2019 Fringe Reviews – Day 7
So much of Fringe is people taking a chance on something. You have to respect that even when it doesn’t end up working. And you also have to accept that your tastes are not everyone’s tastes.
I’ve gone to many shows that were good shows but I didn’t like them. How do you rate those? How do you review them? I don’t want to pretend that I liked them but I also don’t want to pretend that what I like or don’t like is what everyone likes or doesn’t like.
Being an artist at Fringe means I can go to as many shows as possible for free. And if you are an artist at Fringe and aren’t taking advantage of that benefit, you still have a few days to change that.
Obviously, we all have lives and maybe it doesn’t make sense for some of us. But over the run of Fringe, I learn more about acting, directing, and writing than I do in the rest of the year because I watch so many shows. I learn from what people do right but I also learn from what they do wrong.
I supposed that’s why I go through the process of writing my reviews. So I can actually have a record of what I learned.
I saw three shows last night and they were all good in one way or another. They all also had major flaws. So I’m going to see what I can learn from each one of them.
A Cult Classic feels like a play that has everything going for it and that’s why I’m not sure why it didn’t have more of an impact. The story of a bizarre doomsday cult that may or may not realize how idiotic their entire belief system is before it is too late is well staged and performed. The writing felt strong but it maybe it had too easy a time making its point?
I found myself mildly amused with the comically weird cult members who had been convinced they needed to forget how to read and thus were incapable of accomplishing the most basic of tasks without their leader (who has disappeared). There were sinister undertones as well but somehow those undertones and the comedy weren’t balanced.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how much I really wanted to like this show but never felt fully engaged. I never felt like the comedy was broad enough or the danger real enough. Maybe I was too fully aware of how cults work and so I saw most of the twists coming before the characters did.
I don’t know how I’d change this play to make it work for me. And maybe that doesn’t need to happen because while I know I didn’t care for it, I can’t point to any one thing that made it a bad show. It wasn’t a bad show. But it should have appealed to me and it didn’t. I’ll let everyone know if I figure out why.
Backstory is a two actor play about the backstory (get it) of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Instead of Jimmy Stewart’s perspective, we get the perspective of the conspirators and their plan to trick him.
Since I love Vertigo, I was definitely the target audience. And that’s part of the problem. If you haven’t seen Vertigo, I feel like this show would be nearly impenetrable. The story can be understood without having seen the movie but I don’t think you can understand the relevance.
And the thing is, you could have included some of Vertigo to help an unfamiliar audience. The show only runs 35 minutes. There was a lot of time to fill in the blanks.
The show also suffers from a lack of emotion. These two characters are talking about emotional challenges but they aren’t showing them. We are to believe that one of them is growing more concerned about the plot but she doesn’t seem more concerned. She just says he is.
And the other character is a controlling asshole who is selfishly trying to change his life but he seems kind of…bored.
At 35 minutes, the show is short. But if you don’t know Vertigo, I’m guessing even 35 minutes will feel long.
If you do know Vertigo, and you accept that this is what actually happened to these characters when the camera wasn’t running, I feel like you’d understand why Hitchcock decided not to include it.
This is a good play. The performances are solid. The writing is exactly the writing this is needed for the story they are trying to tell. I have to say up front, if you like the kind of show they created, this is a very good example of that kind of show.
And I’m going to do my best to describe the show because it is the kind of show I pretty much hate.
But my hatred of this type of show is my problem.
Chorus follows a bunch of college students and their teacher on a bus tour across the country. It is told in a clipped, ensemble fashion with monologues often split between the entire cast. One line at a time. It’s a kind of poetic, distant recollection of this one time in their lives and what it meant to them.
There are so many characters and each of them gets an arc. Minor ones. One that could, on their own, be an entire Fringe show.
There’s some music. There’s a moment when a shocking news story is partially healed through song. There’s a teacher who has lost his family because the choir kids are his family.
It’s all well done and…I remember doing this kind of show in High School. It is so earnest and so deep and yet also so very shallow. To me, anyway.
The audience in the theater with me loved it. Loved it.
So that’s why I say that this is a good show. It achieves everything it sets out to achieve and everyone involved is doing their jobs well.
It is the best example I’ve seen of a show style that I really don’t like. I mean that as a complement even if it doesn’t sound like one.
Our penultimate performance went well with a much better than expected attendance for 10:00 PM on a Thursday.
It’s interesting being in a mystery show where the whole idea is to tell people as little as possible. You don’t want to give away all your secrets. You want the audience to experience them on their own.
I care so little about spoilers. The show can completely stand on its own. You can know what is going to happen and still appreciate the journey.
That said, I respect the desire of our producer to keep things a secret. You will note that even as I say I don’t care about spoiling the show, I’m not actually spoiling the show. Once the show closes, I’ll totally ruin anything you like, though!
About Swan Song, or Endgame, or whatever! I’m your one stop spoiler shop. DM me!
Until then, though, we have one more performance. And my lips are sealed!
2019 Fringe Reviews – Day 6
First observation of the day – every post I’ve made up until now doesn’t include the year. So many years from now when I’m gone from this Earth and the show pages have been archived, nobody will know what year all of this took place. Historians will need to piece that information together from other of information gleaned from the stone tablets on which my words will have been engraved shortly before the world lost all power and the internet became useless.
