So, which Minnesota Fringe Festival do you want to see?
With nearly 170 productions presented over two weeks, Fringe offers options for just about any fan of theater or entertainment. It also offers plenty of opportunities for creators, who bring just as many reasons for participating as there are shows.
For some performers, the Fringe has become a tradition, a part of their regularly scheduled theater season. Others are professionals looking to stretch beyond their normal boundaries. Some are newcomers looking for a breakout hit; others just have an idea, a bunch of friends, and a slot on one of the 18 stages.
"Not everyone does Fringe for the same reasons," explains executive director Robin Gillette. While some are familiar faces with many shows under their belts, the festival also needs to be open to "those who want to explore their personal experiences through a show."
Joseph Scrimshaw is no stranger to the Fringe, having crafted a string of hits at the festival (including last year's The Damn Audition, one of my 10 favorite shows of the year). This year, he brings Brain Fighters, a show all about the power of imagination. That's an important factor for any show at the festival, as time, space, and budget limits put pressure on the creators.
"I enjoy working within boundaries as a creator, because I think some surprising and novel choices come from thinking inside a box," Scrimshaw says.
What are those limits? The artists get a 90-minute slot to set up, perform (limited to 60 minutes of that), and tear down. Lighting cues are limited, and rehearsal time onstage is short.
Still, size isn't everything. "It's easy to slip into thinking all Fringe shows have to be bigger and bigger, but one of the great things about the festival is you can do shows with different goals. If you have an intimate show, an experimental show, it's also great to be able to plan for a smaller venue," Scrimshaw says.
And no matter the size, the limits are still the same. "Since the audience knows there are things we can't do, it's a source of excitement to see how the artists will do it anyway. The Ikea chair is a fixture of Fringe shows. A Fringe audience gets to ask: 'How are they going to suggest Scotland in the year 3066 with Ikea chairs?' Audiences year-round would tend to ask: 'Why are they using Ikea chairs?'" he says.
WHILE THE FRINGE IS STILL GOVERNED BY a random selection of theater companies that apply, adjustments have been made this year. The venues have been split into large, medium, and small, with different admission fees for each. For a popular artist like Scrimshaw or other longtime Fringe regulars, that offers more clues as to where the performances will be (and essentially guaranteed them spots, as there were fewer applicants in the lottery for the large venues than the number of performing slots).
Local performer Tamara Ober put Fringe "out of my mind completely. In fact, I was convinced, in some fit of dyslexia, that I was 114 on the waiting list instead of 44."
So Ober was speechless when she got a call offering a spot. "I got the message and had a short drive to think about it before I called them back. My first thought was there was no way I could have my new solo show ready in time for the Fringe, so what in the world could I possibly do to present or perform in such limited time," she says.
Money was also an important consideration for Ober, who was robbed earlier this spring. The venue was one of the large ones—which included an additional fee—and time was severely limited for coming up with a title, description, and the cast. Her eventual approach was to enlist several colleagues to piece together a series of solo dance pieces under the name Flesh.
One of the touring productions, Four Clowns, built a tour around several Fringe appearances this summer. That allows the Los Angeles-based company to bring its show to a wide swath of the country, and to interact with a number of theater companies, says Jeremy Aluma.
"I've heard such positive things about your Fringe. In fact it's the one of the five I was most hoping we got into. I hear your town turns into a theater community and everyone from the city comes out. Already I can feel the momentum 3,000 miles away. The staff and site are very well organized, and it seems like they have got it down in terms of how to produce a festival," Aluma says.
For the organizers, the goal is facilitate the performers—offering the space and technical crew, box office, and marketing support—without interfering with what is being presented onstage.
All these efforts have made the Minnesota Fringe Festival a consistent success and one of the oldest such festivals in the United States. That reputation has made Fringe a popular stop for touring performers.
"Audiences love the chance to see the strangers," Gillette says. "There's an extra cachet to it."
