Trying to provide a snapshot of the Fringe is like shooting a Polaroid of Lake Superior—you might capture part of it, but the scope of the thing is too damned big to squeeze into the frame. At the same time, there's such a thing as a sort of fractal Fringiness, in which any discrete slice somehow captures the nutty, informal, and possibility-laden whole.
In that spirit, we basically threw darts at our Fringe program and contacted some local Fringe artists for a series of guerilla interviews. Our first request: Describe your show in a dozen words or less. To keep self-promoters from the temptation of prolixity we told them we'd print only their first dozen words, cutting them off and inserting a period, thus making their ramblings incoherent. Our threat worked, and no one went over.
We then asked a few more quick, preposterously dumb questions, lending our interview subject the chance to expound on their art, their neighbors, their swimming qualifications, and, um, their philosophy of body waxing. Think of our serial interrogations as speed dating between swingers and Mennonites: You know ahead of time it's not going to work out, but it's still cheap fun to watch.
To round out your Fringe knowledge, we also compiled a handy sidebar ("If It's August...") that lists venues, prices, and ticket-scoring tips. The path to conquering Fringe Nation, Grasshopper, begins with knowledge.
The Mechanical Division
Cannibal! The Musical
City Pages: Here's a free chance to plug your show in a dozen words or less.
Ben Thietje: It's a singing and dancing, people-eating musical by South Park's Trey Parker.
CP: Does anyone in your company, the Mechanical Division, possess any real mechanical skills?
Thietje: Not only do we at the Mechanical Division possess real mechanical skills, we'll prove it by using our pneumatic wrench of hilarity to ratchet our way into your heart.
CP: Which cast member would you most rely upon should you be lost in the mountains during a blizzard?
Thietje: We would most rely upon our lead, Josh Mitchell, because he's strong, crafty, and tastes a little like a Cheesy Gordita Crunch.
Die, Clowns, Die!
City Pages: If we asked you to summarize your show, and then we told you we really don't care about the answer, but you can still have 12 free words, how would you describe it?
Joseph Scrimshaw: A one-man comedy about comedy. And death. But only funny death.
CP: Why, why, must the clowns die?
Scrimshaw: Everybody likes to laugh, but everybody hates clowns. The clowns in my show try to address this irony by amusing others with their inevitable deaths. If you accept the idea that other people's pain is funny, then other people's death (particularly clowns') should be hilarious.
CP: You reeled off some good after-show banter at the Fringe Preview recently. Do you fear you've spent all your best post-show bonhomie?
Scrimshaw: Yes, I turn my pockets inside out and find no bonhomie. My curtain speech for my actual show will be, "Thank you. Please write a review on the Fringe website," and even that will seem like a long curtain speech to me.
Best of the 24-Hour Plays
City Pages: Plug your show in 12 words or less.
Stacy Poirier: Laugh your guts out, silly, zany, emergency room, crazy theater artists' jamboree!
CP: What's your favorite segment in this year's show?
Poirier: Darth Vader. Next question: Bachelorette #3, describe the perfect date between us. Bachelorette #3: First I would put on some Barry White, then you would undress and lay on a cold metal table and I would wax you!
CP: What's your worst nightmare memory of the 24-Hour Play Festival?
Poirier: Having to put full body makeup on the only man in our show... oh wait, you said nightmare...
The Pauper's Theater
Illinois Jane and the Pyramid of Peril
City Pages: To show how much we love independent theater, here's 12 words to describe your show.
Jim Belich: An epic adventure for everyone, with pirates, an evil mime and more!
CP: How much Indiana Jones stuff are you spoofing? Will there be a giant sunken chamber of spiders?
Belich: Some, but the show has its own unique flavor as well. No spiders, but there is a fight on a moving train.
CP: If Sean Connery shows up, are you willing to work him into the show in a lame and implausible fashion?
Belich: Absolutely. We'll take Harrison Ford too, if you've got him.
The Dr.* Matt Show (*not a doctor)
CP: How would you describe your act of fraud to the American Medical Association's grand inquisitor, in 12 words or less?
Matt Peiken: The most dynamic, dysfunctional, disturbing hour on daytime television.
CP: Who is your personal self-help guru?
Peiken: Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel: His sage observations and maxims cover virtually any situation that arises in life. I'm also partial to Doug Chopra, Deepak's younger, perkier brother and an up-and-coming mystic with a taste for velour.
CP: Dr. Phil is almost certainly hiding a terrible and disgraceful secret. Discuss.
Peiken: Back in Pseudo-psychology school, a few of us cool kids used to call him "Comb-over" McGraw. Oh, the laughs that would bring after a few milk-bongs. Anyway, give the man his due—he decided, like Martin Mull, to go with the bald look, becoming the first male to have his follicles surgically removed. His televised integrity soared. I can only hope to see the same boost to my counseling career by becoming the first male to have his tubes tied.
Perpetual Motion Theatre Company
The Depth of the Ocean
City Pages: Describe the show as deeply as you can in 12 words.
Eric Sharp: Five survivors trapped in an ocean raft, performed in actual water.
CP: Did you have to demonstrate swimming skills in your audition process?
Sharp: We're all competent swimmers but there will be a lifeguard on duty at all times in case any of us try to become method actors during the water-struggle scenes.
CP: Will your show help me finally forget Kevin Costner's Waterworld?
