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.
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.
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.(5 Comments)
Jim Denomie, R. Vincent Moniz Jr and Heid Erdrich were part of a panel discussion held at Minnesota Public Radio on August 8, 2012
Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with author and fiber artist Gwen Westerman, painter and sculptor Jim Denomie, actor and spoken word artist R. Vincent Moniz, Jr. and poet Heid Erdrich. We talked about many things, including what it means to be a contemporary Native artist working in a world that still has stereotypical notions of what it means to be an American Indian.
Listen to the conversation:
The conversation is part of a series of listening sessions in which MPR staff members engage with artists from diverse communities to find out more about what issues are most important to them. You can find the first of those conversations here.
Gwen Westerman says that right now is actually a great time to be a Native artist, in part because of the Legacy Amendment, which has helped to fund artistic projects and cultural intitiatives.
It's not just the money that helps get this flow going; it has a lot to do with the energy we as Native people share in terms of telling our stories. And we've been telling our stories for a long time in a lot of different ways.
I think it's a good time in that people are ready to listen - ready to listen with their eyes, with their ears, ready to listen with their hearts and minds as well, so while the river's getting crowded we're all going with the flow here and it's impressive to me to be a part of group efforts over the last couple of years because we don't collaborate, but when all the pieces are put together it's an incredible story. There's a strong, strong thread that's woven through everything that we do, so to me that says that we're all in a good place, and that we're all coming from the same place as well, from our hearts and our heads.
Visual artist Jim Denomie agrees that now is a great time to be an artist - he says that attitudes toward his work have changed dramatically over the years, for the better.
When I first went back to art school I felt an expectation by a lot of people to do native art - Indian art and in most people's minds it's a stereotypical genre - imagery of buffaloes and teepees, spirits and eagles and things. I grew up in South Minneapolis as a contemporary Native American person; I didn't grow up traditionally or on a reservation so my world view incorporates a contemporary experience. And so my work reflects that. But I also work in the traditional storytelling aspect and so when I was creating some of these contemporary political, social stories visually it wasn't understood and therefore not critiqued and supported by my professors, my art teachers at the U.
People would say 'why don't you paint a good Indian painting and go down to Sante Fe? you'd make a lot of money.' And I'd say, 'well if I'm in this just to make money I could be painting Elvis on black velvet.' It was a choice to be honest and innovative. And when you put yourself out there and you take a risk... you're subject to criticism and disappointment. But the response has been great by my fellow community members and the art community at large in terms of recognition and grants and museum collections. It all just encourages me to keep moving forward.
Actor and spoken word artist R. Vincent Moniz
While the audience for Native art has improved over the years, actor and spoken word artist Vincent Moniz says there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to teach people to respect Native cultures. He gave the example of a Tumblr site called "Hipsters in Headdresses" which calls out non-Indians, predominantly young white women, who pose for photos wearing headdresses as a sort of fashion statement.
And I think for me the frustration is that that larger stereotype has seeped into the Twin Cities here... there's a ... I don't know what to call it - a really overt 'hipster racism' - a kind of "oh no, I know the headdress was worn by specific leaders of your race but I'm doing it ironically - it's funny." And I really feel like there is a subconscious want to know more about us and so you reach into what you have and what you have is basic stereotypes - 'Indians wear headdresses and put on face paint.' There's even a T-shirt line where there's an Indian woman all in white surrounded by wolves... or the Urban Outfitters with their Navajo underpants. That was funny!
There are way more teaching moments out there than there are "oh you get it, you understand what you're doing." You have to reach past the decapitated heads on baking powder, or the football logo, or wherever it is, because our particular oppression is a commercialized nightmare. So it's important to be able to have these teaching moments - to be able to say I'm not that headdress - THIS is how it is.
Poet Heid Erdrich
Poet Heid Erdrich says these stereotypes are still ever-present in the publishing world.
In literature it's such a fine line. People will take on the voices of native people, there are genre books written about native people which will always outsell any book written by an indigenous person. I don't know how we'll ever catch up except that there's a lot more of us in this hemisphere - the book will be gone before we catch up! More books are written everyday about Native people than by Native people. So it's really really difficult. And it's not commercial to tell the story of a people who don't have redemption at the heart of their narrative. We don't get Oprah books because we don't have an easy ending - we don't have that same sense of history as a closed loop - I think - I think we have more a sense a time repeating and I don't want to generalize too much but I think that the story is not over, the story always continues is not satisfying necessarily to other people.
The indigenous people who do get big grants in this country often are people who will capitulate to the stereotypes - even though they may be excellent writers - I still believe they capitulate to the stereotypes and often play to a non-native audience. And when you actually are writing to a native audience, people don't get it. They're like "there's no leather and feathers here - there's no beads, no spirituality, no bowl of stubbed out sage in the middle of your poem - this isn't an Indian poem." They might not even recognize it whereas Native people might, and I'm saying "might" because we're a diverse peoples even within individual tribal groups - you have so many different ways of experiencing your cultures. So I think appropriation for writers is complete. That is the norm, and the true Native voice has just a little squeaky place to fit in - it's very difficult. People still don't accept it - they don't like the vision, they're not happy with the politics involved - I think it's really really difficult.
