The San Francisco Fringe Festival Goes Corporate?

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.

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  1. says

    The line is drawn where the law begins. That is the point of a non-juried format. If someone wants to use their timeslot to sell vacuum cleaners then that is up to them. If audience members want to see it then that is up to them.
    No one is entitled to a Fringe spot and no one is required to see a Fringe show.

  2. says

    thanks for your comments. a lot of readers echo your point of view. i don’t think it’s wrong in principle. but somehow my gut rebels against this kind of thing.

  3. KC Jacobs says

    Quick correction: Woodall’s team lost only ONE member. Krakauer’s book dealt with the earlier team to summit, although he is aware of the “South African Summit”, to be sure.
    Woodall allowed his teammate to summit alone, without a sherpa, and too late in the day to return in daylight. Tell me true: would you climb a TREE in the dark, let alone Mt. Everest?
    That alone was inexcusable and unforgivable, and Woodall only dug his hole deeper with lame explanations that followed.
    It was only a year later that Bruce Herrod’s body was found dangling below the summit.
    I’m putting this all MILDLY. There are good reasons to never honor, pay or speak to Woodall.
    His appearance should be cancelled.

  4. KC Jacobs says

    A follow-up to Kevin’s comment…
    I honor most things which are non-discriminating. Equal opportunity for all, et al.
    This case is different, if you care about morality. A man who left two different people to die and gets paid to talk about it does not qualify as equal in my book.
    I thus assume that the Devil, or George W. or a mass murderer are also all qualified Fringe participants?
    Not only the morality of this man, but the actual nature of his presentation – a corporate keynote speaker! – might have deserved some oversight.
    I don’t know, so I will ask: are there unlimited slots for anyone and everyone to perform in the Fringe festival? Is there no limit to the number of shows?
    If there is a limit (space, time, etc. being your deciding factors only), would including this man (notice I don’t honor him by repeating his name, a wonderful concept developed by Beatle fans who do not use Lennon’s Killer’s actual name) have taken the place of someone else, who might have been more appropriate?
    Maybe a mini-Jury would be a good idea?