Sunday, September 20, 2020

"Live at the Loading Dock: Ordway Cabaret" outdoors behind the Ordway Center

St. Paul's Ordway Center for the Performing Arts had planned a 2020-2021 Broadway season that included touring shows and original productions, classics and new musicals. But as this extended intermission is lasting longer than any of us had hoped, due to a pandemic that isn't slowing down, at least in this country, their plans have changed. The only show on the schedule as of now is a summer 2021 Ordway Original production of RENT, which of course is still dependent on what happens with the virus between now and then. To celebrate this season-that-wasn't, and to show their commitment to producing these shows at some future date, the Ordway is presenting an outdoor cabaret concert consisting of songs from the planned upcoming season, as well as one cancelled show from last season. Live at the Loading Dock is performed outside behind the theater in the loading dock area, which is really a perfect outdoor venue. Seeing this show nourished my theater-starved soul and gave me hope for that day in the future when we can all gather together safely to share music and stories again.

Monday, September 7, 2020

The History Theatre's Virtual New Works Festival "Raw Stages," Fall 2020

Every January, the History Theatre hosts a new works festival called "Raw Stages." Most of their programming is original works, so they rely on these annual workshops and readings as part of the development process. Faced with a long closure of the theater space due to the current and seemingly never-ending pandemic, they decided to hold another "Raw Stages" festival this year - virtually. Workshops and readings are done over Zoom, with the each of five recorded readings available for streaming for a week, spread out about a month apart. I missed the first one, Not In Our Neighborhood (which was supposed to premiere in the spring of 2020), but I just watched the second one, Diesel Heart, which is available for streaming this week. Read on for details of all five new works and how you can watch them.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

"An Evening with Kate Beahen" at Crooners Lakeside Cafe

What good is sitting alone In your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.

I don't know about you, but I've been doing more "sitting alone in my room" the last six months than any six-month period in my entire life. For someone who's used to going to the cabaret, i.e., theater, 3-5 times a week, that's quite a change. As I told someone last night, life just feels a little empty right now. But fortunately, there are still cabarets that are safely happening; one of the few places is at Crooners Supper Club, which has a couple of different options for outdoor concerts. I've been to enough of their drive-in concerts that the workers recognize me and/or my bug, but this was my first time attending a concert at their lovely Lakeside Cafe, to see the one and only Kate Beahen.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

"Minnesota State of UnFair" by Classic Alley Performers on YouTube

In another example of the performing arts adapting to this strange time, the sketch comedy group Classic Alley Performers has partnered with Strike Theater to bring us virtual performing arts, which they're calling "Minnesota State of UnFair." The 40 minutes of sketch comedy airs live on Strike's Facebook page this Friday through Sunday nights, but I got a sneak peek of this funny and topical show.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

"Roseville in Bloom" Art Display in Roseville

Since there's not a whole lot of #TCTheater going on during this seemingly never-ending pandemic, I'm trying to find art in other places. Fortunately the city of Roseville has made that easy to do with their "Roseville in Bloom" campaign - 20 statues of 6-foot tall roses beautifully painted by local artists scattered around the Northeast suburb. While I've never lived in Roseville, I've lived adjacent to Roseville for 24 years, so I'm pretty familiar with the neighborhoods. This past weekend, on my way home from attending a play for the first time in six months (MJTC's wonderful 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother) I found 9 of the roses. I went out on my bike another day to visit 6 more, and saw the final 5 today (via car). I don't know if this was planned pre- or post- pandemic, but either way it's a fantastic safe activity to do right now; a fun way to experience art outdoors and appropriately distanced. Take the map, your GPS or Google Maps, sunscreen, and go find some art! (You can find more details, as well as deals at Roseville businesses, on their website.)

Monday, August 17, 2020

"25 Questions for a Jewish Mother" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company at Harriet Island Target Stage

The last time I saw a play was on February 22. In fact I saw two plays that day (as I sometimes had to do to fit everything in in the good old days) - the Children's Theatre's new original play Spamtown, USA, and Theatre Pro Rata's production of Silent Sky at the Bell Museum. If someone had told me that I wouldn't see a play live and in-person for almost six months, I would not have believed them. I would have said that's impossible. But a few days after seeing those plays, I left the country to spend two weeks in paradise (aka New Zealand), and returned home to find that the world had turned upside down. We found ourselves in a global pandemic that we're still very much in, with theater being one of the first things to go, and unfortunately one of the last to return. The good news is some #TCTheater companies have gotten creative in this time (see also Park Square Theatre's delightful original Zoom play series RIDDLE PUZZLE PLOT). Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company is opening their 26th season with an outdoor, masked, socially distanced play. I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to gather together again and listen to a story, simply and beautifully told. To anyone else who's craving that, go see this play! And not just because it's the only thing out there right now in terms of live theater, but also because it's a really moving, funny, relatable, heart-warming play.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

