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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I 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.
I had two performances on both Monday and Tuesday so I’m combining the four shows I saw on my own time into a single post! Efficiency!
As a writer, I’m frequently focused on the intent of the material and how the artist chooses to get that material across to the audience. That intent is extremely important.
If you are going to a show that is, at it’s core, nothing more than a trifling comedy, then all you really need ask yourself is whether or not you were amused for an hour. If it is aiming for something deeper, then it needs to be evaluated on that level.
The fringe is filled with shows representing a variety of intents. That’s what makes it so enjoyable. You are constantly shifting your perceptions based on the intent of the artist. Sometimes even within the same show.
Trump Count: 10
I’ve been doing Fringe shows for a while now and the result is I have a lot of friends with shows. It is my stated goal to see every one of them but, of course, such a goal is stupid and impossible. After a few years, you come to the realization that you are going to let someone down and miss their show.
The secret, though, is that you aren’t actually letting them down. You see, they get it. They are in the same boat as you. They want to see your show and it just might not work out for them either.
What we all eventually learn to do is tell each other it is completely OK if we miss each other’s shows. It has nothing to do with our respect for each other and everything to do with complex schedule management.
So here’s the thing – audience or artist alike – go see what you want to see. You don’t need to apologize for missing someone’s show. We all understand that you have to make a series of very hard decisions. Thanks so much for even considering our work.
So here is what I saw on Sunday!
Trump Count: 9
I had a big weekend what with all three of my shows opening on the same day.
Now I know what you’re thinking – three shows? What the hell Tim, are you some kind of attention whore?
Um…yeah. I mean I’m a writer and a performer. I can’t get around the fact that I like to put things in front of an audience. Sometimes those things include myself. I like it when people pay attention to that stuff. And while I didn’t set out to be involved in three shows, when the opportunity presented itself, there was no way I could say no.
Every artist at the Fringe is, to some degree, looking for attention. They have talent and they want you to notice. They have ideas and they want you to listen. I love them for that. Because I love to notice talented people and I love to listen to interesting ideas. I love watching people trying new things. I love watching them succeed. I love watching them fail.
I’m totally OK with the fact these people want my attention. Because they deserve it.
Trump Count: 7
As an artist at the Minnesota Fringe, I know a whole lot of people involved in the festival. It makes it difficult for me to write reviews and because I don’t want to torpedo anyone’s shows, I don’t write reviews on the official Fringe web site. Instead, I blog my thoughts here. If you are an artist and you read my review of your show, here are a few things I want you to know.
First: You made a show happen. I can’t hate you for that because I know how hard it is to make a show happen. Even if I didn’t like your show, I like that you gave it a shot. I like you for being creative and for being excited and for doing something with an idea besides thinking “wouldn’t it be great if…”
Second: Not liking a show is not the same as not liking a person. I know that’s hard. I struggle with it myself every time I read a bad review. I can have fifteen great reviews and one bad review will wreck me. I’m sorry I didn’t like your show. I really am. I want to like every show. I still like you, though. And I want you to try again.
Third: If I didn’t like a show, I’m going to try to explain why because saying “I hated this show” is useless. Saying “I think this would have made the show better” is helpful. Artists may not agree with me and that’s cool. But I know that they would rather hear someone say “I think this would have improved your show,” than “I just didn’t like it.”
Also, this year I am keeping a “Trump Count.” This refers to the number of shows I watch that make a joke about Donald Trump. I am not complaining about these jokes, mind you. I feel that Donald Trump jokes are vital in a world that needs to make it clear that Donald Trump is a joke.
I’ve seen eight shows so far. Trump count: 5
I came nowhere close to seeing a show in every slot of the festival this year. While I know some people have such a goal, I try to strike a balance between watching theater and doing – you know – other things.
My choices are driven a little by who I know but also what I know I’ll like. For instance, everyone loves Transatlantic Love Affair. They produce really good dramatic theater. I think their theater is fine but I’m a comedian. I like to laugh. A really good drama is still a little bit of a waste of time for me.
It may seem strange that I’d rather watch a bad comedy than a good drama but the great thing about the Fringe is I can make that choice. It is the theatrical equivalent of a really good brunch buffet. Everyone is going to find something they like.
I find the Fringe one of the most enriching experiences of my theatrical career. It has made me a better writer. It has connected me with other artists I would never have known. It has taught me how to be a better producer.
The Fringe is over but connections I’ve made this year will bear fruit over the next several. And that’s while I’ll be back.
I saw four shows on the final day of the Fringe. Here’s what I thought!
I’ve done the Fringe for a few years now and one thing I can say for sure: my name alone doesn’t get butts in the seats. Audiences recognize the names of a few production companies (Transatlantic Love Affair, Four Humors) but it seems to me that at least part of what brings audiences back to the same artists year after year is the recognition of the personality.
Joseph Scrimshaw was a great example of a performer whose name drew people to his productions. It was both his writing and on stage charisma that keep them coming back.
In most cases, I don’t think audiences notice who wrote or directed a show at Fringe.
They see my name and they don’t think “hey – I remember the other shows that guy wrote.” They think: “who’s that guy?”
It’s my own fault, of course, for writing shows that don’t feature a part for me. And for being more of a character actor than a lead.
It can be frustrating, at times, to feel like you have to win your audience back with each successive year. Yet, that is what most fringe producers do. Those who don’t have to do that aren’t lucky. They are talented and consistent.
And I have to admit I’m just a little bit jealous.
I watched four shows on Saturday. One of them was mine so let’s talk about the other three, shall we?
For my part, I’ve always been lucky if my show was reviewed by one major news outlet. With 174 shows, most of the press seems to divide up their choices rather neatly. Certainly there are some shows that get reviewed by nearly everyone.
By the time the Fringe is half over, the press isn’t doing much reviewing any longer because the show only has one or two performances left. I always wish they would keep writing because if there is even one performance left, they can help the show.
Now writing reviews after the fringe is over is just silly.
But I’m going to do it anyway.
Here are the reviews of the shows I watched on Friday.