File this one under "Things I Didn't Expect": Jeff Larson, Executive Director of the Minnesota Fringe Festival has resigned from the Fringe.
Longtime readers of News and Notes should know by now that I really love the Fringe Festival. No seriously, guys, I really love the Fringe Festival. The first show I ever produced outside of college was at the 2005 Fringe, and I have been involved in a show in the Festival every year ever since. That's twelve years of my life now, with every turn of the planet around the sun pegged to the one constant thing that I always look forward to, that I always enjoy and that I always miss when it's done: those eleven days in August in which all of us little guys in the theater scene get to own the world.
I remember when Leah Cooper resigned as ED of the Fringe in 2006. (Heck, that was so long ago, Cooper has had a chance to resign as the ED of a whole other Minnesota theater organization.) I remember when her successor Robin Gillette resigned in 2013. And now I get to add this resignation to my list of memories. And, if I'm lucky, I'll live long enough to bank the memories of many more Executive Directors of the Fringe Festival.
I think that's a good thing for the Fringe. The leadership probably should turn over after several years. We shouldn't want a great local institution like this to get bogged down with one single dominating vision for two decades (like, um, you know…). It should rotate. It should change. It should evolve. Because that's how the world works. If you actually look back at its history, the only necessary constant to the Fringe Festival has been the fact that it happens. Everything else is jazz; you should never mistake a new improvisation for neatly printed sheet music. One of them is alive. The other is rote.
I wish that Larson's run had been a little longer. I liked the fact that he was willing to change up things and try (after some research and development) bold new experiments. He went out into the wider Fringe world and encouraged performers from across the nation and the world to apply to our little festival, and they did. He wanted the Fringe to be even weirder and more diverse. He wanted to get audiences to take more chances and see more of that weirdness. I would have liked to have seen where his efforts would have led in a few more years.
But, I have to remember that Larson has already given 18 years to the Minnesota Fringe Festival. He was the Technical Director who kept Leah Cooper's big expansion of the Festival running smoothly. He was the Associate Director that helped Robin Gillette's run go so well. If that wasn't enough, there's a good chance that he's also the guy who photographed your show for you. Even with only three years in the big chair, he's had a huge hand in shaping this thing that we all love so much.
In a press release that the Fringe sent to me, the Festival's board of directors says that they will be doing a "local and national search" for a new leader. That kind of worries me, because Larson is taking with him such an incredible depth of institutional memory, and there is no clear successor to fill his place. But, if I ever find myself looking back nostalgically at some hazy halcyon days of the Fringe and muttering "it was so much better when [insert name here] was running things", then I should probably just quit, because that means that I have forgotten how to embrace the new and the different. Those should be the highest goals of the Fringe Festival.
I will quote from Gogol Bordello's "Ultimate":
"There was never any good old days. They are today. They are tomorrow."
All this is to say: Jeff, you did a good job. Thanks for yesterday, and here's to tomorrow!
Oh, crap. Politics.
So, yeah, there was this debate over the weekend. I didn't watch it, because I found out that Bobcat Goldthwait directed a horror movie about Bigfoot, and Netflix will ship the DVD right to your door. I believe I have my priorities straight.
As my Facebook feed was eager to inform me, this "town hall style" debate was just, like, THE WORST. Even though our country has been witness to politicians getting literal beatdowns in the halls of Congress, everyone seems convinced that we have somehow reached a new low in political discourse, as if there were some hazy halcyon days in the past where everyone was some grand, noble, gentlemanly statesman.
This is sounding familiar. What's that tune I keep humming? "There was never any good old days…"
So, what's the theater angle here? Ummm… How about the dance critic for the Washington Post examining it as a movement performance? Or how about this feel-good story about theaters getting people registered to vote?
Let's just dispense with the formalities. This is my yearly haranguing for y'all to get off your asses and vote. It's the one civic duty that just about any of you can fulfill, and yet so few of you actually do. No excuses. Just do it. This election, like every other one that's come before it, is extremely important, and if you don't vote, then your opinion on it effectively does not matter.
And vote in your local elections while you're at it. They're much more important to your daily life than whatever reality show nonsense is currently being puffed up as "a debate". What's that you say? You don't know some basic information about your local elections? Then get some! Read a newspaper. Look at some websites. Talk to people. Be a damn citizen of the damn country you damn well belong to.
Oh, wait, I hear one more excuse in the back. What's that? Oh, you don't have any "meaningful choices"? You don't like "choosing the lesser of two evils"? Normally, this would be the time in which I would tell you to grow the hell up and accept that the world isn't ever going to be an all-you-can-eat buffet of only the stuff you like. But, no, this time I'm going to give you something constructive to do: fight for ranked choice voting in your election systems. It's a system of voting that let's you simultaneously cast your protest ballot for whatever whacko you truly identify with and also cast a sensible vote for the person who has the best chance of defeating whatever whacko your opponents identify with.
If ranked choice voting comes up on your ballot, vote for it. If it's not on your ballot, tell your representatives to propose it. If they won't, get a petition going. It's the best way to erode the two party system that we're all trapped in without having to completely overhaul our entire system of government. (By the way, we have it here for city elections in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and it's awesome.) Maine is about to be the first state to vote on this. You guys, Maine could be a major innovator of political change in this country. Shouldn't the rest of us be embarrassed by that?
The good stuff
So, let's wash all that anger and resentment out of our hair and end this week on some positive notes, shall we? Here are some happy things to read:
(1) Earlier this year, Skylark Opera abruptly canceled their entire season. After some reorganizing and rethinking, they're back with a new plan and a new name.
(2) The Star Tribune has this nice article reminding us all that Minnesota has the Playwrights Center, and that is a good thing for everyone.
(3) The top theater technician in New York is a woman. Someday soon, this sort of statement will no longer be surprising news.