Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Best of the Fest

Well, if I'd remembered to turn in my ballot at the end of the Fringe, here's what would have been tabulated...

(Of the 32 shows I ended up seeing, 35 if you count the three times I went back again to Gilgamesh, Iowa...)

Best Visible Fringe Artist
Tom Cassidy

Best Musical
I only saw a handful but of what I saw, I'd have to say...
Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf: The Kamikaze and the Chameleon

Best Dance
Again, I only saw a couple, but...
Beauty and the Beast by Ballet of the Dolls

Spirit of the Fringe
Staggering Toward America
This show embodies the Fringe Spirit in so many ways - a really amazing solo show that was written and performed by a gifted storyteller, about a topic that needs discussing, that really moved its audiences, even cynics, to tears as well as laughter, that might not find its deservedly wider audience were it not for a festival (series of festivals) like our Fringe.

Best Show
say it with me...
Gilgamesh, Iowa
Top 3 from Mom and Me

Mom's top 3 is actually a top 4

Tied for #1
Staggering Toward America
Gilgamesh, Iowa

Emily Dickinson: My Letter to the World


My top three

Well, I'd like to say it's a tie, but when you choose to see a show four times because it moves and inspires you (even when there are plenty of other shows out there waiting to be seen), you can't call it a tie

Gilgamesh, Iowa

Staggering Toward America

Sock Puppet Serenade
"Nighttime in Gilgamesh"

It was great to see this show have a sold out house for its final performance.

I was sorry to see a great many people, friends among them, turned away. They missed something special.

Even being an usher for this show was a privilege. (And I say that about... uh, pretty much nothing else I can think of)

One of the things that pleased me most was my Mom getting a seat right down in front where she could see the tiny town of Gilgamesh being built. (Crappy seat for me? Who cares? I already know what's going on. I got a full vicarious thrill via Mom's report of it afterward.)

Like all good moms, she was quick to say, "You've written plays that good, too." (Oh, to continue to live up to that compliment)

Of course, while waiting in line, it was when Mom made a quick run to the ladies room that the Gilgamesh troupe walked through the front door. I could only wave sheepishly. They weren't really expecting to see me yet again. "Sure your mother's here. Right. Likely story."

"No. Honest. She's a six foot invisible rabbit" (which, considering the fact that my father's name actually happens to be Harvey, was an unusual bit of vamping on my part)

Then one of the nicest theater family type moments I've had in a long time caught me completely off guard - Scot, the playwright; and Tim and Jonah, the actors; each walked up to me in turn and gave me a hug.

It occurred to me that I'd been there at the beginning, and now at the end, of their Fringe run.

The show was great, as always. And Mom and I still had three shows ahead of us. But that moment was closure on the Fringe for me. I was reminded why I value being a part of, and not just watching, the creation of theater. My experience, my immersion in that mad rush, was complete.

Thanks, guys.
Closing the Fringe with Mom - Part 10

Day 2

Buy Me A Mockingbird
Tod Petersen

Mom says, "It was really good up to a point, and then I found myself checking my watch about 45 minutes in."

One of the many great things about the Fringe is that works very much still in progress can test their wings.

The wings on this show are very strong. They just lack a little direction.

No one can argue that Tod Petersen isn't a charming performer. He can hold his own on stage with nothing more than a music stand. And the crowd loved him. In fact, a large part of the reason this show ran long is that people just couldn't stop laughing.

It was great to see Carole Petersen emerge again from Tod's repetoire. While he wrings much humor out of portraying his mother, he never mocks her. This is imitation born of love and it shows.

A still greater revelation was Tod's portrayal of his father. Mr. Petersen is a fun and fascinating character, and couldn't be more different from his colorful wife. Putting mother and father together on stage painted a very enjoyable portrait of a marriage. We see in the father the upbringing in musical theater that shaped the son who stands before us. It is in the characters of his parents that the greatest strength, and the best material, of Tod's show lies.

When the show veers into Tod's personal life, we get into more problematic territory. There is still humor, and memorable secondary characters - hot Mona, young TJ, among others.

But Tod doesn't bring to life those people who appear to be the major players in the second half of the production - his exes. We get details, but all filtered exclusively through Tod and how he reacted to them. The other men aren't allowed to live fully in the same way that Tod's parents - and minor characters like Mona and TJ - do. Consequently, the whole thing feels a little lopsided, as if we're only hearing one person's side of an argument. Tod's journey to self-respect and self-acceptance is compelling, but it could be much more so if we really understood and experienced the obstacles (in this case, people) he had to overcome to get there. While learning to love oneself is important, I'd hate to think it's the end of the journey.

All that said, the building blocks of another Tod Petersen entertainment are clearly in evidence. I look forward to seeing the next steps in its evolution.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Closing the Fringe with Mom - Part 9

Tell Me On A Sunday
Patty Nieman

Mom says, "She has a truly beautiful voice. It would be a pleasure to listen to her sing just about anything."

After the relay race we'd run for the first two-thirds of the day, having the luxury to just stroll down the block to Illusion Theater, where we'd be for the last two shows of our Fringe marathon, was a welcome respite.

Mom and I had similar reactions to this one. Love Patty. Love her accompaniast. The music? Bleh.

Yes, it's easy to take shots at Andrew Lloyd Webber. But there's a reason for that. His recent work is needlessly repetitive to the point of being maddening.

However, Patty and the music did manage to create a fully-formed human character. We could also discern what was taking place with the unseen characters she sang to and about throughout. Some of the songs are not without their charms.

Any chance to hear Patty sing is a treat. She's an amazing performer. But I found myself wishing I'd been able to find a way to take Mom to see Sisters of Swing instead.
Closing the Fringe with Mom - Part 8

Day 2

Baseball, Dogs and Motorcycles
Kevin Kling

Mom says, "He has a very unique and positive view of the world."

Had Gilgamesh actually been 90 minutes, there would have been no way we could have done this. But I managed to get us downtown, dump Mom off in front of Hey City ("I'll slow down, now, quick! Jump! Tuck your shoulder and roll, Mom!"), ditch the car in the Block E parking ramp, and link up with Mom in line (the VERY LONG line) on the sidewalk outside of Kevin Kling's last performance in the Fringe for this year.

This is where reservations are a must - it's worth buying a pass and/or paying the reservation fee. The line moved fast because those hoping to get in quickly had their hopes dashed by the fact that pretty much the only folks getting in as the house doors opened were those already on the will-call list (a list of many pages attached to a clipboard in the hands of a very patient, apologetic and yet nonetheless efficient Fringe staffer - a list that had nowhere near enough room for the scores of people waiting on the sidewalk).

Of course, once in, you had to find a seat. A tough assignment. We ended up sitting off to the right of the stage, with a fine view of the back of Kevin's head, and a little profile now and again. But it really didn't matter. Those stories would have been great entertainment even if all we could do was hear him, like on the radio. Still, it was great to see Kevin on a Fringe stage again from any angle, after the accident that cut short his run of 21A in the 2001 Fringe. Greater still to hear the laughter and participate in the well-deserved standing ovation he received at the end of the adult equivalent of story hour.

Couldn't give my Mom the full Fringe experience if she didn't see Kevin Kling in action.
Closing the Fringe with Mom - Part 7

Day 2

Gilgamesh, Iowa
Ethereal Mutt

Mom says, "Of the shows I've seen, Staggering Toward America and Gilgamesh, Iowa are tied for first place."

You all know how I feel about this play by now.

And yet, there will be more later.

Right now, after dashing from Bryant Lake Bowl to Red Eye and back to Bryant Lake Bowl again, we are headed for the real sprint of the day - getting all the way to Hey City Theater for Kevin Kling.
Closing the Fringe with Mom - Part 6

Day 2

I Hate This
Bad Epitaph Theater

Mom says, "I'm sure it was very cathartic for him. Maybe it's a guy thing."

Rik Reppe gave this a glowing review, and everything I'd read about it was equally praiseworthy. Maybe following Staggering Toward America is simply an impossible task. But neither Mom nor I was as engaged by this piece.

However, there is much to admire here, and it's certainly in the upper echelon of Fringe shows this year. It portrays, with blessedly generous portions of (dark) humor, the male side of the experience of having a baby arrive stillborn. That is both its greatest strength, and perhaps where its weakness lies.

Strength - we don't see men talking about this subject. Few are both articulate enough to convey the experience and also open to sharing that kind of ordeal, reliving the pain with others. So in this sense it was unique. Also, the structure was helpful in getting the audience through the event and its fallout. Since the story wasn't told in strictly linear fashion, we didn't have to dwell in any one particular uncomfortable spot for very long. In addition, there were riffs - certain characters and situations - which evolved as he returned to them, yet were familiar enough to the audience that we could use them as anchors to pull us through the story.

