Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A Tribute to the Minnesota Fringe Festival

In the almost ten years that I've been blogging about Twin Cities theater, my theater consumption has increased exponentially, thanks in part to the Minnesota Fringe Festival. I've attended the fest every year since 2011, since 2013 with a press pass. I've seen a total of 300 shows over those 9 years, and it has become one of my favorite theater experiences of the year. The 2020 Fringe Festival (which would have been my 10th), has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Fringe needs our help to keep going through 2021. Click here to learn how you can support the Fringe by buying a $5 button and/or donating any amount you would like and are able to.

The Fringe's about page begins thusly: "Minnesota Fringe connects adventurous artists with adventurous audiences by creating open, supportive forums for free and diverse artistic expression." This statement beautifully encapsulates the two sides of their mission. Firstly, the Fringe supports artists by providing the production support (venue, press, ushers, box office, etc.) so that artists can focus on what they do best - creating art. Many beloved theater companies have been born out of the Fringe, companies that wouldn't exist without it. Many new artists have cut their teeth there, and experienced artists have been able to further their craft and try new things.

Secondly, the Fringe offers the opportunity to theater-goers, like myself, to increase their theater consumption, not just in quantity, but also in variety. Not sure if you'd like a clowning show, or modern dance, or a spoken word piece? The Fringe allows you to sample different kinds of performing arts in an easy and accessible way. You may discover a new passion, or you may find you don't like it, but at least you've experienced something new.

But perhaps best of all, the Fringe connects audiences and artists. There is no separation between audience and artists, like you might feel in other venues. As a theater-goer attending the Fringe, you're likely to see some of your favorite artists milling around - standing in line for a show, passing out postcards to their own show, or volunteering at a box office. It really feels like a communal experience, with artists, audiences, volunteers, and staff coming together to create a unique experience of the performing arts.

One of my most memorable Fringe experiences was seeing my first Transatlantic Love Affair show. They were already Fringe darlings in 2012, but as a Fringe newbie I hadn't seen any of their work. Their very loose adaptation of Cinderella, called Ash Land, was the talk of the festival and was chosen for the audience pick encore performance. I pretty much had to see it, even though at the end of the festival I was Fringed out - tired, hungry, crabby, sick of crowds and waiting in lines. But as soon as the house lights went down and the stage lights went up, everything else dropped away and I was completely immersed in the world that this physical theater company created with just their voices, bodies, and souls. I was moved to tears by the sheer and simple beauty of the storytelling. That's the unexpected magic that can be found at Fringe.

Minneapolis/St. Paul has one of the best regional theater scenes in the country. The uninformed may think that's due to the big theaters like the Guthrie, the Ordway, and Children's Theatre Company. And while those big companies definitely anchor the theater community, providing resources and recognition beyond our borders, what makes the #TCTheater community great is the new work that is created here, and the creativity and innovation of our artists. No one supports that innovation like the Minnesota Fringe Festival. Artists are allowed to take risks and push the envelope because the Fringe has their back. Then they carry what they learn out into the community, to other theaters, in shows all year round. If we lost the Minnesota Fringe, we'd lose the bedrock of #TCTheater, and one of the things that feeds its soul.

Please support the Minnesota Fringe Festival if you're able.

Update: the Minnesota Fringe Festival is going virtual! Online performances will be available Thursday, July 30 through Sunday, August 9. Click here for more information.