I was part of two submissions to the Family Fringe this year. Neither of them were accepted (although “Next” did get picked in the regular lottery so it happened anyway and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” will be part of the Horror Festival). I like the idea of the Family Fringe and I hope it succeeds.
That said, I have only been to one show at the Family Fringe and that is probably all I’ll attend.
The big problem is the schedule. Because it’s 30 minutes removed from the rest of the Fringe, going to a Family Fringe show means you effectively have to spend TWO slots to see one show. You can’t possibly see every show anyway so why would you want see a show that costs an extra time slot?
The assumption, I think, is that the folks bringing their families to Family Fringe are not going to spend a lot of time at the main Fringe. I don’t think that was a good assumption.
The concept is new and I have no doubt it will see considerable changes in coming years (assuming it continues). But that one decision was, I think, a major miss.
Full disclosure: This show was produced by Fearless Comedy and I’m the Artistic Director. I approved the show and have been hands off ever since.
I approved the show because a Noir murder mystery based on the characters from Winnie the Pooh sounds like the perfect Fringe show, doesn’t it?
So as much as I can be fair about a show I approved for production that was written, directed, and starred several friends of mine, I enjoyed the hell out of it.
Rather than offer a critique of the show that can’t really be fair (even though it was seriously very good), I’m going to critique the Minnsky theater a little.
The biggest issue with this show was the theater. The acoustics are lousy and the play (because it is based on film noir) was wordy. That’s not a great combination. I lost some of the actors lines and it wasn’t because they were too quiet. It is because the theater swallowed them up.
All that means, I guess, is I will do my best to avoid producing any wordy shows there.
In their fourth year at the Minnesota Fringe, The Fourth Wall was part of the Family Fringe (there was a reason for the lead-in).
They are great. And I can’t miss their show because it would be unfair. To me.
This year, they took pieces from the last three productions they have done at the Minnesota Fringe. I got to see some pieces I loved from previous years and, because I didn’t see them their first time in town, I also got to see some pieces I’d never seen before.
By far the best part of the experience was seeing them with people who had never seen their show before. That lovely “oh my god – did they just do what I think I just saw them do” moment is delightful and given they are performing 18 pieces in 45 minutes, those moments happen more than once.
I may see better shows at the Fringe in a particular year but the sheer amount of talent and joy for performing these three possess brings me back over and over. Doesn’t matter where they are performing, they are a must see.
I wrote it. And I have a cameo. So I was there.
The second performance was a lot tighter. We cut a few moments that didn’t seem to work and the actors were more confident with where the laughter might fall.
The show was a dumb idea. It sounds like it is a one joke show. Somehow, it isn’t. That pleases me.
A couple years ago, Sheep Theater did an adaptation of Most Dangerous Game that was one of my favorite finds. I didn’t see their show last year for reasons that are not clear to me.
I might have missed this year had it not been the best looking show in it’s time slot.
As a silly take on Nuclear Annihilation I don’t wish to describe too extensively for fear I will spoil the experience, “Kaboom” was a lot of fun. It was frantic in the best ways, ridiculous without spending too much time winking at the audience and, most importantly, none of the actors looked like they knew they were in a comedy.
The cast was uniformly good but Robb Goetzke was a standout as Mr. President. He had the juiciest role, to be sure. But it was also the easiest to mess up and he never did.
The show has some scenes, mostly having to do with the Vide President, that were a little slow, but that complaint is minor. Overall, I was happy to rediscover Sheep Theater and I won’t miss their next Fringe show.
I wasn’t much in the mood for this show. I imagined that it would be lighter fare – especially given the enthusiasm with which the actors encouraged audience members to pick the order the plays would be performed.
Most of the plays were about dark and even somewhat morose so there was an odd shift in tone between audience members shouting out plays and the plays themselves. I was OK with it at first but I kept hoping for some break. I wanted one of these stories to have a positive outlook.
A few did. But not very many.