Weakness - the only character who was fully realized was that of the playwright/performer himself. That, in and of itself, given the subject matter, is quite a feat. However, I think the thing missing for mom, and I know the thing missing for me, was the man's wife in all this. After all, she was going through this experience, too. Revealing more of her character, her pain and her journey, would have balanced and filled out the picture. Maybe he didn't feel it was his place to speak for her. Maybe that's literally a place that a man can't go. But I don't think including her in a more active fashion would have negated or diminished the presentation of any of the things he was going through.

Also, there was, understandably, a lot of anger in this play. It bordered on being unsympathetic. The central character seemed to have no time or patience for anyone else. As I say, this is understandable. But the good people they no doubt ran across rate barely a mention, while the often jaw-droppingly insensitive characters get plenty of stage time.

As I write this, I realize that it sounds foolish to ask this play about a dark subject to lighten up. It's probably as light as it can be. The focus of the play was chosen for a reason. The world I am invited into, and I am invited in, not merely preached at - again, no small feat, given the subject matter and legitimate causes for anger involved - that world makes me think, and to see my own world in a very different light. Perhaps that's all we can really ask of any play. And this brave, honest and frequently funny work does that. It's a great deal more than most plays do these days.
Closing the Fringe with Mom - Part 5

Day 2

(As you might imagine from the schedule, there wasn't a lot of down time between shows to actually stop and comment. And yesterday was spent returning to the day job, paying bills and then spending time with Mom. So...back at it)

Staggering Toward America
Rik Reppe

Mom says, "That was amazing."

I think, like most of the audience, we were truly stunned by how consistently Rik was able to move us from laughter to tears and back again. Perhaps the national wound that is September 11th will always be a sore spot which can't help but evoke a reaction in the right hands. But I don't think so. We might be more willing to be moved, but not just anyone can move us. Rik moved us. He is the best kind of storyteller. While he is present in these stories, he is never the point of them. The point is always to share the rogues gallery of misfits and unexpected heroes he met on his journey. Thanks to the portraits he paints of these people, the detail with which he recreates them for us, we truly come to know them and care for them, and in many cases, wish we were more like them. It reminds us, in this dark time, why we still love this country and why we shouldn't give up on trying to make it better. The United States needs the help of all its citizens in order to heal and grow again. Based on the cross section of citizens that people Rik's story, I think we have the raw material to make that happen. This show is the kind of powerful stuff that reminds me why the art of live theater is still relevant.

As an added tip of my hat, I have to say that Rik was doubly impressive given the circumstances of this final performance. He joked when he met my mom the other day that he normally doesn't get up before noon, much less perform. He woke up on the final day of the Fringe sick as a dog. When we met him outside the Bryant Lake Bowl and had a quick pre-show chat, he was fortifying himself with tea, bottled water, and mini powdered sugar donuts. He even warned the audience at the start that he might have to take an unscheduled break for about five minutes in the middle somewhere to replenish the tea supply (and that if he suddenly slipped into some kind of fevered hallucination, tore off his clothes and ran out of the theater screaming, "Ba-boo, ba-boo!" we should understand it wasn't a regular part of the performance).

However, with all that warning in place, he never faltered, and never took that break. Like his audience, he was consumed and propelled forward by the power of the story he was sharing.

Mom says this one is tied for first place in her mind of all the shows she ended up seeing (9). We'll get to the other first place contender in just a bit.

Rik often says he has all the subtlety of a brick when performing. I beg to differ, but if it's true, it's a brick we should all be hit with, repeatedly, until we wake up and take our country back.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Closing the Fringe with Mom - Part 4

The Mad Dash

It's a jungle out there, people.

Again I plead, can't we all just get along?

A number of people in line for some of these shows are downright testy. Even if you look like the most bewildered person on earth regarding where the heck the line begins and ends and who has tickets and who doesn't and where you go to get them, well, if someone thinks you're trying to get ahead of them, they get more than a little snippy about it.

Welcome to Minnesota, Mom.

Is it just because there isn't assigned seating that everyone gets so nervous and uptight? Geez. I can think of a lot worse situations to be in like - oh, Liberia, Afghanistan, Iraq. Have another glass of wine and calm down, madam. (Not you, Mom. You still have your sense of humor, and common courtesy)

And of course, after hearing me and all my friends we've met along the way gush about Gilgamesh, Iowa, she wants to see that, too. Otherwise, she feels she's not getting the full Fringe experience (and I have to say, I found it hard to argue with her on that point). So, bravely we set forth, without reservations this time, trying to make our way into a show wedged between the five others we're already seeing on the final day of the Fringe.

And so the sprint begins...
Closing the Fringe with Mom - Part 3

Intermedia Arts

Mom says, "All I'm thinking right now is: MST3K"

(Mystery Science Theater 3000, for the uninitiated" - and that's a high compliment, not a criticism.)

If you couldn't get into this sold-out show, don't despair. It's coming back.

See the bottom of this post for details.

The Ministry of Cultural Warfare has done it again. Not that I'm surprised.

Taking the text of 1950's American "propoganda" films - covering everything from personal habits and dating to how to survive a nuclear attack - and performing them onstage was an inspired bit of mischief. Like everything the Ministry does, it was both smart and funny. And the audience was feeling bad for these cardboard cutouts of human beings in spite of themselves, laughing with them, rather than at them.

As with many good Fringe shows I've seen, there was even a puppet show included. Atomic bombs have never been so entertaining before, and I'm sure they never will be again.

And if no one's dropped one on us in the meantime, the extension of the run will be

September 9-12, 2003

to Intermedia Arts

And check out the rest of Ministry of Cultural Warfare's season on their website at
Closing the Fringe with Mom - Part 2

One Man Hamlet
Bryant Lake Bowl

Mom says, "I'm exhausted just watching him do all that."

Indeed, no doubt the man collapses entirely after the show is over. And a well-earned collapse it is. Just getting through a condensed Hamlet in an hour and a half all by oneself would certainly be feat enough to warrant applause. But Clayton Jevne does something more. He makes it, dare I say, fun to watch. I'm sure some purists might be appalled at the cast of characters in Hamlet being approximated by a series of balloons of various colors wearing hats attached to music stands. Jevne's love of the text, and of performing it, is clear. Only someone who knows and respects the text so well could wring from it all the humor that he does, while still not losing the sense of it. Turning the "to be or not to be" soliloquy over to the audience to perform in order to give him a break was a fun bit of audience participation. Certainly watching the balloons pop one by one as the body count of the play rises was a hoot. Revisiting the text in this fashion actually makes me appreciate Shakespeare's play more, not less. Far from mocking the play, it is an homage of the best kind, bringing audiences to a new understanding and closer relationship to the story. Good night, sweet Prince. And bravo, Mr. Jevne.
Closing the Fringe with Mom - Part 1

Emily Dickinson: My Letter to the World
Old Arizona

Mom says, "It was like a piece of lace. Very delicate and beautiful. I feel as if I saw the outline of someone's entire life. I know so much more about her, who she was, because of this than I ever did before, simply reading her poetry"

We both agreed that shows, particularly one person shows, where a person is doing material based on letters can often be deadly dull. But this show is hardly that. Certainly, if you have no interest in Emily in particular or poets or women writers in general, this may not be your cup of tea. Emily Dickinson led a very introspective life. But Elizabeth Dickinson breathes life into both her subject and those letters. We see her love of family and friends, and others, informing each passage. We see her sense of humor, as well as her near crippling doubts about her own abilities as an artist. It's an interesting look into the mind and heart of a woman from another time, a woman who still speaks to our time through the poetry she left behind.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Fringe - Day 9

Mom arrives shortly, and will soon be drafted as guest reviewer for our two day sprint toward the end of the festival

Emily Dickinson at Old Arizona
One Man Hamlet at Bryant Lake Bowl
Industrials at Intermedia Arts

Staggering Toward America at Bryant Lake Bowl
I Hate This at Red Eye
Baseball, Dogs and Motorcycles at Hey City downstairs
Tell Me On A Sunday at Illusion Theater
Buy Me A Mockingbird at Illusion Theater

And they're off...
Fringe - Day 8 - Part 4

Wind-Up Toys
Acadia Cafe

This is a nice opportunity for Gustavus grads and current students to gather and watch a couple of Gustavus playwrights spread their wings and experiment with new ideas.

Neither Toy Boat Scenes and Monologues nor Wind-Up Toys could yet be called a polished script. But there are seeds of interesting plays lurking in both.

Amy Seham's script, Toy Boat Scenes and Monologues, I think was a victim of its own structure. It was designed to be episodic. While all the scenes have to do in some fashion with toys, their place in our lives and what they reflect about our society, they didn't add up to a greater whole in the end. It was simply a series of short bits. There were many interesting things going on here - dealing with relationships, prejudice, and often how hard it is just to get through the day. Many were alternately touching or hilarious, some simply thought-provoking. But I kept wishing the author would have taken the extra step of literally tying them all together. It's not all that far away from having a single plot tie humans and toys together into something that is much larger than just the sum of its parts. Hopefully the playwright sees that, too, and the rewrites will take it to the next level. Because some of the ideas in this piece deserve to be part of more than just a collection of sketches on toys.

