I’ve Fringed here and there in the past: I’ve seen a cute children’s play about pasta and a very…Fringe-y…play about magic rocks, but never have I entered wholeheartedly into a full evening of wandering the streets of Minneapolis with the hoard of other risk-seeking, lanyard-wearing humanity known as Fringe-goers.
Herein lie my objective, unbiased, and scientifically gathered observations of the festival, and my recommendations for those of you who, like I, have only just entered the fray.
When leaving for your first show:
1. DO bring water.
2. DON’T forget about rush hour traffic.
3. DON’T stress drink water when you forget about rush hour traffic.
In choosing my first show, I decided to play it safe, with a dash of risk. In lieu of this decision, the first show I chose was Atlanta Burning, Sherman’s Shadows, an audience participation play…about Civil War history.
Atlanta Burning, Sherman’s Shadows – Theatre in the Round
I asked the usher where the best place to sit was, and he pointed to a vacant chair by a row of middle-aged gentleman who welcomed me to their row, sharing a couple smiles and laughs with me throughout the performance. We were all handed a piece of “hardtack” by one of the actors, and the audience settled into an almost communal mood of anticipation; an anticipation that was never fully satisfied. On the positive side, the fellow playing General Sherman was an exquisite actor who clearly cared about his character and his character’s thought process, and who had an ability to rectify prop errors (papers falling on the ground, corks popping out of bottles) with such excellence that they almost seemed like pre-planned bits of business. His two cast-mates, on the other hand, while very sincere in their storytelling, seemed superfluous. The character of the Private was only onstage for the pre-show music and for running props on and off stage, and the actor playing the Major had a very different, more narrative and educationally focused acting style then General Sherman’s, which slowed the show down and made me wonder if the story would not be most efficiently told by one actor. There were, however, many excellent thoughts explored by General Sherman and his aid about the purpose and futility of war, and the place that civilians play in both its cause and aftermath.
My next show was what I had been seeking. Strangeness personified. Randomness epitomized. Fringe at it’s finest. In a word, What To Do In Case Of Dinosaur Attack.
What To Do In Case Of Dinosaur Attack– Mixed Blood
I found a seat on an aisle, and whilst listening to my neighbors talk about the prevalence of Common-Loon-noises in such films as Black Panther, I enjoyed the very collegiate stage before me, containing a music stand, a projector on a step-stool ladder, and a screen on a tripod. When Reverend Matt, our fearless guide in the world of dinosaur invasion, entered, he was received with raucous cheers by those surrounding me who were apparently as stoked as I was to learn how to we were going to survive our impending doom.
And, oh glory be: this show was as ridiculous as I had hoped and even more worth it. It was, and I exaggerate not, a PowerPoint presentation on exactly what the title states, with a script being read from directly by Reverend Matt. If that sounds boring as can be, dear reader, you are dead wrong.
Reverend Matt is in possession of the best comedic timing, a sincere love of dinosaurs that is genuinely infectious, and a deadpan face that pauses for just the perfectly hilarious amount of time when it encounters audience laughter or an audience member’s answer to a rhetorical question. About three-fourths of the way through his presentation, I have to admit I started to get a wee bit tired and unfocused, but in true reflection of the B-rated movies it was skewering, What To Do In Case Of Dinosaur Attackcircled around once again to such a level of ecstatic hokey-ness that I left with a silly grin on my face. Even if you don’t get the more vague references and even if you’ve never seen Jurassic park or been a dinosaur fanatic, it is well worth your time to be educated on what just might save your life in case of dinosaur attack.
After this production, I swiftly made my way outside of the theatre and into the line for my next show at the same venue, Not Fair, My Lady! In line for this production, I made another friend: a woman who has been volunteering for years with the festival and who uses this as her two weeks of being “a part of the theatre scene.”
Not Fair, My Lady! – Mixed Blood
I had been excited about this production since I first watched the trailer. As a young female in the theatre, I am all too familiar with many of the frustrating things Not Fair, My Lady!’s compilation of short scenes addressed. Although not every uncomfortable and downright hurtful scenario these ladies have experienced is one that I have or will ever go through, the overall tone was very eye-opening, and brought to my attention some areas of misogyny in theatre that I was so used to I hadn’t even thought of as an issue. Scary, but good. So good. And also wonderfully funny.
Some highlights from this powerful, intense, and downright relatable show were Marcie Panian’s monologue about being a “Chronologically Seasoned” actress, Falicia Nichole and Rue Norman’s scene talking about how maddening it is being seen as only a non-white-quota in a casting director’s vision, and really all of Suzie Juul’s singing. Also, thank you, Not Fair, My Lady!for pointing out that a certain Andrew Lloyd Webber show about a sketchy man living in the basement of an opera house is not exactly a vehicle for challenging female roles about well-respected ladies. Although my personal anger towards the sexism in theatre isn’t at the same level as that which these women expressed, the questions that they asked were timely and important ones, they were honest about loving the music of these shows while still not agreeing with the messages, and they were a fine, hearty example of what a bunch of snarky, brilliant, talented women can do when they get together. Who says too many women in one room is a bad thing?
By the time I left Mixed Blood it was dark, and even though it turned out to be only a 7-minute walk to the Rarig Center, I still drove. Although women are finally having their voices heard in theatre, they still can’t always safely walk to one. When I got to the Rarig, I met up with my friend and co-writer Jonathan Horn. (What show, do you ask? Wasn’t This Supposed to be a Musical, playing at the Ritz. Thank you for asking). Our quest? Youngblood in the Desert/Gateway Drugby Daniel McLaughlin and Seth Conove.
Youngblood in the Desert/Gateway Drug – Rarig Center Arena
This show, both in its online description and during the show itself, marketed itself as two completely unrelated plays that just so happen to contain the same two actors playing completely different roles in each. While this did indeed prove to be true, both shows left me thinking deeply and have stayed with me into the following day.
The first tale, Youngblood in the Desert, took place at the bloody and confused end of a crusade. The knight, Youngblood, and a pilgrim, Geoffrey, made their way through the story in what appeared to be a gentle but firm questioning of the way well-intentioned, righteous present day Americans are treating the refugees in our own country. It was also a reminder of how often individuals doing “God’s work” have ignored (and have continued to ignore) the way He worked and treated people whilst He was on earth.
The second show, Gateway Drug, scooted the audience into the present day and into a drug deal between two high school acquaintances on the eve of their 30thbirthdays. The acting in this play was phenomenal, and although at the end I wasn’t really sure what I had just seen, it left me with a feeling of compassion for both characters that I hadn’t expected. Also, watching a man who has just played a Templar knight play a drug dealer is perhaps the most perfect example of why we love the Fringe so much. It takes your expectations, meets them, and then goes the extra mile to surprise, challenge, and delight.
This, then, concludes my first full day of Fringing. I will leave you with these important notes.
Vital things I learned at the Fringe Festival:
1. You can walk to almost every venue in your respective hub in time to make it to the next show.
2. Everyone who goes to the Fringe is required to wear a Hawaiian or 1950’s-diner-table themed button up shirt.
3. The people you stand next to in line or sit next to during a performance will automatically become your kindred-spirit-best-friends for the hour you’re together, whether you’ve known them before or not.