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Fringe Reviews 2017 – Day 9

What does getting the encore mean?  In terms of audience, not a lot.  Attendance at the final slot has, for the most part, been traditionally low.  Certainly there are exceptions but most shows play for a small house in that 8:30 Sunday slot.

It’s more about bragging rights.  Every time you do a show at the Fringe, you get to say you had an encore.  Even if you never have one again.

Getting the encore is difficult.  You need to put together a good show.  You need to generate good buzz.  And you need to sell more tickets than three or four other shows in your venue that are at least as good as yours.

Tonight, encore performances will be announced.  One of them might be mine.  But I doubt it because it is one of three shows that have been doing well in our venue. It’s the only thing at the festival that smacks of competition but it is a friendly one since I’d be genuinely pleased to see any of us in that final slot.

So I guess what I’m saying is this: If you are Fringing, go see an encore performance on Sunday night.  Whoever got that final slot worked hard to earn it.

As the Festival reaches the final weekend, I have spent more time playing Fringe Roulette and simply checking out what is nearby.  Sometimes, that has paid off beautifully.  Other times, not so much.  My Friday night, however, was almost all positive.

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Fringe Reviews 2017 – Day 8

We have reached the point in our Fringe experience where everyone is talking about show ideas for next year.  Plans are being hatched and somewhere around ten percent of them will actually be entered into the Fringe lottery this fall.  A smaller percentage than that will actually be picked and/or produced.

Right now, I’m being recruited to write no less than five Fringe shows next year.  And I have ideas for three of my own.  I don’t imagine my experience is much different from dozens of other artists.

Creativity breeds more creativity.  The Fringe generates it’s own content as artists meet and mingle and come up with ideas they may never have conceived if left to their own devices.

I love the creative engine that is the Fringe.  I have become a better artist because of the ways it has pushed me over the years.  I never thought I would do a storytelling show.  Or a dance show.  Or a musical.

All of these things became possible because the Fringe allows artists to take chances on the cheap.  You can succeed or fail big and either way, you come away with ideas for next time so you can succeed or fail all over again!

I saw three shows last night and while I wasn’t completely satisfied with any of them, they all gave me ideas.

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Fringe Reviews 2017 – Day 7

I’ve often said I love being involved in theater because none of us are really in competition with each other.  I mean sure, we’d all love to have one of our shows called the best someone has ever seen but that isn’t going to happen to most of us.

The truth is, there is enough audience to go around and the only people any of us compete with is ourselves.  Josh Carson writes amazing comedy.  Nobody compares his work to the Guthrie.  They compare his work to the rest of his work.  Attendance at his shows has never been driven by how much better or worse his show is than mine (his shows are always better and no that is not false modesty).

Yes, actors are frequently in competition to get parts.  It’s probably one of the reasons I don’t act all that much.

The shows in which we all perform, however, stand or fall on their own merit.  We can all enjoy our own success together.

I mean hell, that’s what Fringe is all about.

I performed in two of my own shows on Wednesday and because of that, I ended up at shows that were in close proximity to my own.  Sometimes, you discover something wonderful when you do that.  Sometimes you don’t.

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Fringe Reviews 2017 – Day 5 & 6

I’ve had a show in the Fringe for eight straight years now.  The result is I’m getting to know a lot of other producers and I want to see and support all of their work.

And it isn’t possible.  I’m going to miss some shows.  Nobody can see every show at the Fringe.  It is literally impossible.  Add to that the fact I’m in two shows and I lose ten possible time slots.  Also, I can’t go to a show in every time slot.  It just gets out of hand.

I could fill my Fringe with shows featuring friends and acquaintances of mine.  If I did that, I would miss out on great shows featuring work by people I don’t know.

So we all pick and choose.  And sometimes we don’t go to a show by someone we really admire because we just couldn’t make it happen.

And because we are all human, we feel bad about it.

I see more theater during Fringe than I do the rest of the year.  And I still miss things I wanted to see.

So I try to avoid spending too much time feeling guilty for missing work by artists I admire.  I typically fail.

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Fringe Reviews 2017 – Day 4

As a producer I hate/love Fringe audience reviews.  You need them to help your show do well.  Sometimes.  You want to read constructive criticism about the show.  Sometimes.

I imagine most artists are like me.  Every time you get a great review, you are super pumped.  Every time someone takes the time to tell you they enjoyed your show, you get this great feeling.  For some stupid reason, all of that goes away the next time someone writes a review that is the least bit critical of your effort.

It isn’t that you feel like a failure so much as you wonder if every other positive thing anyone said was at all true.  You assume it wasn’t and that all those people were just being nice to you.

Somehow, you have to power past those feelings of self-doubt and take from the critiques what is useful.  You have to remind yourself that you can’t make everyone happy.  You have to remind yourself that sometimes what someone perceives as shortcomings of the show were intentional choices and they aren’t critiquing you.  They are critiquing your choices.

