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Friend a Day – Josh Carson

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Fringe week stumbles on!

I’ve known Josh for about five years now.  He’s one of those personalities that is linked with the Fringe for me.  I can’t imagine Fringe Festival without Josh Carson.

You always know when Josh is in a room.  It isn’t just because he has a loud voice.  It’s because he is so animated.  He doesn’t ever seem to stand still for very long.

Because his writing is a lot like that, I have to assume that Josh’s outward personality is a reflection of his mind.  It just doesn’t stand still.

When I write a show, I’m frequently concerned that it is too short.  I’m never convinced I had enough to say.

Josh’s problem is the opposite.  He has so many jokes, he runs out of time to tell them all.  When I watch one of his shows, I’m almost afraid to laugh for fear of missing the next punchline.

Problem is, I can’t help but laugh because his jokes are too good.

I’m not going to lie.  I resent that a lot.

His shows are popular because he writes scripts that appeal to just about everyone.  I could (and should) bring my kids to his shows.  They wouldn’t get every joke but they would get a lot of them.

At fringe central, Josh’s table is one of most crowded and the loudest.  He’s got a personality that draws people to him.  And the people he attracts are a lot like him.

It is the nature of the Fringe that it brings together so many creative minds over a ten day orgy of artistry.  I’m naturally drawn to the comedians because I feel I understand them.

Or at least I want to understand them.

Josh is a perfect example of why I love the Fringe so much.  He and I might never have met had it not been for our mutual involvement in this big weird theater thing.  I’m a better person for knowing him because watching what he does and who he is makes me strive to be better in what I do.

Of course he has a show at the Fringe this year and of course I’m going to see it.  You should too.

Friend a Day – Jen Scott

Jen Scott

Fringe week continues!

I don’t actually remember when or how I met Jen.  I’m including her in Fringe week primarily because she performed in my show Story Time: Time Bomb a few years go.

She doesn’t always perform at the Fringe.  I can only assume this is because she turns down the opportunity to perform.  If it is because nobody asks her, I need to make sure I ask her every year.

Jen has a personality I would describe as jolly.  I realize that personality trait is typically associated with men who wear red suits and live at the north pole but if you know Jen, I hope you know what I mean.  Whenever I see her, she is smiling and filled with energy.

As an improviser, she is quick-witted and oh so clever.  The improvisational nature of Story Time: Time Bomb was why I immediately wanted to get her involved.  I knew she would completely nail what we needed for the show.

And she did.

I don’t see Jen that often but I enjoy it when I do because she makes you feel interesting.  When you talk to her, she makes eye contact and smiles and nods and laughs.  I imagine that is one of the reasons she is so good at improvisation.  She is in the  moment and paying attention all the time.

When she’s in a show, she’s one of those actresses that I notice.  It isn’t just because I know her.  It is because she creates memorable moments and I want to make sure I don’t miss them.

Unfortunately, she is not in a show at this year’s Fringe festival.  If she was, that show would be on my must see list without question.

Jen’s an awesome person and I’m glad I know her.

She performs over at Huge a lot. Keep an eye out for her there.  You’ll be happy you did.

Friend a Day – Ben San Del

Ben San Del

Fringe week continues!

I’ve known Ben for a few years now.  I think I was introduced to him when I first mounted a show at the fringe in 2007.

Ben, like a lot of my comedian friends, is always thinking about the philosophy of comedy.  It isn’t enough to write a funny joke.  It is more important to understand the nature of what makes jokes funny.  We had him on Geeks Without God earlier this year and he talked about how one approaches telling certain types of jokes to certain types of audiences.

While Ben has written some very good plays, he primarily identifies himself as a stand-up comedian.  He did a stand-up show at the fringe three years ago with a lot of material about being an atheist.  The way he was so open about that part of himself got me thinking about how writers and performers integrate their beliefs into their work.

