Fringe expands into new dimensions
Wednesday 28 July @ 19:06:46
by Dwight Hobbes
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Tell that to Minnesota Fringe Festival executive director Leah Cooper. She steered last summer’s hugely successful 10th anniversary Fringe and, instead of standing pat, has added new dimensions to the festival.
Spoken word has been pulled in from the periphery. “Our audiences are just naturally more open-minded and willing to take risks and try things,” she states. “We’ve done spoken word for several years ... kind of on the side. We’re trying to ... put it on equal footing with the rest of the theater productions.”
Hence, three shows featuring varied artists, including accomplished veterans Amy Salloway, Les Kurkendaal and Laurie McKiernan, go up at the MCTC Whitney Studio: “A Good Year for Garanimals,” “Agog” and “Tales From The Nether Regions.”
The Fringe also gets in on the next big thing in American theater, 10-minute plays. “Fast Fringe” offers two productions, giving the Fringe audience a good-sized sampling of the art form, premiering a total of 10 scripts by area playwrights.
Cooper brainstormed with one of the Twin Cities’ brighter minds, critic-playwright Roy Close, as well as playwrights Dan Pinkerton and Matt Everett, and the three created Fast Fringe 1: The Agony and Fast Fringe 2: The Ecstasy, running back to back at Loring Playhouse and presented by The Spanish Ladies (who are neither Latina nor, for that matter, female), Close, Everett and Pinkerton.
“It’s a different challenge,” said Roy Close, whose play “Your Call Is Very Important To Us” is on the FF2 bill. “Everything’s in miniature. Sort of like the difference between a poem and a short story. It’s a really interesting challenge. Getting everything done inside of 10 minutes is tricky.”
Also new is Stand-Up Fringe, five shows of stand-up, improvisation and sketch comedy: Mary Hirsch deals with unrequited love for “If I Don’t Marry Davy Jones I’ll Just Die;” Alex Cole takes you backstage with “So, You’re the Opening Act?;” Farheen Hakeem creates “Comedy Against Racism;” and Brave New Workshop performs “From Here to Insanity — Comedians with a View” and “A Parenting Story.”
And there’s Fringe Central. “One thing most of the [fringe festivals] in Canada have is a gathering place where you can hang out, talk about the shows with other fringe-goers and meet the artists,” Cooper said. “We’ve talked about doing this here for years.
Now, we’ve finally put it together.” While details have yet to be nailed down, Cooper’s sure it’ll happen downstairs at Hey City Theater. “We’re going to have music every night, performers doing bits from their shows. More important than anything else, people will [can] talk to each other and spread word of mouth about the shows. What makes the Fringe different than a regular theater experience, besides the fact that it’s non-juried and it’s really diverse, funky art, it’s about community, [connecting with] each other.”
Cooper’s enthusiasm about bringing new ideas to the Fringe paid off handsomely last year — with an interesting wrinkle. It marked the first time Twin Cities theatre staples In The Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre and Pillsbury House Theatre were brought in as performance venues.
Some artists (never mind who) balked at being placed in what they considered “bad” (minority) neighborhoods, for fear fewer people would attend. But the shows either sold out or were very well-attended, so both venues are back this year with 11 shows each.
Mixed in with the Fringe’s cutting-edge material is a little traditional fare: Tenth Muse Theater Company is doing Jean Paul Sartre’s existential classic “No Exit.” TMTC artistic director Amanda Sterling, who directs the production, had no qualms about working at Pillsbury House Theatre. In fact, she’s damned glad about it. “I was thrilled to find out we were given Pillsbury House Theatre as our venue,” says Sterling. “I have long admired PHT. As far as being afraid of the neighborhood, please. We — in particular, white artists who grew up in the burbs — need to open our minds and realize theater isn’t just for those [who] live and play in the uptown area of Minneapolis or the lowertown area of St. Paul.”
In addition to the new showcases, Cooper is hyped about this year’s number of political shows. “This is an election year and there are obviously a lot of pissed off writers. Because [we have] tons of shows with, I may say, some subversive content.”
Among the dozen political shows is Dean J. Seal and Steve Anderson’s “An Empire Disguised as a Nation: A Call to Conscience.” If nothing else, Seal — who used to have Cooper’s job — certainly knows how to scathingly stick it to the powers that be. You can catch him, in all his improvised irreverence, at the Acadia Cafe.
Another political show is “Don’t Conceal, Reveal! A Minnesota Handgun Western,” by Ms. Winnie Productions at MCTC Whitney Mainstage; “Death Penalty Puppetry” by The Chameleon Theatre Circle at Loring Playhouse; and, at Red Eye, “The Queen of Block E,” Heidi Arneson’s romp about what she describes as “a scruffy, futuristic super-heroine and her gang [using] erotic powers to infiltrate Homeland Security just as the President arrives on Block E: Dumpster diving, double agents, dirty dancing anarchy!”
The Fringe, by the way, will be doing a voter registration via its website.
“Because I figure, if there’s anybody I want voting, it’s Fringe-goers,” Cooper said.
The Minnesota Fringe Festival runs Aug. 6 - 15. For the full schedule with all locations, times and ticket prices, call 612-872-1212.
Or do the electronic thing at FingeFestival.org.