Wind-up Toys, by Nathan Morse, isn't quite a whole piece yet either, though it's obviously designed to have its three interwoven plotlines add up to a single story. What that story is, I couldn't tell you. The most interesting and compelling part of the story was the character of Buzzsaw, portrayed by S. Randall Schmeling (who gets the prize for biggest laugh of the evening with his bio, of all things - "Randy is a Gustavus graduate. He is an actor. He works at Starbucks." [There's life in American theater in a nutshell, folks] But back to his character... Buzzsaw has the evening's most intriguing structural device in that his monologues seem to come out of nowhere, but eventually all fold back in on themselves. In getting the end of his speeches, we are able to piece together the beginning. It's the most effective writing and acting of the evening.

There's one more chance to catch this double bill, Saturday evening.
Fringe - Day 8 - Part 3

Six Steps
Illusion Theater

Dying is easy, comedy is hard.

But Brent Doyle's script, Noah Bremer's direction and the energetic performances of the cast turn what could have been just an overlong sketch on superheroes in therapy into a very funny way to spend an hour at the Fringe.

Superheroes are also hard to do well, both to create and perform, and there was a lot of clever and inventive character work going on in this production that kept it fresh and fast-moving. Even the therapist, which could have been a thankless supporting role among so odd and ecclectic a group of patients, was a wild and unpredictable comic delight.

It's an amusing diversion that doesn't run out of steam. And, even in a Fringe as great and varied as this one, a production like that can be hard to come by.

There are still two performances left, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.
Fringe - Day 8 - Part 2

Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf: The Kamikaze and the Chameleon
Hey City downstairs

I'm very glad I got I chance to see this after all.

The music, as you might expect, was lovely and fun in equal measure.

The two actresses obviously admire the women they are portraying and deliver their performances with great heart and gusto.

Hopefully, this isn't the last we've seen of this production. It was done in slightly longer form in the Illusion Theater's Fresh Ink series last month, and there is such a wealth of material about these women, both their songs and how they lived, that we could easily have spent twice the time with them and still only begun to scratch the surface.

It was fun to see these two very different lives intersect and affect one another so deeply. There's both a lot of humor and heart.

And the ladies earned every flower that was thrown their way for singing, particularly Josette Antomarchi as Piaf.

Heck, even the program had a sense of fun and whimsy about it.

I feel a little bad for the guy who wrote the one poor review for this show. He obviously wasn't enjoying himself, but in leaving so soon after the show began, he missed the peaks of emotion and humor that were the show's high points. There's some very moving and amusing stuff going on in the latter half of this production.

Is it perfect? No. But it's still growing. And even in its newborn state, it brought audience members to their feet, not to leave, but to applaud and cheer the performances. That has to count for something.

As I say, hopefully we haven't seen the last of what is quite clearly a labor of love, and we'll get to share a little strudel with Kirsten Frantzich and Josette Antomarchi again soon.
Fringe - Day 8 - Part 1

Gilgamesh, Iowa
Bryant Lake Bowl

So nice, I saw it...thrice.

Yes, the cast and playwright have filed the necessary restraining orders.

I will be stopped at the Canadian border and not allowed anywhere near the Vancouver Fringe.

You, however, still have one last chance to see it on Sunday, August 10th at 4pm, and I heartily encourage you to do so.

Still the best show I've seen the Fringe so far, with Sock Puppet Serenade running a close second.
Fringe - Day 7 - Part 2

Five Women On A Hill In Spain
Loring Playhouse

Here I have a hard time saying one way or another, good show. Some theater just isn't for everyone, or is more for some audiences than others.

For instance, certain shows that are primarily character-driven rather than plot-driven in this Fringe, my actor friends just love 'em. My writer friends aren't as fond of the same shows because, like me, they tend to be looking for plot and forward movement in addition to character. Audiences in general, well, it depends on the skills of the performers and the likeability of the characters. If they enjoy it, they enjoy it, dramaturgy be damned.

It's obvious from the reviews and the audience reaction to Five Women On A Hill In Spain that people are divided on this one.

The most glowing reviews rave about the language and composition of the stage pictures. They love the actresses and design and direction.

And I have to go along with such folks, up to a point. You couldn't ask for a better cast or director for this script. They do their level best and then some to really make Five Women work as an active piece of theater. Their work is great, no question.

But I wasn't compelled at all by the script itself, even though I found much to admire in it. This script, no doubt, read very well on the page. The beautiful turns of phrase and the fluid way the story (such as it is) moves from one set of characters to the next are admirably done. But ultimately, nothing really happens. Some of the characters just speak, and at the same time don't say much. We don't get to know them as people, or what they want, or to care about them. They are simply a way for the author to get her words spoken aloud. The characters we get more glimpses of in what passes for action in this play, well, that's pretty much all we get. Glimpses. They don't really lead anywhere or add up to anything.

All that said, the language is lovely, the actors are fabulous, the direction and design top notch. If you happen to have some time, there are far worse ways to spend an hour in the theater.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Fringe - Day 7 - Part 1

Spring Awakening
Red Eye

Any show that starts out using Philip Glass' soundtrack for the movie The Hours has me on its side going in.

I'm torn. I'm almost hoping this production is a dry run and they're going to remount it fully later on. (It's this company's premiere production and a gutsy choice at that)

At the center of it all is a really fine performance by John Heimbuch as Melchior (the one student of three that the play focuses on who isn't six feet under by the final scene)

The decision to have all the adult and authority figures be puppets was actually really interesting. But I'd urge the company to consider taking it even farther. By the time the play really got going, I understood that the adults were not just to be seen as inhuman, but also as grotesque. But because the puppet who was Wendla's mother in the opening scene was the first that I saw, and she wasn't outrageously grotesque, I thought she was just a really badly made puppet. That obviously wasn't the intent. She was meant to be less of a monster than the shoolmasters, but I didn't see that except in retrospect, which was a little too late. The monstrous schoolmaster puppets could also be taken further. Seriously, why not go all out, make them not just ugly but also HUGE and menacing figures. And I think leaving the abortionist offstage was an opportunity missed. She should be be, in this context, the most menacing puppet of all. We shouldn't be surprised to find that Wendla is later dead. It should make a strange kind of sense. It should be something we dread and then sadly have confirmed for us.

The actors need to work more with the puppets. They either need training or to spend more time with their puppet alter egos, or both. Greater skill with the puppets would have made them seem more like actual cast members, and thus even creepier, driving the point home more strongly.

The space in Red Eye is so generous and the set pieces for this production so simple, that I found myself wishing they had done more to push the boundaries of the audience's imagination and had scenes existing more simultaneously on stage. We would have accepted it as a theatrical convention and it would have helped keep the pace of the evening up, avoided blackouts and kept the episodic nature of the script from breaking the evening up into too many little pieces that sometimes seemed disconnected from one another.

It's a vital text, and one that in this time in our particular society we really need to see. I applaud them for taking it on, and for not being afraid to find some of the humor in it.

Might I suggest a puppet that looks vaguely like John Ashcroft?
Things I crammed in at the last minute...

Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf: The Kamikaze and The Chameleon
Hey City Downstairs (sold out and now over)

Wind Up Toys
Acadia Cafe
(still one show left after tonight (Friday, 10pm), you can also catch it Saturday at 5:30pm - review to follow after I've seen it)

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Bowling for Gilgamesh

At the risk of needing to retitle this blog "Single White Gilgamesh Iowa Geek," I share the following...

The terrible thing about theater is the fact it's so damn ephemeral. When it's over, it's gone, leaving nary a trace except on my, admittedly, unreliable memory synapses.

The great thing about theater is that it's live. And while a show is running, you have a chance to return and make that connection with it again.

I don't do this for many shows, but I did it for Gilgamesh, Iowa. A couple of friends also came to be part of the sold-out house (I flatter myself in thinking my enthusiasm for the show might have swayed them a bit).

Having given a couple of the Gilgamesh tribe a lift in my car the other day, I hung around afterward to chat. Met the rest of the clan. I happily paid for a round of drinks in order to extend the time I got to spend with them.

The other great thing about theater is the connections it forges, even as ensembles are formed and split apart every few weeks for the purposes of a new production. Seems the Gilgamesh boys, Tim and Jonah, got along so well, and Scot Augustson, the playwright, enjoyed their work so much on another production they did together, he wrote Gilgamesh especially for them. These are the kind of collaborators you want on your team. The actors give the playwright credit, the playwright keeps throwing the credit back to the actors. Obviously a mutual admiration society.

Sadly, the society's going to have to split up shortly. Tim has a gig waiting in Seattle after they finish with our Fringe run. So Jonah gets a new onstage partner and heads across the border to the Vancouver Fringe. So Minneapolis is getting an extra special visit to Gilgamesh - all the more reason to see it, as if I needed to come up with another angle to send you in their direction at this point.

