Tuesday, July 21, 2015

2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival Must-See List

Last night I attended the second Fringe preview, in which 30 shows presented a three-minute excerpt. I've also read the descriptions of all 175 shows. I give them all a +, ?+, ?, or -. Right now I've got over 50 +s, which isn't really feasible (if you go to every timeslot, that's 56 shows, but I'm not quite that insane). So I've still got some work to do to get my list down to a manageable schedule of 30-40 shows. But these shows for sure are going to make the cut (scheduling gods willing).

105 Proof or the Killing of Mack "The Silencer" Klein: the physical theater company Transatlantic Love Affair returns to the Fringe after a one-year absence with this story set in the Prohibition era. But the story doesn't really matter, what matters is that TLA tells stories in an achingly beautiful way. They are not to be missed.

Collyard / Nelson's Guide to Reviewing Fringe Festival Shows & Other Tips to Help Keep Your Cool In the White-Hot World of Amateur Criticism OR "So You Kept Their Postcard; Now What?": as a bit of an "amateur critic" myself, I can't resist hearing what they have to say about it. Plus, "fringe legends."

Couple Fight: Tom Reed is one of my Fringe faves with his one-man musical spoofs, so this creation with real-life wife Anna Weggel-Reed is a must-see in my book.

Edgar Allan: I missed this new musical about an 11-year-old Edgar Allan Poe at last year's Fringe, so I'm glad I have a second chance to see it.

FRANKENSTEIN: I'm not really a horror fan, but the preview was creepy and cool, and with three of the minds behind last year's creepy cool hit Crime and Punishment, I've got to check this one out.

High Flight: the preview for this piece was incredibly moving, with Theatre Pro Rata's Artistic Director Carin Bratlie introducing the show as a tribute to her father, who disappeared on a solo flight to Duluth, told through music (a brass quintet!) and dance.

The Mrs.: they had me at Shanan Custer. But also, the preview was really funny, like a comedy version of Big Love that also spoofs TLC's increasingly trashy reality shows. This one is called PolyGIMME a Break.

Oregon Trail: The Musical: like other children of the '80s, Oregon Trail was the first computer game I ever played. And now someone's turned it into a musical?! That is the very definition of must-see.

Parent Observation Day: have you ever seen a kids' dance class perform? There's always a kid who's totally in their own world, another performing every step enthusiastically, another who's always one step behind the group. The preview for this show was exactly like that, except that adults (who you can tell are actually good dancers) are playing the adorably awkward kids.

The Picture of Dorian Gray: Tennessee Williams last year, Oscar Wilde this year. New Epic's One Arm was one of my favorites of last year's festival, so I will definitely be checking out their new production.

Pretty Girls Make Graves: I never miss a Loudmouth Collective show, whether Fringe or not. Always smart, unique, and well done, whether funny or heartbreaking, and since this one is written one of my favorites Sam Landman it's a definite must-see.

Shelly Bachberg Presents: Orange is the New POTUS: The Musical: this sequel to 2013's ridiculous musical spoof of a certain former Minnesota congresswoman is set in a prison a la Orange is the New Black. If that's not reason enough, the cast is fantastic.

To the Moon: a modern reimagining of the fairy tale genre sounds lovely, but the important thing is that it stars Debra Berger (from the quirky and charming 2013 Fringe hit Hello Stranger), Emily King (a gorgeous dancer as seen in Love's Labour's Lost), and local superstar Tyler Michaels (he's in everything), and was written by Tyler Mills (the lovely and poignant Jonah and the Whale).

Total Eclipse of the Heart: produced by The Peanut Butter Factory which only does good things, based on an awesome '80s song, and featuring an adorable kitten as the show photo. Come on.

Trial by Jury: I discovered The Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company, which has existed for over 30 years, just this year. They're appearing in the Fringe for the first time with this one-act operetta from musical comedy geniuses Gilbert and Sullivan (whose work can also be seen in the Ordway's production of Pirates of Penzance, opening annoyingly right in the middle of Fringe).

Underneath the Lintel: if you missed Pat O'Brien's lovely one-man show about a librarian on a quest at the 2011 Fringe, now's your chance to see this moving and poignant show.

We Do Every Show in the Fringe: last year it was called Four Humors Does Every Show in the Fringe, but judging by the show photo, the concept and performers are the same - a hilarious improv show in which the cast performs a randomly drawn Fringe show based on the picture and description. (This is one you might want to make reservations for, see below.)

My annual 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. I typically only make reservations for a handful of shows that look like they might be busy (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 6 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 (Sunday August 9), 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!