Sharp: If all goes well, yes. We hope to replace those lingering unsavory memories with brand new unsavory memories. And besides, this is Fringe theater, so we guarantee this experience will literally splash you with in-your-face immediacy. This will be an absolutely unique theatrical event.
In the Basement Productions
The Balcony Scene
City Pages: Your show. Twelve words. Go.
Kristin Richardson: Two quirky people find something unexpected within themselves and each other.
CP: What's the strangest quirk any of your neighbors have had?
Richardson: There were the people above me in Uptown who seemed to enjoy playing bocce ball on their hardwood bedroom floor. At 3:00 a.m. Often.
CP: Do you view The Balcony Scene as a comedy or as something with deeper dimensions?
Richardson: Mostly comedy with a dash of deep. Overcoming fear and the obstacles you set up for yourself in order to let go and create meaningful relationships with others—that's pretty universal.
An American Vanishing
City Pages: Your show. Our page. Twelve words.
Slim Varner: A bent Midwesterner attacks religion, politics, those things that make life hell.
CP: Your press photo seems disturbing. Is this show appropriate for kindergarten field trips?
Varner: Adults only due to language and imagery.
CP: What exactly is the connection between Genghis Khan and Spalding Gray?
Varner: I am a descendant of Genghis and Spalding told me how to write this play... five hours... nothing repeated.
Players of Notorious Temerity
City Pages: Lay your baggage down on us in a dozen words.
Dan O'Neil: Between departure and destination, things left behind keep coming back.
CP: You describe your play as Kerouac meets Beckett. Let's say they really did. Who supplies the smokes?
O'Neil: Kerouac undoubtedly tries to bum a smoke, but Beckett rolls it so infinitely slowly that Jack is in the mountains by the time it gets lit.
CP: Is your show more dream or reality?
O'Neil: The play is placed within the state of travel; dreams and reality are similar and temptingly interchangeable. Every act feels like a dream, but the consequences are very real.
Theater for the Thirsty and Front Porch Theatre
City Pages: Boil down your show down to 12 words for the kind of fellow who has to write things on his forearm to remember them.
Jeremiah Gamble: Jack gets a fresh start in a festive town full of freaks.
CP: Which of your memories would you most like erased?
Gamble: The time I went to a Monkees reunion concert.
CP: What percentage of people do you think would like to erase their memories and start over?
Gamble: 17.4 percent
If It's August, They Must Be Harrassing Boy Scouts
The Minnesota Fringe Festival goes for its lucky 13th year with 168 companies and more than 900 performances spanning its 11 days. But as you should refrain from contemplating the number of stars in the galaxy lest you suffer conceptual vertigo, don't try to gulp it all down in one sitting. Pick a show or two with a sniper's eye or career from venue to venue like a sailor on shore leave— it's really up to you.
The good news is that Fringe prices are pretty much comparable to last year's, and the organizers have made it (somewhat) easier to avoid standing in long lines at each show: It's now possible to call up and order tickets in advance. (The catch is that it'll cost you a $2.50 "reservation fee." Boo. Hiss.) If you take the plunge, though, you'll be able to access a special line (the one free of people patting themselves down for their wallets at the front, after waiting insensate for 10 minutes beforehand). Single-show tickets remain a reasonable $12; $10 for students, seniors, and MPR members with ID. A five-show punch card will run you $45, and kids 12 and under get in the door for $5. For theater gourmands, there is the nuclear option: the $135 Ultra Pass, which gets you into as many doggone shows as you can get to. You can buy tickets only after buying one of those ever-lovin' Fringe pins for $3, a shakedown that would only be more unsightly if they made you bob for the sharp end of it in the toilets at First Ave. (The pin will get you discounts at 25 local businesses and year-round ticket discounts with a couple of companies; we remain uninterested).
All seating is general admission. The Fringe only accepts cash at venue box offices. For advance tickets call 651.209.6799 or go to uptowntix.com; for anything we've forgotten, visit fringefestival.org. There are a total of 29 Fringe venues this year, including eight site-specific performance locales, the Visible Fringe, and the Nightcap series at various bars and restaurants. Addresses follow. No announcements yet about which of these venues will be hosting the Fringe Anonymous 12-step meetings at the end of next week.
1926 Condos, 1926 Pleasant Ave. S.
Acadia Café, 1931 Nicollet Ave. S.
Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St.
*Gallery 13, 302 NE 13th Ave.
Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, 212 3rd Ave. N., #140
**Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S.
***Joe's Garage, 1610 Harmon Pl.
Lake Harriet United Methodist Church, 4901 Chowen Ave. S.
May Day Café, 3440 Bloomington Ave. S.
Mill City Museum, 704 S. Second St.
Minneapolis Theatre Garage, 711 W. Franklin Ave.
**Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 Fourth St. S.
**The Playwrights' Center, 2301 E. Franklin Ave.
**Red Eye Theater, 15 W. 14th St.
**Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S.
Steeple People Surplus Store, 2004 Lyndale Ave. S.
**Theatre de la Jeune Lune, 105 N. 1st St.
U of M Rarig Center, 330 S. 21st Ave.
Watershed High School, 2344 Nicollet Ave. S.
Whittier Park, 425 W. 26th St.
YWCA of Minneapolis, 1130 Nicollet Mall
* Visible Fringe Gallery
**Performance Site and Visible Fringe Gallery
***Closing Night Party, August 13