A scene from Chocolate Covered Chicken Wings, now playing at the Minnesota Fringe Festival.
One of the Minnesota Fringe Festival shows playing at the Augsburg Studio is Chocolate Covered Chicken Wings. This play with an unusual culinary title was written by Catherine Hansen and is produced by Paradox Productions. The Arts Reader caught up with show director Aidan Jhane Gallivan to talk about bring this dish to stage.
You’re no stranger to the Minnesota Fringe Festival. What past shows have you been involved with, and in what capacities?
I started at Fringe as an actor and producer in 2013 with The Critic and the Concubine with what would later become Theatre Corrobora. We came back with Fig in 2014, Girlhood in 2015, and It Always Rained in Paris in 2016 – where I took over as director. We didn’t get into the festival in 2017, but I acted in a show called Murmur of Murder, which was a whole new Fringe experience for me. It taught me a lot about an actor’s experience at Fringe and what I can do as a producer to support that. Last year, I produced and directed Rejection.
Official Show Description
Sally wants to have the best birthday party ever! But only Casey shows up, strange things happen, and Cooper the clown is always there… The importance of friendship and the identity of monsters is unveiled.
You’ve directed past Fringe shows with Theatre Corrobora; how is your experience different with Paradox Productions? Do you find that things proceed differently when you’re working for a different organization vs. one that you founded?
When you’re working with a new company for the first time, I think you can always expect a little turbulence during the flight. It’s a matter of developing a common language and understanding and trusting everyone’s motives and intentions. It takes so much for a writer to turn over their tiny baby script to a director and a cast – and it’s a steep learning curve. Once you open that door, you can’t close it again.
When I’m working on my own stuff, I can trust my gut and go with what I think is best, because it’s my company and I own the responsibility. In this case, I could advocate for what I thought was best, but at the end of the day – it’s not my decision. That is equal parts freeing and frustrating.
One of the particular aspects of the Minnesota Fringe website is that it solicits audience reviews. Beyond the aggregate scores, do you pay any particular attention to these during a show run?
Ahhhhh, Fringe Reviews. My general rule of thumb is to take what you can, and laugh at the rest. Your show is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. That’s okay. It’s actually nearly impossible to present something that everyone will love…
I’ve also had several experiences where it’s clear that a reviewing audience member does not “get” your show. My show last year, Rejection, was primarily about Millennial relationship issues, and the story largely played out through female perspectives. Younger audiences connected with the material immediately, several women saying they had had almost the exact Tinder date we had staged. Yet we got a few negative reviews from specially older men who “couldn’t relate” to the show.
Sometimes the show is not for you. It’s okay – that doesn’t mean it’s a bad show. When I write reviews, I try to come at it with what the production did well, what they didn’t do well, and then what I thought or felt about the production.
How did you become affiliated with Chocolate Covered Chicken Wings? Have you worked with playwright (and show producer) Catherine Hansen before?
I met Catherine when we both did a collaborative show for the Twin Cities Horror Fest. The process of making the show was a little rocky, but the ensemble really came together because of it. I appreciated Catherine’s sometimes twisted sense of humor and her specific preferred genre of horror. My girl Catherine likes some weird, kooky, creepy-spooky stuff. I just love when anyone has a “thing”.
I had decided to lay low and save my time/money and not try to produce at Fringe, but in May I started realizing that I wanted an artist pass. I sent out a few feelers and Catherine connected with me saying that she got a slot. I was onboard pretty much as soon as I knew it was weird and kooky and creepy-spooky.
Chocolate Covered Chicken Wings are probably not a dish that’s crossed most Americans’ palettes, celebrity chefs notwithstanding. Is this dish something that figures in the play plot?
The show was actually originally titled after the restaurant where the play is set, Arkansas Chicken In – but there are several note-worthy menu items that come up across the show. There is also something distinctly unsettling about the idea of chocolate covered chicken wings – we decided we couldn’t pass that up, it feels so Fringe! There’s a part of me that is just living for the alliteration.
What are some aspects of this script that you especially enjoy or appreciate?
I enjoy revisiting childhood with this cast. I appreciate that this is a story about kids dealing with big feelings – I think so often we shy away from big conversations with kids because we think it’s too hard for them when in reality, it’s too hard for us as adults. Kids have the capacity to understand anything, I think we fear the loss of innocence, or childhood too much in American culture. We don’t always give kids the tools that they will need to navigate big traumas early enough for them to be able to utilize them when they need.
The show synopsis alludes to a common social nightmare: what if you threw a party and no one attended? Is there any audience participation or food-tasting involved?
Fringe has some pretty strict rules about food and audience members (Thanks to Liz for keeping everyone safe, happy, and healthy!) so unfortunately, audiences will not be tasting anything chocolate covered. I won’t say much about participation other than I, personally, hate audience participation. I think the audience will feel involved, though!
What’s your 30-second pitch for this show?
You’re invited to Sally’s birthday party! Sally is turning 11 and is hoping that you will celebrate this milestone with her at Cooper’s Chicken In! The party will include snacks, balloon animals, lazertag, dancing, cake, and presents! (As long as mom remembers the cake…) Sally’s best friend Casey moved away after everything happened last year with Bruno. When Casey is the only guest to show up at Sally’s party, they try to pass the time playing games and pranks but things start taking a turn for the weird when strange stuff starts happening…What is up with that clown? And what happened to Bruno last year?
Chocolate Covered Chicken Wings plays through August 11 at Augsburg Univeristy’s Studio Theatre.