Tuesday, July 18, 2017

2017 Minnesota Fringe Festival Must-Sees

It sure feels like the dog days of summer, which means that the Minnesota Fringe Festival is soon to be upon us (August 3-13 to be exact). 11 days, 15 venues, 167 shows, and a whole lotta crazy fun! If you're a Fringe newbie, read on, I have a few tips for the uninitiated (I know it can be overwhelming, but just jump in!). But before that - I've read through the list of shows (and attended the first Fringe Preview, in which 30 shows present a 3-minute excerpt) and marked about 60 that I want to see. Alas, the maximum one person can see is 56, and my goal is 40-50, so I'm going to have to whittle that list down somehow. But the below 20 are at the top of my list (in alphabetical order), so hopefully the Sudoku puzzle that is my Minnesota Fringe schedule will work itself out accordingly. Read on, add your suggestions below, and Happy Fringe!

The Best of All Possible Worlds: David Mann gave one of the best performances of the 2015 Fringe, and also adapted Romeo and Juliet into a succinct 90 minutes, so I'm curious to see him combine those two talents (writing and performing) for this one man show.

Blackout Improv: I've been wanting to catch this all POC improv group (which features some of my #TCTheater faves Joy Dolo, Kory Pullam, and Duck Washington, among others), but they typically perform past my bedtime, and their appearance at the New Griots Festival came and went too fast for me. So I'm thrilled to have a chance to check them out, likely not for the last time.

Couple Fight 3: Weddings!: if the premise works, keep at it! And this premise - the funniest couples in the Twin Cities theater/comedy world reenact a real fight - is gold. Read what I thought about the last two episodes and then make your plans to see this one.

Fruit Flies Like a Banana: World Tour: my favorite out-of-towner MN Fringe act The Fourth Wall Ensemble returns for the third year in a row. I've never seen anyone do what this trio does - which is play classical music on a variety of traditional and non-traditional instruments while performing acrobatic acts. Fast, funny, and wholly entertaining.

Intermediate Physical Comedy for Advanced Beginners: Joshua Scrimsaw and Levi Weinhagen doing physical comedy? That's a no-brainer.

It Can't Happen Here: this adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' 1935 novel sounds a bit too close to reality: "a populist demagogue, elected to the presidency, who becomes dictator over the USA." In case you're just too happy and need a dose of reality to bring you back down.

Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant: A New Musical: I'm a huge fan of local musical theater composer/lyricist/playwright Keith Hovis, both his fun and Fringey musicals Teenage Misery and Shakespeare Apocalypse, and the gorgeous Pioneer Suite with Freshwater Theatre. So this one is tops on my list.

KnoW WesT: the 2015 Fringe show Brother Ulysses was a delightful surprise. I had no idea what I was in for or why I was even there, but I was utterly charmed by the mix of history, a capella, and random musings. The creative team returns with what I hope is more of the same.

Much Ado About Nothing (as told by Dogberry and Verges): a Shakespearean comedy adapted by a woman, directed by a woman, and starring six women (and two puppets). Count me in.

The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society: if you attended the Fringe's annual Five-Fifths fundraiser earlier this year you got a taste of this delightfully hammy radio show (see also Shade's Brigade). Their Fringe entry recreates two classic radio shows.

Odd Man Out: Underdog Theatre made an impressive debut last fall with the new play Baltimore is Burning written by founder Kory LaQuess Pullam (Twin Cities Theater Bloggers Favorite New Artist of 2016), and I'm quite sure this piece, also penned by Kory, will avoid the sophomore slump.

One Foot: I've found Andrew Erskine Wheeler and Jamie White Jachimiec to be extremely compelling dramatic actors (see The Christians and The Crucible, respectively), so I'm excited to see them join forces. Plus - Irish accents!

A Pickle: a solo show featuring Angela Timberman, an actor who can break my heart and crack me up, sometimes at the same time. Need I say more?

Pinnochio: I've become a big fan of Sheep Theater in the last few years for their absurd historical comedies (see also The Assassination of the Archduke of Austria-Hungary Franz Ferninand) so I'm in for whatever they throw at me. This time it's a take on the classic fairy tale.

RomCom-Con: A Meet-Cute Musical: the breakout hit of the 2015 festival was Oregon Trail: A Musical, and the creators did not experience sophomore slump with their follow-up Gilligan: A Tropical Musical (a delightful Gilligan's Island/Hamilton mash-up). This year the team tries their hand at a romantic-comedy musical, and I'll be there.

Sevlin & Devlin Presents: Seven Evans in Heaven: I came late to the Ferrari McSpeedy (aka Joe Bozic and Mike Fotis) bandwagon, but now that I'm on it I'm never getting off. Whatever these two do it's sure to be funny and smart and completely ridiculous.

Stranger-er Things: Netflix and Kill: I'm a big fan of Tom Reed's musical comedy spoof solo shows (which he hasn't done in a few years), and even more so when the subject matter is something I love - like last year's breakout summer hit Stranger Things. And Tom usually has a hard time keeping his clothes on, if that's something that interests you.

Subpar Heroes: for the last two years I've made a road trip to Duluth to see Renegade Theater Company (the lovely Eastland in 2015 and the fantastic Assassins last year), but this year I don't have to because they're coming to me! (Although I still might make the road trip to see the rarely produced Pasek and Paul musical Dogfight, inconveniently running only three weekends, two of which overlap with Fringe.) My favorite Duluth theater plus a cast full of my Yellow Tree Theatre faves makes this a must see.

Swords and Sorcery: The Improvised Sorcery Campaign: Bearded Men is another late night improv team I've been wanting to see, so this is a great chance to check them out at a reasonable hour. Featuring the Tylers Michaels and Mills of the new theater company Trademark Theater.

The Wright Stuff, or You'll Believe They Can Fly!: two Fringe funny faves Josh Carson and Andy Kraft tackle the story of the famous flying brothers. I just hope they don't hurt themselves in the process (the preview included several painfully hilarious, or hilariously painful, failures at flight).

My annual Fringe tips for newbies:

  • You'll need a daily wristband (sold at the box office at each location for $16 on weekdays or $22 on weekends), which will get you into any show that day. Once you have a wristband, get a token for the show from a volunteer, and get in line for the theater.
  • Fringe Central, aka Grumpy's, will also have a box office where you can purchase wristbands during the day (1-3 weekdays, 11-1 weekends).
  • If a show is particularly popular, or you really really want to see it, consider 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.
  • Bring snacks, water, reading material, and sunscreen - you will be waiting in line, probably outside. And be aware of what line you're in (box office or theater). 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 13), 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!