The cold concrete stockroom space of downtown Minneapolis’ Sound Gallery has been temporarily transformed into a theater, despite the very obvious lack of a common playhouse’s crush-velvet elegance. A cast of 20-somethings frantically change behind folding screens, preparing to dash out into the mock-proscenium and blossom into patchwork, scallywag pirates. Painted-blue lawn chairs are their seven seas and orange-yellow dartboards their setting suns. Bodies twist and tumble, swirling about to a romantic rock opus as puppeteers drift past with stalks of delicate paper birds.
When: Previews Thursday, September 6, 8 p.m., Opens Friday, September 7, 8 p.m. Runs until September 16.
Where:The Bedlam Theatre, 1501 Sixth St. S., Minneapolis
Tickets: $12, (612) 341-1038, www.myspace.com/idigaragua
No horned Viking helmets or warbling fat ladies here – the stale idea of a night at the opera has now been shattered, and it’s thanks to Fort Wilson Riot, a quartet of sound scientists who can currently be found on the rehearsal’s sidelines, dressed like bandits, making more like Freddy Mercury than Figaro.
“Idigaragua” is their latest ear-pleasing, mind-tickling venture, a collective project inspired by books, Broadway and the big screen they’ve appropriately deemed an “indie-rock opera.” And though there is an accompanying album to the stage show, the stunning dramatics of its sprawling narrative could not be contained to a by-the-numbers CD release. “Idigaragua” is meant to represent something bigger and bolder, both the evolution of a band and their sense of communal collaboration.
“We want to transcend what people think about musicals,” said director Jeremey Catterton, a friend of Fort Wilson Riot who packed his bags and headed hell-bent back to Minneapolis after hearing only a few songs. “We want them to say they’ve never seen anything like this before.”
No doubt. As you take in this troupe of off-the-cuff harlequins weaving a carnivalesque hour of magical realism and modern political pathos, you get the sense that – though it touches upon aged influences – this is of a new, rare and very beautiful design, a something unlike most anything else.
“Idigaragua” is an adult fairytale with a bumbling, puckish protagonist at its heart. Inspired by the short stories of Paul Bowles (specifically “A Distant Episode” and “Tapiana”), it traces the across-the-pond misadventures of this “man of papers,” a naïve Western journalist who gets kidnapped by pirates. Desperate to save his neck, he promises them positive publicity and then retreats deep into a peaceful village to lay low. Though the journalist arrives with good intentions, he ends up obliterating the untouched land with the thick toxic gas of globalization.
During these and other plights, he is followed by an ethereal winged creature and her haunting chant of “Idigaragua Ö nadie me quiere” (which literally translates as “nobody likes me”). She takes several transformations, including lover, mother to his children and, eventually, a menacing figure that doggedly trails our anti-hero to ensure he pays duly for his foolish actions.
Now a five-part epic with a cut-and-paste collage of genres (including pop, punk, cabaret, jazz Ö and hip-hop?) and lyrics so story-like a whole literature class curriculum could gleefully surround them, it’s hard to fathom that “Idigaragua” was originally among Fort Wilson Riot’s infant attempts at song craft.
After playing a friend’s wedding in August of 2004, the band’s four multifunctional members – Amy Hager (vocals, guitar, keys, and trumpet), Jacob Mullins (vocals, guitar), Joe Goggins (bass, vocals) and Ben Smith (drums, percussion) – decided they couldn’t keep a good spectacle down, co-perfecting their untraditional musical approach with all the flamboyant costumes, choreographed dancing and beat-boxing necessary to make them one of Minneapolis’ most beloved live acts.
“Everything we do is 100 percent collaboration,” Smith said of Fort Wilson Riot’s sound teamwork. “We all write an equal amount, even if it means that the four of us have to sit at a piano and trade bits of lyrics. There’s so much freedom, we always seem to keep moving.”
Goggins claims that most songs have an initial creative pioneer who defines the shape the song might take, and Hager praises how each member brings “a different world” to the table. Fan favorite “Five Fierce Jokes” is a perfect example of this quadruple contribution, a song-series of gags at the federal government’s expense. With the fat bass lines and fluttering vocal harmonies, it’s got a little bit of each of them, like a cocktail of individual influences.
When Fort Wilson Riot realized “Idigaragua” was to become a new breed of musical monster, Catterton swept in to lend his all-encompassing stage smarts. The goal? To translate the band’s efforts into a parade of visuals meant for a theater-going audience. They had already made a beautiful mess; now they needed instruction on how not only to make sense of it, but to create a show that could cushion it (“It was beyond us,” admitted Goggins). Plans were made, auditions were held, and a partnership of visionaries came together to help “Idigaragua” take flight.
“We could never have done this if not for this city,” Mullins swore. “It’s such a huge pool of resources that’s so easily accessible to artists.”
Catterton said that the group considered several spaces as potential hosts, but always kept the Bedlam Theatre at the top of their list. To them, its love of all things odd and avant-garde would help truly nurture a DIY approach.
“They were actually excited about our project and willing to offer support,” he explained. “We could do whatever we wanted, and they don’t expect us to compromise.”
For Hager, it was a match made in heaven.
“That venue is beautiful,” she added. “It just had the right atmosphere, like we were meant to be there.”
And anyway, just the chance to perform the once-small vision that snowballed into something incredible, is exciting enough.
“Because it took so long, it became such a part of me,” continued Hager. “It meant enough just to put it on an album. I feel so happy, like these songs deserve it.”
“Idigaragua” will place its creators on an elevated platform while their actors enact each scene and lip-synch each lyric. Though it’s poised to be the production on everyone’s lips (and the inspiration of many more to come), the band still insists that the simple, sweet art of entertainment comes first. The best success is, after all, having the ability to consistently do your craft.
“We want to make something cohesive and creative, something people can have a great time with,” said Smith. “It’s a complete success to us already, and it hasn’t even opened yet.”
Goggins agrees: “It’s the cherry on top if the audience likes it.”