Ben is in Jumpin’ Jack Kerouac with me and I think he views it through a similar lens.  We both feel completely out of our element as dancers but we enjoy the challenge.  We are both also very happy that we are only going to be doing this once.

In rehearsing the show, I’ve gotten to hear some of Ben’s writing about being social.  The thoughts that go through his head are similar to mine.  He lives in his head all the time.

Whenever I talk to him, I get the feeling there are two layers of conversation.  One is the actual conversation we are having and one is the internal dialogue he is having with himself about the conversation.

I guess we all do that but with Ben, I can actually watch it happen.

All of this analysis results in one very important by-product.  It makes Ben a very funny and insightful writer.

Ben also once told me that he thought I was in my mid 30’s and not my mid 40’s.

For having said that, I think he is one of the best people ever!

In addition to Jumpin’ Jack Kerouac, you should check out Ben’s other Fringe show: Fiddlestick Conundrum!

Friend a Day – Robin Gillette

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Fringe week continues!

I wrote about current Fringe Executive Director Jeff Larson yesterday.  It’s only fair I write about his worthy predecessor today!

Since she is no longer director, there is no danger it will appear as if I’m sucking up!

Last year, Robin did something that a lot of us can’t even imagine doing.  She stepped down from a job she really loved because she realized it was time to move on.  That takes a tremendous amount of courage.

Organizations like the Fringe can benefit from a little upheaval.  Knowing that is one thing.  Making the difficult decision to initiate that upheaval is entirely different.

My first Fringe Festival show was in 2007 and Robin impressed me right away because she treated every artist with respect.  It didn’t matter if this was your first time on stage or if you’d been performing for decades.

Certainly, that is part of the job.  It wasn’t an act, though.  She genuinely wanted to see every artist succeed and she wanted to make sure we all knew that.

Conversations with Robin over the years have typically taken place at Fringe central and almost always begin with her asking my how my show is going.  Again, that was the job.

But I always felt it was more than an obligatory question.  I always felt like she really wanted to hear how my show was going.  Her question may have been part of the job.  Her genuine interest in the answer was not.

Robin has moved on to other things but her love of the Fringe is still evident in the fact she still comes to the lottery, the previews, and the shows.  I haven’t been to a Fringe event this year where I didn’t see her.

She’s still very much a part of the community she helped foster and everyone seems happy to see she hasn’t gone away.

In itself, that seems like the best legacy of all.

Friend a Day – Jeff Larson

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Fringe week continues!

I’m reticent to write a blog post about Jeff because as executive director of the Fringe, he needs to be neutral when it comes to the artists producing work.  I totally get that.

But I really like the guy so I’m going to write about him anyway.

One of the things I like about Jeff (and the rest of the Fringe staff) is the hard they work to ensure bias is taken out of the system.  Many of them produce shows themselves.  All of them have friends who produce shows.  Yet the Minnesota Fringe is about as unbiased as they come.

When he was on Geeks Without God a few weeks ago, we carefully avoided talking about my shows so it wouldn’t seem like he was endorsing my work.

Jeff just took over the position of Executive Director this year and he always talks about how stressed he gets when he has to get up on stage and introduce things.

The dirty secret?  He’s really very good at it.  He’s charming and funny.  He makes up stuff on the fly.  He gets all the important information out in small, easy to digest bites.

I can tell that the social aspect of the job can be a little trying for him at times.  He came from tech theater and most techies have some social anxiety.  I think that’s why they all have jobs where they talk to each other on headsets in the dark.

But if there is a little social anxiety, he manages it well.  He knows that his job is to interact with the audience, artists, and press.

His job is to make things easier for dozens of producers every year and I can’t even imagine how difficult that is given most of us are flaky divas who are incapable of following clearly written instructions.

Jeff has also given me a ride in his Porsche and it was pretty sweet.

So thanks, Jeff, for taking on a tough job and doing it with grace and style.

Also, I expect no special treatment for writing this post.