My réponse, however, says more about me than it does about the show itself. The actors understood the emotional resonance of the scenes and did a great job shifting characters (a necessity given that most of them had to play at least a dozen).
I also really appreciated that the relationships in the plays didn’t take gender into account. There were some man/man relationships, some woman/woman relationships, and some man/woman relationships. It didn’t feel like the choices were made for any other reason than to put the right actors in the right roles.
I did leave wishing the show had been a little lighter. I don’t want to blame that on the show, though. They have no obligation to deliver what I want.
Tim Uren has been producing one person horror shows for some time. They have all been good because he understands how to build dread slowly. There isn’t really a gotcha moment in these stories. There is just a creeping feeling that it is all going to go very badly and you, the observer, are going to be powerless to stop it.
This year, Tim helped operate some creepy offstage sound effects and handed the on stage responsibilities to Eric Webster, which was a great choice. Webster takes his character from calm, comfortable and a bit guarded to drunk, terrified, but resigned to….something.
The sound effects really worked to heighten the experience even though they were quiet and subtle. Waves lapping against the shore. The crackle of a fire. An occasional gust of wind. You felt like you were in a cabin by the sea and that you might be stuck there with something very sinister.
I know that a one person show like this might not be everyone’s first choice but this one person show ought to be at the top of anyone’s list.
Being a writer can be strange. For Family Friendly Pulp Fiction, I have one tiny cameo so I spend the entirety of every show pacing backstage and hoping the audience laughs at the jokes. Every time they laugh, I feel a sense of relief. Every time they don’t, I’m wondering how I could have written it better.
I think writing comedy is harder than writing drama. Because you don’t know if anyone is going to laugh at what you’ve written until it lands on stage.
Drama is great, mind you. Not trying to cast any shade on the many fine writers of drama. Nor am I suggesting it is easy to write drama. Because, hell, I can’t do it very well.
So maybe what I should say is being a playwright who focuses on comedy is harder until the play gets on stage and people laugh at it. Because then, at least, you know you succeeded.
Anyway, this is what I think about when I’m pacing backstage during one of my shows.
On to what I saw on day 3 of the Minnesota Fringe!
Oh Josh Carson you magnificent bastard.
First off, a mash up of super heroes and A League of Their Own is such a great idea I’m shocked no-one has thought of it before. Hell, I’m shocked Josh never thought of it before. He probably did. He just had other, better ideas he wanted to do first.
Josh writes great comedy. He gets great people to perform his comedy. If he has a weakness, it is that he writes too much great comedy. In super hero terms, that’s not even a major weakness. Poor Superman! He’s too strong! Poor Spider-Man! He’s too good at swinging on webs!
So the biggest challenge faced by this show is the fact the actors are forced to rush through the dialogue simply to get it all in. It is still funny and well acted and everyone should see it. But I keep wondering if the Fringe needs to come up with a special 75 minute slot just for Josh Carson so his actors (and he) can actually enjoy a laugh for a couple of seconds.
That isn’t realistic, of course. And if they did that, Josh would just write more jokes.
I need to quickly point out that Allison Witham’s performance is particularly great. She has nicely understated delivery and facial expressions and I found I was always looking at her when she was on stage.
Hey – speaking of magnificent bastards and comedy writing, how about Tom Reed?
I was surprised by this play because it was a play. I’m used to Reed’s one person shows where he sings and talks his way through a subject. This time, he did some singing and talking but he did it with other actors! I wasn’t expecting that.
His show takes a shot (heh) at the NRA without being wildly anti gun. Which is smart because the minute he became even mildly anti-gun, he’s probably attract protesters.
Just kidding. The Fringe is only ten days long. It might take longer than that to get mobilized.
Just kidding. They can mobilize in five seconds. Only group faster than the is the Westboro Baptist Church.
ANYWAY – the show is really good. And no, it isn’t pro gun. But it does suggest that there might be an acceptable middle ground between ALL THE GUNS and maybe sometimes not all the guns. And it also suggests that teaching our kids to be prepared for the next school shooting might not be as important as preventing the next school shooting.
