Fringe Festival 2012: 165 shows packed into 15 days

Actors reveal the challenges of double-casting, plus our critic's picks

Fringe Festival 2012: 165 shows packed into 15 days
Taylor Paino

At the 2011 Minnesota Fringe Festival, Ben San Del found himself cast in a pair of shows, his own Minnesota Middle Finger and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Jekyll.

"I swore I'd never be involved in more than one show again, as the stress and time pressures almost gave me a mental breakdown," San Del says.

So, here we are in 2012 — and the actor finds himself in a pair of shows once again. This time, it's a new solo piece, An Agony of Fools, and part of a cabaret piece, Fringe Orphans.

Ben San Del (left) in An Agony of Fools and Fringe Orphans. Katherine Glover in Dead Wrong and Chorus: Voices After the Silence.
Taylor Paino
Ben San Del (left) in An Agony of Fools and Fringe Orphans. Katherine Glover in Dead Wrong and Chorus: Voices After the Silence.
Kirsten Stephens (left) in iMime, There's An App for That and Mime Without a Mask.  Laura Mahler  in Walking into Yes and The Unamazing Nonadventure of the Underachiever.
Taylor Paino
Kirsten Stephens (left) in iMime, There's An App for That and Mime Without a Mask. Laura Mahler in Walking into Yes and The Unamazing Nonadventure of the Underachiever.
Max Wojtanowicz (left) in Fruit Fly: The Musical and Joe Dowling's William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet on the Moon, featuring Kate Mulgrew as Lady Capulet. Les Kurkendaal in A One-Way Ticket to Crazy Town!, Men's Room Etiquette and Fringe Orphans.
Taylor Paino
Max Wojtanowicz (left) in Fruit Fly: The Musical and Joe Dowling's William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet on the Moon, featuring Kate Mulgrew as Lady Capulet. Les Kurkendaal in A One-Way Ticket to Crazy Town!, Men's Room Etiquette and Fringe Orphans.

"A year gives you time to forget," San Del says.

The presentation of 165 shows over the course of 11 days in 15 venues offers a lot of work for the local acting community. Sometimes, that means performers can find themselves in two — or more — shows during Fringe. That brings plenty of pressure to prepare for performances that may have widely different tones, not to mention working out how to get from venue to venue on stressful days when both shows are in production.

Festival organizers will make some accommodations for actors who find themselves double booked, especially if they know early, before venues and performance schedules are selected, says Robin Gillette, Fringe's executive director.

"It's tricky. The scheduling is all done in March. So any company who has their work together by March, and they know they have a double-cast situation, we will work with them," she says.

Of course, a lot of the casting happens after March, especially as shows drop out of and into the festival, and people previously on the waiting list find themselves in the festival in more than one show and location.

Katherine Glover knows how insane being double cast can be. In 2008 she did the double, performing with Walking Shadow's Shakespeare's Land of the Dead and her in own solo show, which was added to the festival a scant week before the opening.

"I lived on coffee and alcohol," Glover says about her experience in 2008. "What was great about it was that it was my first solo show, and I wasn't very well known, so I wasn't pulling huge audiences. The other show wound up winning the encore slot and getting a lot of attention, so I got to be a rock star for that. It made me less stressed about the more modest reception to my solo show. Hell, I didn't have time to be stressed anyway."

This year, she'll do double duty in a solo show, Dead Wrong, and Chorus: Voices After the Silence. There are links between her own show and the ensemble piece. "I was recommended for Chorus by Nancy Donoval, who is in my writing group and who directed Dead Wrong. She's involved with Chorus: Voice After the Silence and recommended me to the producer."

Double duty can also cause a bit of performing whiplash, as actors are asked to participate in wildly different pieces, sometimes within hours of each other. Gillette notes that for someone like Glover, having a pair of tough pieces that are similar in tone and content "could be easier than going from a raucous comedy to an introspective word play."