It takes a tough skin sometimes.  But Fringe is one of the few theatrical endeavors where your feedback is immediate and sometimes harsh.  You have to be ready for it.

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Fringe Reviews 2017 – Day 3

Before I write my reviews, I’m going to spend a moment complaining about Fringe Central.  I’m not going to spend a lot of time on Grumpy’s in spite of the fact that last night was, apparently, death metal night and the entire bar was filled with music so loud, it forced every Fringe customer out to the patio.

It isn’t that I don’t particularly enjoy Death Metal (although I don’t).  It’s just that loud music is the bane of Fringe Central.

Loud music is one of those things it seems almost no Fringe central venue understands.  These are actors. A whole bunch of them have to perform tomorrow.  Making them shout to be heard is not helping.

I actually love going to Fringe Central because for one ten day period, you have a huge subset of the Twin Cities Theater community just hanging around with each other.  It is the crucible in which new ideas are forged.  Some of them are even good!

But it is also a place where getting something to eat is next to impossible because there are never enough servers.  And a place where the music is too loud.  And there is never enough space.

I keep hoping we’ll find a place that gets it.  On Friday night, I honestly thought that place might be Grumpy’s.

Then I walked into screaming Death Metal on Sunday and found yet another place that, sadly, doesn’t get it.

So on to my reviews for Saturday!

I will note before I write my reviews for the day that I have several friends involved in the productions of Facebook Lite and Waiting for Gygax.

I will note also that I track every show I either see or perform in as part of my own record keeping.  So yeah, I’m going to spend a little time talking about both of my shows.  You can skip that part if you like.

Facebook Lite

When I first learned of this show, my concern was the premise seemed to allow for little more than a five minute sketch.  As I think upon the show, that continues to be the problem.  The premise was laid out in the first five minutes and then it was supported for the rest of the show.  The joke grew stale and with a near lack of any kind of narrative arc, I lost interest.  I kept wondering, why would anyone use this?  Every customer was annoyed at the pointless censorship but they didn’t stop using the tool. How did the operators feel about the job they were doing?  Did some of them hate it?  A few of the characters were recurring characters but they didn’t change or grow so being present more than once served no narrative purpose. There were concepts to explore that would have given this show direction and weight but they were never addressed.

This is a first time Fringe producer and I’ve seen her write really funny work.  Writing a full show is not the same thing as writing a sketch or a joke.  I expect she will learn from what she did here and do something much better next time.

Waiting for Gygax

I was concerned about the premise for this show as well.  Mashing up Waiting for Godot with D & D is clever enough, but was it going to work as a fifty minute Fringe show?  The answer is yes because the co-authors found a way to tell a story using the premise as a framework and the actors delivered.  I think they were smart to rely on the Waiting for Godot source material just enough to establish the premise without being completely beholden to it. The show is mostly not laugh out loud funny but it isn’t supposed to be.  Overall, I found the show really entertaining and I think it over delivered on the promise of its concept.

The show was easily one of the best two shows I saw today.  I think all of the actors did a great job finding the nuance in their characters and if there was a standout, it was Commarrah Bashar.  She had the best part, in my opinion, but she also nailed it.

Get Hooked

Because I had a performance of Katie Versus the Devils at 5:30, I needed to be close to my theater.  With several shows that hadn’t opened yet, I opted to go see Get Hooked: A Pirate Musical because why not?  That’s what Fringe is for!  Their show page was concerning because it had no cast and crew information or additional info.  I always worry about Producers who aren’t going to do even that much work.  When I sat down, I saw they had a live orchestra/band and it sounded pretty good.  Maybe the show would impress.

It didn’t, though.

Now I have to be fair that this was a show produced by high school kids.  Many of them exhibited talent and I would expect to see them improve should they continue to produce Fringe shows.  So I balance the fact I didn’t like this show with the fact that I probably couldn’t have produced something this polished when I was sixteen.

Still, I found the music was pretty mediocre and set in a range that the kids couldn’t sing.  The story was kind of fragmented and the talent of the kids was all over the map.

The show wasn’t good.  But it was promising.  I hope these kids keep doing stuff.

Katie Versus the Devils

Here’s where I get to express frustration over an audience review.

See, as a writer who sometimes acts, I’m frequently feel like I’m out of my depth in this show.  So when an audience member gives a three star review because the show is advertised as a comedy and it is really more of a drama, I can understand their frustration.

At the same time – so what? If you expected a comedy and you got a drama, tell us how we did. Don’t tell us you believe the producer mis-identified the show.  That isn’t a reason to dock a show a couple of stars.

As an actor, I can only get better if I know what I’m doing wrong.  Same thing with being a writer. A review that focuses on something over which I have no control is frustrating.

The audience can write any review they like.  I get that.  I still get frustrated when someone docks an entire production because of somewhat unrelated criteria.

The Wright Stuff, or You’ll Believe They Can Fly!