Your Fringe Starter Kit
A preview of the festival's best bets
Not sure where to begin? The Minnesota Fringe Festival offers 168 shows at 18 venues scattered across the Twin Cities. There's no way to predict the unexpected hits that make each festival a delight, but here is a sampling of shows—built on past reputation, pre-festival buzz, or just really cool titles—that offer a jumping-off point.
Angelina Jolie Is a Zionist Whore! or, Plan 9 from Baghdad
Definite "show title of the year" winner for 2011. Three bungling Iraqi insurgents kidnap an American television correspondent, which may have been a big mistake.
Aug. 5, 5:30 p.m.; Aug. 7, 10 p.m. Aug. 8, 8:30 p.m.; Aug. 11, 8:30 p.m. Aug. 13, 4 p.m.
Hitmaker Joseph Scrimshaw (last year's The Damn Audition and many others) returns with the tale of a wizard who takes over the world just by the power of thought. The cast also includes Mo Perry, David Mann, and Randy Reyes.
Aug. 5, 7 p.m.; Aug. 6, 4 p.m. Aug. 8, 5:30 p.m.; Aug. 10, 7 p.m. Aug. 13, 4 p.m.
Comedy = Tragedy + Something Else
Mike Fotis and the Danger Committee explore what happens when three jugglers attempt to help a storyteller spice up his show. Someone's probably going to get hurt.
Aug. 4, 5:30 p.m.; Aug. 6, 10 p.m. Aug. 9, 8:30 p.m.; Aug. 13, 5:30 p.m. Aug. 14, 1 p.m.
The Duties and Responsibilities of Being a Sidekick
What would Batman be without Robin? Captain America without Bucky? Superman without, er, Krypto? Find out from insider Gentleman Li and his trusty sidekick, Barrel Man.
Aug. 4, 5:30 p.m.; Aug 7, 2:30 p.m. Aug. 9, 10 p.m.; Aug 12, 5:30 p.m. Aug. 14, 7 p.m.
Fletcher & Zenobia Save the Circus (by Edward Gorey)
Mill City Museum
The Live Action Set present an adaptation of Edward Gorey's book about a cat and doll who, as the title suggests, must save a circus from ruin.
Aug. 5, 7 p.m.; Aug. 6, 4 p.m. Aug. 6, 7 p.m.; Aug. 7, 2:30 & 5:30 p.m. Aug. 12, 7 p.m.; Aug. 13, 4 p.m. & 7 p.m. Aug. 14, 2:30 & 5:30 p.m.
Knit One, Purl the Other
Theatre in the Round
Finally, a Fringe show about knitting. Aviva made a choice 19 years ago, and has not made one since. Her life is a mess, apart from a weekly knitting group. Except that this week she's in line for a show, or is she? Metaphysical crafting hijinks ensue.
Aug. 6, 1 p.m.; Aug. 8, 7 p.m. Aug. 9, 8:30 p.m.; Aug. 12, 5:30 p.m. Aug. 13, 4 p.m.
Brandon has had some setbacks. His job. His ex. His father's dementia. And now, his eyesight. Today, however, somewhere over the Atlantic, on a flight where the time is always 2:41 p.m., an unlikely hero will rise. Created by Christopher Kehoe (St. Christopher of Financial Aid).
Aug. 4, 8:30 p.m.; Aug. 6, 4 p.m. Aug. 7, 10 p.m.; Aug. 9, 8:30 p.m. Aug. 12, 10 p.m.
Robot Lincoln: The Revengeance
Can mecha Lincoln and crazed John Wilkes Booth team up to save the world from a greater threat? Find out in this steampunky musical.
Aug. 5, 8:30 p.m.; Aug. 7, 1 p.m. Aug. 8, 8:30 p.m.; Aug. 9, 5:30 p.m. Aug. 13, 8:30 p.m.
Smothers Brothers Grimm
Joshua English Scrimshaw and Levi Weinhagen (The Harty Boys in the Case of the Limping Platypus) return with a series of re-imagined Grimm fairy tales, told in the style of classic 20th-century comedians.
