We are mere weeks away from the 2014 Minnesota Fringe Festival. Already actors, dancers, puppet-makers, and sound designers are working against a ticking clock to bring us one of our most-treasured theater-steeped weeks of the year.
With the website now live and postcards nestled in coffee shops, the key players are deep in preparation. Producers are collecting forms, hustling up props, and extending credit; Actors are rehearsing, stretching, tanning; and Audiences are highlighting titles and arranging their fanny packs.
This year will be my 7th time to the rodeo as a performer—once as a producer, six as an actor—and eleventeenth as an audience member. As we all move into the fray together, it seemed a good time to give what insight I have won (sometimes hard-won), so that you might have smoother sailing.
DO: See other shows – especially outside of your venue.
Actors and other artists involved with the Fringe will say – often in a confessional tone – that they didn't see many (any?) other shows. That's both understandable and okay. Fringe is exhausting, time-consuming, and fitting the rest of your life around it is hard enough.
On the other hand, if you're a producer and your primary work was wrapped up by opening night – you ought see as many other shows as you can. The truly ingenious ways that artists work within and around the boundaries of Fringe will inspire and surprise you.
DON'T: Fall into the comparison-vortex.
Whatever competitive spirit you have, it will likely be piqued at some point during Fringe week.
You're bound to count heads at your shows versus other shows; counting laughs (or sobs) at your shows versus other shows; comparing the line (or lack of) outside your show versus other shows. Will I get the ENCORE!?! Will I make my money back?!? To the extent that you can - stop this.
And honestly, are you ever really going to be able to compare a naked dance piece to a Shakespeare mash-up to a one-person bio-monologue? Nope. So don't.
Just dig it.
DO: See shows that interest you. Period.
The shows of the Fringe are all equal. Whether or not they are equally 'good' or 'liked' or 'professional' is inconsequential to the fact that they are still equal.
Just getting a performance slot in the Fringe comes from a lottery that is so exceedingly fair that even the bleeding-heart, tree-huggin’, gay-marryin’ liberals who tend to populate our community gape at the organization’s disregard for profit in exchange for equal opportunity. Shows that sold every seat and got rave reviews last year, this year are as subject to the pick of the balls (you heard me) as the next.
This serves the Audience as much as the Artists because it gives us access to stuff that may have never been seen without Fringe; and may never be seen again— like the show created by the cubical-drone-by-day who finally has a chance to perform that bulesque-ninja-adventure-tale she's always dreamed of... And this is your chance to see it.
If you dig the photo or the description and somehow feel compelled to spend a punch on your card on it, but the reviews are bad—Go anyway. Trust me. It really is what Fringe is all about.
DO: Go to Fringe Central (Crooked Pint again this year).
You, Audience, are a powerful lot. It is your precious attention that we are ultimately wooing. We read your reviews like hungry (and sensitive) lions, and we really, really, really, really want you to see our shows. When we meet the rare of you who are ″pure audience members″ we are rapt. You’re It.
A ″pure audience member″ is one that is not, themselves, in the business; nor are they related to, co-worker of, or romantic partner to anyone in the production. You are The Coveted Eye of the Audience, without real or perceived bias, that can answer the biggest question any actor is ultimately asking: Did you like it? (or, because it’s Fringe: Did you hate it?, Did it make you________?, etc).
If you’re shy and hesitant to dive into the pool, it’s okay. Just wear your button at the party and make eye-contact. We’ll find you.
DON'T: Fear the Thrill-ride.
You have two shows on the docket and the only way to see them both is with some kind of time-defying sprint across town. To make it work you need to have no traffic, rock-star parking, a few courtesies and one or two miracles.
Or, you think, I could just stay here and see this other thing because it's easier.
NO! AUDIENCE MEMBER! NO!
You git yer sensible shoes on and you go for it! You go for it because Fringe is kinda magical and you'll probably make it. And if you don't... Well, let that be your “I missed the show but” story. It's already better than the one where you sat in Rarig for half an hour eating a greasy fist-full of stale ruffles out of the vending machine and scrolling Facebook.
DO: Hand out those cards, partner!
I know, I know people love to role their eyes at the postcards by the middle of the week. And no, I don't think you should necessarily walk down the line of a hit show and fling 'em like Las Vegas hawkers.
But have them within arms reach all the time. It is still one of the best ways to quick reference, it's a tangible, lasting reminder, and seriously, what are you going to do with the leftovers anyway?
DON'T: Only see shows that your friends are in.
There is a courtesy - and it’s a decent one - to try to see the shows of people who have taken the time to see yours. It's also true that any time to see shows when you're performing can be slim. All-the-same, try to carve out one slot that is all stranger to you and bask in the other side of the footlights for a hot sec.
It's good to be that fresh set of eyes that we try so hard to see our own work through. It's always worth it. Always.
DON'T: Read your reviews on the toilet... No, wait...
DON'T: Read your reviews anywhere but on the toilet...
I don't know. I spent too much time consternating over what to tell you about the reviews. Some of you have your own prohibitive review-reading rules, established likely because you know those reviews not good for you. Maybe it effects your performances or your anxiety level.
Some of you LOVE reviews because – at the end of the day – they're talking about YOU and we love that stuff. You may spend undue time alone, and with your friends, watching star (or whatever they are this year) ratings and refreshing, refreshing, refreshing to see if there is one. More. Post.
Don't do that. And if you have to do that, don't do it at the bar.
Of course, DO have a good time. I know it may sound trite, but Fringe for many of us is akin to Christmas or Halloween or any precious nook of time – dominated, in part, with a season of the year. Don't forget Fringe is the very height of summer. It is the time of bike rides and ice cream. Flip-flops and late sunsets.
Let Fringe ride shot-gun to your summer - skip a show to lay in the grass by the River and think about the last one you saw.
I'll see you there.