I’ve never really been a theater person. That might seem like an odd statement coming from the editor of a theater publication, but it’s actually part of why I’m in this position. Playlist wanted a fresh perspective from someone not so deeply immersed in local theater culture. Twin Cities theater is a fascinating, supportive and tightly knit community, but it can also be an insular and incestuous one. Before I started at Playlist I had a general awareness of what plays were happening around town, and I recognized some of the scene’s notable names, but I knew it was going to be a major learning experience.
I have indeed learned a lot about the scene over the past eight months, but still I was daunted by the prospect of covering Fringe. I’d seen some Fringe shows in the past, but I’d never set out with a mission – or a Gold Pass – before. I took it sort of easy on myself by claiming the 10pm time slot as my gimmick. I knew I’d never be able to pull off something like Joshua Humphrey’s far-reaching venue-hopping (although I did manage to hit eight venues - not too shabby). Seeing that many 10 o'clock plays in that space of time still sounded exhausting.
And it was. Going to late night shows, getting home near midnight and trying to crank out some marginally insightful writing before bed nearly every night for a week and a half is a wearying gig, and I’m pretty sure I saw fewer shows than any of my fellow bloggers did. I don’t know how those folks pulled it off. But the thing was, it was only exhausting after the fact. In the moment, going to the Fringe was never less than exhilarating. I’m a late night guy anyway – with a full-time job, a part-time job, freelance work and a three-year-old, I kind of have to be if I want to accomplish anything – but I’m not normally as jazzed up at 11pm as I was leaving each and every Fringe show I saw, be they good, bad or Ole. As much as I would have liked to spend a quiet night on the couch watching Colbert with my wife, going out to the theater never felt like a chore.
So what did I learn in my first attempt at semi-hardcore Fringe viewing? I learned that for most shows, a 10pm time slot doesn’t make a major difference. I learned that I really like dance. I learned that I can bike from my house to the Rarig in under 30 minutes. I learned that Katie Bradley can own a room even in a quiet role, that Ryan Lear’s James Mason impression never gets old and that Nathan Simpson-Coffelt was born to play an imaginary talking bicycle. I learned that reviews on the Fringe site are a pretty reliable barometer. I learned that my son is old enough to sit reasonably quietly through a play with some fairly heady themes. I learned that taking my mom to see a dance show is as rewarding as I always thought it would be. I learned that a group of writers can grow to feel like a real team over the course of a festival even if you don’t physically encounter each other out at the shows.
So where does that leave me as a theater person? I’ve had my trial by Fringe and I think I came out in relatively good shape. Still, I don’t act, I don’t direct and I don’t write plays (at least, I haven’t yet). As much as I’ve gotten to know the scene, I still think of myself as something of an arms-length observer. That said, as I stood on the steps of the Rarig Sunday evening, pointing out all of the passing performers I recognized and introducing my family to several prominent directors, I couldn’t help feeling like I was a real part of something pretty special.
Yeah, I might just be a theater person at that.