Although another ride in the car would be OK…

 

Friend a Day – Katherine Glover

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As my Focus on Fringe continues, I look at the people I see for a fortnight once a year because they are awesome.

I know Katherine only through Fringe.  As is my sometimes awkward nature, I’ve been to a few of her shows and told her that I thought they were pretty good.  We’ve sat at the same table at Fringe central and engaged in conversations about whatever we were talking about.  Probably Fringe.

Right now, we are actually in the same dance show, which marks the first time the two of us have actually worked together.

As she will be quick to point out, we aren’t working “together” as we aren’t in the same dances.

All of this is to say that I call Katherine a friend but I don’t know her as well as  I should.

She has what appears to be limitless energy and enthusiasm for whatever she is doing.  That energy and enthusiasm seems to extend to whatever anyone else is doing as well.

While I imagine it has happened, I can’t remember ever seeing her simply walk into a room.  She kind of explodes into a room. She either genuinely likes being around other people or pretends to like other people in an attempt to mask social anxiety.

I think it’s the former but it could be the latter.  Either way, it’s charming.

As an aside, I have also just learned that we both went to the same high school.  Not at the same time.  She was there a long time after I left.  But still, neat coincidence, right?

Katherine has received a lot of recognition for her work and that recognition is well deserved.  She has a life focused on writing and performing and, to be honest, it makes me a little bit envious.

She’s really good at it, though.

Katherine is a great person to know and I’m excited to be in a show with her.  Even if we don’t get to dance together.

Friend a Day – Phillip Andrew Bennett Low

Photo by Anastacia Bolkwazde

Photo by Anastacia Bolkwazde

Fringe week continues until I’m no longer focused on Fringe week!

Back in 2007, Phillip was a blogger for the Fringe Festival and he wrote about a particularly bad preview we did for Vilification Tennis.  I wrote back.

And now we are friends.  The end.

Our exchange was actually fairly boring, which may come as something of a surprise given how some people react to Vilification Tennis.  Phillip was smart, articulate, and raised good points.  I was polite, non-combative, and listened.

He came to our show at the Fringe that year and gave us a positive review.  I went to his show that year and really enjoyed it.

See?  Being nice to people actually works.

Phillip is a lover of words and language.  His shows are frequently solo shows that explore his personal journey, his personal opinions, and his personal passions.  He has a complex sense of humor that ranges from geeky to angry to political.  Sometimes in the same sentence.

His writing is challenging and I mean that in the best possible way.  He challenges his audiences to think.  His work is dense and thoughtful.  It is not impenetrable but nor is it for those who are unwilling to pay attention.

That said, he can produce work that is startling in its simplicity.  His “Improv Comedy Duo” with Ben San Del was one of the funniest short works I’ve ever seen at the Fringe.  They took an idea and carried it to a brilliantly absurd extreme.

Because of his passion for words, he is one of the people I look forward to seeing at the Fringe.  Conversation is lively and interesting.  He can see the best in just about any show while still recognizing that the best is not always good enough.

He’s also always willing to take a chance.  As with many years, Phillip is involved with more than one show at the Fringe Festival.  One of them is a dance show.  I’m in it too.

I don’t know if Phillip is a better dancer than me (probably), but I do know he’ll give it everything he has.  Because that is the kind of person he is.

 

Friend a Day – Amy Rummenie

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Photo by Walking Shadow Theatre Company

With the Fringe Festival approaching, it seems appropriate to focus on a few Fringe friends for the next few days.

I met Amy when she was asked to step in and help direct my fringe show “Story Time: Time Bomb.”  I didn’t know her and she didn’t know me.  I just knew we needed a director.

It was a great learning experience for both of us.  I’d never done a “kids” show and she’d never directed a show that was mostly improv.  The result was a tight show that was, I thought, a lot of fun.

