Tag Archive | Minnesota Fringe Festival

Friend a Day – Amy Rummenie

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Photo by Walking Shadow Theatre Company

With the Fringe Festival approaching, it seems appropriate to focus on a few Fringe friends for the next few days.

I met Amy when she was asked to step in and help direct my fringe show “Story Time: Time Bomb.”  I didn’t know her and she didn’t know me.  I just knew we needed a director.

It was a great learning experience for both of us.  I’d never done a “kids” show and she’d never directed a show that was mostly improv.  The result was a tight show that was, I thought, a lot of fun.

For all the work I do in theatre, I’m not a very good director.  Amy is a great director and her skills have not gone unnoticed in the Twin Cities theatre community.  I’m glad I got to work with her before everyone else found out.

Amy always has a big smile on her face.  I must assume she is always smiling because she is always enjoying herself.  From that experience with her as a director, I think it is also because she is getting to do what she loves with her life.  It’s hard to be bitter about that.

I’ll note she isn’t smiling in the picture above.  But when you are posing with a Batleth, you should at least try to look serious.

She is co-artisitic director of Walking Shadow Theatre Company and if you haven’t heard of them, you should take the time to learn.  They are producing some of the best original (and adapted) work in the Twin Cities.

In getting ready to work with Amy on a show in the spring, I like how excited she is by every idea.  She makes a great collaborator and it makes me want to write something worthy of her excitement.

The Fringe has been a gateway for me to a lot of truly talented Twin Cities artists.  Amy is one of those people and I’m very happy this wacky theatre festival brought us together.

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Friend a Day – Claire Alexander

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I’ve known Claire ever since she showed up to interpret a Vilification Tennis show at CONvergence.  Actually, I’ve known her longer than that but I didn’t really know her until that evening.

While I’m not her primary clientele, everything I know about Claire tells me that she is very good at what she does.  She is passionate about doing her job as an interpreter and she does it in an entertaining and engaging way.  When she is doing a comedy show (as she typically is when I’m involved), she understands that she needs to be as much of a comedian as the performers on the stage.

I find her naturally easy to talk to.  We often end up as “Fringe Buddies” in years where I’m spending a lot of time watching/being in fringe shows.  The walks between the shows are as pleasant as the shows themselves.  Because it is the Fringe, some of the walks are far more pleasant than the shows themselves.

She tells stories about her life that are truly fascinating.  She should write a show about her life as an interpreter.  It would be a bit ironic, I think, that someone else would end up interpreting the show.

Claire seems to squeeze joy out of life.  I rarely see her spend time being down nor do I ever hear about times when she is down.  She just loves the hell out of being and that makes her one of the best people to see when you are down.  You can’t stay down when she is around.  It takes too much effort.

The amount of energy she has is staggering.  I’ve never seen her exhausted although it has to happen at some point, right?

Having Claire around is something happened by accident but it sure was a great accident.  I always look forward to being her Fringe Buddy.

Putting it Together – The Fringe Lottery

Putting it Together is my Monday “artist talking about art stuff blog”.  The title comes from “Sunday in the Park with George,” the best (and possibly only) musical that is entirely dedicated to an artist talking about his art.  Is that pretentious enough?

I sometimes wonder if I got into this game too late.  Most of my friends who are successful are in their early to mid 30’s.  I spent those years putting together a science fiction convention, which is doing OK.

I graduated from college with a theatre degree, but left theatre behind me to do things like work a regular job, have a couple of kids, start a convention…you know, the normal stuff.  I still loved theatre but I guess part of my problem was that I never knew what I wanted to do in theatre.

One thing did happen, though.  I started writing sketches for CONvergence and I was pretty good.  It is possible that writing parodies of popular culture presents very little challenge.  I think it is more likely that I found something that finally re-ignited my interest in the stage.

Read More…

Fringe Festival – Day 8 & 9

Seems kind of silly to review shows that are over but since I watched them, I want to make sure I write something about them.

I’m not going to pretend I’m satisfied with my shows at the Fringe this year.  Stop Talking was fun to do but no particular stretch.  I stretched myself by writing “Schrodinger’s Apocalypse” and while I feel the script was not perfect, I was mostly frustrated that the show didn’t draw enough of an audience to really get a feel for what I could have done to improve the work.