You might not notice he’s saying those things because you’ll be laughing too hard. Unless you are in the NRA. Then you’ll probably be organizing a protest.
So with a dance piece by Erin Sheppard, it would appear my Saturday morning was just packed with Fringe celebrities.
Sheppard’s dance pieces, especially her horror inspired ones, are always inventive and fun to watch. “Fun” might not be the best word given the macabre themes but I like watching them so I’ll stick with “fun.”
Most of her shows include a storytelling element to tie the show together and (I expect) to give the dancers time to take a quick break and change costumes before the next piece.
The stories by Taj Ruler didn’t entirely sell me in this production. They were short and frequently talked of her thirteen year old self dabbling in witchcraft. There needed to be some sort of bridge.
By this I mean – the story would bridge to the dance thematically, but in the story, the witchcraft didn’t work (because witchcraft doesn’t work), it was a childish fantasy. Then the dances would be about witchcraft that worked but it wasn’t a childish fantasy. It was a dangerous and dark reality.
For some reason, that was a little bit of a disconnect for me.
No matter that disconnect, I’ll watch Erin and company dance whenever I’m able. Her exploration of horror themes through dance is always worth my time.
The third of the shows I’ve written to open, I admit I lacked some level of enthusiasm for this show.
It was originally mounted at the Fringe six years ago and it did very well. I wasn’t ashamed of it. But it had happened, you know? As much as it is nice to have your work performed, I spend a lot of my time thinking about what the next thing is. This was so six years ago.
As we got into rehearsal, though, I remembered how proud I had been of this work.
My genre is to come up with some completely stupid idea (A Family Friendly Pulp Fiction) and then find a way to make it work. That’s what I do. When Bill Stiteler said he’d co-write this show with me, I was happy to have the help.
Because can you really make fun of William Shatner for an entire show?
The answer, really, is no. But we figured out how to make the show about more than Shatner jokes. The end result turned out great. And the actors we have this time around are really killing it.
So yeah, I wasn’t enthusiastic about it at first. But I am now.
The theme of this post apocalyptic play didn’t entirely appeal to me but I can’t complain about the staging. Visually, I really enjoyed it. The scene changes made great use of the Rarig Arena (a space I must admit I hate) and the performances were all really impressive – especially Hannah Steblay, who had a very long and challenging monologue to end the play.
I enjoyed the way the simple set pieces were rearranged to suggest different times and places or even different parts of the same place. The use of several ensemble actors created a sense of danger as the main characters could never really be sure who was on their side and who wasn’t (which is very much the kind of world created by the text).
There were times I was confused if certain characters were supposed to be the same characters we’d seen earlier in the show. It’s possible that the text mentioned names and I completely missed it. In looking up character names later, I got my answers.
This was a polished and well done production of a show I didn’t particularly like. That I wasn’t nuts about the source material is really my problem. The source material was well written and had a lot to say. I guess I wasn’t in the mood to listen to that particular story.
I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a show with five short plays could be a little uneven. Unless every one of the five plays is a masterpiece, you are almost guaranteed that response.
Bits & Bobs was, indeed, uneven. I feel like there were more misses than hits, though.
The acting was all very good and my main criticism would be the writing of the plays presented. Of the five, there was only one I really enjoyed. The rest felt either overly long, overly obvious, or overly obtuse. The final play, in particular about butter heads at a county fair was mostly a single joke (albeit a good one) that stretched beyond the point it was still funny.
I understand why it was last because, seriously, butter heads. Unfortunately, it ended up being a weak finish. There was another play about two people in a memory care unit that could have been sweet but the playwright was focused on a surprise reveal that wasn’t a surprise.
The show wasn’t painfully bad. It wasn’t bad at all. The writing just never drew me in. When I watch something and find myself thinking about it as a writer, I know that the writer left something on the table. I shouldn’t be thinking about how the show was written. I should just be enjoying the show.
