Tuesday, July 15, 2014

2014 Minnesota Fringe Must-See List

The Minnesota Fringe Festival can be intimidating. I know, I avoided it for years because it was just too overwhelming. 169 shows - how can you pick which ones to see?! The answer is - just jump in and go. You'll likely see some duds, but you also will probably see something that will inspire, amaze, or delight you. The Fringe has a fantastic searchable website with info on all shows and venues, so I highly recommend spending some time there and looking for familiar artists or just browsing through shows to see what catches your eye.

If you need some advice, here are a few shows on my must-see list. I make no guarantees, some of these could be awful! But at this time they look promising to me, based on the cast, creative team, show description, or impression at the Fringe Preview this week (there's another one next week). I reserve the right to edit this list as I continue to review the spreadsheet (yes, as a member of the press I get a beautifully sortable and searchable spreadsheet) and attend more previews. Did I miss any must-sees? Add them in the comments below.

(NEW shows added July 22.)

11:11, SaMi Productions: many Fringe shows are played for broad comedy, which is fun, but it's refreshing to see something that's sincerely moving and poignant, as this story about a woman whose life changed in an instant seems to be.

A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant, The Catalysts: this Obie Award-winning Off-Broadway musical, brought to you by the people who created past Fringe hits Fruit Fly and Shelly Bachberg, sounds like Book of Mormon for Scientology. And that's a good thing.

Amateur Hour, English Scrimshaw Theatrical Novelties: Fringe artists performing their very early work, including Joshua Scrimshaw reading bad poetry with perfect delivery - what's not to love?

Crime and Punishment, Live Action Set: this is one of the new "site-specific" Fringe shows and will take place in the dark and creepy basement of the Soap Factory. I love Live Action Set for their innovative storytelling style, but honestly this one scares me a little. I guess that's not a bad thing at the Fringe.

Failure: A Love Story, Campbell Productions: as if the director (the multi-talented Josh Campbell) and cast (Nathan Barlow, Andrea San Miguel, Emily Madigan, and Kim Kivens) weren't enough to convince me to see this show, the three-minute preview was also quirky and musical and fun.

Four Humors Does Every Show in the Fringe, Four Humors: It's a Fringe miracle! After the lottery back in February, the smart, funny, clever, and slightly bizarre people at Four Humors were number 54 on the wait list. And just this week they were added to the list of 169 shows! So what are they going to do? Randomly pick another Fringe show and perform it based on the image and show description alone. I might have to go to this one more than once.

From Here to Maternity, Shanan Custer & Joshua English Scrimshaw: need I say more than "created and performed by Shanan Custer and Joshua English Scrimshaw?" I thought not.

Hour Town, Dana's Boys: Thornton Wilder's classic play Our Town re-imagined as A Prairie Home Companion, complete with a spot-on Garrison Keillor impression? I'm in!

Into the Unreal City, Catalog Models: this site-specific show is a "musical walking tour" that begins in the Rarig Center, but who knows where it will lead? Sounds cool, right? Plus, I found Mark Sweeney's 2013 Fringe show The Unknown Matters to be quirky and lovely.

Jumpin' Jack Kerouac, Electric Otter Productions: Windy Bowlsby has choreographed a dance show starring a bunch of nerdy Fringe writers, which is sure to be awkward fun.

Kitty Kitty Kitty, Loudmouth Collective: who doesn't love kitties?! And you should also love Loudmouth, because everything they do is sharp, smart, funny, and perfectly cast. I expect this to be no exception.

NEW Mainly Me Productions' Our American Assassin; or You Can't Handle the Booth!, Malcolm & Jorge: the preview of this show about the assassination of Lincoln as seen from the perspective of the actors in the play he was seeing had me laughing more than any other preview I saw that night.

Marie-Jeanne Valet Who Defeated La BĂȘte du Gevaudan, Sandbox Theatre: for those of you mourning the fact that Transatlantic Love Affair did not get into the Fringe this year, this one might ease your pain (you should also go see a reading of their new work at Illusion this weekend). Maybe it's just the inclusion of TLA company member and Sandbox Artistic Director Derek Lee Miller, but I see a similarity in the physical and imaginative kind of storytelling they both do.