See, audience reviews are frustrating but the Fringe is filled with other people trying to do the same thing I’m doing – produce good theatre.  We all want to see each other succeed and, I think, help each other when we don’t.  I wish more people I knew had seen the show and were able to offer their opinions, it would have helped me figure out how to do a better job the next time I write something.

Frustrations with my own work aside, I still had a great time hanging out with friends, watching theatre and coming up with ideas for next year.  There’s always next year.

Here’s what I watched on the last two days of the Festival

Centipede! The Musical

I admire the cheek it took to produce the show.  A musical about The Human Centipede?  Just about the silliest idea ever.

And while the audience really seemed into the show, I was never satisfied with the result.  My problem is probably that I write music and I just felt the lyrics and music didn’t nail it.

If you are going to have characters singing about being turned into a human centipede, you need to go all the way.  I didn’t feel like the show went all the way.

What would I have done differently?  I’m still thinking about that.

I think I’m in the minority in my response to this show.  Most of the audience loved it.  I just didn’t.

Comedy vs. Calories: FIGHT!

The premise for this show was just about as nuts as one might expect from the minds of Andy Kraft, Levi Weinhagen and Joshua English Scrimshaw.  Three guys open the show by slamming a McDonald’s Happy meal and then they have to spend the rest of the show trying to burn those calories.

Thus begins a crazy hour of dodgeball, jump rope and comic monologues.  The show was fast paced, varied and filled with a whole lot more laugh out loud moments than any other show I saw at the Fringe.

I love that these guys are producing family friendly theatre that works for kids and adults.  I’m pretty sure most everyone in that audience had a good time.

They even threw in some serious stuff about body image and parenting.

But I’m not going to hold that against them.

Fringe Orphans 2: Orphan Harder

The structure of Fringe Orphans would suggest a mixed bag but there were a lot more hits than misses in this grab bag  of theatrical shorts.

Last year, Ben San Del and phillip andrew bennett low provided the funniest two minutes of the Fringe with their improv comedy due.  This year, Fringe Orphans delivered again with a series entitled “The sound of Food.”  I’m not going to try explaining the bit.  Either you saw it or you didn’t.

If you saw it, you will never forget it.  They deserve the best slow clap of the Fringe.

Promiscuous Fiction: The Runaway Stories of Jonathan Lethem

I spent so much of the Fringe going to shows that were produced by people I knew, I nearly missed this one and I really enjoyed it.

It was a weird little series of somewhat twisted stories that were all so fascinating I didn’t want them to end.   While there were certainly amusing moments, the show didn’t come off as a comedy because most of the stories were even a bit creepy.

Really well acted and scripted, I wish I’d caught the show earlier in the festival so I could have recommended it to others.

The Critic and the Concubine

I went to this show for two reasons.  First: I had attended a show in every venue of the 2013 Fringe except The Playwrights’ Center and I wanted to fully cover my Fringe venue Bingo card.  Second: this particular show had been ripped apart by the Pioneer Press and I wanted to see if it was really as bad as all that.

No.  It wasn’t.

Mind you, I think the script was a bit of a mess and the idea that a critic would need to apologize for their opinion of a movie or a performer is a bit absurd.  I’ve spent too much time in theatre to believe that a critic can have that much impact on the artist.

But look, this is a young scriptwriter and director who is still learning her craft.  Her idea wasn’t bad but the end result wasn’t quite there.  I can certainly relate to that.

I’ve seen far worse shows in and out of Fringe Festivals.

They Shoot 25 Year-Old Gay Men, Don’t They?

Fearless Comedy sponsored this show and I finally managed to see it in the second to last time slot.

The show was plagued by cast problems (a couple of cast members dropped out at the last minute) and that meant it was never going to be fully formed.

There was some really funny stuff in the script and the writing showed the skills of a guy who knows how to make people laugh.  Unfortunately, it was filled with a lot of people who were clearly not actors and that can cause problems with any script.

