The Accident Book Jon Ferguson

Eleven days of the Fringe Festival: Your guide to the sprawling theater adventure

This year the Fringe Festival, a citywide event that brings hundreds of shows to Twin Cities stages, has made the biggest change to its ticketing system in its 23-year history.

In previous years, ticketing for the Fringe was essentially a la carte: People bought tickets on a per-show basis, with discounts for multi-show passes. Every ticket-buyer also had to purchase a Fringe button; some hardcore Fringe-goers would show up wearing lanyards festooned with two decades’ worth of buttons.

This year, the buttons are no longer required, and tickets for individual shows are gone. Instead, the festival will run on a day-pass system. Attendees purchase all-access wristbands for the day, meaning that once you’ve paid for a single show, you’ve paid for a day’s worth.

The new system encourages people to be bold in their show-going. “Nobody’s adventurous when they’re buying tickets one at a time,” explains executive director Jeff Larson. The Fringe had also hit a wall with the sheer logistics of selling an increasing number of individual tickets in the tight window of time between shows.

According to Larson, efforts to increase the diversity of applicants for Fringe slots — via outreach to immigrant communities, for example — have also paid off. From a record 524 applications, 169 shows were selected to be presented on 15 stages and in four nontraditional sites.

Proudly non-juried (meaning shows are selected at random, not by a panel of curators), this year’s Fringe is an even more eclectic mix of theatrical entertainment than usual. We’ve compiled a day-by-day guide, recommending one don’t-miss show a day along with a couple of others you might as well catch once you’ve picked up your day pass.

Thursday, 8/4

Apple Picking
August 4, 5, 9, 11, 13
Ritz Theater Proscenium
Fringe vet Ben San Del is back with his eighth show, and he’s bringing what might just be the strongest cast in the entire festival this year. Mo Perry (a familiar face at the Guthrie and the Jungle), Jason Ballweber (Four Humors), and indie-theater icon Natalie Rae Wass lead the cast of Apple Picking, a dark comedy about an autumn tradition gone wrong.
The play was inspired, says writer/director San Del, by a discussion over whether “apple picking is a romantic thing to do on a nice fall day” or “you’re paying money to do hard labor.”
Apple Picking imagines a couple having that argument in an apple orchard. San Del is reluctant to say much more, but hints that this twosome aren’t your typical Emma Krumbee’s patrons: They have a criminal history. The tone, he says, is of a somewhat surreal crime farce — one that the characters, however, take very seriously. “[Apple Picking] uses the confines of the stage to explore the nature of identity and reality — but with talking trees.”

Also worth checking out this day:
The Most Dangerous Game
August 4, 7, 9, 12, 14
Southern Theater
Richard Connell’s 1924 short story gets a comedic staging by one of the Twin Cities’ most promising young companies, Sheep Theater.

Celebrity Book Club
August 4, 6, 7, 11, 13
Theatre in the Round
A parade of “celebrity guests” take the stage to share advice from books by the likes of Suzanne Somers and Rick Springfield.

Friday, 8/5

Bezubaan: The Voiceless

August 5, 6, 7, 10, 13
Rarig Center Thrust
In an unexpected — but very welcome — development over the past few years, the Fringe has become a happy home for Bollywood-inspired musical theater. The group Bollywood Dance Scene had such a hit with their 2014 show, Hi! Hello! Namaste?, that they were able to incorporate as a nonprofit and begin presenting their exuberant entertainments outside of Fringe.
They’re back for a third year of Fringing, though, and Bezubaan: The Voiceless is sure to be one of 2016’s hottest tickets. The show tackles serious topics, as it’s about “xenophobia, and Islamophobia in particular,” explains artistic director Divya Maiya.
Song-and-dance numbers from Bollywood movies are interpolated into an original story: At a market, where people of many backgrounds mingle, relationships both form and fray. “We have an interracial, intergenerational cast,” says Maiya. See this troupe in action to appreciate just how joyous a spectacle they create.

Also worth checking out this day:
There’s No Coffee in Heaven
August 5, 6, 9, 13, 14
Ritz Theater Studio
In this one-woman show, Jayme Allen tells her story with honesty and humor. Raised Mormon, she started to question her faith when she became pregnant in high school.

The Chair-Builders
August 5, 7, 9, 12, 14
Phoenix Theater
Call this the IKEA opera. It’s a musical exploration of what can happen when you try to assemble furniture with the one you love.

