Because I am about to make suggestions for how the Fringe Festival might change, allow me to state first how much does not need to change:
The random not-juried nature of the festival is a brilliant structure that each year re-creates unpredictable opportunities for discoveries, rewards, surprises, and more. There are too many shows—and too many opportunities to suddenly see people who deserve to be seen but don’t normally get the chance—to ever say that the Fringe Festival has grown stale. As long as it remains unjuried, it can’t get stale.
Let’s also note how well-run the Minnesota Fringe has become over the past decade. From Volunteers to Technicians to Parties, it’s an organization that runs like a tuned up classic car.
So really, if we’re being honest, of course, after all, nothing ever needs to change. Ever. Never. We don’t need to ever consider changing anything ever again because, well, we’re happy with what we have, aren’t we, and that’s it, isn’t it? Why rock the boat? What is wrong with me?
Please understand that I present the following only because the Fringe has grown into such a commendable institution. What better time is there to look at changes that might help keep the Fringe adventurous and fresh into the future than when all is secure?
1. Dedicate some venues to 90-minute shows.
The 60-minute show is a species that exists only at Fringe. The Festival would attract different kinds of artists if only it provided the opportunity to create pieces that could more easily have creative lives outside the Festival.
Plus, the skills required to carry an audience through a 90-minute show are different than a 60-minute show. The degree of depth, challenge, and development are all different, and the Fringe Festival thrives on experimenting with what is different and challenging.
I am not disparaging the 60-minute format. I’m simply arguing that more can also be done with 90 minutes. Why not make the option available?
Why not, while we’re at it, make some 30 or 20 minute slots? Maybe two hours? The mode of expression effects the expression. Let’s see what happens when we make new modes.
2. Use Fringier venues.
Just as 60 minutes is an arbitrary tradition at the Fringe, so is the idea that the shows have to happen on a stage. What about in the back of a bookstore, in an outdoor amphitheater, in an art gallery, or a restaurant banquet room?
Years ago, at the Montreal Fringe, one of the venues was an empty swimming pool. The chairs were set up around the edges, and trees of lights were shone on the empty deep end. The sense of adventure the audience all felt entering that unexpected space was palpable.
I’m not just talking about one show that is written specifically for the space (like the site-specific shows). I’m talking about turning space into performance venues (let the technicians be artists too!). Sure, some companies may be upset if they were randomly assigned a swimming pool when they were hoping to play The Ritz, but other artists might welcome the wackiness of it.
Make it a special challenge for all artists in this venue to respond to the space, and see what happens.
Or, just charge less registration fee for more makeshift facilities.
Space is an essential ingredient in artistic expression. And space isn’t neutral. Let's explode that myth and, well, see what happens.
3. Raise the artists’ payout to 75%.
In Minnesota, we only see artists from outside Minnesota who have been carefully chosen (and paid for) by the Walker Art Center, or the Northup Auditorium, or occasionally The Guthrie. It’s like super-curated.
The Fringe Festival actually allows Minnesota audiences to get a more free-formed, unadulterated, uncurated taste of what artists outside the state are considering. Unfortunately, we’re missing out on a gigantic wealth of additional out-of-town artists because, for most artists in the Fringe touring circuit, our Festival’s 65% payout isn’t large enough to justify the additional travel, food, and lodging costs.
Raise the artists’ payout rate, and we’ll get to enjoy more interesting out-of-town artists.
Plus (dare I say it?), artists deserve every dime of their own box office they can get. If we can’t hit 100% of box office that the Canadian Fringes offer (whose festival administration is simply funded by the Canadian government) then a full three-fourths seems like a good target number.
A ten percent increase makes a nice symbolic statement about values.
Of course, you may have good ideas about the need for more bike rakes at venues, or the potential for panel discussions with artists who have shows on similar themes. These are good ideas. Send Fringe a note. I’m sure they’ll respond.
But I’m curious about what your big ideas are for keeping the Festival from settling into a reasonable adulthood. Because a Fringe Festival should perpetually be full of new artistic challenges and the not occasional child-like folly—and while I think the artists do provide a good dose every year, it never hurts to folly bigger.
What ideas do you have for shaking up the Minnesota Fringe Festival (without changing the fundamental thing that makes the Fringe Festival successful)?