As much as I value them as a producer and a performer, I never have and perhaps never will fully understand the Fringe goers who embrace and enjoy the massive daily consumption of theater within an 11 day period.
While I delight in the idea of performing shows multiple times in a day, I don’t typically seek out opportunities to see multiple shows one right after the other. The most shows I’ve seen in a day in my previous 15 Fringe Festivals had been 4 and that’s always felt excessive. If a piece of art is going to impact me in any way, I need a bit of time after the experience to let it bounce around in my heart or mind.
But, thanks to Minnesota Playlist, I just spent 10 hours doing the theater equivalent of binge watching a mix of Netflix original programs I was interested in seeing and just clicking play on whatever the Netflix algorithms suggested. It was exhausting, strange, and--by the end--I was less interested in theater than when I started my day. None of the shows were a disappointment, and I got to see a significant breadth of ways to approach live performance, but as the day stretched on I could feel it getting harder and harder for me to personally connect with the hard-working artists performing on stage.
That having been said, I’d like to share things I took away from each of the 7 shows I watched on Sunday, August 3rd.
1 p.m.: THE DEATH OF BRIAN: A ZOMBIE ODYSSEY @ Mixed Blood Theatre
THE DEATH OF BRIAN is produced by Theater Simple out of Seattle and written and performed by Ricky Coates. I love that Minnesota audiences and artists have created an environment welcoming enough that so many out of town theater makers feel it a worthwhile risk to bring their productions to our stages. This show is billed as a “solo show” and that’s technically true, but this production is incredibly heavy with support from the audio design and its execution by the venue technician. Coates has several scenes with either off-stage or simply disembodied voices that define character as well as drive action. Throughout the performance I couldn’t stop thinking about how I would have no idea how to perform opposite recorded audio. I left wondering if this show, or at least parts of it, could be considered dance.
2:30 p.m.: FIFTH PLANET @ Theatre in the Round
FIFTH PLANET is written by David Auburn and produced for this year’s festival by Joking Apart Theater. Perhaps it’s because my training as a performer and first few years of performance were all spent focusing on comedic improvisation, my first approach to making a live show is to find ways to use as little technical support as possible. Fewer light and sound cues and fewer set changes means fewer things that can go wrong. Joking Apart’s production of Fifth Planet goes very much in the opposite direction with over 40 scenes and nearly 100 technical cues. That seems like it would be stressful but it really worked to give momentum to a show that is essentially a conversation between two people, often focused on a third person not present. What this show managed to do was remind me how much I like some science in my art.
4 p.m.: FOTIS CANYON @ U of M Rarig Center Thrust
I’ve seen Mike Fotis do a lot of things on stage, and I’m lucky enough to be able to call him a friend in real life. Like The Death of Brian: A Zombie Odyssey, this is a “solo show” but the two couldn’t be more different. While A Zombie Odyssey was a constant barrage of lights, sounds, and movement, FOTIS CANYON has one light cue, no sound cues, and Mike pretty much just sits in one place. But Fotis Canyon is a constant barrage of emotions.
A secret human truth is that we are all doing our best to make the most of life while coping with the various ways each of our brains is broken. A thoughtful piece of art doesn’t necessarily make us feel less broken, but instead helps remove the shame or guilt we feel about how our brokenness is expressed. This show helps with the shame.
5:30 p.m.: FROM HERE TO MATERNITY @ Illusion Theater
This is either disclosure of potential bias or just straight-up bragging, but Joshua Scrimshaw is one of the creators and performers of this show--and he and I co-founded a theater company, Comedy Suitcase. In reality, the fact that I’ve collaborated with Joshua quite often over the past five years means I know all of his strengths and weaknesses as a comedy writer and performer. I could list all of those now, but I don’t want to spoil the memoir his daughter will eventually write.
FROM HERE TO MATERNITY is a show about couple-hood, pregnancy, and societal norms. But it’s also a show about two brilliant performers who have a visible trust and comfort with one another as a result of years of comedic collaboration. The show is really funny and subtly touching. For me, though, the best thing about watching this is getting to see two artists deeply connected and in sync share silent moments between lines.
7 p.m.: THE ADVENTURES OF TAPMAN @ Illusion Theater
Tap dancing always feels like a magic trick. Years of doing physical comedy have left me connected enough with my body that I can learn some choreography and pull off a three-minute dance routine, but for tap your feet have to do things separate from what your legs are doing and that’s just not something a person can pull off without years of doing it badly first. I love how in a tap show you can see how hard the dancer is working. I would wager that the hardest part of putting on a tap show is the performance your face displays. Your body will slowly reveal exertion with sweat, your muscles will fatigue, so it’s up to your face to convince an audience that you are relaxed and comfortable.
Tristan Bruns, creator and lead performer of THE ADVENTURES OF TAPMAN, is a very skilled dancer. I wish, though, that his titular superhero character didn’t need to wear a mask because it gets in the way of the lie a tap dancer’s face tells the audience when it says, “hey, I’m not working any harder than you are as you sit there in the dark and watch me use literally every muscle in my body.” I really appreciate that lie.
8:30 p.m.: THE GENEALOGY OF HAPPENSTANCE @ U of M Rarig Center Arena
Allegra Lingo is an excellent writer and storyteller. Sadly, this was my sixth show of the day and I had reached the point of feeling like the Fringe Festival was something being done to me. That’s not a reflection on Allegra but rather a reflection on my ability to consume theater. This feeling resulted in my getting really introspective really fast.
I spent sections of the show wondering how I could feel drained and confused from essentially just sitting in the dark for hours listening to people talk. Then I turned in on myself further, attacking myself for not being able to just live in the moment and give my full attention to the show. I was distracted from my self-abuse by Allegra talking about being on a flight with an 8 year old. I realized she was using stories of her air travel to represent her journey towards family and parenthood and as a way to capture the fear and uncertainty it brought her. Which made me think I must have been paying attention the whole time to be able to see that through line. This resulted in some self-congratulations for doing a better job of paying attention than I thought. Self-praise turned back into petty attacks for getting pride out of kind of paying attention to the person who was standing on a stage under lights sharing her deepest hopes and fears.
And now I’m feeling selfish and guilty for making Allegra’s show all about my own feelings. Of course, if you’ve been paying attention you’ll realize this whole post has been about my own feelings. Luckily, Mike’s show helped me feel slightly less shameful about the way my brain works and I think Allegra would appreciate that her show triggered an emotional reaction even if it didn’t have a direct connection to the content of her story.
10 p.m.: EVERYDAY HUSTLE @ Southern Theater
People go to theater for a lot of reasons. Entertainment, inspiration, to have truths revealed, air-conditioning. Erin Shepherd’s EVERYDAY HUSTLE promised dancing and comedy and didn’t seem like it would ask a lot of me. I got to watch Shanan Custer layer her own comedic magic on top of the magic of Sam Landman’s writing. I got to see play on stage from a group of dancers who were happy to give a room full of people joy through movement. There is something uniquely powerful about sitting in a dark room full of people and knowing you are all smiling.
As a maker of creative things and as a consumer of creative things I want, above all else, to connect. Every show I saw over the course of a 10-hour theater day gave me chances to connect with the artists performing and the audiences watching. Being alive in the world can often feel very lonely. I don’t think I’m unusual in feeling that. But live theater offers a chance to be by yourself while feeling less alone. And the Fringe Festival offers a very condensed version of that feeling. So thanks for being alone with me.