Saying they were not actors is different than saying they were horrible actors.  They had no experience doing simple things like finding their light, which was frustrating.  They delivered lines too quickly and too softly.  They didn’t know their lines. That’s what happens when you have no experience.

At the Fringe you cast who you can cast.  Unfortunately, an inexperienced cast can really hurt your show.

I want to see Jakey do more work at the Fringe.  But I think he needs to cut back his cast size and really focus on the writing.  He’s got great potential.

To Mars with Tesla or the Interplanetary Machinations of Evil Thomas Edison

It took an encore slot for me to finally see this show.  I’d missed it twice due to the twin curses of traffic and a sell out.

I played the odds that the encore performance wouldn’t be sold out and while it was popular, it was not sold out.  Score!

I’m a sucker for a live silent movie so it was a guarantee that I was going to like this show.  Especially when you have a cast as talented as this one.  Kelvin Hatle is the perfect choice for evil Thomas Edison.

To be fair, I knew that before I saw the show.

Kelvin was not the only talented person in the cast.  I just single him out because he was playing a role that he was clearly destined to play.  At least he would be if destiny was actually a thing.

It was a great way to close out the 2013 Fringe Festival.

My personal record as a producer may not have been what I wanted it to be this year.  That’s the way things go.  Sometimes you succeed and sometimes you don’t.  Taking chances and stretching oneself as an artist are important.

Every show I saw, whether I liked it or not, were produced by people taking chances.  They put their work out there to be judged by others.  I have nothing but respect for anyone who does that.

And, of course, I already have plans for next year.

So it goes.

Fringe Festival – Day 7

Day seven of the Fringe Festival ended after I was thwarted in my attempts to watch To Mars with Tesla or The Interplanetary Machinations of Evil Thomas Edison.  I found myself at Ping’s eating chicken skewers with Chris Bowlsby, Sharon Stiteler, Levi Weinhagen and Courtney McClean.  Later, Levi and I arm wrestled.  So it was a weird day.

The transient nature of the Fringe can be frustrating at times.  With 30 minutes between shows. You are rushing from one side of Minneapolis to the other in a mad attempt to reach the next theatre.  At times your concern is not a sellout but simply missing opening curtain.  Either way, you may find yourself taking an unexpected dinner break because you were too late.

I dislike that stressful process of getting from here to there.  The best laid plans can be thrown by bad luck with traffic lights or pedestrians.

It is all part of the Fringe experience, though.  It is a mad rush of theatre and it isn’t for the weak of heart.

One Hit Thunder

Josh Carson’s weakness is he is too good at writing jokes.

I know, it isn’t a weakness.  It just means that his shows are just packed with punchlines and you are going to miss a few.  I would argue that it ensures rewatchability.

My frustration with the show came not from Josh’s dense writing but rather from actors who weren’t enunciating ther lines well.  I know they had to speak them in a hurry to squeeze the entire show into an hour but a little bit of diction would have gone a long way.

That’s not a big thing.  I certainly understood enough of the jokes to enjoy the hell out of the show.  I just wanted to understand more of them.

The Nose

I am really in love with the staging of this show.

The story, which was about a politician who loses his Nose, was absurd from the start and the staging complemented the absurdity perfectly.

The actors moved in a way that wasn’t dancing but the inspiration was clear.  They were choreographed meticulously.  Every move had purpose.

Well yeah.  Every move in theatre is supposed to have purpose.  However, the moves were sychronized and the three actors worked together to create a piece that was as much about movement as it was about story.

I thought it was terrific.

Burning Brothels: Sex and Death in Nevada

I didn’t want the show to end.

A fascinating series of stories about the sex trade in Nevada, I felt like I was taking a masters class in prostitution.

Katherine Glover shared stories of why brothels are legal in Nevada and tells us about a few women who work there as a way to, I think, demystify the institution.

Is prostitution OK?  That isn’t really the point here.  The point is that she wants us to understand the industry and the people who are involved in it because those people are interesting.  Their stories are interesting too.

It isn’t that there aren’t judgements to make.  It is that we don’t really know what we’re judging.  This show gives us a glimpse into an industry few of us really understand.

And I walked away wishing I could glimpse a little more.

Well done.

