May in Minnesota can mean a lot of things: Time to get bulbs and seeds in the ground, glimpses of coat-free weather, the usually brief possibility of a competitive baseball team. For performing artists participating in the 18th annual Minnesota Fringe Festival, May is the time when you start asking yourself any of a series of questions.
Questions such as:
Is it too soon to send out my press release and hand out postcards?
How do I write a press release?
Are we getting everything done in rehearsals that we need to get done?
Should we have already started rehearsals?
Should I have the casting already done?
When should I finish the script?
Oh, geez, I think I should have already started the script.
Maybe I should do an improvised show?
People sometimes wonder if after 17 years the Minnesota Fringe Festival is encouraging experimentation and chance taking. According to Fringe communications director, Matthew Foster, encouraging experimentation isn’t necessarily the mission of the Festival, “If we got 300 applications for companies all wanting to do the Sound of Music then we would have a Sound of Music festival that year. And that would be great!” He says what the Fringe Festival does each year is reflect the psyche of the performing arts community.
To get a glimpse into this years psyche we asked some artists participating in the 2011 Fringe Festival to describe their planned show in two sentences. Here are some responses.
“It is a spy story about life and the mysterious Agent X. There will be puppets.” – Jason Ballweber (Four Humors)
“Featuring a live 13-piece orchestra playing lush, cinematic original music for a troupe of sharp dancers creating moving music-visualization, backed-up with spoken word, beat-boxing and new photography, 'Railing Foward' invites audiences to experience rhythm as a foundation for exploring worldly topics.” - Strange + Liebhard
“A "Shakespearean" adaptation of the film Aliens written as a sequel to The Tempest.” – Tedious Brief
“It will (hopefully) be a combination of storytelling and juggling. I will be performing with the Danger Committee.” – Mike Fotis
“It's an original a cappella musical about eight historical figures who apply to come to a summer camp to compete for the chance to go back to their lives to correct something that went wrong. When the get to the camp, however, things start to go very wrong and the show turns into a who-done-it crazy ball of adventures and mishaps.” – Zombie High School
Can you describe your previous Fringe Festival experience?
“First time! However, Paul von Stoetzel, the director, has done numerous shows-- both as adaptor, actor, and director.” – Nathan Schilz (Studio Alethea)
“Year 2009, we have had some terrible reviews, but we all had fun doing it at the time.” - Pirtlean Entertainment
“My first Fringe Festival was in 2002 with the play I wrote called "Video Guy," a play I had written for a class project that my professor recommended I stage for the Fringe… My first Fringe was surreal and ridiculously fun, but I don't think it's indicative of what a typical Fringe experience will be… This year, I'm producing a show again after seven years.” – Josh Carson (Mainly Me Productions)
“Dameun and Erinn have both been in Fringe shows, but are first-time producers.” - Strange + Liebhard
“Our composer has seen a few Fringe shows. Otherwise, we're Fringe virgins.” - OT Pro-Ductions
“We produced Bard Fiction for the 2009 Fringe Festival and sold very well and got quite a lot of publicity too. It was wicked awesome!” – Tedious Brief
Where are you at in the production process? What’s your timeline going forward from now until your show opens?
“Cast is set. Script is not even started. I'm the director, but it will be more collaborative in nature. (rehearsal schedule) Not set as of yet.”
Going forward? “End of May - Script written End of June - 5 rehearsals completed. End of July - 5-8 more rehearsals August - hope that 10-13 rehearsals was enough.”
– Mike Fotis
“We are partially cast. The script and score are finished. We have 2 directors and a musical director. We have a tentative rehearsal schedule.”
Going forward? “We start rehearsals in mid-July, rehearsing almost nightly until we open August 5th.”
- OT Pro-Ductions
“-Cast was set in November - Music finished and just about to start rehearsal, choreography 3/5ths of the way finished. Combined rehearsals planned. - Directors are Strange and Liebhard.”
Going forward? “We have rehearsals carefully planned up until show time, so the artistic content is coming along strong! Other than that, we meet every two weeks to keep each other up to speed and to develop marketing materials and collect information for the Fringe's two deadlines (June 1st and July 1st).”
- Strange + Liebhard
“The show and characters are cast, each scene in each act is already plotted, the first and second drafts of the script will be done by May 8, we have a director (Troy Zimmerman), and we do not yet have a rehearsal schedule finalized but it will at least be every Sunday throughout the summer.”
Going forward? “Our script will be on its second draft by May 8, and the goal is to have the script finalized by mid-May, then the music written by the end of May, and official rehearsals should start by June 1. Then we'll block and memorize through June, be off book by the end of June, and spend July sprucing everything up.”
- Zombie High School
“The cast is all set as well as the director and designers. We start rehearsals this Monday because we will be performing this show at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival in early June. The script will be developed by the cast so that will be finished during rehearsals.”
