That is my main question after a marvelous first night at the Fringe. Truth, I had very low expectations of the Fringe. My friends were no help to me with comments like, “Everyone should endure the Fringe just once!" However, they do understand my aesthetic, what I’m looking for at the theatre. But the Fringe is meant to be an experience. So I suspended expectation and started the night off with promise. With those thoughts roving through my head, I finally sat down to plan my first night at the Fringe. When I looked at the line-up for the night I began to think my friends were right. Nothing scheduled was jumping out at me, at least jumping out in a good way. My good friend Claribel, an experienced Fringer, sat down to help me dredge through it all. Finally I settled on The Unamazing Nonadventure of the Underachiever. Mainly based off a recommendation from fellow MN Playlist blogger Scott. Who, knowing I was looking for some color at the Fringe, pointed me to Greg Nesbitt’s show.
So I set off with friend in tow to begin my first night at the Fringe. It was also my first time at Theater in the Round. My first thought upon entering the theater was that the carpet was super soft. It was like walking into a living room, not mine, but a really rich plush living room. I took a seat and watched as the room filled with people. Searching through the crowd for at least one person who looked like me. Found one, locked eyes, and executed the cultural nod just as the lights began to dim. There is something so universally theatrical about dimming lights. It put me at ease…..then the show began. It was exactly the sort of show I identify with the Fringe. An absurd story, funky costumes, couple of dropped lines, imaginary props, etc. But it was also filled with creativity, heart, and charisma in waves, especially from the actor playing the Underachiever. I did not enjoy the show, but more on that later. Claribel and I stumbled out of the insanity into the sunlight of Seven Corners. We stopped at the Republic, where she informed me that what we had just witnessed was what the Fringe was all about. Chances for people to create a piece, get a space, and share it with an audience. Whether it's good, bad, outstanding, or hell-in-a-handbasket it's FRINGE.
I was trying to wrap my head around this idea as we trotted over to the Southern to catch The Mysterious Disappearance of the Second Youngest Sister. In the beautiful Southern Theater, I had a magical thrilling theatrical experience. It was a highlight of the year, maybe two years. RE|Dance Group had me on edge the entire way through. The stage is littered with books. These books serve as obstacles, steps, toys, victims, saviors, and so much more. I grew up escaping into books. I read late into the night under covers with a flashlight, my imagination giving me wings. I know books and they knew them too. The power of knowledge and imagination was moving in that space. There was electricity and depth in the simplest gesture. My oh my! Those dancers flew! Their bodies were talking to each other, they were moving to a pulse not a beat or count. A pulse that the audience could almost feel. They lifted each other into flight. Every time they flew the buried dancer in me wanted to leap up and join. It was beautiful! Do not miss them in the fringe. They are out-of-towners and need some love. Quiet as it’s kept (as my grandma would say); I would pay much more to see their work. I have no idea what the creators think the show is about, but it does not compare with the story I formed in my brain. Go and Soar! Also thanks to Kristin who let me borrow her pen at the last minute. And hello to Phillip who once he learned what I was blogging about, shared his bi-racial history with me.
I was elated on the walk to Rarig. The dissonance of those two shows playing through mind. The magic of the fringe was definitely seeping into my system. Ash Land was the destination. I had no idea the Fringe had celebrities, but Transatlantic Love Affair is well deserving of all the glory. The lines to get into the theater were out the door. It also says something when the artist pass line goes on and on and on. Their Fringing peers were out in force. People in line swore it was not a show to be missed and were shocked I had never seen Red Resurrected or Ballad of the Pale Fishermen. So I sat down with great anticipation...and was satisfied. With no set and no props that ensemble still created flawless images. In their bodies I saw a rising sun, wheat in the field, and a torrential rain pour. The story was not new for me, but I felt its pain. It made me think of Cinderella and my personal favorite Ti Moune from Once on the Island. The show moves slowly but it is effortlessly and seamlessly shared by a superb ensemble. It ignited my inner child with its sense of play, freedom, and originality. It was theatre done well, maybe too well? It was wonderful to see what people are calling the best at the Fringe. BTW In the line for artist passes, I saw the four amazing dancers from RE|Dance. I approached them and unabashedly praised them. Seeing them up close and personal reminds me that dancers are just a different breed. No one should be that unearthly beautiful. Yep, it is official. I’ll be making a return trip.
The crown jewel of the night was hitting Fringe Central at the end. I got to see so many Fringe artists in all their splendor. It was quite an interesting mix of people. Moment of truth, I did indeed seek out my favorite four dancers and congratulate them once again. Stalkerish? Awkward? Oh Well. While attempting to get a drink at the bar I spotted the actor who played the Underachiever earlier that night. I congratulated her. Later on, she approached me with a celebratory shot. I followed her back and drank it with the cast that began my first night at the Fringe. I was honest about my feelings on the show and they shared some insider information about the experience. I struck up a conversation with Greg Nesbitt. A man who is sometimes jokingly introduced as, “the black improv community of Minneapolis", when traveling. Talking with him was exactly what I'm searching for in the Fringe this year. Community. An instant understanding, an opportunity to see someone and feel like they know a little bit about your struggles. What it's like to be Black in Minnesota. We shared stories. This is a man who has been excluded, called an Uncle Tom, pulled over by a white cop, while warming up his car in front of his house! And when everything checked out that cop still had the nerve to say, “Well you still gotta admit, it is kind of suspicious." WHAT! Greg brought all of that to life in play called Uncle Tom’s Condo. What entity carved out a space and gave him a chance to express it? The Fringe. We had never met. But there we were, two specks of pepper, connecting on the Fringe. His presence reminded me that as artists we bring our full selves to the stage.
Whether were performing for 37 people at theatre in the round or 900 at the Guthrie, we bring life. Our bodies are our instrument. And our bodies have loved, been loved, lost “it”, found “it”, gave, took, been burned, and healed. Maybe that's the magic of the Fringe? It must be a little intoxicating to soak up so many lives in so little time. No one gets onstage to do bad work. No one wakes up and says, “today I'm going to suck.” Carry that with you the next time you think about walking out at intermission. I certainly will, especially as I explore the rest of the fringe. I'm certainly a little Fringe tipsy and excited for what's next. If you have any recommendations let me know. Right now, I know I must see at least one show with the black man who made the front of the City Pages! Many Smiles!