So to confused future generations, I’m extremely sorry.
Second observation of the day – I have a cat constantly stepping on the power button for my laptop as if she knows which one it is. And she probably does. So if it seems like something is missing at any point, it is because she fucked up my writing before I had a chance to save it.
Aaaand she just knocked a stuffed TARDIS into my lap. On purpose.
I only watched one show on Wednesday and I appeared in one other. This recap shall, therefore, be brief. And if all you care about is the show I watched, you don’t need to read the second part in which I discuss audience reviews! So that should save you some time!
Kind of Funny But Also a Little Sad
Theater in the Round has a crazy spectacular lineup this year. I’ve seen almost every show at the venue and haven’t been disappointed by one yet.
Kind of Funny But Also a Little Sad is, I’m led to understand, a re-mount of a show staged at Strike at some point in the past. So that’s another show I should have made time to see and – you know – didn’t.
Fortunately, Mike Fotis and Rita Boersma remounted the show at the Fringe. That way I could feel guilty about missing it the fist time!
Good comedy can take many different forms but some of the best is when the comedy is just a little bit real. When it cuts just a little too close to home. When the performers lay bare their own insecurities and have the courage to make fun of them.
I laughed as much as I’ve laughed at any show this year but there were moments in almost every sketch where I was moved by the vulnerability Rita and Mike displayed. It all happens so naturally that it is easy to forget that this kind of thing is really hard to do.
Making people laugh is hard work. Making them laugh and feel something at the same time?
It’s great comedy, yeah. But it’s also just really great theater. If you, like me, didn’t see this in the initial run at Strike, I guess we should all try not to make the same mistake the next time these two amazing artists put on a show.
I should also quickly mention that Heather Meyer has been involved in three shows I’ve seen at Theater in the Round (she directed this one) and she apparently has more talent in one strand of hair than most of us have in our entire circle of friends.
OK, so let’s talk about audience reviews. Because Fringe artists have a love/hate relationship with them.
They are super necessary. Assuming mostly positive reviews, the more reviews you get, the more it draws other people to your show. It’s the reason savvy artists make sure to ask you to write a review – they genuinely help you find an audience.
They aren’t nearly as important as word of mouth. When someone tells you they loved a show, they must really have loved it because they are making an effort to tell you.
But the reviews reach more people. And as the run of Fringe continues, having that number be a high number really helps out.
Side note: If you’ve seen “The Lunch Bunch” and haven’t written an audience review…
Thing is, reading critiques of stuff you’ve worked on is really hard. And even if you’ve got twenty five star reviews that say your show is awesome, that one two star review that calls you a hack writer who doesn’t understand human emotion is the one you’ll actually remember. Forever.
You can have dozens of people tell you personally how much they like what you created and that one person you’ve never met is the one who crushes your soul.
Which is not to say people shouldn’t write negative reviews if they don’t like a show. I mean, what’s the point if you can’t say you didn’t like a show?
But as an artist, you really have to find your zen about these reviews. If the bulk of reviews are positive, you probably wrote a decent show. So you have to accept that someone isn’t going to like your show.
And maybe try hard to remember the good reviews instead of the bad ones. And try to take the kernels of truth out of the bad ones. Because you can do better. Just maybe not in the way that audience member who clearly didn’t actually see your show says.
Fringe Reviews – Day 4
I know a lot of people who create a Fringe schedule and stick to it. Planning on seeing a show everyone has told you is bad? It’s on the schedule! Turns out there is a show that you hadn’t heard of and it’s really good? Too bad because it’s not on the schedule!
I don’t want to harshly judge that plan because if it works for those people, that’s great. It is how they do Fringe.
My technique is typically to plan each day as it comes. Look at the schedule in the morning and make decisions. And if I can’t make up my mind about a particular slot, go to whatever is closest.
Choosing a random show is what I call “fringe roulette.” You don’t know what you’ll get. Sometimes it’s spectacular. Other times it…isn’t.
I played a little Fringe roulette on Sunday. The results were not great. But that’s the way Fringe roulette goes.
I’m currently working on an idea for an escape room show for a large audience. Escape rooms are typically for about 3-10 people and I want to write it for 150. As a result, I’m going to a lot of things with escape room themes.
This show, about four people in an Escape room that has a lot of puzzles requiring people to answer embarrassing personal questions, was a little bit of research for me. At least that’s what I told myself.
The show wants us to laugh at how the escape room operators are airing the dirty laundry of these characters – a couple that has been together for a while and a couple that has been together for a few weeks – but it just wasn’t all that funny. I know Fringe shows are only an hour long but if you want me to care about the characters, you need to make me care about them before you start damaging them.
One character also bore the heaviest burden of blame in the show. Virtually every embarrassing reveal was for the “new” character. The one the others didn’t already know.
That’s boring. Of course she would have the most embarrassing secrets since the others knew each other already. Better to have the people who know each other be the ones who had the most damaging secrets.
Escape THIS has good performances but I feel that the characters weren’t really given any opportunity to be interesting. Which is a shame because the basic concept was interesting. It fell down in execution.
