Best bets from the 2014 Minnesota Fringe Festival

Eleven days of mirth and adventure hits stages around the Twin Cities

Best bets from the 2014 Minnesota Fringe Festival
Benjamin Carter Grimes
Custom dress by Idle Child. Special thanks to Amy Nystrom of Speakeasy for modeling and 4 Seasons Dance Studio for the space.

There's nothing staid about the Minnesota Fringe Festival. It's a crazy patchwork of hundreds of actors and dancers presenting 169 shows at 15 venues over 11 days.

In a community packed to the gills with theater, the Fringe holds a special place. An expected 50,000 people will take in the festival. That means artists have to work extra hard to be heard above the din. You'll find them packing venues armed with postcards for their shows, cheerfully trying to draw you into the most unusual plays.

"People go to the Fringe to see the sort of theater that isn't usually available elsewhere — inspired, idiosyncratic stuff," says Kathy Welch, whose Green T. Productions will present a dance interpretation of the science-fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Kafka Nuts
Kafka Nuts
Crime and Punishment
Seth Dahlseid
Crime and Punishment


The 21st Minnesota
Fringe Festival

July 31-August 10

169 plays at 15 venues
around Minneapolis

Tickets: $12 for adults, $5 for children 5-12; $4 Fringe button required for admittance
Multi-show passes are available.


Main Venues:
Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St.
HUGE Improv Theater, 3037 Lyndale Ave. S.
Illusion Theater, 528 Hennepin Ave., Eighth floor
Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S.
Minneapolis Theatre Garage, 711 W. Franklin Ave.
Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. Fourth St.
Music Box Theatre, 1407 Nicollet Ave.
New Century Theater, 615 Hennepin Ave. in City Center
The Playwrights' Center, 2301 E. Franklin Ave.
Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S.
Theatre in the Round Players, 245 Cedar Ave.
University of Minnesota Rarig Center (four stages), 330 21st Ave. S.
Four Seasons Dance Studio, 1637 Hennepin Ave. S.
Joule, 1200 Washington Ave. S.
The Soap Factory, 514 Second St. SE
West Bank Walking Tour, (will depart from U of M Rarig Center), 330 21st Ave. S.

Fringe Central:
Crooked Pint Ale House, 501 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis

Special Events:
Opening Night Party, 10 p.m. July 31,
Republic, 221 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
Closing Night Party, 9 p.m. Aug. 10,
Varsity Theater, 1308 Fourth St. SE, Minneapolis

It's all part of the let's-put-on-a-show vibe. This doesn't mean the event itself is disorganized; 11 months' worth of planning goes into producing these 11 days. It falls to new executive director Jeff Larson to control the chaos.

One of the distinct charms of the Fringe is that it is completely unjuried. Getting into the festival is a matter of having your number called during the spring lottery. Beyond that, there's just a basic fee for a quintet of guaranteed performances.

Everything else is up to the performers. Want to create a sequel to Shakespeare's The Tempest, using James Cameron's Aliens as your template? Sure. Want to present a piece provocatively titled Fashion Risk or the Accidental Nudist? Go for it. How about an all-male adaptation of the Stanley Kurbric film Lolita? Four Humors turned that concept into a critical darling in 2013.

The Fringe is, well, all about the fringes — and taking risks. Noah Bremer and Live Action Set tend to do that with all of their projects. But this year, that means an immersive version of Crime and Punishment spread throughout the basement of the Soap Factory.

"Take risks. Be bold. Do what you are good [at], but delve further into that set of skills than ever previously imagined," Bremer says. "The Fringe is meant to be a place of innovation and danger. If your show isn't pushed toward the edge of failing, you haven't gone far enough."

Think of Fringe as a nirvana for hardcore theatergoers, two weeks where one can bathe in the creativity that makes live performance such a joy. It's also an excellent way to get a taste of the Twin Cities' vibrant theater community.

Individual tickets are cheap, and no show runs more than an hour. The venues are clustered primarily around Uptown, downtown, and the West Bank, which makes it easy to sample a wide swath in a single day.

One of the hubs is the University of Minnesota's Rarig Center, where four theaters (and a nightly show/walking tour) means you can have up to 29 shows to choose from on a Saturday or Sunday.

If you aren't the type to pick a show based on its title — but really, who wouldn't be intrigued by the Happy Vagina Puppet Show? — listening to a show's buzz is the next best thing. You can find online reviews on the Fringe's website, or just hang around and listen to the word of mouth. People love to talk about the shows they have seen, and will recommend their favorites.

"No matter how many times we do the Minnesota Fringe Festival, the most nerve-wracking part of the process is that initial weekend's reaction," says Jonathan A. Goldberg, leader of the Brooklyn-based Shelby Company. "You are checking your phone constantly to see if anybody has posted a complimentary review. You hope a bunch of people are coming and are compelled to write something about your show. You want people to react strongly, like they have to say something in order to actually experience the show. Like the conversation following the show is the epilogue. In the Fringe, that epilogue can make or break you."

10 Intriguing Shows

The best bets from the Minnesota Fringe Festival

Crime and Punishment

Live Action Set

In 2008, Live Action Set covered the interior of the Soap Factory with massive sheets of plastic to protect the stage from spilled milk — and provide just the right touch of the bizarre —for Deviants. This year, the award-winning company returns to the art gallery for an intriguing adaptation of Crime and Punishment. "It is an immersive experience where the audience can follow any character they choose, or explore environments on their own," says director Noah Bremer. "There are no places or time to sit and watch a typical 'scene.'"

That's par for the course for Live Action Set, whose Please Don't Blow Up Mr. Boban was the top-selling show at Fringe 2005. "I want the audience to walk away feeling like they were the main character of a dark and moody fever dream," says Bremer. "I want them to feel unnerved, swept up and questioning reality."

The Soap Factory: 8:30 p.m. July 31-Aug. 3; Aug. 7-Aug. 9; 10 p.m. Aug. 1-2; Aug. 8-9

Kafka Nuts

Comedy Suitcase

The madness keeps on coming from this duo, creators of the popular Harty Boys spoofs and last year's Comedy Vs. Calories: FIGHT. Comedy Suitcase, a perennial favorite at the Fringe, mixes broad comedy with pop culture. "The Kafka Nuts is an all-ages stage adaptation of The Trial by Franz Kafka — as performed in the style of 1930s anarchistic film comedy," says cast member Joshua Scrimshaw. "Because why the hell not?"

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