"RIDDLE PUZZLE PLOT" by Park Square Theatre on Zoom

Original post from July 25, 2020:
Friends, I am beyond thrilled to post my first #TCTheater review in almost five months. Yes it's a virtual performance streamed over Zoom, so it's not quite the same, but it's a chance to see some of my favorite artists being creative and having fun, while putting out new content during a pandemic that doesn't seem to be getting any better. That's cause to celebrate. And it's not too late to get in on the action. Park Square Theatre's RIDDLE PUZZLE PLOT is a new play written for this format by one of my favorite #TCTheater playwrights, Jeffrey Hatcher, about a group of actors connecting over Zoom during a pandemic (how meta!). It will play out over four installments, beginning this weekend, with a $30 ticket getting you access to all episodes, either with live and interactive pre- and post-show content on Friday or Saturday night, or to watch on demand later in the week. I watched it last night and it was truly delightful, and such a comfort to experience something akin to theater again.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Leslie Vincent's Album Release Concert at Crooners MainStage Tent

I paid my third visit to Crooners MainStage Tent last night; for someone starved for live entertainment, it's been such a gift. Dinner and a show, great live in-person entertainment, listening and laughing amidst other human beings. It almost feels like normal life. But not quite, because I stay in my car (you would too if you drove a convertible), the staff are all wearing masks, and so are the people sitting at tables under the tent spaced well apart. We're not even close to being out of the pandemic woods yet, but moments like this give me what I need to keep trudging along. And when you have performers as talented as Leslie Vincent and her fabulous six-piece band, and a perfect Minnesota summer night, it's about as good as it can get right now, which is pretty great.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: Wrap-Up and Favorites

The great experiment known as the Minnesota Fringe Virtual Festival 2020 has come to an end. Of course it wasn't the same as our usual beloved live, in-person, together Fringe, but it was better than no Fringe. The festival was, as always, well organized, with two components (Nightly Fringe, which included 1-3 live shows every night, and the Digital Hub, which included 50-some shows to stream). While I do wish they had kept the 60 minute time limit for all shows (truthfully, if I saw a show was longer than an hour I often skipped it, because I didn't want to devote that much time to one show out of so many), and it was a bit wearying with all of the different platforms, links, apps, emails, and passwords to navigate, on the whole it was a successful experiment. The best part was seeing how adventurous these artists could get within the limitations of a pandemic world. The result is: artists will find a way to do art, and audiences will find a way to experience it. Thanks to the Fringe for connecting us all in this weird weird world.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: DIGITAL HUB

The virtual 2020 Minnesota Fringe Festival has two components: Nightly Fringe, which includes 1-3 live shows every night from July 30 through August 9, and the Digital Hub, which includes 50-some shows to stream anytime (or at specific times). Here's a list of all of the DIGITAL HUB shows I've seen so far; click the show title to be read my mini-review. I'll be updating this regularly so keep checking back!

The purchase of a $5 Minnesota Fringe Festival button is required to gain access to the Digital Hub. Many shows are free to watch, some charge a ticket fee or donation of $5-20. Even for free shows, please consider a donation to the festival and/or artists.
Click here for a list of all of the NIGHTLY FRINGE shows I've seen so far.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: NIGHTLY FRINGE

The virtual 2020 Minnesota Fringe Festival has two components: Nightly Fringe, which includes 1-3 live shows every night from July 30 through August 9, and the Digital Hub, which includes 50-some shows to stream anytime (or at specific times). Here's a list of all of the NIGHTLY FRINGE shows I've seen so far; click the show title to be read my mini-review. I'll be updating this regularly so keep checking back!

All Nightly Fringe shows are free to attend, but please consider a donation to the festival and/or the artist. Some shows are available to watch later.
Pro tip: if you missed the live broadcast, scroll to the bottom of the Nightly Fringe page to get to the past shows, and click on the links to find many of them still available. Or check the company's Facebook page or YouTube channel.

Click here for a list of all of the DIGITAL HUB shows I've seen so far.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "RABET MYND"

Location: Nightly Fringe (Aug. 9)

Length: 30 minutes

Title: RABET MYND

By: Rogue & Rabble Dance

Summary: A dance piece performed live in nature.

Highlights: To be honest, I wasn't even aware when this one started. I logged into the zoom webinar maybe five minutes before showtime, with the camera pointed at a lush green landscape and music playing. I was looking at my phone and didn't even realize when the show began, but maybe that's the point. Dancer/choreographer Jesse Schmitz-Boyd seemingly just appeared out of nature, interacting with it as he moved across the screen. Almost like he were an extension of the natural landscape, which was pretty lovely.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "Lauren and Nissa Present: Fun Times"

Location: Nightly Fringe (Aug. 9)

Length: 40 minutes

Title: Lauren and Nissa Present: Fun Times

By: Special When Lit

Summary: A series of comedy sketches, performed live over zoom (natch).