If the title plus the show image is giving you an idea of what kind of show this would be, you are almost certainly exactly right.
This show is a broad comedy in which there are a lot of deaths, a lot of strange bible verses, and a lot of flashlights. I like the show a lot but there were a few obstacles that kept me from loving it.
First was the volume of some of the actors. I just couldn’t hear their lines. Second was the use of flashlights for a lot of scenes. From the front of the house, the audience could probably make out a lot more. From where I was sitting, I couldn’t see much at all. I feel like there needed to be a blue wash whenever characters were using flashlights. Sometimes there was a dim wash, but it needed to be a bit brighter.
And there were times the show slowed down with a lot of dialogue that felt extraneous. Where Escape THIS made me care about the characters, I don’t really want to care about characters in a parody of a slasher film since you are going to kill them off anyway.
But – the show is silly. And not as sacrilegious as you might think (which isn’t a problem for me anyway).
The show we’d planned to see sold out so we ended up here. Fringe roulette achieved! The result? Well….
Basic premise of the show: Three one act plays in which there is a waiter, an agent and an actor. They are all about addiction. Each play is written by a different writer but the same three actors are in all three and they switch roles.
OK. Fine. The result was…kind of awful.
I feel like I could get any three people I know who write plays to sit down and write this show and they would manage to come up with three scenes that were different. This show had three scenes that were, basically, the same. Actor is addicted to something (cell phone, gambling, alcohol) and pissed agent can’t get them work. Agent basically tells actor “I can’t get you work because of your addiction.” Actor says “it’s not my fault you can’t do your job.” Waiter mentions that they act (ha ha). Conversation goes around in circles for another ten minutes.
The blocking was also the same for all three. Two people sat at a table and the waiter showed up every now and again. They hardly stood up at all.
So for an hour, we were watching two people sitting at a table having the same conversation.
Addiction is a serious issue and whether you are writing a comedy or a drama about it, it deserves better treatment than it received here.
Let me begin by saying this show image is absolutely amazing.
John Heimbuch, who is one of the most gifted playwrights I know, performed this solo show but it was written by Charlie Bethel. I don’t know Charlie but he recently passed away and John wanted this show to live on.
It’s a great show. And Charlie’s writing is great. It retains a lot of the lofty language of Beowulf but somehow manages to make it accessible. It is dramatic and grand and uplifting and funny and scary and sad. All the things a great script should be. So I understand why John was so drawn to it.
But I need to reserve some praise for John. Because great writing is nothing without a great performance. And John, fully committed in both body and voice, sold this show.
He has some history as a dancer and that makes his movements powerful and dramatic. As he shifts characters, you can see that he is not playing the same person in the way he carries himself and the way he speaks. He is, not to put too fine a point on it, damn good.
I would go see this show again. Props to John for wanting to keep Charlie’s work alive. But props also to him for recognizing that he needed to bring something special to the show to give it a chance. He did.
Reverend Matt’s Monster Science Presents: How to Come Back from the Dead
Monster Science is Matthew Kessen’s brand. He is very good at it. One could criticize him for coming up with a concept in which he simply reads from a book, both educates and amuses with tales of monsters, and puts together a deck of mostly hilarious power point slides.
The only reason one would criticize him for that, I imagine, is because one is pissed that he thought of it first.
You shouldn’t be though, because I can guarantee if you thought of it first, Matthew would still do it better than you. His deadpan delivery is the key. The way he treats everything like a real lecture and he includes real information as if he could somehow help you become a vampire.
And I believe if anyone could, it would be him.
For Fringe, Matthew has added an assistant (Elora Riley) and if I have a quibble with the show, it is that this addition just isn’t quite solidly integrated into the show yet. The exchanges between Elora and Matt sometimes slowed the momentum.
I liked the add, mind you. And I think it can only get better. Because what Matt does is, all on his own, really great. But I appreciate that he looks to evolve his show into something even grander. This addition may not have been perfect. But I still liked it a lot.
A Man’s Guide for Appropriate Behavior in the 21st Century
Man’s Guide is not a show in the tradition sense. It is a series of conversations about important social topics featuring diverse panelists. The talk I attended was supposed to be about gender, sexuality, and intersectionality.
Host Scot Forelich, on the advice of his panelists, opted to change the conversation based on the fact two mass shootings had occurred in the previous 24 hours. So the conversation still touched on gender and intersectionality but it ended up focusing a lot more on race and societal oppression.
If I have a critique about this show, it is only that one hour is not long enough to have these conversations. I wanted more time to hear what these panelists had to say because it was important.
It is good Scot is giving these people visibility and amplifying their voice. I’m glad I went. If anything, my disappointment came from the fact that I had to leave.
Our third performance at 10:00 PM on a Sunday. Not a great time slot. But the audience was of decent size so that was nice.
I had a couple of friends whose opinions mean a lot to me tell me how much they enjoyed the show afterwards. That was nice to hear because this show was a challenge for me to write. There are a lot of reasons for that but one was because I had decided to make one of my characters transgender.
That isn’t a spoiler. You find it out in the first five minutes of the show.
It felt right. In watching The Breakfast Club, I heard a lot of language that I’d heard from friends who are transgender. So I made the character transgender.
