The Mankato Free Press
---- — After participating in one of the most well-regarded productions of the 2012 Fringe Festival, Nikki Swoboda is facing high expectations in this year's edition of the annual Twin Cities theatre showcase.
The 2010 master's graduate in directing from Minnesota State University was the director of "Fruit Fly," a quirky exploration of the relationship between a gay man and his straight (and female) best friend that was voted the best musical during last year's event. The piece was further commissioned to run for a trio of performances at the Illusion Theater, wrapping up last weekend.
This year, Swoboda has again collaborated with the same team that created "Fruit Fly" -- including writer/producer Max Wojtanowicz and lyricist Michael Gruber. The result is "Shelly Bachberg Presents: How Helen Keller and Anne Frank Freed the Slaves: The Musical," a biting political and social satire couched in a nonsensical historical scenario.
The plot centers around Shelly Bachberg, a "charming but woefully misguided congresswoman," who bears a striking physical and conversational resemblance to Minnesota's embattled U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann. After the conclusion of her political career, Bachberg resorts to writing children's history books where she continues to display her penchant for somewhat less-than-accurate storytelling.
Using actual quotes lifted from Bachmann's public utterances and political campaigns, the creators critique the public's inability to distinguish fact from fiction even as information is more readily available than during any other time in history.
"We're all over the place," said Swoboda of the production that also includes cameos from Aristotle, Anderson Cooper and Benjamin Franklin. "But there is a clear narrative -- a beginning, middle and end. And there is a big idea to it: If you don't know your history, somebody will make it up for you."
All told, as many as 20 Fringe productions count graduates from MSU's Department of Theatre and Dance among their cast and/or crew. In addition, the department's traveling children's production, "Shine," will be included with the cast intact -- a first for the department.
Swoboda said the impressive number of MSU connections in the Fringe is a reflection of the department's level of rigor and professional atmosphere.
"I'm super lucky to have left a university that completely prepared me for a full-time theatre job," said Swoboda, who is the education program manager for Stages Theatre Company.
For a full list of MSU graduates working or performing at the Fringe, visit www.msutheatre.com.