I kind of hate Josh Carson on principle.  He writes more jokes into ten minutes than I write in an entire year.

Correction, he writes more funny jokes into ten minutes than I write in an entire year.

He’s also an asshole because when he teams up with Andy Kraft, his work gets even funnier. As if he wasn’t lapping the rest of us already.

Andy completely steals this show from everyone else on stage with nothing more than a couple of glass jars and his crossed eyes.

If I have one critique for the show, it was that the kid playing Charlie was frequently hard to hear.  He needs to work on his projection.

The rest of the show was great and fuck you, Josh.


We went to this Bollywood dance show because our first choice was sold out.  I’ve been greatly entertained by some other Bollywood shows at Fringe but I don’t believe they were by the same company.

This show claimed to be about passion but it lacked any kind of passion.  The dances were…OK.  The dancers were inexperienced, which is fine, but there were no experienced dancers to give the dances life.

I was also concerned that in a show filled with people of color, someone opted to cast almost all white actors in the leads. One of them was supposed to be bi-racial and she was most definitely not.  I guess I just feel like there are enough actors and dancers of color in the Twin Cities, they could have found one.

Overall, the show was, unfortunately, kind of limp and uninteresting.

Death in Yosemite

We had a great audience last night.  They came to laugh and it made everything easier.  The actors felt much looser than they felt on opening night.  They felt more willing to play with the audience, which is exactly what I wanted them to do when I wrote the play.

When you are writing comedy, I can’t stress enough how important the audience is to the show.  If they are engaged and laughing, your show can seem great.  If they aren’t, your show can really limp along.

I don’t blame the audience for being good or bad.  That’s on the writer and the performers to deliver the best show no matter what.

But I can’t deny that a good audience helps everyone on stage do their jobs.  Last night we had a great audience.  Thanks to all of them.

Fringe Reviews 2017 – Days 1 & 2

As has been my tradition, I use my blog page to write reviews of the Fringe shows I’ve seen.  I don’t write audience reviews on the Fringe page because I’m a producer myself and I understand the hard work that goes into making a show happen.  I don’t want to torpedo someone’s work simply because I didn’t like it.

You will find no star ratings.  You will, hopefully, find some honest opinions about shows.

But I’ve got to warn you, most of these shows feature work by at least one friend of mine.  So that might make me more harsh or more friendly.  Depending on the Friend.

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2016 Fringe Reviews – Day 10

20161130As Fringe winds to a close and I start watching shows that weren’t on my early watch list, I start ending up in theaters based, in large part, on where I need to be for my own performances.  Fringe roulette can yield some very good experiences and some…not as good ones.

Yesterday’s fringing involved picking a few shows that weren’t on my list.  Such choices are exciting because I really don’t know what to expect.

That’s really what the Fringe is all about anyway.  You don’t know what to expect.  Sure, there are always some artists who have reliably produced quality work.  Even so, they are all doing something new and until you sit down in the theater, you don’t know what they have in store for you.

I have one more day to experiment.

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2016 Fringe Reviews – Day 9

20161175I love Fringe Central because it means I get to hang out with some of my best friends for a couple hours every night.  I can tell performers who really blew me away that they blew me away.  I can laugh and plan new theater and eat cheese curds and be social.

Fringe is a theatrical Brigadoon.  I realize that is silly given that Brigadoon is a play and, therefore, already theatrical but never mind.

Fringe springs up for a fortnight every year.  Hundreds of artists come together to make theater and then we all go off to create things on our own for the rest of the year.  Maybe we run into each other at a bar once in a while.  Maybe a few of us do a show together.

But for a few glorious days every year, we are together.  I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel to be a part of it all.

Trump count remains at 10.  Pokemon Go count is considerably higher.

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2016 Fringe Reviews – Day 8

20160606I like to play Fringe venue bingo.  Basically, I’m trying to watch a show in every Fringe venue (not including any site specific shows).  I very rarely manage to pull this off but I enjoy the challenge.

This year’s biggest obstacle (if you can call it that) has been the high concentration of shows on the West bank.  With eight venues within walking distance of each other, it is very easy to park yourself on the West Bank for a night.  I’ve done it several times already.

Getting to the Uptown and Northeast Minneapolis clusters have required actual effort.  I only have one venue left so I think I’m going to fill my bingo card.  I feel like there should be a button or something.

Another note on venue – there are two differing philosophies on shows in your own venue.  Mine is to see as many as possible in order to support other artists.  I’ve heard others believe they should avoid seeing shows in their own venue or they increase someone else’s chances of getting the encore.

Honestly, I don’t even understand why that second philosophy is a thing.  If you lose out on the encore because a couple of members of your cast went to someone else’s show, congratulations!  Your show was super popular too! Besides, how do you know those folks didn’t go see your show?

Support your venue buddies.  It’s just nicer.

Trump count is still stuck at 10.  I must have gone to all the shows with Trump jokes in the first few days.

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