I had never written a transgender character before and I’ll be honest, it scared the shit out of me because I didn’t want to get it wrong and it isn’t my story. Fortunately, my director and the actress playing the role are both transgender and were willing to give me honest feedback on where I needed to go with the character.
I’m not going to say I got it right. But I do believe I got it less wrong than I otherwise could have.
Two more performances of this one to go! 8:30 Wednesday and 7:00 on Saturday!
Fringe Reviews – Day 3
Fringe shows can be good or bad or in between. That’s the beauty of the Fringe. Anyone can do a show as long as they can afford the producer fee.
I’m writing this as a preface to talking about a show that wasn’t just bad. Because bad is fine. You can learn a whole lot from bad. If you are aware of the mistakes you make, you can write a better show. Not everyone, however, is aware of their mistakes and that’s the way of the world. If everyone had the ability to fairly assess their own abilities, we’d all be a lot better at what we do.
Rarely have a I seen a show cross over the boundary between “bad” and “irredeemable” but I saw a show like that on Saturday. It’s super hard to look at a show by someone you know and say “this has crossed a line and there is no coming back.” You want to believe that they can rescue it.
But they can’t. There’s nothing to be done but to tell people the show doesn’t deserve support of any kind. I’ll get to that show soon enough. Here are the shows I saw/participated in on Saturday!
SIZE is an anthology show looking at the challenges of being someone who is bigger than other someones. It looks at fat shaming and how living with something other than the ideal body is a constant battle – especially for women.
Most of us are caught up with this issue. But we’ve only recently begun talking about how body image can be such a unstoppable emotional burden. Society tells us we need to be a certain size. If you are in theater, it is a lot easier to get a role if you are a certain size. We talk about loving our bodies but do we really love our bodies?
SIZE touches on all of these issues and many more. It is remarkably empowering because it involves some very fierce women speaking their truth. And that truth is something most, if not all of us, can relate to.
I think the great thing about the show is this idea that we can and should talk about these issues but also that we spend way too much time talking about these issues in the wrong way.
I wrote the show and I’ll be at every performance so you are gonna hear about it five times. Sorry. That’s just how I track these things.
When you write a show like this, audience is such a huge part of the experience. The show is a drama but it starts out as more of a comedy. Not a “five laughs a second” comedy but something that should seem a little light.
If the audience laughs and enjoys that beginning, they are going to respond better to the emotional beats that are going to hit later.
All of this is to say our opening night audience was cranked and laughed at everything and that was great. This performance, the audience was considerably more subdued and that made it a little harder to get a handle on their reaction. Apparently, we got some people to cry, though. So that’s super good, right?
Bad Thoughts with Wolfie B Bad
Here we go.
Wolfie B Bad is a bad show by a bad performer who had a bad idea. And if it was just bad theater we could leave it at that and move on.
Thing is, the show is worse than bad. Because in the show I saw, the performer groped an audience member without consent. So yes, the audience witnessed sexual assault. I’m not making this up. It was sexual assault.
What the performer failed to realize is that consent is not just about getting someone to say yes to a prompt. It is about making sure the audience knows what they are saying yes to. And it is about not putting that audience member into a situation where you have all the power. Then, even if you are asking for consent, they are not really in a position to give it because they are going to feel compelled to say yes!
Having assaulted an audience member in the first ten minutes, the rest of the show was simply an attempt to engage in audience interaction with a puppet. By a bad puppeteer.
Generally what would happen is he would ask someone what they did. He would then repeat what they’d said back to them and wait for a laugh that never came.
I don’t know if future performances will feature sexual assault. I have to hope they won’t. But I can guarantee you they won’t include anything even the slightest bit funny. This isn’t just the worst show at the Fringe this year. It is possibly the worst show I’ve seen at any Fringe.
The Civil war is over. And yet, we are still fighting it. And losing.
A Confederate Widow in Hell is a (mostly) one person show in which the audience encounters the ghost of a southern plantation owner. She is genteel and charming and devout and a complete monster.
Yet, at the same time, she is the product of a society where she herself was oppressed. As we look at this nesting doll system of oppression, we see how the societal structures of her day and the structures of our day are not very different at all.
The show features two actors. One bears the most heavy burden of playing the protagonist. The other, a headless “assistant” who provides sound effects, lighting effects and a body that is put to some good use later in the show. Both are exceptional.
This apparition of our past is a difficult creature to see because she reflects our present. And that is what the show ultimately wants to show us. That the difference between the monster on stage and the audience is so very little indeed.
The Late, Great Uncle Danforth
Kelvin Hatle has long produced some of my favorite shows at the Fringe. His wry, witty takes on life are often punctuated with moments of the absurd (Karate Elvis makes an appearance in this show) followed by moments that are touching and honest.
Uncle Danforth is a video will from Danforth Auslander-Fish, who has some things to say to his inheritors. It remains to be seen until the end of the show if he will ever actually get to the point. Along the way, though, he has a lot of thoughts about a lot of different topics.
Kelvin’s dry delivery means that jokes frequently wash over the audience. At first, a few people laugh and then more and more as everyone fully comprehends the depth of the humor.