Saturday, 8/6

The Fever

August 4, 6, 9, 11, 13
Phoenix Theater
This searing exploration of privilege was written and first performed by Wallace Shawn. “You know, the gnomey actor who said ‘inconceivable’ all the time in The Princess Bride,” explains actor Patrick O’Brien.
O’Brien has his own pop-culture pedigree: He was the guy who played Mr. Dewey on Saved By the Bell. We’re a long way from Bayside High, though, in this story of a man who travels abroad and experiences harrowing conditions. He comes back with a new perspective on his own comfortable existence. The titular “fever” leaves the narrator near-paralyzed with existential doubt.
“Now, I don’t rub shoulders with the New York literati as Shawn does,” admits O’Brien, “but I’m nearing retirement with a pension and a nice home in the ’burbs; a life of ease ‘inconceivable’ to the vast majority of humanity. The Fever’s Marxist message makes me uncomfortable... I hope my liberal Fringe audience friends leave the theater with the same discomfort.”

Also worth checking out this day:
Babylon Revisited
August 6, 10, 11, 12, 14
Ritz Theater Proscenium
This play about a man reuniting with his daughter in Paris is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and inspired by a custody dispute over Fitzgerald’s own child.

The Yeti
August 6, 7, 12, 13, 14
Mixed Blood Theatre
A stranded crew of polar explorers circa 1909 are joined by a Yeti. According to this comedic play’s credits, the Yeti is played by... “Yeti.”

Sunday, 8/7

Now or Later

August 5, 7, 9, 11, 13
Southern Theater
New Epic Theater is one of the most recent and ambitious local companies to emerge from the crucible of the Fringe. This regional premiere of Christopher Shinn’s play is timely: It takes place on a presidential election night, as the Democratic candidate finds a likely victory tainted by the sudden emergence of photos of his son wearing a controversial costume.
“We get to touch on liberal ideology,” says director Joseph Stodola, “and the real-time decision-making that happens when the ideals of democracy are called into question. The play was written eight years ago, but it’s funny to see how little has changed politically.”
The company is known for innovative, highly physical stagings, and Stodola is excited to return to the Southern Theater. “It’s got that age,” he reflects on the theater’s weathered aesthetic. “The space itself is almost romantic. It’s going to be really exciting to set a stark, modern staging against that backdrop. That theater makes the story feel larger, and even though the play takes place in this very intimate setting, the implications of it are far-reaching.”

Also worth checking out this day:
The Gospel of Sherilyn Fenn
August 6, 7, 9, 12, 13
HUGE Theater
This piece is also timely, albeit in a different way: The title of this show refers to a Twin Peaks star, and is about religion and cable television in the 1980s.

August 5, 7, 10, 12, 13
Rarig Center Arena
With the punniest title of any show this year, AirD&D tells the story of a married couple whose relationship is strained when their room is rented by an itinerant Dungeon Master.

Monday, 8/8

Gilligan: A Tropical Musical
August 5, 8, 10, 11, 13
Mixed Blood Theatre
Everyone knew there was going to be a Hamilton parody in this year’s Fringe, right? But it also happens to be a Gilligan’s Island parody.
Borrowing the format of the acclaimed hip-hop musical to tell the story of a stranded 1960s pleasure cruise is a daunting task. If anyone can pull it off, though, it’s the people behind last year’s hilarious Oregon Trail: A Musical.
Composer/lyricist Kyle DeGoey has had the Hamilton soundtrack playing on loop in his car all year. “It kind of works better than you’d think,” he says about the adaptation. “Gilligan is the rising star who works to be the unexpected hero.”
Are the producers concerned that some might struggle to appreciate a mash-up between a musical very few Minnesotans have seen and a TV show that was canceled a half-century ago? “Not really,” says DeGoey. “What we try to do is put a show that we’d like to see onstage. At the end of the day, that’s really our litmus test of success.”

Also worth checking out this day:
The Exclusion Zone!
August 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Ritz Theater Proscenium
What’s it like to take a walk through Chernobyl today? Martin Dockery shares his story of a recent visit to the radioactive ruins left by the 1986 nuclear accident.

Game of Thrones: The Musical

August 4, 6, 8, 11, 13
Ritz Theater Proscenium
This piece is a fast-paced spoof of everyone’s favorite quasi-medieval obsession, with puppets standing in for the quick and the dead.