Native Man the Musical, New Native Theatre: after the Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson controversy last month, I'm excited to see a New Native production and get the other side of the story.

One Arm, Perestroika Theater Project: an adaptation of an unproduced work by one of my favorite playwrights (Tennessee Williams), accompanied by original music, with a cast full of people I like (Aeysha Kinnunen, Bryan Porter, Adam Qualls)? Yes, please!

Reach, Nautilus Music-Theater: because of their fine track record in creating and producing new original music-theater, I will see everything by Nautilus that I can, including this anthology of new work by various artists.

Sex and Sensibility, Houdini Productions: I'd pay $12 just to watch Dawn Brodey play a woman bitterly bungling a reading at her ex's wedding again, so hopefully the full show will give us more of that hilarious biting humor!

NEW Shakespeare Apolalypse: A New Musical, Devious Mechanics: there's just too much goodness to pass up: the writer of last year's super fun Teenage Misery, a bunch of people singing about their dislike of the Bard (an opinion which I sometimes share), and a high energy cast that includes Carrie and Andrew Jackson.

Tales at Twilight, Actors Alliance Project: this group of actor/storytellers and one musician had me spellbound for three minutes by their unique story-theater experience, fun for all ages.

NEW The Frat Party: A Comic Opera in One Act, The Really Spicy Opera Company: I initially put "no" next to this one after reading the description (I'm way too far from my college days to want to spend 60 minutes at a frat party), but the preview changed my mind. It's entirely sung in operatic style, which creates a delicious juxtaposition with the modern topic of a frat party.

NEW Twelfth Night/What You Will, Rough Magic Company/Renegade Play-Reading Company: this is something I've never seen before at the Fringe - two complementary shows using the same cast and set, telling two sides of the same story - Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (sounds a lot like Hamlet/Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead, so brilliantly done in rep by The Acting Company earlier this year). I'd like to see the two shows back-to-back, but they only have performances on the same day once during the 11-day run of the fest, so I might have to settle for back-to-back days.

Repeated from last year, some tips for the Fringe newbie:
  • Buy a button and make sure you have it with you, it's required for entry to all shows. You can buy them in advance on the website or at any venue.
  • If you're going to multiple shows (and why wouldn't you?), buy a punch pass, available in quantities of 4 or 10, or unlimited if you plan on seeing more than 20 shows. It saves you $1-2 per show. Once you buy a pass, you can reserve a seat online at any show for $1.75, or just show up and present your pass (see below).
  • If a show is particularly popular, or you really really want to see it, consider buying (or reserving a seat) in advance. You can also take your chances and just show up. Of the 25 shows I saw last year I only had reservations for a handful, and probably only needed them for a few (you can check the show's page to see if it's in danger of selling out).
  • All shows are general admission, so get there early for best choice of seating.
  • Shows typically run just under an hour, with a half hour between shows so it's feasible to get from any theater to any other in that time. But it's good to plan to see a bunch in one location to minimize transportation time; the highest concentration of theaters is in the West Bank neighborhood, with 8 theaters within a few blocks (4 in the same building - the Rarig Center on the U of M campus).
  • Bring snacks, water, reading material, and sunscreen - you will be waiting in line, probably outside. And be aware of what line you're in, often there's one line to check in and get tickets, and another to enter the theater and get your seat. Ask one of the friendly volunteers in the Fringe shirts if you need help with anything.
  • Keep an open mind - some of what you'll see is really weird. But that can be a good thing! And if you see a dud, well, that's part of the Fringe experience.
  • Each show has five performances, and on the last night of the Fringe (Saturday August 10), the show in each venue that has sold the most tickets receives a sixth show. Keep an eye out for the announcement late Saturday and check out a popular show you might have missed.
  • The Fringe website has pretty much all the info you'll need, so bookmark it on your smart phone for easy on-the-go reference!

Happy Fringe-ing!