He also finishes his shows rather late in the process. What that means is typically the final performance will be better than the first. I saw his first performance and thought it was fantastic. I an only assume those who have the pleasure of watching a later performance will see something even better.
Our second performance of Swan Song featured an audience that was, much like the audience for Lunch Bunch, a little more subdued. Or they simply latched on to the creeper aspects of the show a little bit earlier.
I have to shout out to our director for this show. I have worked with Jason Kruger before but only as a writer and a director. As a director himself, he has the ability to really figure out how to give actors notes that help them improve their performance.
Those directors are hard to find. I’m not sure if he knows how good he is. Someone should probably tell him.
Stuck in an Elevator with Patrick Stewart II: The Wrath of Fandom
OK, this is going to sound weird coming from a white guy who frequently includes commentary on social issues in his work.
This show seemed so much like a play written by a white guy making commentaries about social issues. I don’t think that is bad. White guys should notice and comment on social issues. They should come up with ways to lampoon and belittle Incels and Men’s Rights activists because – and I don’t use this term lightly – they are trash.
But this show was a white guy lecturing his audience. It badly needed a woman’s voice. The Incel had a sympathetic backstory because this show is a sequel and in the first show, he was our protagonist. I didn’t see that show but there were enough references to it that I couldn’t help but wonder how someone who was a fan of that show would feel about seeing a character they liked being turned into such a jackass.
Patrick Stewart, who is a well known women’s rights advocate, was written to completely miss the Incel in the room for the longest time. And the Incel in the room was given enough history to make us care for him when the message needs to be “who gives a damn what made him this way because he’s just trash.”
The woman in the room had to carry the burden of confronting the Incel. She was the one who had to do the hard work.
There was also a secondary story that really had little to do with the main storyline and used up a lot more time than it needed given how little actually took place.
This show treaded much the same ground as Xena and Gabrielle Smash the Patriarchy. The difference was that that Xena and Gabrielle kept me entertained while talking about toxic masculinity. This show just talked about toxic masculinity. I agreed with everything this show had to say. But I can’t agree with the way in which it was being said.
Fringe Reviews – Day 1
I haven’t blogged for a few months because, I guess, the shit that has been pissing me off has gotten me down. I felt a need to recharge my batteries. They are mostly recharged and just in time for the Fringe Festival.
I try to review every show I see at the Fringe. This can be tough because I see shows by a lot of friends and sometimes, I don’t enjoy them. Which sucks.
But the thing is, it is all opinion so when I don’t care for a show, I’ll do my best to explain why I didn’t care for a show. Because criticisms aren’t particularly useful if there isn’t anything constructive about them.
In any case, it’s just my opinion. One noisy white dude on the internet who decided to write down his thoughts. So take my opinion however you would like. Use it or don’t. But I hope you go out and see a few Fringe shows because this Brigadoon of theater (yes I know what I just did there) isn’t around for very long and there is something for everyone. You just have to look.
Here’s what I did on day one!
I know everyone involved in this show and it is pretty much aimed directly at my strike zone. I’m about to start my 35th season at the Festival and I’m, you know, a nerd. The first scene was really strong and I was totally down for a Renaissance Zombie show. But it never really found its groove and it took me a while to figure out why.
I didn’t feel like the characters grew at all. They were freaked out by the zombies at the beginning. They were freaked out by the zombies at the end. The asshole was always an asshole. He didn’t learn. And the other two didn’t learn to cut him loose. I felt like the show needed to lean in to making fun of the Renaissance Festival, strange as that may sound.
The decision to do the zombie bits as shadow puppets didn’t work for me for a couple of reasons. It took the most dramatic and potentially scary moments of the show and rendered them a little toothless. The puppetry also needed to be better if it was going to be used. Too many characters being manipulated and not enough hands doing the manipulation.
I liked this concept so much and I wanted to like this play. The audience was, even for a Thursday 5:30 crowd, tiny. And that made a difference. When an audience isn’t getting loud and into the show like this, it can really mess with the energy of the show. It needed that energy. A more full audience that is more vocal would definitely help.
The actors did very well. This is a wordy show and Sara Bogomolny is tasked with playing several different roles. The three main characters have a LOT to say and Jason Kruger, Brynn Berryhill, and James Fairbairn were completely committed to squeezing everything they could out of the roles.
Even though I wasn’t sold on the show, I’d recommend it. I feel like a different audience would make for a better experience.
Wilhelmina and Theodore’s Exquisite Victorian Adventure
This show was produced by Fearless Comedy Productions and I am the Artistic Director of Fearless Comedy Productions. I had nothing to do with the writing of the show and the first time I saw any part of it was on opening night.
Now that I’ve gotten those caveats out of the way…I loved this show. The jokes were sharp and made fun of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, steampunk, the patriarchy, Stargate, History class, and a great deal more. Things were coming at me so fast, I was concerned the show was going to run over when, in fact, it landed at just around 50 minutes.
The casting on the show is really top notch and the choices for which actors played which characters impressed me a great deal.
I think if you are going to parody something, you can’t be shy about it. I mean, you can try to make sure people who don’t know the source material have a good time (I think they will) but you can’t pretend you aren’t making a parody. The writing team on this one did a really great job. So did the director. So did the actors.