Glover, in fact, is presenting part of her solo piece at the group show (only at selected performances, as there are conflicts between the two). "It gets to be emotionally exhausting at times, especially combined with all the previews I have been doing at various Fringe events," she says.

Laura Mahler's pair of shows, Walking into Yes and The Unamazing Nonadventure of the Underachiever, stretches the performers in two very different directions. The first is a "hip-hop/rap/slam poetry, almost one-woman show about a painter who goes blind. The second play is a comedy about superheroes, and I play the sassy waitress superhero."

In both cases, Mahler's roles were either written for her or at least with her in mind. "Greg Nesbit [writer of the superhero piece] had seen me perform improv comedy at Huge Theatre. He asked a mutual friend for my contact info and boom! Fringe show number two. I figure the festival is so exciting, I want to be as much a part of it as I can."

The 2012 Fringe Festival finds Les Kurkendaal performing in three plays: a one-man show about his relationship with his mother, who has dementia and doesn't recognize her son (A One-Way Ticket to Crazy Town!); Men's Room Etiquette, about what you would think it is about; and as one of the Fringe Orphans, in a piece called The Real Housewives of Fringe. "I am one of the housewives, and I am doing the show in drag," Kurkendaal said.

Making it even crazier for Kurkendaal? He's from Los Angeles. "I've been performing at the Minnesota Fringe every year for the past 10 years, so a lot of the local performers and Fringe community know my work," he says.

His solo show started out on the waiting list. In the meantime, a friend asked him to participate in the Fringe Orphans show. A bit after that, his solo show moved off the waiting list and onto the schedule. And after that: "A few weeks later my friend who was producing Men's Room Etiquette had one of the storytellers drop out of his show. I checked performance schedules with my other shows, and the performance dates for that show actually fit in perfectly with the other two shows, so I figured why not?"

At least for his double duty Max Wojtanowicz won't have to leave the West Bank. He's in a two-person piece, Fruit Fly: The Musical (with Sheena Janson) at the University of Minnesota's Rarig Arena stage, while the epically titled Joe Dowling's William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet on the Moon, featuring Kate Mulgrew as Lady Capulet will be down the road a bit at Theatre in the Round Players.

Like a lot of what happens at the Fringe Festival, Wojtanowicz's participation came about while he was waiting in line for a show. In his case, it was with Natalie Novacek, director of Peanut Butter Factory's Romeo and Juliet piece. "She mentioned the idea to me and that she was going to apply this year," he says.

Wojtanowicz was eager to sign on, especially as the long-in-gestation Fruit Fly seemed to be stalled because the pair hadn't found a composer. But then through work at a songwriting collaborative called Prosody, he met Michael Gruber.

"We totally clicked, and I loved his writing style, so I got coffee with him once our song was completed and asked if he had any interest in the [Fruit Fly] project," Wojtanowicz says. "So in an attempt to motivate us to write, I applied for the Fringe lottery too, knowing there was a chance both shows might get in the festival. Well, they both did."

Movement artist Kirsten Stephens's two shows are somewhat connected: She is in a solo show, iMime, There's an App for That, and the two-person Mime Without a Mask.

"Both are mime shows, but they will be quite different," she says, noting that her solo show is "much like a live-action cartoon," while the other mixes comedy and drama with different styles: "Absurd, mime with spoken text, and the more recognized Marceau-style mime, though still without whiteface and stripes."

Stephens and Dean Hatton had done shows at the festival in the past, but she also had her solo piece in mind for 2012. "I decided to put in applications for both, honestly figuring it was unlikely both would get in," she says. "And indeed, only the solo show got in when the lottery was drawn. The other show was about 48 on the wait list. Turns out enough people dropped out and we got in in early July. So I'm in two shows," she says.

Being able to adapt is a vital skill for an actor, and many can't resist the chance to work as much as possible in a high-profile event like Fringe. The opportunity proved too enticing for San Del, who had promised himself he'd never double up on Fringe again. But he's confident the experience this year will be a good one.

"It should be less stressful than last year," he says. "But we'll see." 

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