Minnesotans like to boast that the Twin Cities boasts the most theater seats per capita after New York City. While the veracity of this claim may be called into question, there is no doubt that the Twin Cities are a friendly space for theater-minded folks. Where else could you find an inclusive queer and feminist theater that hosts an annual geeky one-act-play festival?
Cassandra Snow is a cofounder and senior staff member of the organization in question: Gadfly Theatre. By day she is also a queer tarot-card reader, and her interest in exploring identities and finding connections shines through in the theater’s mission and showcased work. I was lucky enough to chat with Cassandra about Gadfly’s history and some of her thoughts on theater and queer theory.
Lydia Karch (TCG): Let’s start with the basics. Tell me a little bit about why and how you started Gadfly.
Cassandra Snow: Gadfly started with me and my business partner falling so completely in love with all of the great, socially conscious art here in the Twin Cities and wanting to be a part of it. As we looked around, we realized there were still a lot of voices not being heard and stories not being told, so we moved forward with our idea for a queer and feminist theater company that would keep looking for the holes and absent voices and seek to fulfill them. A few boring months of paperwork, getting a board together, and a strategic plan later, we were up and running and putting up work we were immediately really proud of.
TCG: What do you see as some of the major overlaps between queer and/or feminist theater and geekdom?
Cassandra: A big part of the reason we started exploring this intersection is because there really wasn’t a lot being done on the stage. I’ve seen a handful of horror shows, and I’d read some scripts by Qui Nguyen that I loved—and we have a couple of geek-oriented theaters or artists here, [but] while they’re generally progressive and allied, the focus isn’t on those voices we focus on. Meanwhile, a dirty little secret of the queer community is that we almost all identify as geeks or nerds in some ways. I don’t want to generalize, of course, but I can’t even count the number of LGBTQ+ people I’ve gotten into a casual convo with that shared a ton of my interests in comic books, sci fi, et cetera or were huge gamers. So the need and interest for art that reflects that is there, and that overlap was really lacking when we started looking for it.
TCG: Who are your favorite queer and feminist geek authors?
Cassandra: Oh that’s hard! I could list tons of characters, but there aren’t enough writers getting the cred they deserve, which is, of course, part of the problem. Locally, I adore the things Eli Effinger-Weintraub submits to us. We can’t do them all, but she combines so much of her identity so cohesively and comes up with new work all the time. It’s unreal. I also love local comic artist Anna Bongiovanni. They do comics for Autostraddle as well as run a podcast where they geek out about sex toys.
More mainstream, I’m a pretty big fan of Image Comics. They’ve got some really innovative stuff coming down the hatch, and that includes some queer and certainly female writers or artists. I really, really love Gail Simone too. I read novels and nonfiction pretty voraciously too, but I feel like for all of the vitriol that can come from the comics community, in some ways they’re a few steps ahead in terms of representation compared to literature.
TCG: How about your favorite queer and feminist geek characters?
Cassandra: How much time do you have?! Just kidding. I loved Batwoman for a while and still love the character endlessly. I have a huge soft spot for the queer characters on Lost Girl on SyFy, of which there are many. [Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s] Willow and Tara, of course. I’m a big Wonder Woman geek, and all things Dana Scully. If I had to condense it it would be those.
TCG: When did you start doing the Final Frontier one-act play festival at Gadfly? And how did you settle on creating a specifically geek-themed event?
Cassandra: This one in June will be our third festival, and we were looking for ways to get some new-to-us directors and stages, and also give playwrights a bigger stake in the company. We floated a few ideas, but we’d been having this ongoing conversation just as friends about the lack of geek theater, so eventually we put the pieces together and designed this festival.
Our first Final Frontier that was sci-fi themed kind of hit the nail on the head. . . . I had a postapocalyptic show about robots, among other things that I directed. I was really proud of that first festival artistically, and I’m excited to keep going with that project as well as incorporate more of our geekiness into our work.
TCG: What were some of the highlights from that first Final Frontier festival? Any performances or scripts that really stuck out?
Cassandra: If I’m being honest, I really loved a piece I did called Wolves Among Us, which was a postapocalyptic story about a robot becoming sentient. It wasn’t 1,000 percent original story-wise, but it was superfeminist—but the story was so captivating and the emotions so genuine that it really didn’t feel preachy at all. We always try to include some familiar characters, names, or retellings, and we had a show that was set at a Star Trek convention that was really clever in a lot of ways and just campy enough that it would’ve made George Takei proud.
TCG: How did you pick Heroes and Villains as the theme for this year’s event?
Cassandra: When we first designed this festival, we kind of mapped out the first several years, sort of “must hits” that were vague enough that until we really got on our feet with it lots of content would fit. So we did sci fi the first year and horror last year, [and] this year is heroes and villains.
TCG: In past years there have been six one-act plays each show. Will it be about the same this year?
Cassandra: This year we have five—we’re pretty selective about the artists we work with and how they’ll all work together and form a cohesive festival, and this year we had a director pull out and chose not to replace them because it felt like the chemistry was really right and we didn’t want to futz with it. We also have two shows that are about 45 minutes long and wanted each night to run less than two hours, so this seemed like the best option.
TCG: I know you probably can’t spill all of the details, but any hints about what we can look forward to at this year’s festival? Titles, themes, specific fan-favorite characters?
Cassandra: Ooh, this is the one year we don’t have specific character retellings per se, but there are a lot of familiar tropes we play with. We have a nice fairy tale/video game mashup called Your Princess Is in Another Lair that I’m really excited about. My own script about a superhero who can no longer fly in some ways reminds me of The Incredibles, which I also love, but is definitely its own story with its own characters.
TCG: When and where can we buy tickets?
Cassandra: Tickets will be on sale starting late April or early May. There will definitely be a link at gadflytheatre.org when the time is right, and all kinds of stuff on our Facebook. The show itself will be at the Phoenix Theater, if people like just showing up at the box office. The show is June 3rd through 12th and runs Friday to Sunday [each of the two weekends]. You’ll also be able to catch a sneak peek at Geek Slink and Drink at Sidhe Brewing on May 20th, or buy tickets if you come to our Drunk Queer History event on May 21st.
And finally, we are teaming up with Galactic Pizza to raise funds for the event on May 31st. You’ll see fliers circulating, or again, check out our website closer to time, and 25 percent of anything purchased with a flier goes to us. We are very likely having a “friendraiser,” pizza party, or something along these lines to make it super easy for folks, and if so we will be selling tickets at this as well. Basically just follow us on Facebook and check the website and you’ll see more about all of these rad opportunities, as well as know when online sales start.
TCG: Anything else you want to share with the folks at home?
Cassandra: Contribute to this year’s Final Frontier Festival and help Gadfly move into a new venue to create a community space in via our GiveMN link, where your contributions are tax deductible!