Fringe by Numbers: Silly Squirrel, skits are for kids!

Yesterday and today have really gotten me fired up even more about the coming Minnesota Fringe Festival.  You see, the structure of my column (meaning, going to see shows randomly) has always led to my not getting to talk to or about the shows that I have interest in prior to the festival.  So, a few years ago I decided that prior to the Festival, I would post little feature articles about some of the shows and some of the people who are involved in the Fringe.  As part of that effort for this year, I have been doing interviews that will result in a bunch of articles over the next few days.  Those interviews have me itching to get into the thick of Fringing.  I've been doing those yesterday and today.

Put that together with last night's preview at the Minneapolis Central Library, and this has been a great couple of days for stoking the fire of impatience for the start of the Festival.

I suppose you may not be reading this the moment that I'm writing it.  Makes sense, unless you're standing behind me right now and reading over my shoulder, and if you are doing that, cut it out!  That's just plain rude!  Anyway, the point is, I'll insert that by "last night" I am referring to July 24, 2008.  On that evening, four plays were featured thanks to the Fringe Festival's cooperative effort with MELSA.  The theme was theatre for young audiences.  Unlike the earlier Fringe-For-All, this preview didn't hold the participants to a 3-minute limit.  I'm not sure what the official time constraints were, but it seemed to be somewhere between five and seven minutes.  Whatever it may have been, it allowed for a nice flow that was quite kid-friendly.  There wasn't too large of a crowd, but those who were there had a lot of fun.

With only one last preview coming up, before I write about the actual performances last night, I would like to encourage you to go to the final library preview.  It is free, after all.  It's on July 26 at 1:00 p.m. at Galaxie Library (14955 Galaxie Ave., Apple Valley).

Okay... onto the shows:

  1. JACK - Eric Van Wyk:  This is a one-man puppet show.  Not unlike many another puppet show, the scale of the performance was small.  The entire performing space was behind a five-foot wide by four-foot high cardboard construct.  The actual show will be taking place on the much larger Mixed Blood stage.  I'm hoping that the change in scale of venue won't adversely affect the show.  Also, not unlike many puppet shows, this one seemed to fit just right in a library.  My mother was a children's librarian once upon a time.  This guy is just like the folks that she would've brought in to entertain the little ones.  And you know, that was wonderful for this preview.  After Van Wyk had introduced us to his version of "Jack and the Beanstalk", he invited the kids to come on up and try out the puppets.  A couple of braver souls took him up on the offer.  Now, as for the actual interpretation of the classic tale?  Well, Jack is a character, and so is his cow.  Other than that, I'm not quite sure how close to the traditional version it sticks.  I did enjoy meeting Jack's uncle, who somehow has a tree growing out of his head.  There's also a prophetic bird involved.  This seems quite inventive and well done.
  2. Cast of Dancing Delights - Suzanne Wiltgen:  I'm not sure where I've seen many of these dancers before.  But, I was pretty sure it was going to be good, just based on the fact that I saw them and said to myself, "Hey!  I know these people!  They're good!"  Thing is, I don't really know them at all.  But, my first impression was right on.  They are good.  They, too, brought some kids up on the stage.  They did it as part of their introduction.  Suzanne, the choreographer, explained how the six member ensemble built the dance.  And they had the kids participate in one of their exercises.  That in and of itself was an entertaining couple of minutes.  The dance that followed was full of whimsy and variety.  The dance was funny at times, but not just goofy.  It was really well done modern work.
  3. The Supercilious Ways of Walter Wading - SPARK theatre + dance:  This would be a good time to mention that I got to the preview about 25 minutes early.  This only really matters because I got to share many of those minutes with the daughter of the couple who runs this company.  I should clarify that the girl is about 7 years old, and she's quite an outgoing little girl.  Her brother was there, too.  He's less chatty, but still more with it than many small kids.  Watching the kids, and then how they interact with their parents, it is clear that being brought up in a household where both parents are actors and dancers leads to having a lot of fun and being pretty darn well adjusted, too.  Anyway... this play involves characters that I can only assume are fairies. Three of them.  In this scene they encountered a mortal human, who couldn't see or hear them.  Despite that, they worked really hard to try and make him a friend.  I'm not sure if their attempts will eventually succeed or not.  There seems to be a major failure to communicate.  I recommend going to see it to find out.

  4. An Inconvenient Squirrel - Joseph Scrimshaw Productions:  Fringe perennials Joseph Scrimshaw and Tim Uren appear in this work as a couple of squirrels.  In what has become a tried-and-true application of comedy duos throughout the ages, Tim plays a more intelligent and enlightened squirrel, a bit high brow and uptight.  Joe plays a more goofy, foolish, and likely to get into trouble type of squirrel.  When it comes down to it, it's like Abbott & Costello in squirrel costumes.  But wait... anyone who has seen a Scrimshaw show over the years knows that they don't stop with the tried and true.  They take it and give it a little extra twist.  Look, there's something special about things like The Muppets, Looney Tunes, and so on.  They appeal to both adults and kids.  The comedy is on two (or more) levels.  Joseph and Tim offer a performance of that ilk.  One little thing that I really enjoyed: all the squirrels in the Village of the Squirrels are named by their major trait.  So in essence, they're like the Smurfs.  I'm wondering if there is a Squirrelette.

Alright.  That's the four shows from the preview.  That wraps up the official part of this blog.  However, for those of you who have read my column over the years, you ought to know that it isn't really finished.  How very random:

  • History Channel International featured shows on doomsday theories tonight.  Now I have the REM song "It's the End of the World as We Know It" running through my head.
  • Twenty-two
  • There is a "Polo Classic" happening in Maple Plain on August 3rd.  I never knew there was enough interest in Polo in Minnesota to warrant a "Classic".
  • A bit of trivia from from a random trivia engine: "The earth is .02 degrees hotter during a full moon." -- We've got to figure out how to stop full moons!  Any way we can stop global warming must be done!
  • I know four songs on the Banjo.  Sadly, they are "London Bridge is Falling Down", "Yankee Doodle", "Go Tell Aunt Rhody", and "Little Brown Jug"



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