Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Minnesota Fringe Festival: "Five-Fifths of Back to the Future" at the Cowles Center

My favorite kick-off event for my favorite theater festival is back! I can't recall if the Minnesota Fringe Festival did their annual Five-Fifths fundraiser last spring (and they certainly didn't do it the two years before that), but if they did I didn't go. I attended this delightfully fringey event in which five Fringe companies interpret one-fifth of a popular movie the five years prior to the pandemic (which resulted in one entirely virtual Fringe and one mostly virtual Fringe, before they returned to a fully in-person festival last fall). This year they once again picked one of my favorite movies from my youth - Back to the Future. I hadn't seen it in a while so I re-watched it yesterday, which is unnecessary because there's a plot summary in the program. And anyway, it's not really about the movie, it's about seeing what five different groups of artists do with the same prompt. The results are wildly different and ridiculously creative - just like the Fringe Festival is. Mark your calendars for August 3-13, and prepare to get adventurous!

This year's event had a special host - #TCTheater artists Harry Waters, Jr., who played Marvin Berry (aka Chuck's cousin who sang "Earth Angel") in Back to the Future. I never realized that was him, so it's beyond cool that the Fringe enlisted him to take part in this event, and that he so willingly jumped in. He was a delightful and funny host, with a special surprise (keep reading). Here are the five Fringe companies who participated this year and what they did with their fifth of this classic movie:
  • Michael Rogers and company: this was probably the most straight-forward interpretation of the movie, but still with lots of silly stuff (too much focus on parents kissing, and some cool skateboarding).
  • Benjamin: this was definitely the least straight-forward interpretation, in fact it had little to nothing to do with the movie. Going off of the prompt that the Twin Pines mall used to be in a pine forest, Benjamin Domask-Ruh did several sketches and films about trees, both silly and kinda profound.
  • The Mess: this improv troupe presented some "behind the scenes" footage of the making of the movie, which may or may not have been improvised. But it was very loose and funny, with director Bob Zemeckis (Mike Fotis in short shorts) directing an overly sexual Lea Thompson (Rita Boersma), high-voiced Michael J. Fox (Jake Scott), very twitchy Crispin Glover (James Rone), and diva Christopher Lloyd (Molly Ritchie).
  • Corpus Callosum Dance: a fun and sweet interpretation of several scenes, including the "Enchantment Under the Sea" school dance, by this all-female dance team, highlighted by Marvin Berry himself singing "Earth Angel" as the couples danced along.
  • Four Humors: a ridiculously funny meta bit about the Four Humors' (Brant Miller, Matt Spring, and Ryan Lear) five-fifths performance sucking, and lucky audience member Allison Vincent (because how can you possibly make Four Humors better? add Allison) being asked to go back in time and make them change it. It continues to go more and more horribly wrong each time, in the best possible way.
Fringe Executive Director Dawn Bentley and host Harry Waters, Jr. with the talented cast(s)
of Five-Fifths of Back to the Future (photo credit: @cherryandspoon Instagram)

As a fun bonus, there was a DeLorean parked in the parking lot next door to the Cowles Center with props (or replicas) from the movie. It was the icing on the cake that was a fun celebration of everything we love about the Fringe Festival - adventurous audiences supporting adventurous artists. And since this was a fundraiser, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that you can donate to the Fringe here, to help them support and foster artists. See you in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood this August!

Great Scott, it's a DeLorean (photo credit: @cherryandspoon Instagram)