A couple of them saw Sock Puppet Serenade, and agree with my raving about it. When I told them it was a tie for them with best show in my opinion, they began to plot comical missions to take out their non-human competition. Scissors to strings, anyone? "Have a little FIRE, sock puppet!" cackled the Wicked Witch of the West.

Well, we were in Bryant Lake Bowl, what else is there to do but get in a little bowling before splitting for the night. Certainly not ready for tournament play, but we all at least cleared 100 and, more importantly, had fun. (Thankfully, Jonah knew how to keep score. The rest of us were clueless on that count).

Too soon, we were on the sidewalk, saying our farewells. Off went Doob-I, Chou Chou, and Carolyn Sue (their bowling names) with Your Mama, the young lady who helps run the hostel where the Gilgamesh boys are staying during their sojourn here on the Fringe circuit.

They kept telling me I should follow them to the Vancouver Fringe. To tell you the truth, I still haven't had enough of Gilgamesh, Iowa. I'm tempted.
4 Star Theater

It's down to the home stretch, folks. The fact is, some shows are gonna be sold out.

So if you can't get into my 5 star recommendations, or the shows I'm saving up for my mom (thank heavens for reservations - with no extra charge - on the ultra pass - well, mom's cost, but at least mine were "freebies")

Here are the 4 star notables from my list, in alphabetical order...

The Art of Ruth Draper
Kathleen Douglass
MCTC Whitney Studio

The Hobbit
Rhino Productions
MCTC Whitney Mainstage

The Love Talker
Theatre Unbound
Loring Playhouse

Eyewitness Theater Company
Minneapolis Theater Garage

Oil On Canvas
15 Head
Intermedia Arts

Selling Blood
Manchester Central Theater Company
Minneapolis Theater Garage

Shortened Coffin Productions
Pillsbury House Theater

an honorable mention must go to...

James Berry: The Reluctant Hangman
Topsy-Turvy Theater Company
Hey City Theater downstairs

which is the only show to which I've given 3 and a half stars, so far

Mini reviews can be found on the show pages, more detail can be found within my blog on the days on which I saw them.
5 Star Theater

OK, I just hit the 20 show mark (well, 19 if you don't count the second time I went back to see GILGAMESH, IOWA)

Seemed like a good time to check in.

Shows that rated 5 stars from me thus far

It's a dead heat for top spot between...

Gilgamesh, Iowa
The Ethereal Mutt, Limited
Bryant Lake Bowl


Sock Puppet Serenade
Hunter Marionettes
Old Arizona

In fact, 5 stars don't do either of these shows full justice.

I need more stars!

At least 7 or so.

Both the above shows are hands down (no pun intended, my puppet friends) the best theater I've seen at the Fringe, and perhaps all year to date.

Other 5 star notables, alphabetically...

Beauty and the Beast
Ballet of the Dolls
Intermedia Arts

Noah Bremer
Minneapolis Theater Garage

Look Ma, No Pants
Scrimshaw Brothers
Loring Playhouse

War Golems
Fifty Foot Penguin
Loring Playhouse

honorable mention must go to...

The Book of Names
Jarvismundi Productions
Bryant Lake Bowl

(the only show I gave 4 and a half stars to, so far)

Mini reviews can be found on the show pages, more detail can be found within my blog on the days on which I saw them.
Getting the full review picture...

OK, I'm dense.

It wasn't til this morning that I figured out something key about how the reviews are listed on the website.

The reviews with the highest number of stars wind up on top and are always the first thing you see when you visit the page for a show.

What a fabulous idea for a default setting.

This way, people just scanning the site see the reviews from the people who really enjoyed the show and are pulling for it to succeed.

The fewer number of stars, the further down the list the review is placed.

To get a full, warts and all, picture of a show - click on the "see all reviews" button.

Check out the full number of reviews a show has gotten, see what the balance of the reviews look like, take note of the things they liked and didn't like and see if it's a good fit for you. Even someone who didn't like a show may have not liked it for a reason that makes it something you just have to see for yourself (stranger things have happened - this is the Fringe after all)

If a show has a lot of reviews, one of the things you might infer is that a lot of people not only saw it, but cared enough about the experience that they felt compelled to say something. Even if a show has only one or two reviews, that means someone out there was inspired by what they saw. And that's never a bad recommendation.
Must Avoid...

Frankly, I think a "must avoid" list is a mean-spirited sort of thing.

Sure, there are so many shows, you have to give people some guidance or they'd go mad looking at the epic-sized program.

But everyone works too hard on their shows, even less than stellar ones, to have somebody say, "Whatever you do, run, don't walk, away from the theater showing this turkey."

I don't think this is an occasion where the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

Use your space to laud more of the positive shows.

If you don't like a show, sure, warn your friends, but in a public forum at least have the courtesy to lend them your silence, rather than brand them as putrid.

After all, not every show is for everyone. Something I'm not too fond of, people could be falling all over themselves to say glowing things about (it's already happened several times this year, in fact). So what does any one person know, anyway?

It's not like we're spending gobs and gobs of money or blowing an entire day or evening on any one show. $10 (and don't forget your button), an hour, 90 minutes tops, and it's over. In most cases, it's over far too soon. In no case has it grievously injured anyone.

Can't we all just get along?

So the only thing on my "must avoid" list, is a "must avoid list."
Shows So Good, I'm Saving Them for My Mom

(hence, they're at the end of the schedule and you'll probably be spared my reviews. So here's one last plug for the remainder of my top ten...)

Mom's never been to a Fringe before, so I wanted to be sure she saw...

Baseball, Dogs and Motorcycles
Kevin Kling
Hey City Theater downstairs

I Hate This
Bad Epitaph Theater
Red Eye

Ministry of Cultural Warfare
Intermedia Arts

One-Man Hamlet
Theatere Inconnu
Bryant Lake Bowl

Staggering Toward America
Rik Reppe
Bryant Lake Bowl

other shows I saved to see with Mom...

Buy Me A Mockingbird
Tod Petersen
Illusion Theater

Emily Dickinson: My Letter to the World
Elizabeth Dickinson
Old Arizona

Tell Me On A Sunday
Patty Nieman
Illusion Theater
Fringe - Day 6 - Part 2

Gilgamesh, Iowa
Bryant Lake Bowl

So nice, I saw it twice.

Sold out house this time, and well deserved.

8 reviews on the Fringe site, all 5 star and voluminous. No one can find enough good things to say about this show.


More on the Gilgamesh crew later...

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Tip The Fringe

There was much talk of buttons and tipping the Fringe as I waited in the Hey City lobby this evening.

Really, folks, it's a shame that the Fringe took just as big a hit as nearly every other arts organization in the state, but the money's not going to magically reappear. If anything, things are just going to get worse.

So drop some spare change, or better yet bills, into those little silver lunch boxes by the door. Every venue has one. If the governor doesn't value the Fringe enough to help fund it, then it's up to us to step up and do our bit. Helping the Fringe helps the artists who need the Fringe to continue its good work.

And if you need further convincing, see SOCK PUPPET SERENADE and get the host marionette Wendell's take on the situation, or go see JAMES BERRY: THE RELUCTANT HANGMAN and hear a rousing refrain of the song, "Billy The Fringe Tipping Dog" (I'm not kidding when I say, you really have to be there to get the joke)

Even with the addition of the button, tickets to these shows, and the overall high quality of these shows, make the Fringe a bargain (and the quality of the shows goes up every year, while ticket prices remain well below normal theater prices). Chip in a few extra bucks. The Fringe is well worth it.
Fringe - Day 6 - Part 1

James Berry: The Reluctant Hangman
Hey City Theater, downstairs

I have to say I really enjoy the thought of the Fringe setting up temporary digs in the hallowed halls of Tony 'N Tina's Wedding.

Never set foot in Hey City Theater myself before tonight so I have the Fringe to thank once again for expanding my horizons.

(If all goes well, I'll hopefully be back again soon. The poster for Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf says that Troops are Welcome. This soldier plans to attend on Friday evening.)

Hey City is VERY well air-conditioned, so if you catch a chill easily, you may want to bring a wrap of some sort, as they say. It is a nice way to beat the heat just to stand in the lobby, or just outside the open door, however, so it cuts both ways.

Between James Berry and Teechers, I'm getting such a dose of Gilbert and Sullivan's the Mikado that it's giving me flashbacks to that Goldie Hawn/Chevy Chase film, Foul Play (or that creepy internet killer episode of Millenium) (yes, my brain is a pop culture dumping ground). What my good friends at the Yale Cabaret once did with the "Tit Willow" song really can't be detailed on a family friendly Fringe website (we'll leave it at that). What it really makes me want to do is go rent the Mike Leigh film, Topsy Turvy, which I never saw, but thought I would like.

Oh, the play? Sorry, got sidetracked for a moment there.

