Today, I’m re-starting my Putting it Together blog. I’ve been using this blog series to share thoughts that arise from creative projects, like the Fringe Festival.
For the Minnesota Fringe this year, I wrote a show called “Top Gun: The Musical.” The show was very successful and my writing got an amazing assist from a talented cast, great choreography, and really good music co-written with Chad Dutton. Most of the feedback was positive and I felt like the audience really enjoyed what we put on stage.
When I was writing the show, I spent a lot of time watching the film and as I watched, I was taken with all of the homoerotic subtext. I mean, there are dozens of Youtube videos on the topic but I hadn’t watched any of them. Yet. To me, the romance between Maverick and Charlie was not at all interesting and there seemed to be more chemistry between Maverick and Iceman.
When I wrote the script, I wrote it with those thoughts in mind. I told the actors that as far as I was concerned, every pilot in the show was a closeted gay man.
The serious subtext was the idea that in the 80’s, you couldn’t be an openly gay man in the military. It was hard to be an openly gay man at all. It is remarkable how far we’ve come in such a short time.
Now the show wasn’t at all serious and the idea that these characters were in the closet was played for laughs. That made me nervous.
Because while I wanted to make fun of the fact these characters were in the 80’s closet, I didn’t want it to come off as making fun of the fact that they were gay. I wanted it to be very clear that it was OK they were gay.
I’ve developed a lot of friends at the Fringe over the years. At first, I would try very hard to see all of their shows because that’s what friends do. Over time, I’ve reached the point where watching every show by a friend could mean I’d never see anything by someone I don’t know.
So I reached the point where I realized that everyone I knew was in the same boat as me. Making a choice to miss a friend’s show isn’t personal. You are only going to see so many shows over the course of eleven days.
When you reach that conclusion, it takes a little bit of the pressure off.
So if you are a friend of mine and I missed your show this year, I’m sorry. If you missed mine, that is OK too. I’m sure we can all still be friends.
I’ve been playing a lot of “Fringe Roulette” this year. While there are a lot of shows I want to see, most of them aren’t showing at a time I can see them (this weekend should change that). So instead, I’m just going to a show that is taking place close to where my shows are taking place. Those kinds of choices can result in finding some hidden gems.
So far this year, I haven’t had that kind of luck. I have seen very little that is terrible but I have seen a great deal that is mediocre.
I played Fringe Roulette with my first show yesterday and the result was…well…let’s just say I’m hoping my results are better next time.
I recognize that my choice means there are some shows I won’t get to see this year. That, however, is already to be expected. There are 169 shows in the Fringe and just over 50 potential slots an audience member can fill. I know some people who will Iron man the fringe and try to fill every available slot.
That goal is admirable but I need a night away from the Fringe to recharge my batteries. I’ll miss everyone at Fringe Central this evening. That community of artists is one of my favorite parts of the Fringe experience. But I’ve got to get some sleep!
So no new reviews tomorrow.
I saw three shows last night, though. Here’s my thoughts on those!
I have a lot of friends, old and new, who produce shows at the festival. I’m never sure how to review their shows because I would like them to continue to be my friends even if I didn’t like the show.
I try to remember that most people who write and produce work want to hear honest feedback because it helps them get better. When I wrote “Shroedinger’s Apocalypse” last year, I knew I was working far outside of my comfort zone. While I felt good about a lot of the writing, I also felt that it was an imperfect work and I really wanted my peers to help me explore what I could have done to write a better show.
All this is to say that I saw some shows by friends and I’m going to write reviews. The shows weren’t perfect, but they all had merit.
Fringe is a delightfully random experience at times. Over the weekend, I found myself going to shows simply because they were close to the venue I’d be performing in next. The result was a few gems and a lot of things that were…OK.
Here’s the reality of the Fringe. Most of the shows are neither great nor awful. Most of them are somewhere in the middle.
As a fellow artist, I have great respect for anyone who produces a show at the Fringe. They are all aiming to produce something of merit and with very few exceptions, there is merit in everything that appears on stage. Reviewing a show, for me, should be an act of encouraging them to get better rather than tearing down their efforts.
Trying and failing is something we’ve all done. The best producers at the Fringe have failed. At something. I hope. Otherwise they suck.
So I saw a lot of stuff that didn’t really impress the heck out of me this weekend. And that’s OK. If any of the producers read my reviews, I’m sure that you are happy with your show. If you find something in my review that will help you with your next show, great. If not, keep writing shows (if you want to) and remember that the best reviewers out there aren’t trying to tear you down – they are trying to make you better.
…which implies I think I’m one of the best reviewers and I don’t think that but anyway on to the reviews…
Because I’m involved in my own shows, I tend to avoid writing audience reviews for anything unless it is a more obscure show that I think needs a nice bump. I have too much respect for any artist’s work to hurt their average star rating on the Fringe Festival site.
That’s why I blog my reviews. I can speak my mind about the show but in a way that doesn’t harm the producers chances of finding an audience.
Because the Fringe is (at least in part) about taking risks and trying new things. Even a bad show deserves an audience. They deserve the chance to have people tell them how they can produce a better show the next time around.
I’m not saying “don’t review shows on the Fringe site.” I’m saying that my own philosophy as an artist results in different choices when it comes to reviewing shows.
So all that said, here are reviews of the shows I saw on the first day of the Fringe Festival.