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Twin Town High (vol. 8)
The Return of the Fringe!
Wednesday 03 August @ 20:55:05
by Dwight Hobbes
What’s a cynic to do? By now, the Minnesota Fringe Festival should’ve changed from daring and resourceful alternative theater to co-opted mainstream fodder. Instead, success (as the nation’s largest non-juried performing arts festival and the third-biggest Fringe in all of North America) apparently hasn’t cost the Fringe any integrity. It started out as—and, after 12 years, remains—a venue where ideas, from grit to glitz, are welcome.
Cooper (sole executive director to survive burnout into a fifth season) is glad
about having kept things fresh.
“There’s all kinds of new programs,” she readily states. “Visible
Fringe, the visual arts part of the festival, [is] way fringier. A lot of public
art, stuff out on the street. We have more Teen Fringe shows than ever before,
way more artists of color. More showcases in all kinds of different art forms.
It’s a much more eclectic lineup in terms of style and people’s
For good measure, Mixed Blood Theater and Illusion Theater are added sites.
And, instead of first-show-come-first-show-served-a-performing-space, this year’s
selection process is luck of the draw.
“We said, ‘we want to start an arbitrariness,’” Cooper
said. “But we do want to make sure there’s opportunity for [the
particularly underexposed]. We set aside slots in special lotteries. Five slots
for Kids Fringe, five for Teen Fringe, ten for international shows, ten for
artists of color.” There’s also Spiritual Fringe, a lineup of shows
with spirituality-based premises that’ll take place at United Methodist
An interesting aspect of the Fringe having gained an enormous profile, yet still
being about the little guy, is that Center for Independent Artists has been
able to horn in on the action with shows they call “Frinj of the Frinj.”
It began in late July and is independently produced, but gets a leg up by identifying
itself with the Fringe.
Cooper could’ve sued CIA for copyright infringement. But her attitude
is that “the name is apt. We have a similar spirit, [providing a] creative
forum for edgier work that doesn’t get a place elsewhere.”
year, one of those edgier works was Rasta bard David Daniels’ “Black
“They fill a gap. Like [the Fringe] fills a gap for artists to produce
their work, Frinj of the Frinj creates an opportunity for artists who [might
miss] our deadline, can’t afford our application fee, have a different
length show. We’re a bit more structured. Less structured than typical
theatre, so we create a space for artists. But [they are] even less structured.
It fills one more gap [in the] continuum of opportunities.”
One gap the Minnesota Fringe Festival has filled in that continuum turned out
to be historic. Hard as it is to find African-Americans in a locale nationally
known for theater, try finding any Native American work at all. Twin Cities
Native American theater got a toehold in 1999 with Raving Native Cabaret, a
bill of one-act plays produced by Marcie Rendon (now founding artistic director
of Raving Natives). Mark Anthony Rolo showcased his play “Mama Earth Loves
Lace” at the 2003 Fringe.
Rendon, playwright, book author and poet, and Rolo, playwright and former editor
at the Circle newspaper, are established names and strengthen Native theater’s
presence with the play “What’s An Indian Woman To Do?” at
play is based on the poem “What’s An Indian Woman To Do When White
Women Act More Indian Than Indians Do?,” a poem that raised eyebrows when
Rendon performed it several years ago at Jungle Theater. She recalls that it
was prompted by “the co-opting of Native culture and spirituality that
people feel free to do. The poem [was about] people who don’t know who
they are, who feel so bad about themselves and their history as a people that
they would rather be anything than who they are. It was a way to hold up the
Rolo’s stage adaptation details reflections of the fictional Belle, a
20-something American Indian woman. When he suggested the project, Rendon readily
agreed. “He’s good. Native people get the stuff he writes …
the stories, the characters.” Rolo directs the production, working with
Jenn Torres, who acted in “Mama Earth Loves Lace.”
Let us not be so p.c. as to overlook Bobbi Miller (there are, after all, gifted
white folk who get missed by mainstream radar). A mesmerizing vocalist and ingenious
songwriter, Miller has made her underground bones. She led the jazz-funk-soul
hybrid Trace Element for two years and spent five years fronting electronic
ensemble Autonomous, which cut two albums, Velvet Clouds Collide and
Lovelorn, which were nominated for Best Electronic Band in the Minnesota
just completed a year of study at Berklee College of Music (Boston) for jazz
vocal performance. When she goes back in September, she’ll resume recording
with Boston-based Hypersoul. An advance listen of the single “Les Enfants
Du Bled” demonstrates a rarity—electronic music that not only employs
an imaginative technical hand, but moves your heart and soul as well.
For the Fringe, Miller is producer, director and anthologist for the revue “Intoxicating”
at Jungle Theater. It’s a concept she came up with at Berklee, comparing
being in love to being under the influence of booze. After getting playfully
razzed by fellow students for much singing about a lot of drinking, it occurred
to her, “How many people equate being in love with being drunk, this feeling
of being high as a kite? I [researched] hundreds of great songs, from blues
and jazz standards to indie pop songs to honky-tonk to, of course, country music.
It’s something everyone can relate to. Most people have had a drink on
one occasion or another. And most can relate to falling in love on one occasion
or another.” For the gig, she shares the stage with accomplished Twin
Cities chanteuse and veteran session vocalist Michelle Langner. ||
Minnesota Fringe Festival runs Aug. 4 — 14. For all artists, locations,
dates and ticket prices call 612-872-1212 or do the electronic thing at FringeFestival.org.
See our other Fringe reviews, "Women no longer on fringes with Fringe."
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