It's a shame we didn't have programs or a website or something. I'd like to find out more about this crew. Any group of folks that are having this much fun with such unusual subject matter deserve to be followed in their other endeavors. In any case, my hat is off to them (would that I had as nice a set of hats as they)

They use the full space of Hey City downstairs to fine effect. Not every director would, so "good show!" on that count.

This show looks really good for a traveling period musical. The costumes are quite nice and very evocative of the time period. The use of light and shadow is highly inventive. I admire the way they resist watering down the seriousness of the subject, even as they go about making it the butt of jokes. Not an easy thing to do. And of course to sing about it...well, there's a whole other degree of difficulty right there.

The accompaniast is great, and she does double duty with the old fashioned slide show which is put to particularly amusing use in establishing locations and in backing up that old standby of comedy routines, the unreliable translator.

Even the nightmare of being on the head-chopping block is a stitch, thanks to a string of "headless guy" jokes.

Anyone who makes a "Theater in the (G)Round" joke is also OK in my book.

Making Madame Tussaud's House of Wax into the Victorian equivalent of E-bay was an inspired bit of whimsy.

And I challenge anyone to get that silly ditty "Billy The Rat Catching Dog" out of their head, particularly after they turn it into "Billy The Fringe Tipping Dog" at the end of the show.

In short, this was fun. The cast looks like they're having fun and that translates to the audience (and by the way, they deserve bigger crowds than they're getting. Stop by Hey City and help 'em out.)

One of the nice side effects of the Fringe completely taking over my life is that I've met and gotten a chance to converse with so many interesting people.

I'm afraid I'm a bit behind in replying to email, so forgive me. I do appreciate the responses I'm getting from participants in the various shows (even if some of them don't agree with me - in fact, those are sometimes the most interesting discussions). I'll be getting back to you if I haven't already, I promise. If nothing else, it's just nice to know that people are actually reading this thing.

When I really felt like I'd fallen down the rabbit hole was when I called Uptown Tix yesterday to make a couple of reservations and the person on the other end of the line pulled up my name, and she said, "Oh, I've been reading your blog." Apparently it's been helpful, so I feel like I'm earning my keep.

It's great to run into familiar faces while waiting for the house to open, and then again on the way out as actor and producing friends await their turn to take over the space I've just left.

While standing in line for tickets the other day, I ran into one of the actors and the playwright of a play I like quite a lot

(OK, why be coy - GILGAMESH, IOWA - and I say again, SEE IT)

and it was nice to have a chance to tell them so in person. We sat with each other in the audience, and then I had the pleasure of playing Fringe taxi and dropping them off at their next destination.

I have to say, it was, oddly enough, the most useful I've felt all week.

Strange to just be a spectator for a change while everyone else is frantically creating art all around me. I feel positively, well, lazy, having everyone serve me their wares day after theater-stuffed day, and not having anything to offer in return but compliments and applause and funneling as many people as will listen to the next performance of their play.

The up side is that it will doubtless propel me into my next script with more vigor.

After all, seeing what everyone else is up to, I feel the need to catch up and join in the conversation.
Fringe - Day 5 - Part 3

The Captain and the Dog-Faced Boy
Jungle Theater

The late hour did not keep the crowd away, nor did it dampen their enthusiasm. They laughed loudly and often and applauded wildly, and not just at the end of the show.

It's hard to state clearly and succinctly what this show is about because there's really very little plot. It's more of a character study, particularly of the relationship between the title characters, two fish very much out of water in the modern world.

The script is a very assured work of poetry. The language flows quite beautifully, and often hilariously, from start to finish - and exclusively from the mouth of one character, that of the Captain. But John Middleton, the playwright as well as the actor playing the Captain, knows his words well and gets the full effect from them at every turn of the story. While the Dog-Faced Boy is all but mute, the physical comedy he performs makes him a more than equal partner in the tale. His dancing is, well, it has to be seen to be believed. John Middleton is to be commended for handing over Dog-Face to another actor, who frequently threatens to steal the show. Thankfully, it's very good-natured theft going on here.

The play, in addition to being about the title characters, is very much about the potential of theater, which it shows to be all but limitless. Engaging the audience's imagination is key, and this production does that in spades. The characters emerge onto a bare stage, with precious few props, and through the actors' reactions to their unseen surroundings, and some changes in light and sound, everything from a dance club to hotel to grocery store to open street are fully realized. In addition, the Captain and Dog-Face perform on the street for spare change from passersby - creating what turns out to be a negative-image of Shakespeare's The Tempest, with a touch of Hamlet thrown in for good measure, skipping ahead to the good bits when their spectators begin to get restless.

There's also an ominous pair of huge green pants that wanders into the action at various turns in the story which may represent the modern day equivalent of pure evil, but I'll leave that one for you to figure out for yourselves.

Suffice it to say, this is a show, like many at the Fringe, that you aren't likely to see anywhere else.

And as the program says, if you like this show, go see 15 Head's Oil on Canvas, also written by the same playwright.

And if you don't like it, well, go see 15 Head's Oil on Canvas, written by the same playwright, but completely different from the adventures of the Captain and the Dog-Faced Boy.
Fringe - Day 5 - Part 2

Beauty and the Beast
Intermedia Arts

I'm left kind of stunned, still, almost a day later.

One of the many great things about the Fringe is that it makes it so very easier to explore different performance genres that might be outside of your normal viewing patterns.

I know zippo about dance.

I had, I'm embarrassed to admit still, never seen Ballet of the Dolls, despite living in this town well over a decade.

So many have already commented on the athleticism of the dancers, but it bears repeating. The Dolls do some amazing things, creating some bizarre and beautiful stage pictures as they do so.

The costumes crank up the visual spectacle several more notches.

The ecclectic soundtrack, mixing Tom Waits, David Bowie and other contemporary musicians with show tunes from (naturally) Beauty and the Beast, but also, quite appropriately, My Fair Lady, built on itself song by song, backing up the narrative of the dancers' actions and creating a haunting yet fun and ultimately romantic atmosphere.

The aerial work, building off a simple setup, was just amazing.

Sadly, I lack the vocabulary of movement to give the show its full due, but trust me when I say it was stunning spectacle that deserved the sold out crowd it got and gave them all more than their money's worth. See it, if you can be among the lucky crowd to get in.
Fringe - Day 5 - Part 1

Pillsbury House Theater

You know the Fringe has you by the scruff of the neck when you start adjusting your work schedule.

Went in a half hour early to the day job so I could make it back to Minneapolis in time to see Teechers. The Shortened Coffin Productions people, seemingly everywhere and so supportive of the rest of the Fringe family, chipped away at the last of my flimsy resistance and I found myself signing on to see yet another show. Very glad I did.

We've seen the play within a play before and we've seen the teachers and students play before, but not like this. Part of what makes it so much fun to watch is seeing three young performers not only playing multiple roles with gusto, but also to see them trading off some of those roles over the course of the play - and the characters never miss a beat. Also, the cast reaches past the cliche, creating the characters with broad strokes but then filling in the outlines with details that make them fully human. The vulnerability, both of the teenage and adult characters in this show, is what keeps you watching and invested in the outcome. Of course, this is only helped by the fact that these characters have a healthy sense of humor - about their situation, each other, and especially themselves.

The other major thing that makes this show so refreshing is that it doesn't cheat and hand the audience an unrealistically happy ending. People leave, people fail, people deal with the fallout of both abandoning others and being those left behind. Yet still there are slivers of hope invading even this reality - not the least of which is that these characters are resilient. So the problem isn't cheapened by an easy fix, but it also isn't portrayed as insurmountable.

Thanks, Brian and Paul, for believing so much in your show that you convinced me to attend. You're right. You've got something special.
Fringe - Day 4 - Part 3

Minneapolis Theater Garage

"Do they kill their children? Do they send their sons off to war?"

This isn't the Medea I was expecting, and I couldn't be happier with the surprise. For some reason, I completely missed the advance word on this one. I knew it had garnered a lot of attention and an award elsewhere on the Fringe circuit, but I was still expecting some kind of large cast, standard interpretation of Euripides. Having seen these ladies in SELLING BLOOD on Friday, I should have known better.

A two person reinterpretation of the story, and not just the expected "mother kills her children" story we know so well. It's the whole story of Jason and Medea's unfortunate love affair. Steeped in blood from the start but still full of hope, at least at the beginning. Circumstance and human frailty cause the whole thing to unravel and give Medea's actions their true context. This full story is the one that many writers, myself included, keep coming back to and struggling to wrangle into some kind of manageable text, trying to explain the unexplainable, and also trying at the same time to touch on the ways we all still, to this day, murder our children.