So yeah, everyone did a great job on this show. I really enjoyed the hell out of it.
News flash! I don’t just write reviews of Fringe show, I also produce and write Fringe shows!
The Lunch bunch is my ninth collaboration with Jami Newstrom and this show was a hard one for me. I was trying some new things, I was writing a character whose voice was far removed from my own, and when I watched the source material, I realized The Breakfast Club isn’t all that funny. It has funny moments but it’s a serious film.
So I had to write a show that reflected that. And it had to acknowledge some things that happen in the original film that were not OK. I couldn’t pretend they didn’t happen so I had to deal with them. And ask myself what those things might have done to those characters.
The cast for this show completely nailed what I was trying to do. Our audience on opening night was fantastic. They laughed at all the right moments and one thing about writing dramatic work is hopefully getting your audience to laugh because they are more emotionally primed to cry.
I’m really proud of this show. But it’s my show. So it’s hard to judge fairly.
Frankenstein: Two Centuries
The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society has, for the last few years, produced live performances of classic radio drama that is some of the most compelling theater at the Fringe.
I know, I know. It is just actors (very good actors) standing in front of a microphone reading a script and that sounds super boring. Trust me, it isn’t.
This year, rather than reading classic scripts, two of their company (Tim Uren and Joshua English Scrimshaw) wrote original tales inspired by Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. To make the task more difficult, they each wrote the story in the style of a classic radio series. Because they are inhuman machines and I hate them.
Anyway, the scripts themselves, one more creepy and one more comic, were both great. The two different tones complemented each other well. The introductions showed a reverence for Shelly’s novel as well as the shows to which they were paying tribute. It was both a history lesson and really great theater.
So that’s day one! I’ll try to keep up. If you are Fringing, I hope you have a great time!
2018 Fringe Festival Wrap-up
I saw 34 shows at the Fringe Festival this year and appeared in ten. I had a hand in writing three shows. I watched one show twice because it was that good. I most likely missed at least as many good shows as I ended up watching.
The Festival is a glorious orgy of creativity. To expect any one thing beyond many different interpretations of theater is foolish.
I love that it takes nothing more than $30 and an idea to have a chance to be in the Fringe. Hell, you don’t even need an idea. You just need to apply. When you get in, maybe the idea will come to you.
Or maybe it won’t.
I saw some truly great shows this year. They were great not just by Fringe standards but by theater standards. I produced work that I was immensely proud to have created.
The experience is energizing and life changing. Every year.
Here, then, are my top ten shows at the 2018 Minnesota Fringe. As I’ve no desire to rank them, I shall list them in alphabetical order. Narrowing the list down to ten was a painful task but I’ve opted to go with ten rather than five because five was agonizing.
I should also note that these shows were, for whatever reason, my favorite. I saw many good shows that didn’t make this particular list. Some of them might have been objectively better, but these are the ones that will stay with me the most.
Have I written about this production enough? Apparently not.
The only show at the Fringe I watched twice, “Blood Nocturne” was, to me, a masterful piece considering the difference between how history oft times redefines reality and how women with power are frequently vilified for no other reason than because they are women.
Starting with what we believe we know about the Countess Erzsebet Bathory, the play used music, folk tales, dance, and even (sometimes) humor to show how much much we don’t know.
Meticulously staged, sharply written, and brilliantly acted, this play was never boring and frequently compelling. It grabbed me from the moment the lights dimmed until at least ten minutes after I’d left the theater. There was not a single moment in the show that felt out of place.
This show will be one of the last things I forget when I have Alzheimer’s.
2018 Fringe Reviews – Days 10 & 11
Fringe is over for another year and while I shall miss it terribly, eleven days is a good length.
Saturday was only the second day of the Festival where I didn’t have a performance and Sunday all three of my shows closed, one right after the other. So on the final weekend, I didn’t see as many performances as I would have liked.
Much as I wasn’t thrilled about Fringe Central this year, I actually spent Saturday night there and instantly regretted having waited so long. I mean, I’m still not nuts about the Red Stag. But I got to talk to artists whose work I enjoyed and finally introduced myself to the new Executive Director.
It was all very lovely and while I didn’t much care for the Red Stag, I remembered why I really like Fringe Central.
So even though Fringe is over, here is my final batch of shows I saw/appeared in on Saturday and Sunday. Tomorrow, I’ll try to do a round up post.
Watching this show will either convince you that something needs to be done about the treatment of women in musical theater or – gosh – you are a horrible human being, I guess.
Looking through the lens of roles for women in a lot of classic musicals of the mid 20th century that are still, for some idiotic reason, being produced, they point out the puzzle of being an actress looking for roles in musicals. I mean, you can love the music of “Carousel” but have you really ever thought about the play?
And what about that last scene in “Grease?” The one where Sandy changes everything about herself to get her man?
Maybe you knew all of this already. But the show doesn’t just point out the horrible misogyny in musicals you thought you loved. It points out how that misogyny manifests itself in the choices of the musicals that are produced, the types of actresses producers are willing to cast and the way women are treated at auditions.
