Struggle against the state of things

The Festival of One-Woman Shows offers a chance to see performances that might otherwise fall by the wayside.

Greg Corradini

Most artists live under serious financial constraints. Laura Littleford and Margo McCreary, both seasoned Minneapolis writers and performers, understand the struggle to create their own material while fending off debtors. Together they kick off the Festival of One-Woman Shows with their respective pieces “Wails Wales Whales” and “Ollie McNutt Goes Independent.”

In theater, without the proper equipment, financial resources and practice space, the process of producing one’s own work can be daunting.

Zaraawar Mistry, former member of the Children’s Theater Company and the Guthrie Theater, saw independent artists’ needs and responded.

With the creation of the Center for Independent Artists three years ago, Mistry established a space where performers of different disciplines can find information and receive input to assist in their creations. The center also provides space for performances and meets some equipment needs.

“Many of these women in the Festival of One-Woman Shows had come through (the center) for one reason or another or actually performed here already,” Mistry said. “I discovered that a lot of these women were interested in doing their own work but weren’t ready to take on a whole show themselves.”

Mistry considered grouping the performances, like Littleford’s and McCreary’s pieces, into a larger show and applied for a Metropolitan Regional Arts Council grant. The Festival of One-Woman Shows comprises eleven original performances.

Littleford’s “Wails Wales Whales” revolves around a woman’s struggle to deal with her physical and emotional trauma. The character at the heart of Littleford’s story has a condition called fibromyalgia, the abnormal tightening of muscle fibers, which results in severe pain. Littleford’s narrative moves between disparate time sequences of her heroine’s discovery of the disease, through a relationship and a trip to Wales to research her Welsh ancestry.

Although Littleford is primarily a prose writer, she stresses the importance of visualizing her subjects.

“I have always mentally projected what I am writing about on stage,” Littleford said. “Every time I write I try to envision it (as if) I am an audience member. Even my poetry and short stories which are texts for the page are projected this way.”

Margo McCreary, a former member of Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater, brings back her confidante and life-sized puppet Ollie McNutt in “Ollie McNutt goes Independent.”

McCreary has been performing with Ollie for 23 years around Minneapolis. Aside from teaching puppetry in schools, she also explores the unconscious terrain of Ollie to come up with surprising story variations.

“Ollie McNutt Goes Independent” focuses on Ollie’s attempt to sing shape note music, a form of musical notation using triangles and other shapes instead of traditional round notes. Ollie, steeped in severe depression from too much shape note music, must leave the house to find happiness.

“Ollie McNutt Goes Independent” tells its story using a mix of film media and straight performance. Viewers will probably recognize some of the locales Ollie frequents. In one amorous scene, Ollie winds up at the Loring Pasta Bar in Dinkytown for a blind date.

Times are tough everywhere, and it is a credit to the Twin Cities’ arts scene that we still have access to compelling, noncommercial theater despite the barriers independent artists face.