Tuesday, 8/9

It Always Rained in Paris

August 4, 6, 9, 12, 13
Phoenix Theater
In last year’s Fringe, writer Hailey Colwell of Theatre Corrobora mined her youthful diaries for the moving, multigenerational Girlhood. This year, she’s turning to the future: A millennial approaching middle age in the year 2030 looks back on her life since a formative experience in Paris circa 2015. The character, Ellie, is in the process of ending her marriage to a man she met on that trip.
“In one sense it’s a fish-out-of-water story talking about people adapting to different cultures,” says Anna Olson, who plays Ellie. “It’s also kind of a romantic comedy that happens to have a divorce as its center.”
Theatre Corrobora have a knack for combining high-concept premises (as in 2014’s supernatural love story Fig) with exuberant humor and real emotion. “They really support young artists,” says Olson, who’s making her debut with the company. “Considering the mature themes they’re exploring as such a young company, I find that really impressive.”

Also worth checking out this day:
The Final Tubby Bye-Bye
August 6, 9, 12, 13, 14
Rarig Center Thrust
It’s hard to say how Teletubbies could be made any more absurd than it already is, but this play plans to take the fuzzy friends to new extremes. “Just so you know,” warns the Fringe site, “this show contains violence, adult language, loud noises/gunshots.”

Of Something Human
August 7, 8, 9, 10, 13
Intermedia Arts
Zenon Dance Company’s Tamara Ober crafts precise, probing multimedia Fringe shows. Her latest explores themes of intimacy and conflict in troubled times.

Wednesday, 8/10

Take Talkback
August 6, 8, 10, 12, 14
Ritz Theater Proscenium
“I’m not a huge fan of talkbacks,” says playwright Adam Hummel. “The talkbacks that I’ve been to have always ruined my experience of the show.”
A post-show discussion at a community theater goes very wrong in Take Talkback, a comedy about the travails of audience interaction. “The entire experience turns into actors blaming each other, and creative staff at each other’s throats,” explains Hummel, who says he was inspired by some cringeworthy talkbacks he’s seen. “It devolves from this educational experience to this total mess of egos and personality conflicts.”
Among the actual cast members playing fictional cast members (got that?) is improv comedian Anna Weggel-Reed, who compares the show, a “screwball farce” in her description, to the behind-the-scenes classic Noises Off. Weggel-Reed’s character, a diva named Susan, “thinks she’s very famous. She’s wearing several scarves. We’re going to try to find the biggest mug possible for her to drink tea out of.”

Also worth checking out this day:
The Lounge-asaurus Rex Show with Lounge-asauraus Rex! (featuring Lounge-asaurus Rex)
August 7, 8, 9, 10, 13
Theatre in the Round
Brave New Workshop cast member Tom Reed goes solo, as is his wont at Fringe-time, to the delight of audiences who flock to his reliably popular shows. This year, Reed’s obscenely self-confident Sample Night Live host character gets a show of his own.

SmashHammer: The Heavy Metal Musical featuring the Heavy Metal Stylings of the Heavy Metal Band, SmashHammer
August 4, 6, 10, 12, 13
Southern Theater
Less like Spinal Tap, more like Monty Python, this absurd comedy about men (and women) in cloaks had a Fringe preview audience howling with laughter.

Thursday, 8/11

August 4, 6, 8, 11, 14
Rarig Center Thrust
Graphic horror has long been associated more with the movies than with theater, but Tyler Olsen knows how to pull off onstage gore and mayhem that’s so realistic it’s unsettling. Three Knives’ Itch is far from the only scary play being presented at this year’s Fringe, and Olsen thinks that’s a reflection of the times.
“[This] has been a year of a lot of big and visible deaths, there’s been a lot of violence in the news,” says Olsen. “There’s been a lot of oppression, and the political race has taken on almost a nightmare quality. Whether we consciously do it or not, that leads to people thinking, ‘Things are crazy. We should do a crazy show.’”
Itch is a completely rewritten take on a show Olsen presented last fall under the auspices of the Twin Cities Horror Festival. In that version, Epidemic, a mysterious contagion caused nine people to scratch themselves to death. “We wanted it to get weirder, we wanted it to get bloodier, we wanted to strengthen the relationships,” says Olsen. “We’re excited to be on the Rarig Thrust and share this work with big audiences.”

Also worth checking out this day:
In the Time of Spies
August 4, 6, 11, 13, 14
Rarig Center Thrust
With the Cold War seemingly heating up again, the time is ripe for a satire of some of the latest and greatest spy stories. Here, comedic standbys Mike Fotis and Joe Bozic do the honors.

Sometimes There’s Wine
August 4, 6, 7, 11, 13
Theatre in the Round
The team behind the hit female-bonding comedy 2 Sugars, Room for Cream drop the coffee and uncork the vino. It’s about damn time.