We theater people think of ourselves as woke and yeah – I guess we are more liberal than your average non theater person. But most of us are still white and most of us are still gatekeepers when it comes to giving roles to people of color, women who are outside a very narrow age and body type standard, and recognizing that “Carousel” may be a classic but holy fuck is it awful.
The show was filled with great performances, emotional stories, and fantastic singing (of a lot of disturbing lyrics). The message was on point.
I was listening. I hope a lot of other people (in the position to do something about the problem) were as well. Read More…
2018 Fringe Reviews – Day 9
I see more theater during the Fringe Festival than during any other time of the year. Of course, it is a lot easier to see theater during Fringe.
It is all in one place (more or less). Everything is only fifty minutes long (more or less). I’m usually already there anyway.
I love live theater but you really can’t do better than the zero entry of the Minnesota Fringe. One show is ten bucks. Four shows (on a weeknight) is nineteen. Some of them might not be great shows but at five dollars a show, who cares?
For creators, the entry point is equally easy. Less than $50 to enter the lottery. Less than $500 to pay your producer’s fee. Someone else does a ton of marketing for you.
The only downside is that lottery system. Sometimes you get in. Sometimes you don’t. You are always taking a chance.
For me, the chance is always worth it. Fringe is about taking chances – whether it is the show you decide to produce or the show you decide to watch.
Here are the shows I watched/appeared in on Friday!
Long form improv is finding it’s way into Fringe more and more in no small part to the way HUGE Theater has been successfully cultivating the art form for a few years now.
Shrieking Harpies is one of my favorite kinds of long form improv because they add a musical element, which is hard as hell and I can’t help but admire. Rather than just telling a story (that they are making up because that is how improv works), they are singing a story. That they are also making up.
I bring this up not because it surprises me but because it impresses me.
It should impress anyone, to be honest. Lizzie Gardner, Taj Ruler, and Hannah Wydeven all have really good voices and clearly work together very well. They almost never stepped on each other, actually found harmonies when singing together (which – I repeat – they were making up), and put together a great story.
Since it’s improv, they might not put together a great story next time. But I’m fairly certain they will.
I’ve been interested in writing a horror show for a while just because I think it poses a lot of different challenges for me as a writer.
“Geminae” is the kind of show I’d like to write.
It combines hard Science Fiction with horror elements in a way that got some great reactions out of the audience members I was sitting with. What will scare you is not so much the conclusion of the story as the revelation of the bad decisions some of the characters are making.
The staging of the show was inventive – especially given one of the characters was supposed to be weightless. The actors really sold the fantastic elements and I thought Emily Lindholm and Victoria Pyan, who were the emotional center of the piece, carried the weight of the show with a lot of skill.
Horror is a hard genre to get right. I’m pleased to have seen so many shows this year that have been making it work.
Gabriel Mata is a great dancer. Not just good. Great. He is powerful, graceful, evocative, and understands how to bridge the gap between the dance and his audience. Last year’s “Out of the Shadows” was one of my favorite Fringe shows. Which says a lot because in general, dance shows don’t really connect with me.
Dreaming may not have spoken to me as someone who isn’t really interested in dance the way “Out of the Shadows” did but it shows that Gabriel still knows how to bring his audience into the world of dance. What you need to understand about the show is right there in the title.
Though a series of dances, he brings us through a world of dreams that can be terrifying, comforting, confusing, and joyful. Sometimes the dreams inspire dances. Sometimes the dances inspire dreams.
I think Gabriel understand his art form like few others do. But more than that, he knows others will appreciate that art form more if he lets his audience in.
I may not go to a lot of dance at the Fringe. But as long as Gabriel is there, I’m going to keep being open to the experience.
Also – that show image? Damn.
A Family Friendly Pulp Fiction (Not Appropriate For Families)
Our penultimate performance was a little odd from a writer’s perspective. The audience was responding but not always at the places we expected. They would laugh loudly at a joke that had previously just gotten chuckles and then wouldn’t respond to a joke that had gotten a huge response in every other performance.
You have to roll with such things in a comedy. You never know what, from one night to the next, will land with the audience.
I was very gratified that the Star Tribune rated our show one of the ten best shows at this year’s Fringe. An accolade like that is great and appreciated and it also triggers imposter syndrome.
See, I love the show. I love what the actors and directors did with it. I love that I managed to write something that went beyond the simple premise that was the initial idea. I’m proud of what we did.
But to me, it’s just this silly show where we substitute words for swear words and think about what “Family Friendly” really means. It isn’t TOP TEN material. I look at other shows that just blew me away this year and think “man – I wish I could write something that good once in my life.”
I can name ten shows I think are better than the show I’ve written. Not because I think I wrote a bad show but because to me, what I write isn’t spectacular or brilliant. It’s just what I write.
So it is really humbling and awesome that someone thought this show was that good. I’m sure there are others who would rate it as one of the worst shows they saw this year.
Both responses are equally valid, of course, as theater is subjective.
I’m proud of the show so I’ll just try to stick to bragging about the fact that at least one reviewer out there was as happy with what I produced as I was.
2018 Fringe Reviews – Day 6
Fringe has two hubs instead of three this year. For various reasons, there is no Uptown hub. It makes things easier (especially when you have three shows on the West bank) but I miss the craziness of trying to make a mad dash across town.