The 2018 Minnesota Fringe Festival has begun! This year I find myself involved as a writer in three different shows and an actor in two. I watch as many shows during the Festival as I can, schedule permitting, because I just love the crazy theatrical orgy that takes over the Twin Cities theater scene for these ten days.
A few notes on my reviews:
I don’t use a star rating system. If you got a show on the stage, you are great. Maybe I didn’t like your show and for that, I’m sorry because I honestly want to love everyone’s show. Going to bad theater doesn’t make anyone happy.
If I don’t like a show, I’ll try to be constructive as to why. As a writer, my bias is always going to lean towards what is wrong with the writing. There could be other issues but the writer is likely to experience the bulk of my wrath because that’s what I know about.
So I’ll be as brutally honest as I can. But I can never be that brutal because seriously – they made a show! I just love that Fringe lets anybody make a show.
This would be one of the three shows I wrote. The concept came from the inclusion of a Family Fringe as part of the festival this year. I loved the idea but got to thinking (as I do) “what is the worst conceivable idea for a Family Friendly show?”
I don’t know if a Family Friendly Pulp Fiction is the worst conceivable idea for a Family Friendly show. Debbie Does Dallas might be a little worse.
But starting from that weird idea, I decided to turn Pulp Fiction into a “family friendly” experience.
I knew that just substituting swear words, however, wasn’t going to be more than a five minute gimmick. Fortunately, I was able to add more meat to the bones of that dumb idea and the result is something I’m really proud of.
I’m sure I’ll write more about this show because I’ll be there four more times.
Next show is Sunday at 5:30 PM at Theater in the Round Read More…
I’m starting to get caught up on sleep after eleven days in which I averaged about five hours a night. It’s a good thing only one of my two shows required me to have a lot of lines.
In the end, the out of town acts moved on to their next Fringe or headed back to wherever they call home. The locals all started thinking about their next show and about what they will do at the Fringe next year. I’m working on my next script and a couple of directing gigs after that.
Theatrical Brigadoon has disappeared for another year. Rather, it has fractured. We all move apart for almost twelve months only to be pulled back into each other’s orbit by the gravitational pull of the Fringe. I have a lot of friends I see only during this eleven day Festival. Even more I see only infrequently during the rest of the year.
Fringe is the place you take chances because you probably won’t lost money when you do. It is the place you are inspired by the creativity of others. It is the place where you make connections to artists who might just be a collaborative partner next week or next month or next year.
In the end, I watched 32 shows and participated in 11. That means there were only 13 of 56 time slots in which I did nothing. Just over one per day. I saw at least one show in every Fringe venue that was not a bring your own. I watched every show that featured work by members of Fearless Comedy Productions. I saw only three shows I really didn’t like. I saw two shows I thought were truly extraordinary and several others I liked an awful lot.
Here, then, are my reviews for the last few shows I saw. Because I’m a completist. Thanks to everyone involved in this festival. It is one of my favorite things.
As the Fringe winds to a close, reviews are less important. I keep posting them anyway because hell, they might help someone down the road.
Last night, Fringe central was completely overrun by Coldplay fans. The proximity of Grumpy’s to US Bank Stadium provided many fans of the band with the opportunity to pre-game the concert. It also meant that most Fringe Festival participants were hanging out on the patio and trying to avoid the music fans who, most likely, had no idea the Fringe Festival even existed.
We made fun of these people a little. Not really because there is anything wrong with being a Coldplay fan but because they were invading “our” space.
Which is silly. I mean, ten days ago, this wasn’t “ours.” And tomorrow there will be no more performers with pink lanyards standing around trying to get a basket of tots.
But last night, our space and our city was crawling with Coldplay fans. They filled a stadium. And most of them were unaware of the amazing things happening all around them.
I guess that’s why we made fun of them a little. We all knew what they were missing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.