Going forward? “We meet for between 20 and 30 hours a week until we leave for Cincinnati in early June. After we perform for that audience we will rehearse in Minneapolis for another week or two to fix what bumpy points we may have experienced.”
- Jason Ballweber (Four Humors)
“No cast, script 1/2 done. We have director candidates. No rehearsal schedule.”
Going forward? “Script (and title) are due by May 15. Auditions will be in early June. (we wait for college kids to return).”
- Youth Performance Company’s Young Artists Council
How are you feeling about where your shows at? What would a successful 2011 Fringe Festival experience look like for your show?
“Excited to see how it turns out. We begin with lots of brainstorming - and I am amazed at how our young artists turn such a mess of ideas into really fun scripts.”
What’s success? “Great experience for the artists involved. Good audience buzz.”
- Youth Performance Company’s Young Artists Council
“We're excited to quite excited. This is an idea that we've been sitting for a year, and everybody is very eager to bring something to it. The show is most definitely a screwball comedy, and everyone in the cast is coming to play.”
What’s success? “I'd like to recreate the sense of fun we had with 'Video Guy.' That gave us all a love for the Fringe right from the start, and since this production is involving several kids who've never been in a Fringe show -- I want this to be a fun memory for them. The Fringe is an exciting ride if done right. It can also be a dangerous one, but I'm confident that we're going to have a good time.”
- Josh Carson (Mainly Me Productions)
“I am really excited for this show. I think it is going to be wonderfully stupid (that's a good thing) and very different from anything we have done before. I am really looking forward to being in a small venue. This show will only work in an intimate venue. It is also being created by the expanded Four Humors company.”
What’s success? “When people walk out of the theater they should have their heads up, be talking to the person next to them and smiling.”
- Jason Ballweber (Four Humors)
What’s success? “Amazing progress. That's what it would be like to myself and the cast.”
- Pirtlean Entertainment
“Honestly, I'm nervous. Not because of the lack of content, but because of the schedules (mine included) of the people in the show. I don't want to do something half assed.”
What’s success? “It would be a show that successfully merged storytelling and juggling. On a personal level, I'm hoping it will turn into an experience wholly different from my past shows. I feel the urge to try something different.”
- Mike Fotis
“Pretty good! We've still got a lot of time (I know, that time will suddenly disappear but for now...), our script is in a pretty decent place and we're excited about our cast and crew!”
What’s success? “Top 5 seller, decent amount of press. We're aiming high!”
- Tedious Brief
How important is this show to your career or the strength of your company?
“We really have high hopes for it, but our success and/or failure does not depend on the outcome of this production.” - OT Pro-Ductions
“This is my first step onto the stage, and I would certainly not like it to be my last.” - Nathan Schilz (Studio Alethea Productions)
“For the company, it's actually pretty important. We really only do Fringe shows (for now) and we want to show people that we have more than one play up our sleeve.” – Tedious Brief
“We just love it. So I would say it's important to us to put on a great show, and we really do put stock in it, but our group isn't going to go professional anytime soon.” –Zombie High School
“This is also a very important time to get the word out about the shows we do throughout the year. Four Humors Theater is really growing and it is important that we get the word out to the audience.” – Jason Ballweber (Four Humors)
“Very Important. I have been working on this play since my Junior year at college. It will be the beginning of more shows to come from Pirtlean Entertainment.” - Pirtlean Entertainment
“What's most important is the opportunity to get our work out there after months of planning! A culmination of a lot of care, I'd say.” - Strange + Liebhard
Thanks to the 10 artists/organizations who shared the quotes above as well as so much more that we couldn’t fit into the article. Those responding artists are, in no particular order:
OT Pro-Ductions – 2011 Fringe show: Robot Lincoln: The Revengeance! (A Steampunk Musical)
Tedious Brief Productions - 2011 Fringe show: Tempests
Strange + Liebhard New Music and Dance Ensemble - 2011 Fringe show: Railing Forward (and other works) by the Strange + Liebhard New Music and Dance Ensemble
Zombie High School – 2011 Fringe show: History Camp
Jason Ballweber (Four Humors Theater) - 2011 Fringe show: You Only Live Forever Once
Josh Carson (Mainly Me Productions) - 2011 Fringe show: Our Freaking Kids Show
Sherilyn Howes (Young Artists Council of Youth Performance Company) - 2011 Fringe show: Damn You Civilized World (but that might change in the next week or so...)
Pirtlean Entertainment - 2011 Fringe show: Word. The Urban Musical
Nathan Schilz (Studio Alethea Productions) - 2011 Fringe show: Nightmare Man – A Musical
Mike Fotis - 2011 Fringe show: I honestly haven’t decided yet.