I guess that’s silly. It really sucks to drive from NE Minneapolis to HUGE theater only to find that the show you wanted to see sold out ten minutes before you arrived. On the other hand, maybe you just go over to Jungle to see whatever is there and you are completely floored by something you didn’t even know you should be seeing.
A lot of things change with Fringe every year. And if you’ve been there for a while, you probably have opinions about what is better and what is worse. I know I do.
It’s why I have mad respect for the people who run Fringe. Because everyone involved from the artists to the audience has an opinion. And all of us are probably going to share it.
And that has to be exhausting.
So look – some things are better this year. And something things are (in my opinion) not as great. But Fringe is great no matter what. We can complain about the details but I guess it’s just because we all want it to be a little bit more perfect.
Here’s what I saw and performed in on Tuesday!
The Complete Works of William Shatner (Abridged)
Interesting thing about this show – when the audience is big enough to really laugh at it, it runs about 47 minutes. When the audience is small and kind of chuckles, it runs about 42 minutes.
That’s how much time laughter adds to a show. And it’s why writing comedy can present such a challenge. You have no idea how long your show actually lasts.
I bring this up because Tuesday at 5:30 is a tough time slot and our audience was pretty light. I think it was a good show. But not too many people saw it.
2018 Fringe Reviews – Day 5
The long weekend days have ended (until next week). Weeknights at Fringe are considerably more civilized since the start at 5:30 rather than 1:00. With performances every night, the most I can see in a single evening is three shows.
I can’t even fathom seeing a show in every slot. The few times I’ve come close, I’ve fallen asleep in at least one show. I feel terrible about doing so, of course, since the show in question is usually not to blame.
One thing that has helped this year is the lack of Fringe Central time. It makes me a little sad since I enjoy hanging out with friends in the evening. But Red Stag Supper Club just hasn’t excited me as a venue and it has made going home after a day of Fringe a more desirable alternative. I hope to make it to Fringe Central a couple of times before Fringe is done. I miss the experience.
But not going makes it easier to stay awake.
I can’t believe I’ve been involved in the Fringe for this long without seeing one of Les Kurkendaal’s shows!
Mischief managed, I guess.
I think what makes Les’ story of spending time in Russia compelling to me is the fact I kept thinking about it later. On the one hand, there is the almost amusing fact that he was considered almost a novelty by most people in Moscow because he was black.
On the other, there were the conversations he had with other gay men about how being gay in Russia was completely fine. As long as you didn’t tell anyone you were gay.
Yes, there is an undercurrent of danger but this isn’t a sad story. Les is a stranger in a strange (to him) land and he takes risks because it beats sitting in his hotel room being bored. He’s exploring a new country and he’s also exploring a new relationship.
I’ve made some questionable decisions while traveling. I’ve never regretted them because they always had a way of working out. So too, did it seem things worked out for Les. He took chances and came away with some great stories.
Fortunately, he’s good at telling them to others.
Jeanette Rankin: Champion of Persistence
I ended up at this show by accident. Turns out the show I thought I was going to was at the Rarig Xperimental. I had time to get to the other theater but I figured what the hell?
Jeanette Rankin is a fascinating woman. She was as suffragette, the first woman elected to the House of Representatives, a fierce peace advocate who voted against US involvement in both WWI and WWII, and an activist up to the day she died.
This show, unfortunately, was a rather plodding and dull biography. For some reason, J Emily Peabody, who played Rankin and wrote the script, spent much of the show changing clothes to indicate the passage of time. Every time she moved to a new time period, she would change a hat or a skirt or a blouse. Sometimes all three.
The costume changes didn’t add anything to the presentation and at times turned into a needless distraction.
Because there is so much to the story of Jeanette Rankin, most of it was left out of the show. It wasn’t until later in the show it became clear that both times she served in the House of Representatives, it had been for a single term.
It felt as if there was so much information to pack into the show that they forgot to make the information interesting. And that was a real shame because the subject of the show was most definitely interesting.
The Complete Works of William Shatner (Abridged)
Our second performance played to a smallish house (Monday night isn’t the greatest time slot) but it was a good audience. They were engaged and seemed to get even the deepest of cuts. It didn’t hurt my co-writer was in the audience and most of the deepest cuts had come from him.
We also got a very nice write up in the Star Tribune. So hooray!
Slapdash Panic: Comedy Suitcase Ended up in the Fringe Festival with Three Weeks Notice and No Show!
As the title may suggest, Levi Weinhagen and Joshua English Scrimshaw came off the waiting list for the Fringe Festival with only three weeks left to go. This is, we, are assured, completely true.
The conceit of the show is that they don’t have a show. An entire show about having no show could end up being something other than uproariously funny.
I mean, it could if it weren’t in Levi and Joshua’s hands. Because they know what they are doing and while the show may look like chaos, it is meticulously controlled chaos.
Audience members are regularly enlisted in this show because if you “don’t know what you are doing,” what better way to fill time than to get help?
They gently skewer the Fringe Festival, some other Fringe performers, and each other but the whole thing has the feeling of a farce in which someone forgot to give the characters their scripts.
You will see better shows at the Fringe. But I’m not sure there will be any that are more fun.