Highlights: This was just a really fun show for the last night of the festival. Nissa Nordland and Lauren Anderson are both very funny women, and they work well together. The running gag was that since this was on the internet, who knows if anyone's watching, so they can do whatever they want with "no consequences!" Sketches included a spoof of a work zoom meeting with a surprise appearance, Lauren afflicted with "cool disease," Nissa singing a silly song, and my favorite - a Jane Austen spoof called "Dignity and Displeasure." And as a (former) clarinetist, I very much appreciated Nissa's playing between scenes, and her pre-show covers of such classics as "My Heart Will Go On" and "Music of the Night."

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "Proximity"

Location: Digital Hub (available anytime)

Length: 50 minutes

Title: Proximity

By: Pones

Summary: A series of dance pieces, or maybe one long dance piece, in and around the beautiful city of Cincinnati.

Highlights: This piece is beautifully shot, and makes me want to visit Cincinnati to see all the gorgeous architecture, art, murals, gardens, and natural spaces. A few moments of spoken words highlight the strangeness of this disconnected time. The dancers, mostly outdoors, never touch or even come close to touching, but yet somehow this piece makes me feel like we're all still connected.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "The Art of Opposition"

Location: Digital Hub (available anytime)

Length: 50 minutes

Title: The Art of Opposition

By: The People Project

Summary: A series of dance pieces celebrating and exploring the idea of opposition.

Highlights: This show includes some pieces recorded previously on a stage in front of an audience, some recorded outside, and some recorded pieces of individual dancers. All are really lovely, but the one that stands out to me is a performance in a lobby at Gustavus Adolphus College's Nobel Conference last year. The performers used all areas of the space, with movement inspired by and in response to a speech by teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "i'm not playing"

Location: Digital Hub (available anytime)

Length: 25 minutes

Title: i'm not playing

By: WHO'S LOUIS?

Summary: A break-up causes drama among roommates, scene from a variety of viewpoints.

Highlights: What a clever and unique concept, and really well executed! The play can be viewed from five different rooms in the apartment (living room, two bedrooms, the bathroom, and the perspective of a White Claw). The viewer can switch back and forth between rooms at any point. Now, I'm a linear person who needs to watch every episode of a TV show in order, but I was still able to have fun with this. You could sort of follow where the action is going, and if you feel like you've missed something you can rewind a bit in that room and catch up. The plot is fairly simple - Jess breaks up with Jeremy and tells him he needs to move out of the apartment. Meanwhile roommate Caitlyn is applying for lots of jobs from the bathroom, and roommate Dev is secretly in love with Jess. It all blows up in a game of Sorry. Without the multiple viewpoints this would be an amusing little play, but with the multiple viewpoints it's a really fun and interesting experiment in online theater.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "Fruit Flies Like a Banana: Virtual Style"

Location: Nightly Fringe (Aug. 8)

Length: 60 minutes

Title: Fruit Flies Like a Banana: Virtual Style

By:  The Fourth Wall

Summary: A zoom version of the Fringe hit (and one of my all-time faves).

Highlights: Boston-based music/movement/theater trio The Fourth Wall has been a regular at the Minnesota Fringe Festival (and others) for the last several years. I see them any chance I can (see also the recording of their delightful new show Fallen from the Toy Box in the Digital Hub), because I've never seen anyone do what they do - play instruments beautifully while doing all sorts of crazy stuff. This live zoom show was a bit different, but still lots of fun. The zoom audience chose the order of the pieces (as live audiences often do), some recorded from past performances, some newly recorded, some solo live pieces (they're quarantining in different places). And as always, they featured other Fringe artists in some of the pieces. This is another example of artists making the best of the less than ideal situation we find ourselves in, and I can't wait to see them live in person again!

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "My Big Gay Debutante Ball"

Location: Digital Hub (available anytime)

Length: 1 hour 15 minutes

Title: My Big Gay Debutante Ball

By: Kinetic Dust

Summary: A solo show about a woman's coming-out journey that's really a celebration of finding and being who you are.

Highlights: It looks like this was performed and recorded live for the Providence Fringe Festival, which was also virtual this year. Meg Anderson tells stories and sings songs about her coming-out journey, at times painful, at times sweet. She re-imagines her story with a "what if" - what if she had grown up in a world in which two women could walk down any street holding hands, in which one's coming out was celebrated like a Debutante Ball. She performs live on an empty stage, using recorded and looped music along with live singing and keyboard. The live performance is occasionally interrupted by recorded videos of Meg playing other characters in her story. There are some weird moments, as well as some poignant moments, all culminating in a celebration in a big poofy princess ball gown (well, sort of) and a dance party. It's not the Fringe without a very personal, real, heartfelt solo show, and this one fits the bill.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "Nature Creature"

Location: Digital Hub (available anytime)

Length: 50 minutes

Title: Nature Creature

By: Ruth MacKenzie / Jacqueline Ultan / Elizabeth Alexander

Summary: A gorgeous concert recorded at Open Eye Theatre in 2016.

