Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2021: Wrap-up and Favorites

After a very long extended intermission from theater, which included a 2020 all-virtual Minnesota Fringe Festival, live and in-person performing arts began to return this summer. I saw a dozen shows in July, three of them indoors (a first in nearly 16 months). Then came August, and a hybrid Fringe Festival, with most shows occurring virtually, along with independently produced in person shows. 

I've grown a bit weary of virtual theater over the past year and a half, and have gotten a taste again of in person theater, so I focused mostly on the latter in this year's festival. I intended to see all 11 in person shows, but one was cancelled due to rain (the risk of outdoor theater). Still, I saw ten live and in person shows in just over a week, which is a high since, well, the 2019 Fringe Festival. I also watched six virtual shows; I'm sure there were many more worthy of watching, I just didn't have the time/energy/interest. From what I did watch, the virtual shows were easier to watch, all viewed on the same platform (a YouTube video linked to the show page, accessible after purchasing a ticket). 

The ten live shows I saw felt like a mini-Fringe, a great sampler of shows that definitely felt like the Fringe of old, only smaller and easier to handle. One thing I didn't love is that because these are independently produced shows, they all defined their own schedule and show length, which didn't always play nicely together. But it was another successful Fringe, a lot of fun, and another really great step back into the glorious return of the performing arts. 

Favorite Outdoor Show: Theatre Pro Rata's The Convent of Pleasure at the Wood Lake Nature Center Amphitheater. Heather Meyer's hilarious, modern, feminist adaptation of the 17th Century play featured a fantabulous all-female cast and was just a delight. 
Honorable Mention: The wacky wordplay of The Scribbler at the Bakken Museum.

Favorite Indoor Show: Dogwatch's Channel at the Crane Theater. This site-specific story of a lighting designer working late at a theater was as chilling as it was human, with a collaborative effort of various artforms that exemplified what Fringe is all about.
Honorable Mention: Fringe isn't Fringe without a promising new musical and a gorgeous dance piece, and Last Summer's Love at 11 Wells Spirits Distillery and Impulse at the Southern Theater, respectively, filled those slots nicely.

Favorite Virtual Show: The Winding Sheet Outfit's The Darger Project aka The Darger Project. There's nothing this company does that I don't love, and this one was extra meta as it gave us a glimpse into how they create their magic, using reclusive artist Henry Darger as a jumping off point.
Honorable Mention: The darkly hilarious spoof of true crime documentaries, using puppets, On Air: The Wuppet Time Murders by Melancholics Anonymous.