and animation into urban spaces specifically throughout the winter. This picture shows a demo that I gave on a day when it was -26 degrees.

Andrea Steudel, Avye Alexandres, Kevin Obsatz and Pramila Vasudevan rehearse in frigid winter temps.
(Photo by Steve Dietz)

John Bueche, co-artistic director of the ever scrappy Bedlam Theater, says weather problems fit right into the company’s aesthetic:

Bedlam Theatre‘s “Ubu (100 Years of Pure Sh*t)” at Red Eye in January of ’96 was really cold. A pipe burst in the wall between the bathrooms in the middle of the show, water filled the lobby,and the cast decided it was ok to continue because the water was freezing fast enough that they could make an ice dam to contain the water before it flooded the dressing room. The fire department came to shut off the water. It being Red Eye, with the lobby/bathrooms in the back, the fire fighters had to walk in front of the audience to get to the water. It being Bedlam in the nineties, the audience assumed it was just part of the show (a barely noticeable part).

Poet and writer Bryan Thao Worra writes:

Nor Sanavongsay and I just had our big dual book release for DEMONSTRA and the children’s book A Sticky Mess on December 30th in North Minneapolis when the weather was climbing up from -9 to 1 degree. It’s not every year you see two Lao American books released, but the snow was about as big a contrast as you could get for people from a tropical nation, all huddling together from the cold. No one really wanted to take their jackets off that night. Go figure.

Nor Sanavongsay reads from “A Sticky Mess” at a chilly launch party. (Photo: Bryan Thao Worra)

For Liz Neerland, it wasn’t a production but the moving of her theater company into its new home that ended up falling on a major weather event:

Our old rehearsal space was on Stinson and Broadway, so it wasn’t too far of a move, but we had everything tightly coordinated. Moving a theater company sucks in the best of circumstances. We had whole crews of volunteers scheduled in shifts, the truck rented, the order of moving things planned. Then the snow started. We had to go ahead with things anyway, because we had a deadline to get out of the old space. Everyone who was scheduled for the morning shift was still able to get out of their driveway and showed up. No one who was scheduled for the later shift was able to make it, but everyone stayed to help. Company member Mitch Frazier, who is awesome, brought a snowblower in the back of his truck. He basically spent all day in the various parking lots. The loading part wasn’t too bad. There was a loading dock at the old space and our theater has a big garage door we can back straight up to. But the roads got worse and worse. We had a 24′ truck. Bringing the 3rd load into the new space’s parking lot, I got the truck stuck in the driveway. There was so much snow I misjudged where the curb was and got stuck. So there we are, fully loaded 24′ truck sticking out into Central Ave. It took about half an hour to get the truck moving. We got it as close to the garage door as we could, unloaded that puppy, and walked away. A bunch of the crew crashed at our condo that night. We ordered Black Sheep pizza and walked down the middle of a deserted Washington Ave. to pick it up.

For nimbus theatre, the move-in date into their new space also happened to fall on the same day as a major blizzard in December of 2010.
(Photo courtesy of the artist)

Neerland adds that the fun didn’t stop there:

We didn’t have heat in the space for a while, because it had been vacant for 6 years. Right after we moved in we had callbacks for “The Balcony.” All the ladies showed up dressed to read for the part of Irma, the madam who runs the brothel. But it was so damn cold in there we just had a bunch of scantily-clad women in their winter coats strutting around.

But musician John Munson says artists don’t have it all bad:

What I remember both as a fan and as one who has at times had fans: music fans standing outside in the cold waiting to get into a show at First Ave when the temps are subzero, the steam rising off of them, mixed with tobacco, mixed with anticipation of frosty horrible beers inside. It’s the fans that deserve the recognition and to whom goes the glory!

Amen to that. What’s the worst weather you’ve endured in order to see a show?

  • reidmc

    Anytime I am overtaken with nostalgia for my days playing rock n roll, thinking about loading and unloading gear in January wipes it out in seconds.