Highlights: Composer Elizabeth Alexander has set some beautiful writing about nature to music, and accompanies vocalist Ruth MacKenzie, along with Jacqueline Ultan on cello. The result is something special. Ruth is such a passionate and expressive singer, and along with the haunting cello, everything about this is just gorgeous. At times humorous, at times deeply moving, it's just a really lovely 50 minutes of music. (And it was fun to see the charming little stage at Open Eye again.)

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "Paul & Erika's HOUSE SHOW"

Location: Digital Hub (available anytime)

Length: 35 minutes

Title: Paul & Erika's HOUSE SHOW

By: Theatre Mobile

Summary: Paul Strickland and Erika Kate MacDonald do a show from their house to your house.

Highlights: This one's a real charmer, and surprisingly poignant. There are several different segments, or start-overs, the first with an impossible director Sterling Spoon (an actual spoon) complaining about their lack of skills. They call it a "we don't know how to make a movie but I guess we have to now" production. I love that they fully acknowledge this is a weird and wrong way to do and watch theater, but it's all we've got, so let's make the best of it. And they do, in a great example of creative artists adapting their art to fit the times. They sing, tell stories, do fun edits, share outtakes, in a mostly silly and fun show. Until they brought tears to my eyes at the end when they talked about how much they miss performing in front of an audience, and that "we tried to make a show that shows what a show is in a time of no shows," but that the real "show" is what happens in the space between the performers and the audience. A space that seems cavernous right now. I really hope Paul and Erika come to a live in-person MN Fringe, because I'd love to watch them do what they do in person!

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "Love and Other Lures"

Location: Digital Hub (available anytime)

Length: 44 minutes

Title: Love and Other Lures

By: Dr. Dour & Peach

Summary: A funny and quirky musical show featuring the dour Dr. Dour (pronounced do-er) and the naive Peach.

Highlights: The show begins when Peach (Rachel Spicknall Mulford) takes the audience out of a box and she and Dr. Doer (Toby Mulford) greets us and show us around their living room. From there it's songs, stories, and silly diversions. With bright costumes, clever edits, puppets, a little man in the wall, and multiple stringed instruments, they entertain the audience as they sing songs about love monsters. Songs about people being lured into danger by love or sirens or some such thing, which eventually even the two of them fall prey to. There's a fun dynamic between the two and the original songs are great. You can also watch their web series.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "The Bathtub Play"

Location: Digital Hub (available on certain days)

Length: 33 minutes

Title: The Bathtub Play

By: The Feral Theatre Company

Summary: A woman with a broken foot is stuck in a bathtub.

Highlights: This is a sweet, funny, endearing, and very human little play. Written by Becky McLaughlin and starring Erin Gassner, it's one long monologue (it appears to be one long take but there might be a subtle cut or two). Our heroine recently got out of the hospital with a broken foot, and decided to take a bath. Except that now she can't get out. Worse, her "Elena" (generic "Alexa") is having trouble connecting to the internet so she can't call anyone for help. She starts talking to Elena, confessing things from her childhood, and the real reason she was up in that tree that she fell from. She talks about her new boyfriend, her insecurities, her hopes, in a way that makes her likable and relatable. It left me with a smile on my face.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "The Champagne Drops: The In-Between Years"

Location: Nightly Fringe (Aug. 6)

Length: 40 minutes

Title: The Champagne Drops: The In-Between Years

By:  The Champagne Drops

Summary: A cabaret celebrating this duo's "in-between years," aka middle school.

Highlights: The Champagne Drops are Leslie Vincent (whom you might have seen Monday night in TV Tunes) and Emily Dussault. They used to perform around town, and now they perform around the internet. This show was inspired by their journals, letters, and other memorabilia from the horror known as middle school. But the show is anything but horrible. They each performed a live cover of a song they loved in middle school, and played a few recordings of original duets they wrote based on the theme (because singing harmony live over the internet is inadvisable). It's lovely and funny and charming and a little bit cringey, and their friendship and enjoyment in singing together are evident and only make the show better.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "Edith vs. Quarantine: 89 & One Tough Cookie"

Location: Nightly Fringe (Aug. 5)

Length: 35 minutes

Title: Edith vs. Quarantine: 89 & One Tough Cookie

By: Amanda Erin Miller

Summary: A live zoom call with a bored octogenarian.