Fringe Festival – Day 6

I dwell on bad reviews.

I know it isn’t healthy or productive but whenever I get a bad review, all I think about is what I could have done to make that show an enjoyable experience to the person who hated it so much.

Of course it is impossible to please everyone all of the time but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to make the attempt.  One horrible review for “A Brief History of Irish Music” is upset that we didn’t play enough Irish music.

The stuff I really take personally is the stuff that makes me question what I did wrong.  We had a pretty uneven show on Wednesday night.

OK.  It was pretty bad.

The reviews reflect that, which is fair.

But they also say that our music was “OK” and that we don’t seem to enjoy the music.

That sucks because I know that our music sounds really good and we do love playing music.  Lots of other reviews for our show say so.  That means we completely failed to sell ourselves to that audience on that particular night.  I want to go back and change that experience for them.  But I can’t.

At the Fringe, I always say I’m trying to write a four star show.  I mean, I like getting five stars but to me, five stars is a great show.  I don’t try to write great shows.  Feels like too much pressure.

I try to write good shows.  But when someone calls my show bad, I dwell on it.

Which is why I have a difficult time panning anything.  I know how it feels.  And it sucks.

Fortunately, I have no plans to pan the three shows I saw last night.

Once Upon a Chalkboard

So here’s where my thoughts about an off night come from.  This improv show has a great premise (the audience draws props on chalkboards and the performers integrate those props into the show) and the performers are very good.

But the show felt a bit off to me last night.  I felt like they weren’t using the chalkboards enough, for one.  With such a great premise, it felt like they needed to do a better job taking advantage of it.

I would bet that nine times out of ten, this show is completely fantastic from beginning to end.  Yesterday it was a little uneven.  Because I know how good it must be most of the time, it still gets a strong recommendation.

Fallsway

I went to this show on word of mouth and while it didn’t connect with me, I can see how it resonated with others.

The show is a dramedy about several people dealing with a recent unexpected loss.  Having been through a similar time in my life, I could certainly relate to the raw pain they were clearly all feeling.

I think that the show may have been done a disservice by the Fringe time limit.  Another fifteen minutes might have helped bring together the disparate story lines.

Now, I didn’t love this show.  I went on the recommendation of someone who thought it was the best show at the fringe.

Conveniently, we can both be right.

Bump in the Night

Best show I saw last night and one of my top five of the Fringe so far.

This show combines very clever dance numbers and stories (told by Courtney McClean) that are all inspired by the horror genre.  Some are funny, some are creepy, all are memorable.

There was not a slow moment in the entire show.  Not a moment I was disengaged or thinking that a dance had gone on just a bit too long.

We had a lot of intriguing choices for our final slot of the night but we settled on this one and boy am I glad we did!

More Fringing tonight! Can’t wait!

Fringe Festival – Days 3, 4 & 5

I only saw a few shows over the last three days so I waited to combine them into one longer post.

Shelly Bachberg Presents: How Helen Keller and Anne Frank Freed the Slaves: The Musical

This is one of the most polished and professional shows you will see at the Fringe.  The performers are uniformly great.  The singing is sharp and precise.  The show satirizes Michele Bachmann with wit and skill.

So why wasn’t I completely satisfied?  I mean, it doesn’t matter really.  Everyone else in the audience loved the show.  It has already sold out one show and will probably sell out two more.  My lingering sense of dissatisfaction is not going to hurt them any.

The reasons the show didn’t rate quite so highly for me were pretty nitpicky.  I felt the music was too repetitive.  In a fifty minute show, I don’t think you need quite so many reprisals.  I thought the final medley went on too long.  I thought the satire of Bachmann didn’t go far enough.  It was like they only scratched the surface of her craziness.

As I said, this is a highly successful show.  My lingering desire to have it be better than it already is will not cost them one ticket.

Between Floors

I’ve seen a lot of good shows at the Fringe Festival but right now, this show is my favorite.

Powered by Joshua Bjoerte’s terrific performance in the central role of Nathan, this comedy about finding love when you have crippling social anxiety is sweet, awkward and very funny.  It finds humor in Nathan’s plight without turning him into a punchline.  That is a tricky balancing act.

