I don’t remember much about my visit to Andorra, the postage stamp-sized, landlocked principality located in the eastern Pyrenees mountains and bordered by Spain and France. My family drove through the place one day when I was a teenager on our way to somewhere else. We stopped for about an hour. There were a lot of stores selling tax-free gold jewelry. And there was snow on the ground. About Andorra I can’t recall much else.
This September, though, Bay Area theatre audiences have been told that they will get to sample a taste of Andorrean fringe theatre when the 18th annual San Francisco Fringe Festival welcomes a production entitled The Tao of Everest from La Massana, Andorra.
It’s a bit of a stretch to call this production Andorrean, frankly, though mentioning the country does make good press release copy. Furthermore, it’s a bit of a stretch to call The Tao of Everest fringe theatre at all.
Ian Woodall (pictured far right with Nelson Mandela and others), the person behind the production, is a British citizen, though he currently resides in Andorra. A mountaineer and motivational speaker, Woodall was the leader of the first South African Mount Everest expedition in 1996, an expedition which resulted in a great deal of controversy. U.S. journalist Jon Krakauer has been particularly critical of Woodall’s personality and conduct on Everest, which resulted in the death of five team members near the summit and various other misfortunes.
A quick glance at Woodall’s website suggests that his Tao is more corporate keynote address than fringe theatre material. Subtitled “The Gentle Art of Personal Inspiration and Practical Leadership”, The Tao of Everest has been presented before many corporate audiences. “Excellent, entertaining, fun and meaningful. Your presentation felt like a movie,” writes an Ernst & Young employee on one of the testimonials about the Tao on Woodall’s website.
Hmm. I wonder how San Francisco Fringe Festival audiences will respond to Woodall’s presentation? More importantly, I wonder what place a straight-up motivational speaker has in a fringe festival at all? Fringe festivals are often free-for-alls. Part of the joy of attending them is that you never know what you’re going to get. But surely a line has to be drawn somewhere.