In the following article, the writer sums up, the manner in which one may Fringe (and the effects of such Fringing in this fashion), Flashback to a Former Fringe, and Three Actual Reviews (Not a Fringe Show, A Bad Fringe Show, and Four Kids Triumphantly Nail the Essence of Fringe)
“To Fringe,” verb, as in “s/he went a-Fringing,”: the act or art of going to Fringe shows; adj. the manner in which one Fringes, Fringed, or plans to Fringe. SEE ALSO: “Experimental theater (and/or performance),” typically differentiated from “regular theater” by: 1. The content and/or style of the show; or 1a: A degree of departure from traditional theater structure and/or production; or 2. A qualitative description, sometimes negative, indicating “a not super-awesome show,” “sort of sloppy,” “not really realized,” or “a fking trainwreck,” according to one or more measures, specific to the person who is measuring, often contradictory in nature. [Given: that there is no absolute standard of Fringeness (“the show was a little too Fringey,” “That was a total Fringe show”), so: there are no agreed-upon criteria for that which is essentially Fringe.]
The way I usually Fringe is the Fringebinge, viz. crazed Fringeing for ten straight days, gleeful immersion in Fringe goings-on and gossip, a usurpation of one’s workaday life and society by the sheer centripetal force of the Fringe Vortex, or the Full-On Fringe, an attempt to go to a show in every single Fringe slot, a project that takes enormous organization and charts and lists and maps and trail mix and strategy, and is absolutely thrilling, and creates an unbelievably rich and textured Fringe experience, and may or may not result in a manic episode, I’m just saying.
I started Fringeing in 2003, the year the Fringe came careening out of the wings of the MN theater scene and landed itself center stage (ha! you see what I did there? o clever magazine-y metaphor!). At the time, I was the excessively young arts editor of a local magazine, and growing weary of the magazine-y lexicon, and utterly bored of profiling the same 3 very worthy arts giants in Mpls over and over and over, and anyway I had been charged with Growing the Younger Demographic and generally upping the hipster quotient at this magazine, so I thought what the fuck, I’ll cover the Fringe.
Thusly was I sucked into the fledging Fringe Vortex, which, though small, was a force of nature even then. The Fringe in 2003 was on its second year with a brilliant new artistic director who pretty much turned the festival into the all-consuming theater mob scene it is today. I cannot fathom why, but that year the closing party was held at my house, and while it was indeed a little over-full with maybe 300 people stuffed into rooms, sitting on floors, climbing into bookcases, and piling five deep into chairs, it was small enough that it was in a house. And I say to you the drunkenness and overall wreckage were epic and divine.
But houses come and houses go, and in the fullness of time the once-fragile Fringe grew great and strong, outlasting a number of marriages, crises, whole theater eras, and community-wide fits of pique. All signs pointed, back then, to a boom in the power and quality of Fringe shows and the festival as a whole. And lo! more or less this has come to pass. And lo, some shows still suck. And it still annoys the hell out of me, because in the context of shows that are honestly mindblowing, these shows actually are a waste of time. If you aren’t too bothered by squirming and chewing your fingers for an hour at those shows, by golly, you are a kinder, gentler person than I. I can’t celebrate a show just because it was creative and brave and put itself out there which is taking a risk anyway, goll-darnit, and that’s a Minnesota A for Effort. I see too much half-assery, too many vanity shows, too many stale yuk-yuk comedies that play for the spot of “Most Popular Show in the Fringe,” because people this is not high school. It’s rare I love the highest-selling show in the Fringe. The shows that stay with me do push the boundaries, and they do it with intention, passion, and skill.
I think people should be able to expect more of the Fringe, and that performers should ask more of themselves as performers if they’re going to risk the Fringe. And I think the Fringe can up its game.
REVIEW: The Show Which Shall Remain Nameless, No 1
I’m sorry to be a gutless wonder, but I am a sap and I throw like a girl and I hate to hurt people’s feelings, for real, it makes me feel guilty and I cry. So I am not going to name this solo show about identity. I am simply going to float some loose suggestions, to wit: Do not lift your Fringe show from your PhD dissertation. Do not suggest that anything, ever, unless ironic, which this was not, “was a highly deconstructive act.” Do not think that wearing silly shoes will make this any less a dissertation. Do not think that jamming your poems into this lecture willy-nilly will make this a powerful creative moment, or a felt exploration of your gut-level self, nor that the act of performing a thing you wrote can “validate an authentic part of [your] identity,” cf, nb, ibid, &c. If you insist upon including poems you must evidence that they are poems by more than saying, “This is a poem,” and proceeding to recite in that lullaby lilting chin-up semi-gangsta way, because the whole spoken word/performance piece thing was overdone in 1994, and that is why it went out of fashion, even if it is back in fashion now, because that is just like skinny jeans being back in fashion even tho they were dumb in 1982.
Please do not confuse your clear, evident, and really touching personal passion for your subject with passion from the audience, passion in your performance, or passion that can emerge into something new and alive on the stage. We rely on performance to bear witness, give evidence, distill experience into an essence more intense, more powerful than what we think we know. We rely on a Fringe performer to grapple with material. When they don’t, we leave hungry, unchanged, knowing only what we know.
REVIEW: The Show Which Shall Remain Nameless, No. 2
I don’t even know how to describe it. It was that bad. Hyped-up drawing room thing? It was just a bad show. It does not bear describing. Except to say that nothing happened for virtually 40 minutes, which is not a very long time to meditate, for example, but is a very long time to watch two amateurs try painfully to act. Acting in this case consisted of lines being spoken stiffly, and a fair amount of walking back and forth. Also there was poisoned champagne and the eating of a peach off a knife? which seemed to suggest something sensual but did not. Also not sensual or erotic or sexy or suggestive in any way was the kissing on the floor part, which we were (I think) to understand as “overwhelming and somewhat sinister desire,” but instead looked like my first real kiss with my first real boyfriend, as awkward and gawky of elbow and limb, a complex matter of arranging noses and tongues while making every effort to act passionate, within reason of course, while not knowing how to perform “passionate” at all.
This was a pretty much traditional play—storyline, characters, costumes, the usual markers that say YOU ARE WATCHING A PLAY—and was easy enough to track. Woot.
REVIEW: And then there was EQUANIMITY. (@ The Playwrights Center)
It was not easy to track. Had no discernible through-line, no distinct roles (except for a goose). Was written and performed in a month. Was performed by four people under 25, one in fact under 18. NB: Reviews this morning are middling. There are claims that there is no through-line, no roles, was very young. THIS IS CORRECT!
Equanimity contains two of the honest-to-god best actors I have seen in the Fringe in the past 11 years. Those two alone are worth a stop at this show. If you don’t like young actors, ok. Go anyway. They can teach you—they did me—something about how much passion performance really requires, how much kinetic energy, how much newness of thought, how much reshaping and inverting and shredding and collaging of simple ideas it takes to honestly experiment with theater. There are moments of blah, the script teeters once or twice on the edge of sap, but the thing as a whole abstracts the idea of theater away from script, character, plot, traditional structure, and allows you to see an almost naked, raw, rough-edged instance of performance, uncluttered and unobscured.
Leave your expectations of perfection, tradition, completion at the door, and let these four young actors remind you of the verge on which performance can stand, if it will walk up to the very edge, curl its toes, peer over, crouch, and leap into the unknown.