That said there are some amazing new writers right now who I'm really happy to read.
Many thanks to Heid Erdrich, R. Vincent Moniz Jr., Jim Denomie and Gwen Westerman for participating in this series.
All photos by MPR reporter Nikki Tundel(3 Comments)
Today the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra released the details of its latest contract proposal for its musicians.
The contract would reduce the size of the SPCO to 28 musicians; the SPCO employs 31 musicians, with an additional three positions currently vacant.
The annual minimum compensation for musicians would be $62,500, about a 15% reduction from last year's figure of $73,732.
New musicians would receive $50,000 of guaranteed annual salary.
The proposal employs the musicians for 36 weeks, with 32 performance weeks and four vacation weeks.
Included with the proposal is a retirement package for musicians 55 and older that would be paid out over three years.
You can read the entire proposal here.
Posted at 3:09 PM on September 7, 2012
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Theater
James Williams, Namir Smallwood and Gavin Lawrence star in 'The Brothers Size'
This weekend marks the opening of Pillsbury House Theatre's latest production, "The Brothers Size," on stage at the Guthrie Theater through September 29.
Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the play follows the struggles of two brothers as they try to renew their relationship after the younger one returns home from prison.
James Williams plays the part of the older brother, Ogun Size. He says the entire story boils down to unconditional love.
Anybody can love somebody when they're doing good, the trick is - how do you give somebody what they need when they need it, and allow them space to be themselves. What happens when what I want for you isn't what you want for you? And all the things I want for you are based in love.
Williams says the issue is a particularly sensitive one for African American men.
You don't see representations of love between African American men on stage a lot - it manifests itself in our lives in a different way. There's a trauma in a lot of our lives that goes all the way back to the plantation, where you don't dare love anything because it can be taken from you at any given time, and there's nothing you can do about it. So we've come up with this manifestation of manhood, of how we think it's supposed to work, that realistically covers years and years of trauma and pain... it's not an excuse, it's just there. And on top of that we're in a society where we're told men don't cry, we end up having all these great feelings - we're capable of writing great poems, making beautiful jazz, but one of the hardest things in the world is to look another being in the eyes and say I love you. And a big part of that is because I don't know what that means - I can't recognize it in you because I don't know what it's like in me.
Williams, who has starred in other work by McCraney, says he's I've never run into a playwright that says more 'in an ellypsis' than he does. Williams says there's a truth that rings out in what's not said in as much as what is said.
Tarell Alvin McCraney is also the author of "In the Red and Brown Water" which Pillsbury House Theater staged in May of last year.
Dominique Serrand, Steve Epp (left)and Nathan Keepers are throwing a party this weekend. The founders of the Moving Company say the idea is to have some fun, but also get a little serious about what they are doing.
"To just talk about the work, and the future," said Serrand. "We call it 'Footprint.' And to talk about the past and how we will manage the work in the future."
The trio rose from the rubble of Theater de la Jeune Lune, the much celebrated company which collapsed in 2008 under the weight of accumulated debt as the economy tanked. Now Serrand says they are working on creating a three part model for a national company.
"It's a partnership with universities in terms of creating the work," he said of the first part. So far they have developed pieces at UC Davis, and more recently at the U of M, where "The War Within" was developed as a student production. Projects at UNC and the University of Iowa are now in the works.
"It's great because we get commissioned, so it is not a burden on the company," Serrand said."Not only are we developing the work when we get there, but we are teaching. And we are scouting the landscape and see new and young artists with whom we want to work in the future. So it's all benefit."
The second element in the Moving Company Grand Plan is to then develop the work for professional theater.
"The next part, which I guess is the most difficult, is once tjhe work has been researched through this collaboration is to bring the work up on its feet here in Minneapolis, which requires investment," says Serrand.
That happened with "The War Within" which received a professional production a few months after its run at the U of M.
Finally the Moving Company wants to place their shows in other parts of the country.
"The last part, which is to get picked up, takes time," says Serrand. He says companies are planning a year and a half in advance.
At the gathering this weekend they hope to spread the word to supporters. Serrand is working on a video, and they are even hoping to raise a little money.
It's not an easy time to be doing this. This week Penumbra Theater announced it laid off staff and cancelled all its shows for the season.
"I have been there so I know how it goes," said Serrand. "When I looked at the article in the paper I went 'Oh no! Not again!"
However he says he thinks Penumbra is very smart to hold on.
He says there are always doubts when you try something.
"You never know if it will succeed. But to quote the big man last night," he said referring to the convention speech by President Obama," I would say, these kinds of efforts that we are doing, that we are making on our own, give us all hope. And so we need to pursue what we are doing and hopefully things will get better."