On a sub-zero Monday night in January a neighborhood church basement is transformed into a warmly lit, tinfoil star decorated nightclub. Coffee and cocoa are donated from a nearby coffee shop, a baker creates delicacies in her home to bring down to the basement to share, members of the parish bustle about setting up tables, cups, lighting, and microphones. By 7:30 p.m. the little basement gym that once housed my teenage son’s nursery school is filled with well over 100 winter- weary adult bodies eager for a night of escape from the cold and the monotony that punctuates Minnesota winters.
A nationally known writer shares a precautionary tale about learning to lasso uncontainable enthusiasm, a neighbor sings of a men’s ski weekend titled “Sausage Party,” an Irish actor reads aloud the darkly funny tale of “Sassy, the Ugliest Dog in Tennessee” penned by a local comic/writer, four of Minneapolis’s most highly regarded musicians (and that’s saying a lot) perform an original song on guitar, accordion, bass, and snare, followed by a poet, followed by an Israeli chanteuse, then an acapella group called Goth Mother who sings a Smith’s song, followed by a real live Disney princess.
So far every time it’s magic.
I have a neighbor named Rebecca, a mother of four, who is a swirling ball of energy and light. She organizes fundraisers, local artists’ showcases, tea parties, literary events, community outreach; all things good. She is a force.
Sometime last year she managed to get our neighbor Jim and myself extracted from the sea of family, life, work, and busy to meet at a neighborhood soup haunt to create a neighborhood storytelling and music series we call Morningside After Dark. Like New York’s Moth Reading series we create a show around a theme like “snowed in,” “conversation hearts, “ “lucky or unlucky,” or “darkness and light.” For two winters running we have miraculously corralled the most stellar ragtag group of creatives from within the neighborhood and around the Twin Cities to volunteer their talents to possibly the most appreciative Minnesota audience I’ve ever experienced (and that’s saying a ton).
When I was a girl I spent countless summers atop the Podebradsky’s picnic table trying to force disinterested neighborhood kids to put on a show. As a young adult I channeled this energy into an indy rock band. The reward for the solitary hours I now spend writing is the opportunity to give readings every once in awhile. Morningside After Dark is the mixture of everything I love; busy yet generous artists, family people, and neighbors all gathering without an agenda or expectations, open and curious, to take in whatever folks of a particular bent have to offer. There are only two more shows this season. The talent we have lined up for February and March is dizzying. If you’re free, you should most definitely come down.