This was my first time joining you all for the Minnesota Fringe Festival and it has been a wild ride. Everyone said this was a very important week in the Twin Cities. I’ve begun to understand why. The artists gave their all. Sometimes their all was a life-changing moment of sweet bliss and other times it was a wretched mind numbing 60 minutes. But, as I've learned, both experiences are Fringe experiences. For me, the true champions of this festival are the staff and volunteers. This machine ran like clock-work, because so many people were there to keep it on track. I loved seeing red shirts and blue shirts gleefully taking seats at the last second before the lights dimmed. They are the Fringe’s biggest fans. Which, in my book, makes them theater’s biggest fans. The theatrical community in this town is alive and kicking. When Tyrone Guthrie brought his theater here in 1963 he came for several reasons. Some being his love for the Mississippi River and a strong commitment from the University of Minnesota. But mainly he came for the community. For the people who said, “YES! Bring it here. We will support it.” That community has allowed the Guthrie to approach what will be its 50th year in Minneapolis. The Fringe has been around for 19 years and with the community it has, I feel it will easily survive for 30 years more and beyond. The Fringe is a celebration of theater in all its shades and possibilities.
In all those possibilities I went looking for color, especially Black folk at or in the Fringe. Searching for pepper in a sea of salt is nothing new to me. In this town, sometimes it's a palpable beating thought in the back of my brain. So I took that thought and went looking for community. For people who looked like me. This year I saw a total of 26 shows out of a possible 56. I also hit up 10 shows from the artists of color page of the Fringe website. It should also be noted that I saw black performers in a few shows that were not labeled as including artists of color. From my first day at the Fringe I began keeping count of the Black folk I saw in the audience. I was counting those that I, in this body, would read as African American. It is quite possible I was mistaken about one person or another. Or that a person escaped my systematic scanning of the audience. Any of you who attended a show with me, know all too well how thorough my investigation was. Maybe this answers some questions for those of you who looked at me oddly as I walked in and surveyed the room. I was searching for bodies that I could identify with. In the 26 shows I saw, I read 30 Black bodies in the audiences, a number higher than I expected. Yet, in truth, quite low. I spent 14 shows as the only Black person in the audience. In fact, the one time I was a part of the majority it was a sad day. I walked into the final performance of Jamaica Me Crazy with my white housemate to discover we were the only ones in attendance. The last minute addition of a young African American male placed me in the majority, 2 out 3. Keep in mind, my numbers are my numbers, reflective of my experience at the Fringe. They are a microcosm of a bigger organism, but the whole of my experience at the Fringe this year. As you know by now, color matters to me, difference matters to me. I sought it out and I found some. But I think we can do better. In the shows I saw, the more diverse the cast, the more diverse the audience. I believe there is a correlation between the two. People go to see themselves, their issues, their politics, their struggles, their joys, their experience, live and in color. We can never think anybody is unreachable. If we give up, they do too. Keep seeing people in all their splendor.
This was my first time at the Fringe. Many times I ran into the horrible show that I expected to see. But I was shocked at how many times I was moved. An even bigger surprise was the enjoyment I found in seeing something brilliant and moments later seeing something incredibly bad. This 11-day-non-juried-festival-for-all has really grown on me. I’m reminded of the common ground I was harping about a couple of blog posts ago. The Fringe is a common ground for us all, artists and audiences alike. It is the theater of the people. The theater of, for, and by the people. I have come to appreciate it for what it does. It is a wonderful interruption in our regularly scheduled theatrical programming. A time when artists' imaginations can run wild. A time when audiences are attentive and generous in spirit. If you take one thing from the Fringe this year, carry that kindness and generosity into the next performance you see or do. I'll see you all this season onstage and in the house. And next year...I'll be back on the Fringe searching for pepper. But truth, I hope that audiences in all shades keep coming. The Twin Cities has got quite a jewel locked away all year long. Every summer we open the case and let her shine on the mantel for 11 days. It is not an experience to be missed. I'm certainly glad I didn't.
Many Thanks, Many Smiles, & Much Love.