The Eyewitness Theatre Company has found an adaptation that manages this trick skillfully, and with a large and welcome dose of humor, which, rather than undercutting the tragedy, actually casts it in sharper relief. Joanne Haydock and Sophie Partington prove once again to be the only two people an audience needs to deliver the goods. Truly an amazing display of acting chops. Entertaining, hilarious, sad, and mesmerizing.
Fringe - Day 4 - Part 2

The Art of Ruth Draper
MCTC Whitney Studio

It's always great to see good material in the hands of an actress who really loves and relishes playing it. That's what we have here with Kathleen Douglass taking on four of Ruth Draper's characters.

High society or low, life of leisure or mired in a thankless job, Kathleen Douglass finds the essential humanity at the center of each of these women and brings them fully to life. More often than not, their character quirks inspire the audience to smile and laugh - the congested and harried German language teacher or the society matron trying to run a meeting and her children's lives the way she thinks they should behave. Even the southern belle, working her way through a series of potential suitors, greatly amuses us with her bag of tricks. But there is also an underlying poignancy that makes you catch your breath. The Irish cleaning lady just trying to get through her lot in life as best she can is a touching portrait. And when the southern belle meets up with a suitor who truly engages her passions against all commonsense and propriety, her longing to be swept away is quite lovely.

The only thing one could find fault with is that it is over far too soon. Hopefully the success of this Fringe show will provide Kathleen with some leverage with the Draper Company so they'll release some more of Draper's characters for her to share with us in the future. It's a great match of material and artist.
Fringe - Day 4 - Part 1

The Hobbit
MCTC Whitney Mainstage

It was great to see old friends like Gandolf and Golem again, and to see how the hobbits got mixed up in this whole Lord of the Rings business in the first place.

There are a lot of things to admire about the production. Foremost would be the sheer breakneck speed and skill of the storytelling. Clocking in at standard Fringe show length, it nonetheless gave the story enough room to breathe that the audience could keep up. This was no small feat, as two of the cast (with the able assistance of an onstage crew person) were playing a multitude of roles, often in the same scene, surrounding the other actor who played the title character that we followed through this series of adventures.

Just like the actors, the set pieces did more than double duty - forests, mountains, caves, country roads, and home sweet hobbit home at the beginning and end, the journey completed. Flipping, folding, falling down or standing up, the nicely painted cardboard cutouts combined to provide a variety of looks that covered a lot of territory in Middle Earth.

Special mention must be given to the dragon. The monster puppet was a lot of fun to watch in action.

My only quibble, and it's a small one, is that I found myself wishing the whole thing were in a slightly more intimate venue. I'd encourage folks to arrive early and sit close to the action if you can, the better to get caught up in the fantasy. The Whitney mainstage is so large that it can sometimes overwhelm or distract from what is essentially an intimate story with a small number of players.

That said, this is still a fine way to get your Tolkien fix while you wait for the next movie to come out. It was great to see this story take flight live on stage.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Fringe - Day 3 - Part 2

War Golems
Loring Playhouse

This should really be required viewing for anyone who has to make decisions to send soldiers into harm's way. Or any of us who live in freedom and safety because of the protection that these military men and women provide for us.

Don't get me wrong. It's not that the show's unrelentingly grim or anything. It's actually got a lot of humor in it. And not all of it is dark humor by any means.

But war, not just the Vietnam War, but any war, carries a very real human price that the survivors pay just as dearly for as those who go home in flag-draped coffins. Very likely, those who live to tell these stories, those who are forced to carry them the rest of their lives, and make some kind of peace with them, pay the highest price of all.

The clear human portrait the audience is left with when the show is over is that of a young man, not even 20 years old, thrust into an inhuman situation and forced to make decisions that ultimately made him less of a human being. And it was something from which he never recovered.

The fact that this person we're introduced to actually lived, and was the father of the actor who now uses slides, clippings, letters and personal stories to take on his persona, makes the whole thing that much more immediate, and real, and horrible, and touching.

We should all be blessed with the sort of talent and insight to pay tribute to our fathers and mothers the way Zach Curtis is doing here, under the always able direction of Matt Sciple. Maybe we could finally learn all they have to teach us, and find a way to make the world a better place for our own children.

Among the many one-person shows in the Fringe, this stands out as one of the best. Go meet Rob Curtis. He was an amazing man.
Fringe - Day 3 - Part 1

Gilgamesh, Iowa
Bryant Lake Bowl

I couldn't talk to enough people about how good this show is. Hopefully, I've steered a few of my friends in its direction because if they miss it, they're really missing something beautiful.

When I first read the litany of bizarre things supposedly contained in this play, I thought, "How the heck can all that really be in one play, and still be coherent?" Here's how - the laundry list of oddities passing through this play do so by being channeled through the vivid, hilarious, and slightly naughty imaginations of two young men reunited and reliving their imaginary childhood adventures when they built their own tiny cardboard city, known as Gilgamesh. One stayed in their hometown, the other went off and built a life in the big city. Now the city boy has returned in his friend's time of need, and the subtext underlying their reunion tour of Gilgamesh is powerful, and heartbreaking. When night comes to Gilgamesh, I nearly cried. And then they saved me by making me laugh one last time before they wandered off back into the dark.

Rarely have I seen male friendship in all its complexities portrayed so honestly and humorously. Normally there's a girl involved that they're both fighting over, or there is a war going on. What a relief to find a play that doesn't shy away from the intimacy possible between two men on an emotional level, and having it be about life and death of a very different kind.

The actors, Tim Gouran and Jonah Von Spreecken, are truly amazing. I quickly lost count of the number of roles they were taking on, and yet all the while, underneath the playacting, were the core characters of these two young men. Subtle stuff, but they never let you forget who the story was really about, and what was at stake. Really fine work. A nod, of course, has to go to the director Keri Healey, who put them through their paces and drew such great and funny performances out of them.

The greatest compliment I can give a playwright is to say that the play is so good that I wish I'd written it. That certainly applies here. Often a play is so good it makes me despair that I could ever do as well. But I try instead to let it be fuel to spur my own writing engine along. Thanks for the fuel, Scot Augustson, and for setting the bar just a little higher for the rest of us.

When leaving grad school, my decisions of places to live got narrowed down to Minneapolis and Seattle. Though I'm happy I settled here for so many reasons, a group like Ethereal Mutt makes me a little wistful for what I may be missing.

This is the joy and the pain of the Fringe, to run across a show so great you want to see it again, and then there's still all the other shows you haven't even seen once yet. While I'd gladly chuck the rest of my schedule if I had to in order to find room to see this show again, it seems I lucked out. There's a show Wednesday night at 10pm and my schedule's open. I am so there.

Also, it's not really a full 90 minute show. It runs just a little over an hour. So it's not gonna take as big a bite out of your Fringe schedule as you might first suspect. It's well worth whatever time you have to give it, and the fact that it doesn't take that much makes it all the more remarkable.

See this show. I don't have words to recommend it highly enough.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Fringe - Day 2 - Part 9

Heard Offstage

The restrooms at Acadia are behind the stage. One gentleman waiting in line was quite tickled by the fact he was backstage. Felt like a celebrity. We even heard a sound check, and a frustrated actress with a thick accent on her cell phone pacing up and down berating someone about tickets. A show before the show.

If you're cramming shows in back to back, like me, don't be foolish, like me and leave yourself at the mercy of clocks on the wall at the different venues. Carry a timepiece. One of the clocks had either stopped at quarter to the hour, or was just fifteen minutes fast, so I thought my show had run long and made a mad dash on foot for the next venue, only to find when I got there I was still 25 minutes early. Oh well, God knows I can use the exercise.

"Sock Puppet Serenade" treated me to the preshow chatter of children. One thread of conversation revolved around remembrance of pet gerbils past, and their litany of rather gruesome deaths. One apparently had to be put to sleep because of a brain tumor that had him so addled, he would get on the wheel and just keep tripping over himself and falling off.

Finally, a salute to my dark Fringe doppelganger. If I'm still attending the Fringe solo in a few years, this could be my fate. (shudder) The man sat alone, with a piece of paper with his tiny scrawled handwriting all over it, and a Fringe program in his lap and a highlighter. As he studied his program before the show, I realized the only real difference between us was a couple of years, a shave, and the fact he hadn't washed his hair in a few days. It's images like this that send me screaming back into the dating pool. eek.
Fringe - Day 2 - Part 8

Racial and Gender Confusion

I found it amusing that the show music for "The Book of Names," with its all white cast, was all early African-American blues singers, while the largely African-American cast of "Apologetic Killer" did scene shifts to old Johnny Cash standards. Yes, the former were looking for soul and the latter were in prison, but still, amusing.

Though I have to admit I felt an added pang during the pre-show when I heard the late June Carter Cash singing a duet with Johnny (and I don't even like country music that much)

I don't think I could use the excuse of "Duh, I'm gay" for the fact that the ticket lady at one of the venues had to lean in and repeat herself before I realized she was flirting with me. Hmmm, that hasn't happened in a while.

