It's that time again, when Twin Cities theater fans makes lists, check them more than twice, and prepare for 11 days of wall-to-wall performances. The Minnesota Fringe Festival is back, opening Thursday and running through August 12. During that time, more than 160 shows will be presented at 15 venues across Minneapolis (and the Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul).
Even the most dedicated Fringe-goer -- and they certainly exist -- can only catch about a third of the available shows during the 56 performance slots spread over the festival.
For Fringe Executive Director Robin Gillette, it's the culmination of a lot of hard work by the staff, volunteers, and the 165 producers who have made the event go for nearly two decades (next year marks its 20th anniversary).
And that means rolling with the changes until the very end. "We added a show last week, and I predict we will have one more that will come. It's pretty consistent," says Gillette.
The festival remains at 15 venues for 2012, though the spaces have been juggled a bit. The number of production is close as well -- there are no Bring Your Own Venues this year -- and the ticket prices have remained consistent: $12 for a single, plus a one-time $4 purchase of a button.
That doesn't mean there aren't changes afoot. "Our goal is to get people to the right show easier," Gillette says. This goal includes a streamlined website that allows visitors to quickly filter to the kind of shows they want to see.
"Our focus is getting people to see more than one show. That's what makes it unique from other theaters. You go and see a couple of shows, then talk in the lobby about what you've seen. That's more of the Fringe experience, rather than dropping in and catching a show," she says. "Fringe is a community thing. You are talking to strangers. It's not just you in a vacuum."
Along with the chatting while waiting in line, there are also other opportunities to meet and greet with Fringe-goers and artists. Each night, Fringe Central at Crooked Pint Ale House offers a place to unwind after a long evening or day, and make plans for the next.
These kinds of connections are not only important for the audience, but for the artists as well, who rely on word-of-mouth. That means not just hanging out at the theaters and passing out fliers and postcards, but engaging in social media and using the Fringe website.
"There are a lot of video trailers this year, which is a great way to get the flavor of shows. There are also tons of ways to search for shows: by location, theme, or actor," she says.
Gillette has another bit of key advice for Fringers: pick a site or area for the day and stick to it. Between road construction and other summertime events, driving and parking can get tricky in the Twin Cities, and racing to get from one side of town to the other in the short period between shows can really cut into your enjoyment of the festival.
Oh, and it doesn't end for Gillette after the 11 dizzying days of Fringe. "I'm going to the Edinburgh Fringe for the World Fringe Congress. That will be four days after the end of our Fringe," she says.
IF YOU GO:
Minnesota Fringe Festival
Thursday through August 12
$12 single tickets; $50-$225 multi-show passes; $4 Fringe button
For information and tickets, call 866.811.4111 or visit online