Say what you want about the Minnesota Fringe Festival, it affords minority artists high-profile exposure which otherwise is hard to come by. And one of the more interesting figures to benefit from Fringe exposure is Aunduray Guess, … Say what you want about the Minnesota Fringe Festival, it affords minority artists high-profile exposure which otherwise is hard to come by. And one of the more interesting figures to benefit from Fringe exposure is Aunduray Guess, founder/artistic director of Flayva Cabaret.
In fact, this seems to be Guess’ summer. He got nice play in a Mpls/St. Paul Magazine feature on the Fringe, has shown up in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and appears to have his theatre company on firm footing at its home base, Pillsbury House Theatre. On his track record: he has performed at Penumbra Theatre Company (A Soldier’s Play, Bubblin’ Brown Sugar), Intermedia Arts (in the self-penned naked) and The Women’s Club (Give Me The Good Stuff). He also wrote The Uncollected Stories Of A Collected Black Man, performed at Center For Independent Artists and Lady For A Day, staged at Pillsbury House Theatre (PHT). Every other month, for the past year, Guess draws a healthy crowd to PHT, which has become something of an oasis for GLBT writers and performers. This month, T. Mychael Rambo is scheduled to perform there. Earlier this season, there was Soul Sisters, an evening of song, dance, poetry and fashion. Guess called it "a celebration and a recognition of soulful women who cook [that is] diverse in talent and style." Dance/pop singer Jamecia headlined. Supporting acts included vocalist Gina Johnson, illusionist Deja Love and dancer Bebe Bennet.
It’s good to see someone like Guess get over because he does an important job, providing a Twin Cities performance venue where GLBT artists of color can do their thing on a regular basis. Now, maybe we can see the kind of theatre Outward Spiral has, for some reason — from modest inception to present standing as a successful venture — routinely refused to put on the boards. Including, since Guess is a James Baldwin fan, maybe Giovanni’s Room, Baldwin’s play adapted from his novel of the same title. Whatever winds up on the bill at Flayva Cabaret, the auspicious enterprise will fill a conspicuous void with authentic representation of largely overlooked folk.
The primary focus right now is to showcase poets, singers, dancers, writers, and visual artists. But Flayva Cabaret did stage Guess’ one-act play A Room Of Angels at the Loring Playhouse as part of the Fringe (it got a favorable review in the Star Tribune), leaving room for speculation that there will be more plays in Flayva Cabaret’s future. Importantly, whatever creative direction holds sway, Flayva Cabaret does for minority GLBT artists what neither Patrick’s Cabaret nor Bryant-Lake Bowl have. Both Patrick’s and Bryant-Lake are prominent venues that have welcomed minority performers for years (i.e., David Daniels, Jovelyn Richards & Elaine Shelly). Finally, Flayva Cabaret has accomplished the remarkable feat of putting GLBT performers of color in front of audiences of color (for a mere ten bucks a ticket at that).
So, fine: Penumbra Theatre Company, Mixed Blood Theatre and Illusion Theater have some fascinating company besides Dawn Renee Jones’ Alchemy Theatre, where plays receive readings with local actors of renown. That is as it should be. It doesn’t makes sense for Penumbra Theatre Company to be the only place where you can consistently catch Black theatre (generally top flight at that) and for Mixed Blood Theatre and Illusion Theater to be the only other places where such fare is even a frequent occurrence. With Pillsbury House Theatre putting a roof over Flayva Cabaret’s head — as it has done in the past for Alchemy Theatre — one can be reasonably confident that both fledgling outfits will have the chance be around long enough to eventually get on their own feet. PHT has, come to think of it, become more of harbor for non-mainstream theatre than ever before (an umbrella, really, for GLBT theatre). Hopefully, funders will take this into account