Editor’s Note: For everyday of the Fringe, a different writer will provide a kind of tour of their experience that day. More travelogue than criticism, you can find a new essay by noon each day and catch up on the whole package here.
It’s my first hardcore Fringe, and I’m not looking back.
I started my Fringe journey two years ago, trying to figure out this crazy festival while seeing one show every couple of days. I mostly went alone, toting my four-punch student cards around town; I didn’t know any of the people involved, and I never made it to Fringe Central.
How the times have changed. In the last two years, I graduated college, made a batch of friends in the Twin Cities, and finally moved to Minneapolis. I know people in the festival, and I asked one of them, my roommate, to curate a Fringe day for me—what would she tell someone new to see? What happens when an actor steers around the writer?
My roommate, Sulia Altenberg, is an eight-year Fringe veteran, a lovely person and friend, and a self-described “worst hyperbolizer ever.” She’s in two shows this year: Celebrity Book Club and Couple Fight II. Having acted in the festival since she was 11, she’s the biggest Fringe proponent I know. One-upping my idea to “point me to different shows,” she even joined me on Friday night.
Our first show, Bird of Seven Colors, was my favorite of day two. A retelling of a Puerto Rican folktale, it tracked the journey of the Girl through the woods, the sea, and a strange kingdom, which all led up to the title bird’s appearance. Joe Bozic’s narration was a little long and superfluous, but the rest was magnificent song choices (BØRNS, Feist, Kanye) and gorgeous dance sequences (choreographed by Jessica Chad and Erin Sheppard, whom Sulia rightly called “electric”). Was that a seven-color lighting design (I see you, techs)?
All Night Check: Beautiful Young Ladies to Perform For You was our wild card, and it was messy. The story of three women campaigning for Madame President of the Brothel of the Future, or something like that, the Wandering Uterus Project show hit some bumps with disorganized storytelling and wooden delivery. It did include a character I’d spend more time with—Dona Matrix (Melissa C. Thompson)—but even her platform fell prey to disjointed political rhetoric and cringey double entendres. “Astronaughty” got laughs, but sex puns and slapdash porn industry critiques do not a great candidate (or show) make.
Sulia picked Snow Country next, saying, “I know every single one of the women in it, and they're amazing.” Written by Carmen Angelica and Emily Schmidt and directed by Fringe vet Shanan Custer, the Sun Country spoof was a cute idea, but it didn’t have a whole lot of story; a young woman (Casey Haeg) quasi-magically becomes a flight attendant and interacts with shallow characters (the uptight one, the unfazed one, the flirty/sweet one). There are Minnesotan jokes (shout-out to Target and the Lyndale Tap House), a great mic drop, and a wacky subplot about best-friend pilots—but this show could use more character development (or possibly just fewer characters). Unloose that emotional baggage.
Lastly, we saw Apple Picking, a crime drama set in an apple orchard. Was it realist or absurdist? Both, and because of that, neither. One of the most star-studded Fringe shows, it featured a few amazing gags (the hilarious Joshua Scrimshaw as a tree, telling a tripping Candy Rosanay [Mo Perry] about oxytocin and dopamine: “Even at your most sober, you are high as fuck”). But the play’s 57 minutes felt way too long, thanks mostly to endless ideological monologues. The romantic chemistry felt more The Lobster than Titanic.
So the plays were, overall, lacking. But I laughed a ton with Sulia, and through her, I met Brian, Caroline, Kenzie, John, Rachel, Carolyn, Duck, Josiah, and a dozen other people whose names I never learned. We would’ve gone to Fringe Central, but we’d just spent hours there the night before, making acquaintances talking shop. I’d do the whole day over again.
On the way home, we tried to figure out the reasons we felt how we felt. Why did Sulia and I have such a blast? Why do we keep going back when shows just don't work? The conversation stretched all the way past 1 a.m., seeing us eat a midnight supper of quesadillas at our red-checked kitchen table.
At the very end, Sulia answered all of our questions: "The Fringe is bullshit, and that’s awesome."
I'm about to leave for day three.
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