Fringe By Numbers: Patty Nieman sings her 'tween dreams
In the summer of 2003, I had the honor to be in a show with three amazingly wonderful women. One of those three was a beautiful redhead named Patty Nieman. Patty is a skilled actress who brought warmth and caring to the character of LaVerne Andrews, a role that could easily have been misplayed as a stone-cold bitch.
Ever since then, I've been a huge fan of Patty's. I loved her rendition of Tell Me On A Sunday which was part of the Fringe in the final year of the Illusion including its "Fresh Ink" series as part of the MN Fringe Festival. When I was the Assistant Director for another show she was in at the History Theatre, it was a complete treat to see her work from the other side of the table. And so, when I found out that Patty had gotten a slot in the Fringe, I was psyched. Seriously, I did a little happy dance. And I'm not ashamed.
Let me tell you a little bit about this project... Here's the official show description: "Small-town Ohio, 1977. In her bright yellow bedroom, preteen Patty dreams about an Indian dancing boy scout, a green velvet dress like Scarlett O'Hara's and a fab future in musical theater. Her diary tells all!"
Now, from that description, you might wonder if the character "Patty" is the real-life Patty. From all evidence and reports, it is. This show was built from the diary entries of Ms. Nieman. Scandalous! And, it is set to song. A one-woman musical. Now, I already dubbed this show one of the best at the 2nd Fringe-For-All, so I refuse to outright gush about it any further, but suffice it to say that if I weren't rolling dice to determine which shows to see, I would be seeing this one.
And so... I shot my list of interview questions to Patty, and she graciously took the time to answer them. Let's take a moment to observe the query-response pattern in its natural habitat. Shall we?
Q: What prompted you to start performing?
A: The very first recollection I have of knowing I wanted to be a performer was when my dad took me to see a version of Peter Pan. It was great to be in the audience and help bring Tinkerbell back to life and everything (without my clapping, her little light would have gone out for sure), but I really wanted to play Wendy – mostly so I could fly. Then fast-forward to eighth grade when I played a stripper in my first show, Flower Drum Song, at Sleeping Giant Junior High School. The messy greasepaint, the exotic rented costumes, the unforgettable smell of all that black hair spray-- I've wanted to be in the theater ever since.
Q: Have you done Fringe Shows before? If so, what were they? Fill me in on your Fringe history.
A: A few years ago I did Tell Me on a Sunday, (another one-woman musical) for the Fringe. I got to perform it at the Illusion Theater and they took care of all the producing details -- which was heavenly. Other than that I've just been in the audience.
Q: Is there any significance behind the name of your company?
A: Patty Nieman? Yes.
Q: What inspired this work? Why the Fringe?
A: October 20, 2002. Tod Petersen hosted the first Latté Dark at Theater Latté Da, an evening of short solo theater pieces each of which contains a musical element. The theme was "First Love." I had a story for that right in my little yellow diary which is a pretty thorough record of my life on the brink of being a teenager in 1977. Audience response was encouraging and it felt like there was some good material for a one-act. Time marched on. Several years went by with the show on the burner in the way-way back. I realized I needed a firm deadline and, as luck would have it, I got a spot in this year's Fringe. Deadlines are great.
Q: What are you doing right now to prepare for the Fringe? Other than this interview?
A: Sewing curtains and a bedspread, Mod Podging, marketing, looking for a doll stand, narrowing my selection of 70s pre-show music, looking for a really long extension cord that isn't bright orange, cleaning for my parents' visit, delegating when possible, and basically trying to cross more things off my daily LYD to-do list than I add on to it. Oh, and rehearsing.
Q: Who are you working with on this production?
A: My composer, Rob Hartmann, and I created the original script and songs by narrowing the scope of the stories and emotional range we could cover in the time allotted. He wrote eleven great songs, eight of which we are using, and they all do a great job of sounding like the words come right off the page – which, in most cases, they do. My director, Rob Goudy, has been helping not only to shape the show but also to cut it down to size and smooth out the story telling. His insights are invaluable. My music director, Drew Jansen, is also dreamy to work with. He can play anything and has added his own perfect musical stylings to the scores as written.
Q: Are there any unique challenges working on this project?
A: I would say that my biggest challenge is to truly tell the story from the perspective of my earnest, emotional, lively, sweet, sassy twelve-year-old self without commenting from my, shall we say, more mature perspective.
Q: What's your favorite thing about getting ready for the Fringe thus far?
A: Getting the songs and the script together and actually doing this project I've had in my mind for eight years is big-picture fantastic. I have loved seeing the set take shape. The bright yellow curtains make me super happy. And Rob's dad made a pink dresser front that wraps around Drew's keyboard -– it absolutely puts me back into my bedroom at 12. I love it! Good times.
Q: Do you like Canada?
A: Um, sure. You betcha.