Fringe Festival 2013: Critic's Picks

Minnesota Fringe Festival celebrates 20 years in 2013

"Alone in the dark at People's Center, doing a series of vignettes about a person whose sexuality can't be pigeon-holed. In this scene, I play a woman who is passing as a man, who is posing as a drag queen at an annual Drag Ball, when a single feather dislodges from my boa and dances into the light. Unplanned moment. The slow-whirling feather upstages me. The audience is with it. I stop speaking. Stop moving. Only my eyes move, following the feather as it wafts to the floor. I give the feather all my focus. Only when the feather stops its lazy flight, lands, and becomes still, do I return to the scripted lines, but not before the audience applauds the feather. That is what live theater is about — making space for the unexpected. Even just a single feather falling in silence."

Annie Scott Riley, author of I Make No Promises, But Someone's Probably Going to Die, sees the Fringe buffet as a place to dine on new experiences — and to find new companies. "It's a unique opportunity for new companies to get their work seen, really seen, by more than just the social circles of their cast and crew," she says. "No matter how good your show is, if you put it up in the wild with a company name no one has heard of, you are almost guaranteed to fail in today's market.... It's the best opportunity there is to find new work to love in Minnesota."

Matthew Everett's memories are largely connected with firsts. This could be building an appreciation for dance or discovering innovative groups such as the Twin Cities-based Savage Umbrella or the New York-based Shelby Company. It can even be something like "David Darrow and Kara Davidson putting Rip in front of me and making me realize I could like musicals. It's cracking my mind open a little bit more about what live performance can be — those are the Fringe memories that always give me a jolt."

Stardust by Kimberly Rolfs
Stardust by Kimberly Rolfs
Robin Gillette
Robin Gillette



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.

Josh Carson first produced at the Fringe in 2002 — egged on by one of his University of Minnesota professors. After Carson wrote several scenes for a play, the professor suggested that the whole piece needed to be completed — and put in front of an audience. "With no lottery in those days, I applied and was instantly 'in' the Fringe Festival and suddenly faced with the same problem that plagues every Fringe producer: 'Oh crap. Now I have to do an entire show,'" he says.

This year, he's back as one of the creators of One Hit Thunder, having built a reputation for fast-paced, pop culture-driven shows. "Seven Fringes later, it's my absolute favorite time of year. It isn't summer unless I'm stressed for three solid months, untouchable for a week, only to crash down that mid-August Monday, wondering what the hell to do with myself now," Carson says.

A recent success story at the Fringe is that of Transatlantic Love Affair. The company has presented a string of hits at the festival (2012's Ash Land was the top-selling show) and has seen two of the shows — The Ballad of the Pale Fisherman and Red Resurrected — see life beyond the confines of the festival. This year's offering, These Old Shoes, continues the movement-based style that sees the actors not just providing characters but contorting themselves to make up the settings for each scene.

Isabel Nelson, co-artistic director of the company with husband Diogo Lopes, looks back to 2005 for a key Fringe moment. It's when she saw Please Don't Blow Up Mr. Boban, created by the always innovative Jon Ferguson and Live Action Set. That inspired Nelson to pursue more training in England. "It was there, at the London International School of Performing Arts, that Diogo and I met and fell in love, and the rest, as they say, is history."

The cost of success

For Arneson, the growth of the Fringe has lessened the sense of anarchy and freedom of the early days. Back then, "The Fringe was less constrained. You had elbow room. And time and space to spread out, to get messy. Now you are given a number. We are show number so and so. It's a nice number, but still, it's a number," she says.

Storage space is scarce, and the time to get on and off the stage with props, costumes, and sets in tow is extremely short.

"At my last Fringe, I was covered in sweat after a show, trying to gather all my scattered clothing, wigs, shoes, and set from the stage in the few minutes, while people who saw the show were trying to chat with me," Arneson says. All this regimentation may be necessary for organizing so large an event as the Fringe. But it can be disconcerting for a seasoned artist.

Then again, many of those changes have been fueled by the growing size and attendance at the Fringe. More venues and performances mean there need to be tighter controls so the audience is able to get in and out — and off to the next show. (Important if you're one of the hardy, or foolish, theatergoers who take in a show at each of the 50-some slots in the festival.) Increased attendance is also good for the artists, who get a share of the gate from each performance.

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