Highlights: Amanda Erin Miller plays Edith, staying in character throughout the call. The character being one of those fabulous women of a certain age. She shares with us how she's been keeping busy in quarantine (with a montage of recorded scenes) - from the usual things like baking, reading, and eating, to the less usual things, like acting out her favorite shows Julius Caesar and Into the Woods, and starting a dating app for seniors. It's fun and silly and relatable, with a positive message of  "we can handle more than we think" and "stay connected to the things we love." Wise words from a wise woman.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "Climbing My Family Tree"

Location: Digital Hub (available anytime)

Length: 59 minutes

Title: Climbing My Family Tree

By: The Adventures of Les Kurkendaal Barrett

Summary: A storytelling show about a Black man's search for his family, and the surprising things he found.

Highlights: This is a fascinating story, and Les tells it well with a building of suspense. I'm kind of obsessed with those genealogical shows (e.g., Finding Your Roots and Who Do You Think You Are), and that's really what this is. After taking an Ancestry DNA test, Les meets his long-lost grandfather, as well as some distant cousins, and discovers he's descended from some pretty amazing and surprising people, of both African and European descent. It makes me want to research my own family tree to see what I might find. But the best part of Les's story is that in the end, what he discovers is that "racism is stupid, because we're all related anyway." Amen.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "The Cut-Out Bar"

Location: Nightly Fringe (Aug. 4)

Length: 60 minutes

Title: The Cut-Out Bar

By: LandmanLand

Summary: A very special episode of Sam Landman's nightly quarantine show, in which he listens to an album and discusses it.

Highlights: #TCTheater artist and Fringe favorite Sam Landman has been keeping himself busy during this extended intermission by listening to an album every night that he's never listened to before, typically an obscure album from the past. And he streams it live every night from his basement. He asks for votes between two albums on Facebook and Instagram (with the show live streaming on both). The boozy pre-show party starts at 7:45, and at 8pm he plays the album and gives the audience his honest reaction, which can range from disgust to delight. I've caught the show several times over the past few months, but what I realized last night is that a big part of it is people connecting in the Facebook comments chat. That sort of connection, really any sort of connection, is something we've all (even introverts) been missing the last few months, and The Cut-Out Bar gives people a place to gather, connect, and talk about something silly. You can watch the Fringe episode on the Facebook page, or any number of past episodes, or better yet - tune in tonight and take part in the conversation.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "OMG!"

Location: Digital Hub Live

Length: 50 minutes

Title: OMG!

By: Taj Ruler and Emily Schmidt

Summary: A couple of people read actual journal entries from their childhood, followed by improvised scenes related to them.

Highlights: I watched the August 4 episode, with journalers Suzie Juul and Cristi Runpza, and improvisers Rita Boersma, Casey Haeg, Joy Dolo, Sarah TL (per zoom, didn't catch her name). Suzie and Cristi read about the typical childhood drama of boys, secret clubs, and friends on vacation. The improvisers then riffed on those ideas with funny and wacky results. It's horrifying, nostalgic, and hilarious to remember being that young. Each night features a different cast, hosted by Taj and Emily, with future live shows on August 6, 8, and 9 at 7pm. You can also watch all past shows on Emily's YouTube channel, with any donations going to different non-profits.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "Cooking Heather's All-Out Nonsense Baking Time!"

Location: Digital Hub Live (now available to stream anytime)

Length: 50 minutes

Title: Cooking Heather's All-Out Nonsense Baking Time!

By: Heather Meyer

Summary: A live comedy/improv/baking show.

Highlights: If you're not familiar with Cooking Heather, let this be your introduction. You know that Food Network show Worst Cooks in America? It's a little like that. Not to say that Heather Meyer is a bad cook, but the things she puts together are as horrifying as they are possibly delicious. As one of the commenters on the live show said, it's like everything you dreamed of eating when you were 10 years old, all mushed together. In this episode, she creates a three-layer "cake," with the ingredients chosen from the "Wheel of Treats" (things like cookies, popcorn, candy, goldfish), all glued together with cookie dough and melted gummy worms. In real time we watch her mix, bake, microwave, melt, freeze, and assemble these ingredients into a beautiful and terrible pile of sugar. And then she eats it and tells us what it's like! Such fun.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "Good Grief (and other ways to process loss)"

Location: Nightly Fringe (Aug. 3)

Length: 35 minutes

Title: Good Grief (and other ways to process loss)

By: Melancholics Anonymous

Summary: A group of children who recently suffered the death of a loved one gather for a group counseling session.

Highlights: This is a sweet, funny, and poignant little show. It's reminiscent of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, both in the tone of humor mingled with sadness, and in the portrayal of children by young adults. The actors (Annika Isbell, Bianca Davis, Claire Chenoweth, Matthew Humason, Rachel Ropella, and Timothy Kelly) are all very convincing as they embody these kids (and one adult leader), specific in differently odd and interesting ways. Some of the kids are traumatized by the death they've experienced, while others are more focused on the snacks. Turns out even children experience their grief in different ways, and that's OK. Some breakthroughs are made, some friendships are made, some eggs are thrown. As they wrapped up their session, I found myself wishing I could sit in on next week's session too. These kids endeared themselves to me over the 35 minutes.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "TV Tunes with Leslie Vincent"

Location: Nightly Fringe (Aug. 3)

Length: 35 minutes

Title: TV Tunes with Leslie Vincent

By: Leslie Vincent

Summary: A very special episode of Leslie's weekly ukulele concert in which she sings songs from TV shows, with commentary, jokes, and trivia from Josh Carson.