I would expect this show is going to start selling out.  I hope it does.  Everyone I talked to who has seen the show has been impressed.  They should be.

Fringe can often be about finding unexpected gems like these.  I expect Four Humors to put on a great show and they don’t disappoint.  When you walk into a theatre thinking “well, I’m going to give this one a try” and you walk out ready to sing the praises of the show to everyone you meet, that is a great feeling.

On the Line

I chose this show because if it’s proximity to where I needed to be at 10:00.  I knew nearly nothing about what I was going to see.  That can be risky.  In this case, it didn’t pay off.

The show was written by a sixteen year old which does not have to be an indication of poor quality.  In fact, Abilene Olson shows a lot of promise.  But she’s not there yet.

The dialogue in this show was awkward and unnatural.  At one point, a character launches into a monologue that lacks any connection to what people would actually say out loud.

Awkward dialogue choices aside, what really sank this show was the conceit of the character being attached by a rope.  Instead of being interesting, this conceit was distracting.  I spent more time paying attention to the rope than I did to the characters.  It was an obvious and clunky metaphor to begin with but at times it became the sole focus of the show, requiring long scene breaks while characters attached themselves to the rope.  It just didn’t work.

My final point is nitpicky but it is important: If you are going to play a guitar on stage, make sure you tune it.

A few other notes from the last few days of Fringing:

OK, I admit it: Matthew Everett actually exists

I’ve been involved in the Fringe since 2007.  That year, Vilfication Tennis did a fringe preview that offended Matthew Everett so much that he wrote an entire blog entry about it.  It surprised me because while we do an offensive show, we didn’t think that particular joke was so awful.  But it was awful to Matthew – which is a completely valid response.

So that was a thing.  It wasn’t a big thing and frankly, his anger at our bad joke helped boost our attendance so I have no reason to complain it took place.  I kept meaning to meet up with Matthew at Fringe central just to say “hi – I’m sorry that we made a joke that you found hurtful.”  I never did.

In the years since, I’ve never managed to talk to him.  I’ve been told we were in the same room at the same time but since I don’t know him, I had no way of making a connection with him.

Heck, he’s seen (and liked) some of my shows.

For me, it had turned into a joke.  I continued to say that I was unconvinced that he actually existed.

Well, I met Matthew on Monday.  He’s a very nice guy.  As a writer, he grapples with the same questions as me.  As a Fringe enthusiast, he shares the unexpected finds with everyone he talks to.

The Fringe brings a hugely disparate artistic community together for a brief time and that is one of the things I find so cool about it.  You are always meeting people who share your enthusiasms.  They are your competitors and your collaborators and your friends.  It is all just so amazing.

Fringe reviews can be helpful and not

I love getting audience reviews when they are helpful.  Take, for instance, the reviews of Schrodinger’s Apocalypse that took us to task for having failed to create a convincing prop for “Action Comics #1.”  Absolutely right.  As the writer, I was frustrated by that myself.  It was fixed by the second show in no small part because an audience member complained.

For A Brief History of Irish Music, we’ve been very conscious of complaints regarding the acoustics on the New Century Theatre.  We have done everything we can to mute instruments so people can hear the lyrics to our songs.  It isn’t enough but at least we are doing what we can.

Reviews of our August 7th show are pretty critical and that’s OK because we weren’t all that good.  Our music was off and we blew a boatload of lines.  The audience noticed.  Not much you can do about that.

One complaint that always bothers me is the “too much swearing” complaint.  What does that mean?  When I have people swear, it is because I think they are people who swear.  I don’t have people swear for shock value.  I have people swear because people swear.

What you are really saying is that you don’t like swearing.  Which is fine.  I’m not sure it is fair to dock a show for your own biases.

People dock shows for their biases all the time.  As an artist, you need to accept that.

But that is what audience reviews are all about.  People get to tell you what they thought and you have to deal with it.  I may not like getting told that I wrote a show with too much swearing but I have put my work out there and told people to tell me what they think.  They get to tell me what they think whether or not I find their comments helpful.

It is remakably Democratic and while it can be frustrating, it is part of the Fringe experience that is irreplaceable.