Fringe Festival 2013: Critic's Picks

Minnesota Fringe Festival celebrates 20 years in 2013

"The sense of camaraderie among the performers was something I hadn't experienced before," Scrimshaw says. "It is still part of Fringe today, but it was more intense in those early days, because audiences were dinky. Fellow performers were all you had."

Seat of the pants

Robin Gillette's introduction to the Minnesota Fringe Festival was certainly atypical. The week of the executive director's first festival, the 35-W bridge collapsed. Beyond the toll the collapse took emotionally on the Twin Cities, it provided a logistical nightmare for the festival when travel around the area suddenly became all the more difficult.

"It was a really valuable lesson to learn," Gillette recalls. "With the festival in one condensed time, the best-laid plans can go haywire. You just keep going. I couldn't un-fall it down. We did the festival anyway."

Clutterbug by Interplanetary Appeal
Clutterbug by Interplanetary Appeal



176 different productions at 16 locations throughout Minneapolis

Each performance is no longer than 60 minutes

No late seating for any performance

Tickets: $12 for a single performance;
$5 for children under 12
Passes in various amounts: 4-show card, $44 for adults, $24 for students, and $20 for children under 12; 10-show card, $100.

A get-into-any-show ultra pass, $225

A $4 festival button is required to attend (no button required for children under 12).

Advance sales are available on the Fringe festival website. Walk-up sales begin 30 minutes before each performance.

Gillette is leaving in September after seven years at the helm of the festival, giving her one last go-around in charge. Longtime Fringer Jeff Larson steps into the role this fall. He's been the festival's associate director since 2009.

"It was a lot more loose," Larson recalls of the early years. "Everything was by the seat of our pants. It was not disorganized, but it was a bunch of people figuring it out as they went along." Larson spent his first festival, in 1999, working at one of the theaters. "I had very little sense of the festival around me," he says.

"I still look forward to it as much now as I did then," he adds. "I get to see awesome shows, I still have friends that I met that first year, and a disproportionate number of people in that first year are still doing Fringe shows."

Sometimes, these producers are content to return to the festival year after year. Over the past two decades, a network of like-minded festivals has sprung up around the country. Careful planning allows some productions to tour throughout the summer. (Though financially, these tours can be as "lucrative" as your average unknown band barnstorming across the country.)

For Gillette, the challenge has always been serving the dual needs of the Fringe: the artists who make it happen and the audiences who come to see the shows. The size of the festival adds to that. For 2013, each production will get five performances spread over 11 days. Beyond the logistics of arranging all of the performances (especially as some actors may be in two or more shows a year), there is the task of getting audiences in and out of the theaters in time so the next performance can go on as scheduled.

Next year, that will be Larson's problem, not hers. "I look forward to coming back next year as an audience member," Gillette says.

Springboard — or train wreck

Things do remain in flux up to — and sometimes during — the festival. The bridge collapsing was an extreme situation, but producers selected in the lottery sometimes find that they can't get their shows together. The long waiting list comes into play, sometimes leaving artists scrambling. Some of these can be cringe-worthy train wrecks — every edition of the festival has its share; it's part of the charm — but sometimes it can be a springboard to greater things.

Dancer Tamara Ober had already crafted shows for the Fringe in the past when she found herself taken off the waiting list and thrust into the festival a few years ago. The show she'd been working on, Sin Eater, was nowhere near ready to be brought to the stage.

She did have a solo piece she could use. A few phone calls to some dancer friends brought together enough pieces for a Fringe-length performance piece. Flesh was a success, which buoyed the Zenon Company member's solo career even more. The innovative modern dancer's intense and personal vision found a home at the Fringe, which in turn led to tours, a trip to Vienna, and, just recently, a McKnight grant.

As an independent producer, she says the Fringe "gave me the opportunity, financially, to put on an affordable show. In a grant, the money is upfront. In the Fringe, it is in the back end. If you fail, there is an honesty to that. It just felt like it was going to tell me if I wanted to keep going as an artist or not. It gives you immediate feedback financially."

It took plenty of work by Ober to get her shows to break even financially, usually via touring beyond the Twin Cities. But the Fringe helped Ober get her work out there. "The Fringe is about creating the rough draft. It gives you the bare bones," she says.

It's also connected Ober to a wider world of creators. For this year's show, Standing on the Hollow, she's working with local musician Julie Johnson and New York-based director D.J. Mendel — someone she's long admired but could never hire to direct without the large grant fueled in part by work first produced at the Fringe.

Unplanned moments

Here's a moment Arneson remembers from performing in one of her one-woman shows, Sex Secrets:

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