Highlights: This is just a fun, easy-going show, especially if you're a TV addict like me (and really, what else is there to do right now other than watch copious amounts of old TV shows?!). Josh and Leslie have a cute older brother/little sister kind of rapport, as he shares odd and interesting bits of info about the shows (The Golden Girls launched the career of Quentin Tarantino? who knew!). Leslie's renditions of favorite theme songs from shows like Happy Days, Friends, Cheers, and the Sopranos are, like always, unique and lovely. And the weird but oddly moving "Good Bye, Lil' Sebastian" from Parks and Rec was a perfect ending to the show. While she might not be singing TV tunes, you can see Leslie live and in person at Crooners MainStage Tent next Monday, as she celebrates the release of her new jazz alum These Foolish Things, available on Bandcamp.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "3 Way Lovve"

Location: Digital Hub Live (5 and 8pm, August 4-6)

Length: 1 hour 50 minutes

Title: 3 Way Lovve

By: Maatology Productions

Summary: The story of a man, his art, and his three lovers, inspired by the life of the artist Basquait.

Highlights: The first showing of this was live; now it's available to watch at specific times each day. The creators introduce the piece live, and then play the recording. Despite a few technical difficulties (the audio was a few seconds off from the video, and it froze at one point), it's an intriguing and ambitious play. The cast all give committed performances (Chenzo Samuels, Katt Balsan, Leanne-Joshua White, Micah Bijon, and Mike Billips), despite all being in separate locations. The artist William (aka Love Spear, aka Keep On) is not a very likable person and his relationships with his wife, mistress, and male lover/benefactor all come to disastrous ends (spoiler alert!). The show felt a little long, maybe because I'm used to Fringe shows being 60 minutes or less (I do wish the Fringe had kept their usual time limit for this Virtual Fringe), and also the lengthy scene transitions, while a great use of music, slow down the momentum. But all in all it's an interesting exploration of the nature of the artist and art. I had never heard of Basquait, but now I'm interested to learn more about him (perhaps by watching this movie).

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "Waiting for Hugs"

Location: Nightly Fringe (Aug. 2)

Length: 34 minutes

Title: Waiting for Hugs

By: Highlander Kitty

Summary: Three actors are waiting in zoom to perform a children's play for a church, which never quite happens.

Highlights: Due to some technical difficulties on my end (as is going to happen occasionally in a Virtual Fringe), I watched the last half of this show first, and then went back and watched the first half. But it was still a lot of fun. This parody of the zoom box theater we've all become so familiar with pokes fun at the format while using it well. The three performers are there for different reasons with different expectations - one just wants to do the job (Rob Ward), one is drinking wine and waiting for her friends to come over to "play board games" (Jenna Papke), one believes in the craft of acting and wants to make it big (Mickaylee Shaughnessy). While waiting for their call, they rehearse, they argue, they pick on each other. But the call never comes, and they're just left with each other. Waiting for Hugs is a cute, clever, funny little show that makes good use of the virtual theater format.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "The Mystery of the Gryphon's Ears"

Location: Nightly Fringe (Aug. 2)

Length: 30 minutes

Title: The Mystery of the Gryphon's Ears

By: Monster Science Productions

Summary: A power point style edutainment lecture about the mystical creature known as a Gryphon.

Highlights: Sorry Reverent Matt, I didn't know what a Gryphon was either. But I learned it's a half-lion half-eagle creature that appears in many places in mythology, legend, and pop culture. Which is totally Rev. Matt's thing. Back in March he moved his show from Fringe, TCHF, libraries, and other physical locations to streaming online at Twitch, and has been doing it pretty much every week since (my favorite being "Weirdos of Middle Earth"). But it doesn't feel like Fringe without Rev. Matt, and this shortened version of his pandemic show (with no time for questions at the end) fits the bill - a funny and clever deep dive into some weird monster, chock full of pop culture references (related or not). Follow Rev. Matt's Monster Science on Facebook for info on upcoming streaming shows.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "You Are Cordially Invited to the Life and Death of Edward Lear"

Location: Digital Hub (available anytime)

Length: 55 minutes

Title: You Are Cordially Invited to the Life and Death of Edward Lear: Poet, Illustrator, Composer, and Melancholy Hypochondriac or What is a Rungible Spoon: An Absurdist Eulogy and Existential Crisis on the Stage

By: The Winding Sheet Outfit

Summary: An archival recording of my favorite Fringe show from last year, about 19th Century English artists Edward Lear.