For all the work I do in theatre, I’m not a very good director.  Amy is a great director and her skills have not gone unnoticed in the Twin Cities theatre community.  I’m glad I got to work with her before everyone else found out.

Amy always has a big smile on her face.  I must assume she is always smiling because she is always enjoying herself.  From that experience with her as a director, I think it is also because she is getting to do what she loves with her life.  It’s hard to be bitter about that.

I’ll note she isn’t smiling in the picture above.  But when you are posing with a Batleth, you should at least try to look serious.

She is co-artisitic director of Walking Shadow Theatre Company and if you haven’t heard of them, you should take the time to learn.  They are producing some of the best original (and adapted) work in the Twin Cities.

In getting ready to work with Amy on a show in the spring, I like how excited she is by every idea.  She makes a great collaborator and it makes me want to write something worthy of her excitement.

The Fringe has been a gateway for me to a lot of truly talented Twin Cities artists.  Amy is one of those people and I’m very happy this wacky theatre festival brought us together.

Friend a Day – Courtney McCLean

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Photo by John Robinson

I met Courtney at the Fringe Festival about five or six years ago.  She is probably the most energetic person I know.  And that is saying a lot.

Courtney is always excited about what she is doing.  It makes me excited too.

She has good reason to be excited because she does such awesome stuff.  Her stories are imaginative and clever.  Her music with the Dirty Curls is catchy and funny.  As exhibited in “Bump” at last year’s Fringe Festival, she can also bust a move.

All this, and she can play the banjo!

Simply put, if Courtney’s name is on something, it is something I want to see.

If it seems like she is running from one thing to the next, I think that is because she is always in the middle of doing something.  She has what seems to be dozens of irons in the fire and, of course, they are all interesting.

As a songwriter, I’m particularly impressed with Courtney’s music.  She writes a ton of songs are thematically similar and yet all very different.  I spent most of my time watching them play paying very close attention to the lyrics because they are awesome.

I’m really in awe of her storytelling ability.  It isn’t just the writing, which is exceptional, but also the personality she brings to the presentation.  It is a vibrant and expressive personality of someone who is completely in the moment.

I think that is why I enjoy her presence on the Vilification Tennis cast.  She is one of a few performers who walks on stage without a lot of prepared material.  That can be a very risky proposition but I think it helps her be more present on stage than she would be if she walked in with only pre-planned material.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Courtney as a collaborator and as an audience member.  She’s a truly talented person.

Friend a Day – John Newstrom

Photo by Garner Moffat

Photo by Garner Moffat

I met John through work when he took over for my old boss.  He’s since left the company but we’ve continued to work together as collaborators on Fringe shows.

When he came to work in the office, we hit it off right away.  I think we have fairly similar personalities.  Our senses of humor were perfectly matched and we both liked most of the same things.  He made work a lot of fun and while it made sense for him to move on when he did, I still miss seeing him every day.

John is the person most responsible for pushing me into writing more.  He suggested “Highlander: The Musical” as a show title and I said I would write the music for him if it got into the fringe.  It was a crazy thing to say since I’d never written a musical before.  That has led to a lot of writing projects that I never would have considered.

When John gets excited about something, you can’t help but be excited as well. He gets a wild look of determination in his eyes and it’s hard to say anything but yes, let’s give it a try.

I do possess a certain level of awe for people like John, who actually enjoy directing.  I’m happy to write things and have someone else figure out how to make those things look on stage.  John is one of those people and I’m extraordinarily lucky to have found someone who works well with me and has an understanding of what I’m trying to do with my writing.

His marketing skills are something I wish I possessed.  When there needs to be artwork produced for a show, he puts it together in what seems like seconds and it is always considerably better than anything I would have created.

Random chance is a funny thing.  John and I started working together without any knowledge of each other’s theatre background.  We hit it off and the result has been an artistic partnership far more fruitful than what either of us expected.

I’m very pleased random chance brought the two of us together.  I look forward to many more collaborations.

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