Aug. 5, 5:30 p.m.; Aug. 7, 5:30 p.m.; Aug. 8, 7 p.m.; Aug. 12, 4 p.m.; Aug. 14, 2:30 p.m.
Tales From the Twisted Cities
This pair of short plays delves deep into the dark heart of the Twin Cities, exploring themes of possessing love and letting it go.
Aug. 5, 5:30 p.m.; Aug. 7, 7 p.m. Aug. 10, 10 p.m.; Aug. 11, 8:30 p.m. Aug. 14, 2:30 p.m.
A sequel to Shakespeare's Tempest by way of James Cameron's Aliens, from the creators of the 2009 Fringe hit Bard Fiction, expands on the story of Miranda, Ariel, and Caliban, showing that not every happy ending lasts forever
Aug. 4, 7 p.m.; Aug. 6, 2:30 p.m. Aug. 9, 10 p.m.; Aug. 11, 8:30 p.m. Aug. 13, 10 p.m.
Tim Lee—Scientist Turned Comedian
The title says it all for Lee, who puts his Ph.D. to good use with the science-based standup routines that made him a YouTube star.
Aug. 7, 4 p.m.; Aug. 10, 10 p.m. Aug 12, 5:30 p.m.; Aug. 12, 8:30 p.m. Aug. 13, 10 p.m.
Those Were the Days
Minneapolis Theatre Garage
Revisit the television of yesterday, when audiences waited for actual jokes to laugh and every program had a theme song. From the creators of Flops! and DreamBoys.
Aug. 6, 8:30 p.m.; Aug. 7, 4 p.m. Aug. 8, 8:30 p.m.; Aug. 12, 4 p.m. Aug. 14, 4 p.m.
You Only Live Forever Once
Four Humors gives us a piece about danger, intrigue, double crossing, and super secret agents—with puppets to boot! The show has already earned kudos for its run at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival.
Aug. 4, 8:30 p.m.; Aug. 7, 8:30 p.m. Aug. 10, 5:30 p.m.; Aug. 11, 8:30 p.m. Aug. 13, 5:30 p.m.
For its 18th edition, the Minnesota Fringe Festival will feature 168 productions on 18 stages in Minneapolis and St. Paul between August 4 and 14. Each show lasts no longer than 60 minutes, with full programs running through the evening on weekdays and throughout the day on weekends.
Tickets are still $12 for each performance (along with a one-time purchase of a $4 Fringe button), while kids 12 and under are $5 (no button required). A bevy of discounts and multi-show passes are available. To order in advance, call 866.811.4111 or visit www.fringefestival.org. The box office for each show will be open 30 minutes before each performance.
Most of the theaters are on the West Bank or around Uptown, and executive director Robin Gillette suggests that, considering the amount of road construction in the city this year, it may be a good idea to choose a venue or location and make a day of it, instead of trying to get completely across town in the half-hour between performances.
The closing of Bedlam Theatre means Fringe Central moves from the West Bank to Lyn-Lake at Moto-i (2940 Lyndale Ave. S.). Along with serving as a gathering spot for Fringers to drink and talk about the shows they've seen, the venue will also host special events. Again, check the Fringe website for a list of activities.
• Augsburg College, 2211 Riverside Ave., Minneapolis
• Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
• Gremlin Theatre, 2400 University Ave., St. Paul
• HUGE Improv Theater, 3037 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
• Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
• Minneapolis Theatre Garage, 711 Franklin Ave. W., Minneapolis
• Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. 4th St., Minneapolis
• Playwrights' Center, 2301 Franklin Ave. E., Minneapolis
• Theatre in the Round Players, 245 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
• University of Minnesota Rarig Center, 330 21st Ave. S., Minneapolis
"BRING YOUR OWN" VENUES
• Cult Status Gallery, 2913 Harriet Ave. S., Minneapolis
• Kieran's Irish Pub, 601 First Ave. N., Minneapolis
• Mill City Museum, 710 S. Second St., Minneapolis