Highlights: Even though nothing could compare to the magic of seeing it in person last year at the Crane, this recording still captures the beautiful essence of this piece. Here's what I wrote about it last year:

This is my favorite show of the festival so far. It's everything I want from Fringe, from theater really. It's funny and quirky, original, educational, includes music and poetry, is very cleverly constructed in a meta sort of way, and somehow manages to capture the fleeting beauty of life in a way that made me cry my first #fringetears of this year's festival. Director Amber Bjork introduces the show, the actors, and the subject, like an exasperated teacher trying to keep her students - the cast (including Boo Segersin, Dan Linden, Kayla Dvorak, Kristina Fjellman, and Sam Landman) and stage manager (Andre Johnson Jr) - in line. I'd never heard of Edward Lear but now I want to know more about this 19th Century English poet and painter. The amiable cast takes us through skits, limericks, songs, and reenactments of moments, places, and people in Edward's life. Derek Lee Miller plays Eddie, only speaking words that he wrote - often whimsical or silly, sometimes heart-breakingly poignant. The other cast members play people in his life and stories, with plenty of moments to break out and play in an almost unrelated, but very charming, way. Images of Edward, his paintings and drawings, and text from his writings or notes about the show punctuate the storytelling. The light-hearted show takes a turn I wasn't expecting when Amber breaks out of the story for the titular existential crisis, comforted by Derek (a moment so sweet and intimate I almost felt like I should turn away) and the cast, who then continue on with the beautifully sad part of Edward's life. This show has everything, and the ending is indescribably beautiful. The limerick on the show handout says it best:

There once was a man who drew parrots,
And wrote many poems of merit.
We'll look in his mirror,
And find life is dearer,
Existence so sweet none can bear it.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "Super Patriots!"

Location: Digital Hub (available anytime)

Length: 25 minutes

Title: Super Patriots!

By: Unreliable Narrator Theater Group

Summary: A short satire of two of the most super patriots in American history - Senator Joseph McCarthy and President James Buchanan.

Highlights: I found these two short pieces (written by Carl Danielson) to be very funny, well constructed, clever, and eerily relevant looks at history. The story of McCarthy (other main characters: LBJ and HHH) is told mostly with cutouts of the historical figures on sticks, as LBJ waits around for McCarthy to dig himself into a hole, because Americans would never put up with a demagogic leader. The second piece is in the now familiar virtual box format, and they use it well. We learn about Abraham Lincoln's predecessor, James Buchanan, known as a "doughface" - a Northern supporter of the Southern cause (i.e., slavery). Another entirely unpleasant example of history we would never repeat. Right?

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "A Circus Show"

Location: Digital Hub (available anytime)

Length: 25 minutes

Title: A Circus Show

By: WeFlip Entertainment

Summary: Two "brothers" perform amazing feats of acrobatics.

Highlights: Friends, this show is truly amazing, in a mouth-dropping did-they-really-just-do-that kind of way. Originally recorded at Valleyfair (remember amusement parks?) on a stage decked out like a circus tent, these two "brothers" perform a fun, silly, and incredibly difficult routine that requires the kind of core strength I only wish I had. With a sort of brotherly rivalry tone, they push, trick, and tease each other. But no talking; the only sound is recorded music, so the rivalry is played out in an exaggerated pantomime style. Handstands on top of stacked chairs, incredible dual poses like the one in the photo, and high jumping, twisting, and flipping on a teeter-totter, are just a few of the things you'll see. Highly recommended for something quick, different, and truly impressive.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "My Kahaani"

Location: Nightly Fringe (Aug. 1)

Length: 30 Minutes

Title: My Kahaani

By: SAATH

Summary: Storytelling by South Asian artists about immigration, home, childhood, and growing up.

Highlights: South Asian Arts and Theater House (SAATH), formerly known as the Bollywood Dance Scene, is a Minnesota Fringe success story. After doing their first Bollywood dance musical show in 2014, they became one of the most popular Fringe groups in history, formed a non-profit, and now support and produce South Asian arts all over town (including Bollywood dance workout videos on their YouTube channel which I'm totally going to check out). This live show was hosted by co-founder and Executive Director Divya Maiya and featured recordings of excerpts from two past Fringe shows. One was a story called "Crushed," about a young boy's love of cable TV, and eventually girls. The other was a story called "Home," about an immigrant missing his original home, and finding a sense of home where he is now (a story with extra poignancy once Divya reveals what happened after the performance). This is a great example of why we need Fringe, to help promote the voices of artists we often don't hear, and give them the tools to flourish on their own, as SAATH has done. I missed the live broadcast last night but was able to watch it this morning, using the link at the bottom of the Nightly Fringe page.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "Trudy Carmichael Presents The Improvised One-Woman Show!"