The men's room at Acadia was closed, so we all had to line up for the ladies room. A guy in front of us told a woman to please remember to leave the seat up. And since it was a spacious restroom, I have to admit I certainly wouldn't have minded a little flirting from the tan young gentleman in line just ahead of me whose blue eyes matched his shirt. Sigh. Straight boys. So clueless sometimes. Of course, it does make fantasizing safer.

On the other end of the Kinsey Scale, at "3 Way," one of the young ushers was all about the eye contact. Given that the fellow knew how to fill out a tank top, I didn't mind the grin as he handed me my program. Made my day, actually.

However, the "3 Way" show cards on the coffee table at the Old Arizona, surrounded by young children waiting for "Sock Puppet Serenade" to open the house made me a little nervous - prude that I am about appearances, sometimes. Oh heck, the kids probably knew more about that show than I give them credit for. Plus, smack dab in the middle of the waiting crowd, were a leather daddy and a statuesque transexual. So I'm sure there were plenty of questions for mommy and daddy in the car on the way home anyway. Ah, the Fringe, such an inclusive definition of "family."
Fringe - Day 2 - Part 7

Look Ma, No Pants
Loring Playhouse

I finally popped my Scrimshaw cherry.

Just another one of those things I've missed that I've been embarrassed to admit - never seen a Scrimshaw Brothers show.

And oh, how I needed to.

Damn, they're funny.

That's not easy.

Often the last thing I want to do is drag myself somewhere when there's the threat of sketch comedy involved.

Like performance art and playwrighting and acting and, well, you pick it. Anything that's part of the arts, people think they can do it. "If I can walk and talk, I can act. If I pick up a pen I can write. If I think I'm funny, then others must also find me funny." Oh, nothing could be further from the truth.

But I was out anyway, I had just done three Fringe shows in a row. I was even already at the Loring Playhouse and had an ultra-pass. I really had no excuses left. What the hell. I don't have to get up early tomorrow. It's only sleep.

Man, am I glad I did.

If you haven't seen the Scrimshaw Brothers, you really should. They have four shows - this one, Shut Your Joke Hole, A One Woman Show starring the Scrimshaw Brothers, and the Worst Show In The Fringe. Now I have three more shows to try and cram into my schedule. Thank God they do No Pants year round. We all need a laugh these days.

Music, dance, improv, sketch comedy, social commentary, and some hardy souls even checked their pants at the beginning of the show and picked them up at the end of the night.

The two "episodes" of Comedian Biographies were some of the nastiest, meanest, funniest damn stuff I've seen in years.

And in closing, may I add that comedians who are actually funny, well, they're kinda hot (and I don't think that's just the sleep deprivation talking)
Fringe - Day 2 - Part 6

The Love Talker
Loring Playhouse

This is the sexiest damn show in the Fringe.

(and yes, I've seen 3 Way)

I am deeply conflicted about this play. And so, I endorse it wholeheartedly. Go see it. Tell me I'm wrong. Help me understand what I'm missing.

Because the production values, for both a Fringe show, and a Theater Unbound show, were amazing. It's a real leap forward for them.

The cast is uniformly great. Even if sometimes you couldn't understand what the hell they were saying, their actions made things crystal clear.

The text is gorgeous. It's chock full of poetic language and imagery and passion.

If I may take a moment to drool, the guy who plays the Love Talker, Jonathan Weber, is probably one of the hottest men I've seen on stage in a long time. And he spends the show dressed in the equivalent of some very flattering drawstring pants and some leaves painted on his otherwise completely exposed torso. (Gulp) And those eyes... Oh, and yes, he can act, too. They didn't just cast him for his looks, though I'm sure they didn't hold him back any. Of course, now I read his bio and find out he's just a senior in college and feel like a complete troll, but what the hell.

The kiss at the end is...well... phew!

It is a very sexy show. Way sexier than 3 Way, and about ten times darker.

(If that's all you need to know to make up your mind that it's worth seeing, then go. What follows are the reasons I'm conflicted about the show, and in no way detract from my endorsement of it. I'm very glad I saw it, but...)

Ultimately, it's the message the script is sending that drives me up a wall.

John Ashcroft couldn't have written a more puritan play.

Sex is bad. Sex makes you lose your mind. Sex leads to murder. Sex will have you running around the forest in a dirty nightgown and a crown of thorns.

I mean, at least in this play we get the sex. (Suggestion of sex, I hasten to clarify. No naughty bits were exposed in the making of this play, though they come mighty close).

But, ladies and gentlemen, don't let a man into your house, between your legs, under your skin, into your head, because nothing good will ever come of it.

I realize this is based on an established folk tale. But if you can't update the folk tale to say anything useful, why bother?

Love the production, hate the play.

Artistic schizophrenia has never hit me more acutely.

So see it. And help me.
Fringe - Day 2 - part 5

Apologetic Killer
Acadia Cafe

I'm glad I wedged this one into my schedule after all.

After Sock Puppet Serenade, I was in such a good Fringey mood, I looked at the program, saw that I could just squeeze this show in and thought, hell, you want to see it, go see it. Why clean your apartment when there's theater out there to be seen? (Which, unfortunately, is an explanation for why my apartment isn't fit for man nor beast, and yet somehow I still live there. But my mom's coming. Argh)

Anyway, on to the show.

I was suddenly reminded what a lily-white Fringe experience I'd been having up till now. African-Americans made up a sizeable portion of the audience.

And yet, Johnny Cash music was playing.

I loved the lead peformer and playwright from the moment I read the program because instead of a standard bio, she used her space normally reserved for talking about oneself to say the following...

"Apologetic Killer was inspired by a friend who challenged me to write a play with a message. I hope this piece has done that. I am against the death penalty and against most policies this government implements. As Americans it is our right, our duty to be critical, active and (when earned) supportive citizens. We deserve so much more and I refuse to accept this is as good as it gets."

Amen, sister!

I kept waving this program like a banner in front of my friends' faces and urging them to read it.

Go see this show. Is is perfect? No. Is it good? Yes. Is it struggling with something we should all be struggling with in between the puppet shows and sketch comedy and nude guys on stage? Absolutely.

Fringe - Day 2 - Part 4

Sock Puppet Serenade
Old Arizona

The most fun you'll have at the Fringe.

For God's sake and your own, see this show.

You'll leave with a big goofy grin on your face warbling like Maurice Chevalier (I kid you not, children who don't even know who he was were doing it. So were their parents. So was everyone on the age spectrum in between)

What a fabulous, funny, great little show.

And the cutest little foldout program I've seen in ages.

And this ain't no kids puppet show, though the place was packed with them. (which had me a little worried, since I was at the end of a whole row of them, but they were all very well-behaved. This probably has to do with the fact that they were so very well-entertained.)

And Wendell, the skeletal marionette host of the show (who was a little miffed at being told that his nudity required no warning in the program), made the best plea for tipping the Fringe I've yet seen or heard. Bravo, Wendell!

A dancing box. A shirt that plays with balloons. An insect ballet dancer. A wild ball of feathers that sprouts limbs in the most unlikely places. An ostrich that finds a way to take flight. A marionette that has his own marionette to manipulate. A cube that gets down to Sinatra singing "Fly Me To The Moon." And the sock puppet serenader of the title. Words cannot express how fascinating, lovely, intelligent, funny and delightful they all were to have as theater companions for an hour.

Bravo to Kurt and Kathy Hunter of Hunter Marionettes. They're a couple of the best performers in this year's Fringe Festival. We're lucky to have them.

If there's any justice, this show will be sold out for the full run. So go, and don't be bashful. Sit in the front row. You won't want to miss a thing.
Fringe - Day 2 - Part 3

Oil On Canvas
Intermedia Arts

Somehow, despite the strictures of Fringe producing, they've done it again. 15 Head brought the visual, musical, physical and verbal prowess they bring to all their other productions to this stripped-down, Fringe-ready show, Oil On Canvas.

It's a pretty remarkable feat, and they're to be commended. Acting, design, direction, execution by the crew, all great. As always, some of the stage pictures they create continue to stick in my mind long after the show is over.

It's a well-done capsule view of the life and times of Modigliani in France.

(If that's all you need to know and you don't want to listen to me rant about art about artists, then go buy a ticket. Despite all I'm about to say, Oil on Canvas is very much worth seeing, because it shows what can happen when people really push the boundaries of what the Fringe is capable of doing)

But, frankly, I don't like Modigliani. At least not the Modigliani in this show. I'm not saying I didn't like the performance. The actor was great, very compelling. It was clear why he was chosen to be the center of this show. He can carry the focus of a story. You want to watch what happens to him.

But, geez, the trials and tribulations of being an artist. A genius.

Boo hoo. Suck it up, get a day job and stop feeling so put-upon and superior to everybody else.

Just because you decided to be an artist doesn't mean the world is required to kiss your ass.

And it doesn't give you cart blanche to be mean and abusive to people, particularly women.

I had no sympathy for this guy. He couldn't die soon enough. I felt bad that he dragged so many other people down with him.

I'd rather spend some time with "real" people any day.