Friday, 8/12

The Abortion Chronicles
August 5, 6, 9, 12, 14
Theatre in the Round
By presenting the stories of real women who have had abortions, the creators of The Abortion Chronicles are moving beyond political posturing. That said, it’s clear where they stand on what remains, 43 years after Roe v. Wade, a hot-button topic.
“The whole idea is to give a wider conveyance of why abortion needs to be legal,” says actor/producer Ariel Leaf, “and what all the reasons are for it.”
Framed as a slice-of-life look at a women’s health clinic, The Abortion Chronicles features a series of vignettes reflecting the true stories of actual women, some of whom appear in the show themselves.
“We’ve got a couple that each wrote their side of their story,” explains Leaf. “We’ve got one story that’s being told almost as a bedtime fairy tale. We’ve got a mother writing a letter to her daughter who’s pregnant and trying to decide what to do. We’ve got a story that’s set in Germany in 1969. There’s a real variety of pieces.”

Also worth checking out this day:
A Study in Emerald
August 5, 7, 11, 12, 13
Intermedia Arts
Neil Gaiman’s many fans will want to check out this adaptation of his 2003 story that unfolds as a classic mystery set in the universe of H.P. Lovecraft.

Caucasian Aggressive Pandas and Other Mulatto Tales
August 5, 7, 10, 12, 13
Theatre in the Round
Important truths about race are told with verve and humor in this ensemble piece led by Duck Washington, one of the festival’s busiest artists. This year, he’s involved with four different shows.

Saturday, 8/13

The Accident Book
August 6, 7, 10, 12, 13
Ritz Theater Proscenium
When a show he was touring chanced to swing through the Minnesota Fringe 15 years ago, acclaimed theater artist Jon Ferguson met the woman he would later marry. Ferguson’s new Fringe show, The Accident Book, explores the many possibilities of chance meetings, including encounters that have the potential to both heal and harm.
“I’m exploring this idea of surprise in a big way,” he says. “This connectedness through comedy and connectedness through revealing that we’re all a little lost and doing the best we can.”
Though Ferguson doesn’t want to give too many details away, there’s an element of audience interaction to The Accident Book, which has a scenario that feels much like a convention. Audience members will be drawn into the show in unexpected ways.
“I’m not sure if I want to make ‘plays’ any more,” he says. “I want to have this experience with the audience, this thing that we do together. I’m trying to really get the actors and audience to feel as one.”

Also worth checking out this day:
Snow Country
August 5, 7, 8, 11, 13
Theatre in the Round
This comedy about a flight attendant at a regional airline has a cabin full of top-notch local talent, with Shanan Custer directing and co-starring.

August 5, 6, 8, 12, 13
Phoenix Theater
The exploration-themed premise of this physical theater piece is mysterious, but there’s no mystery about the caliber of young artists — Ivey winner Tyler Michaels, to name just one — who are creating it.

Sunday, 8/14

August 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
Matthews Park Picnic Area
The Fringe shows that take place in off-the-beaten-path venues are always among the most intriguing. This year, Savage Umbrella is having a theatrical picnic at Seward neighborhood’s Matthews Park with the Homeric Penelope.

“We just love to retell stories from a different point of view,” says co-writer/co-director Laura Leffler-McCabe. “This is The Odyssey, but it’s the flip side. While Odysseus is off fighting wars and being seduced by all the sirens, there’s also this story that’s taking place back home in Ithaca.”
Penelope is immersive, but Leffler-McCabe emphasizes that people shouldn’t be scared off by that. (“No one will be called upon to do anything!”) Audience members will be guests at a Greek party, and they’ll move throughout the festivities.

Can people bring picnic dinners? “You’re certainly welcome to,” says Leffler-McCabe, who adds that they’ll be firing up the barbecue grill to serve hot dogs to some. Now that’s something you’re not going to get at the Guthrie.

Also worth checking out this day:
Terror on the High Seas
August 4, 6, 9, 11, 14
Bryant-Lake Bowl
No, it’s not a pirate show: Familiar Fringe face Les Kurkendaal takes a cruise to Alaska with his boyfriend’s family, and humorous domestic turmoil ensues.

Celebrity Exception
August 5, 7, 9, 11, 14
HUGE Theater
You know that thing where each member of a couple gets to pick one celebrity he or she could go to bed with if the opportunity ever arose? It’s all fun and games until that opportunity actually presents itself.