Location: Digital Hub Live (next performance: August 9, 5pm)

Length: 35 minutes

Title: Trudy Carmichael Presents The Improvised One-Woman Show!

By: TruSongstress Productions

Summary: Live musical improv based on audience suggestions.

Highlights: Coming to you live from her stylish Las Vegas living room, Trudy Carmichael (aka Robin Rothman) is a gifted musical improviser, which is one of the most impressive skills. Based on an audience suggestion (via Facebook Live), the title of the show I saw was Jeremiah the Amateur Coroner. She improvised a half dozen or so songs around that very strange theme, accompanied by Frakie (Spitznagel) Keys on keys. Between songs she chatted, musing on the difference between coroners and morticians, and interacting with the comments. It's a fun show, and I might tune in again on the last day of the festival for an all new show!

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "Stuck in an Elevator with Patrick Stewart"

Location: Digital Hub (available anytime)

Length: 60 minutes

Title: Stuck in an Elevator with Patrick Stewart

By: The Theatre Cosmic

Summary: An imagined meeting between Patrick Stewart and a Star Trek fan at a 1988 comic-con.

Highlights: I'm not a Star Trek fan, so in last year's busy live in-person Fringe Festival with over 100 shows to choose from, this one didn't make my list. But I'm glad I had the opportunity to watch this recorded version. You don't have to be a Star Trek fan to enjoy it. Written by Brandon Taitt, it's a funny and surprisingly poignant story about the accidental meeting of two humans who seemingly have nothing in common (one a renowned actor frustrated with his situation, one a nervous teenager with an unhappy home life), but find a real connection. This fictional Patrick Stewart (a convincing George M. Calger) is not happy to be tied to a six-year contract on a silly television show, and having to pass up his dream stage role in Richard III. As the title suggests, he is stuck in an elevator with adoring fan Daniel (an endearing Brandon Caviness). At first it's a situation of - never meet your heroes because they'll disappoint you; Sir Patrick is a bit of a thoughtless jerk. But as the two dig deeper, they discover commonalities, and Daniel convinces Patrick that there is nobility in his Star Trek role, and that he and his friends' obsession with Star Trek as a way to find comfort and hope is not unlike young Patrick's obsession with theater. The camera work is not bad for this type of thing, with a few different angles, close-ups combined with wide shots, so that the live show translates fairly well to this format.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "A Mermaid in Every Sea"

Location: Digital Hub (available anytime)

Length: 46 minutes

Title: A Mermaid in Every Sea

By: Mermaid Productions

Summary: Master storyteller and 21-year Fringe veteran Ariel Leaf tells five stories - four from previous shows plus one new one.

Highlights: It's really the simplest form of streaming theater - one person looking into the camera telling a story, without any props or sets or lighting tricks. If that sounds boring, it's not, at least not when the storyteller is Ariel Leaf. She's a captivating storyteller, telling tales from her life travelling abroad, past relationships, and her experience with drugs in the '90s. I also grew up in Minnesota around the same time as Ariel (although in the suburbs, not Minneapolis), and have also done a bit of traveling abroad, but her stories make me feel like I've led a boring and sheltered life. She's either led a very interesting life, or she knows how to spin a good yarn. I suspect it's a bit of both. This show is simple, straight-forward, and 100% engaging and entertaining.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2020: "Fallen from the Toy Box"

Location: Digital Hub (available anytime)

Length: 60 minutes

Title: Fallen from the Toy Box

By: The Fourth Wall

Summary: Three classically trained musicians perform songs on their instruments, combined with movement and stories of childhood.

Highlights: Boston-based The Fourth Wall is one of my all-time Fringe favorites. I saw a variation of their show Fruit Flies Like a Banana four years in a row, and I will watch them perform anywhere and any way I can. Even a streaming video on my tablet. Truth be told, I often have a hard time staying engaged watching streaming or recorded theater, but that is not a problem here. Fallen from the Toy Box (recorded last year at IndyFringe) is a thoroughly engaging 60 minutes that fly by. This show is the same general concept as Fruit Flies - classical or modern compositions performed by that classic trio of flute (Hilary Abigana), trombone (C. Neil Parsons), and various percussive instruments (Greg Jukes), all while performing movement/dance/acrobatics. But this show has a theme of childhood, invoking a feeling of nostalgia. The three performers take turns telling sweet, funny, poignant stories from their childhood to tie the pieces together. Some of the pieces I've seen before in previous shows, some were new to me, and all are creative, innovative, surprising, and delightful. Highlights include the performers recreating drawings from children, Hilary playing the flute while dancing on pointe, and the always thrilling boomwhacker piece. Fallen from the Toy Box is a must-see of the Virtual Fringe, and also mark your calendar for their live show on August 8. I have no idea how they're going to do what they do live and virtual during a pandemic, but I can't wait to find out.

Read all of my Nightly Fringe mini-reviews here.

Read all of my Digital Hub mini-reviews here.