I'm an artist. But the people I want to see least on stage are other artists.

But, hey, it's only my opinion.
Fringe - Day 2 - Part 2

3 Way
Pillsbury House Theater

Were they naked? Sure. Briefly.

Is the acting good? Most definitely.

Is it amusing? Yes.

Warning - if you're over 5 feet tall, you may want to sit in the front row or on the aisles. Much as I love Pillsbury House, there is no leg room for anyone much taller than a munchkin.

(If that's all you need to know and you don't want to listen to me rant about the sorry state of queer theater, then just hop on over and order your ticket - because this show will sell out, you can't just show up and be guaranteed a seat at this one, people will be turned away)

Was I hoping it would do more? Of course. And I'm not talking about, "Hey, why isn't there more nudity? Why aren't their simulated sex acts?"

Really, if I wanted to see that, I'd stay home and rent a porn video, not sit in a nearly sold out theater with 80 other people.

I just left an intelligent, well-crafted script having to do with issues of faith and human relationships that had less than twenty people in the audience.

Here, I can't even stop and look at the art in the lobby because it's overcrowded with, gee, what a surprise, gay men.

And it just made me a little sad. Because we all got exactly what we came for and no more.

I'm not ragging specifically on the people of 3 Way. I think they're great. They did a great job. They're going to have a very successful run at the Fringe. They could probably take it on the road and pack the houses in cities from coast to coast.

Because most gay men won't bother to go to theater in large numbers unless you promise them a musical, or hot nude guys, or both.

Frankly, if I didn't have a friend in the show to whom I wanted to lend my support, I wouldn't have gone. (After he reads this, maybe he'll wish I hadn't). He didn't need me there to pad the house certainly.

Yes, I know we're hungry to see stories of ourselves on stage. Gay people have had their lives marginalized for so very long, almost any story that puts gay people front and center is worthwhile. And the Fringe is the one place where new gay theater can really take flight.

But, damn, if you have an audience, however you got them in the seats, DO something with that. Take a risk.

As a playwright who happens to be gay, I often despair that I'll never be successful unless I can work in plenty of nudity.

I pray to be proven wrong.
Fringe - Day 2 - Part 1

The Book of Names
Bryant Lake Bowl

I liked this show. I wanted to like it more. Still, I highly recommend it.

The performers were all quite good and very committed to the reams of dialogue they had to recite. The sheer volume of talk in this play (and the fact that it remained interesting throughout) was quite an achievement, both for actors and playwright.

And what a relief to see a play that actually deals with religion and issues of faith intelligently.

Most of the time, the entertainment industry paints all those with any kind of religious belief with the same brush - religious people are two things - fanatical and stupid. If you have faith in anything, you must not have a functioning adult brain in your head. This is so dismissive and reductive that it makes me want to scream.

This play, however, for the most part, treats its characters with respect. Yes, there's the token cynic. Yes, there's the fallen believer. But the two characters who cling to their beliefs are not portrayed as simpletons who just haven't woken up and smelled the coffee yet.

These are deeply flawed people and religion, or the absence of it, isn't the root of their problems. It's a passive-aggressive extravaganza! They are all desperately trying to believe in something, most especially other people and the possibility of happiness.

The thing I think I admire most about the play, other than it's even-handedness in the above regards, is that it refuses to tie things up in a neat little package. It leaves you to think. It requires you to think.

Is it perfect? No. I'd like to sit the playwright down and talk about the fact that if they're going to give us a finely detailed story, they might want to just put the action on stage instead of continually talking about the past. It's a testament to the cast and direction that a play full of dwelling on the past rather than acting in the present is still something that gives one a feeling of forward motion.

Are the scene shifts a little clunky? Sure. But it's the Bryant Lake Bowl. And what happens when the scenes are up and running makes you forget the wait you endured for them to begin.

This is such an intimate play that I'd urge you to sit down on the main floor, even if that means you're fighting the pole or tall people's heads in front of you for a good sight line. The seats on risers will probably give you a better view, but I think the closer you are to these characters, the more you believe in them. Don't allow yourself the possibility of detachment. The play's too important for that.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

You will lose your mind...

...when Fringe shows are two of a kind!

Actually, it's a boon to Fringe viewers, I just couldn't resist the Patty Duke reference.

I know I've been plugging SELLING BLOOD just a bit since I saw it, and I do recommend it, but...

as the savvy marketer handing out cards after the show reminded me...

if you can't somehow fit SELLING BLOOD into your schedule, there's another Fringe show that takes all the sexy bits from respected literature and puts them all in one place.

It's Hardcover Theater's
THE GOOD PARTS - a celebration of literary sex
also playing at the Minneapolis Theater Garage

so if you can't catch one, catch the other

or if you just can't get enough, you can go back for seconds
Regrets, I've Had (Quite) A Few...

But then again, almost too many to mention.

Leah Cooper tells me that, even if you went to every single appointed curtain time for the whole ten days, you could still only see 48 shows, tops.

Given the commute from, and existence of, the day job in St.Paul, the weekend time already spoken for in volunteering and waiting for Mom to arrive, and the conflicting schedules of the critical shows I feel I really want to see, or that have good friends in them...well...

I managed 27.

Plus I'm still figuring out which of 3 Spoken Word events at Dunn Brothers that I could work into the existing schedule I'm going to try and get to. So that's 28.

And I'm missing almost as many as that which I also really want to see. So here, in something approximating alphabetical order, is the list of shows that I'm sorry I'll probably miss. (I'm still working on it, but it doesn't look good)

I recommend them. So if you can go give them an audience when I can't, please do. And then taunt me by telling me what I missed...

Apologetic Killer
Acadia Cafe
(covered in Hook, Line and Sinker, 7/28/2003)

Bette, My Fraudulent Welfare Queen: A Comic Bluegrass Opera In One Act
Brave New Workshop
(covered in OK, I'm Curious #1, 7/23/2003)

Better Being Bad
Texas Red Liquid Players
a Machiavellian musical
Hey City Theater Upstairs
(covered in OK, I'm Curious #1, 7/23/2003)

The Bitter Festie Play
In The Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater
Renaissance Festival actors get bumped off. What's not to like?

Cafe Delphi
Minneapolis Theater Garage
(covered in Friendly Persuasion #4, 7/19/2003)

Charlie Bethel's Beowulf
Jungle Theater
A remount of a popular one-man interpretation of a classic text.

Climax - The Final Fourplay
Loring Playhouse
A local theater, Gremlin Theater, doing ten minute plays by local playwrights.

The German Socialites
Red Eye
(covered in Hook, Line and Sinker, 7/28/2003)

The Hanging of Pollyana
Tom Cassidy
Intermedia Arts
(available for sampling online through the Fringe site in "Cue to Cue")

Long Ago and Far Away by David Ives
Pillsbury House Theater
David Ives is one of the most inventive and unusual playwrights working in theater today.

Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf: The Kamikaze and The Chameleon
Hey City Theater Downstairs
(covered in Friendly Persuasion #6, 7/22/2003, and available for sampling online through the Fringe site in "Cue to Cue" or this Sunday, August 3rd, St. Paul public TV, Channel 17, at 7:30pm)

Moby Dick
Another remount of a popular one-man interpretation of a classic text. As the website trumpets, One Man. One Hour. One Whale.

Mrs. Cowbeach's Profession
Pillsbury House Theater
(covered in Friendly Persuasion #2, 7/15/2003)

The Point
MCTC Whitney Mainstage
(available for sampling online through the Fringe site in "Cue to Cue")

A Room of Angels
Loring Playhouse
(covered in Hook, Line and Sinker, 7/28/2003)

The Rules of the Land
Minneapolis Theater Garage
Dance troup from Nigeria
(covered in OK, I'm Curious #2, 7/24/2003, and A Little International Flavor, 7/19/2003)

The Sugardaddy Project
Old Arizona
(covered in Friendly Persuasion #4, 7/19/2003)

That's MR. Benchley To You, Mrs. Parker
Loring Playhouse
What's not to like about anything that resurrects the wit of Dorothy Parker and someone from her vicious circle?

The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip
MCTC Whitney Mainstage
Leah Cooper's description of this tale fascinated me. A kid's show with an adult metaphor lurking just beneath the surface. Fun and challenging stuff.

The Worst Show In The Fringe
In The Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater
Well, they don't need me, but I'd still like to see it. Last year's most popular Fringe show.

Zap! Kunst! or Presto! It's Art!
Hey City Theater Upstairs
A remount of a much-lauded and very funny look at performance "art"
(available for sampling online through the Fringe site in "Cue to Cue")
Spread the Word

The Fringe is one of those unusual places where it's OK to talk to strangers.

The first time it happened to me last night, I was kind of taken aback. But then I warmed to my subject. It was nice to be asked what I'd seen, what I'd heard good things about. And it was good to hear in return about shows that others had seen.

So don't keep the good news to yourself. Spread the word.

Shy though I be, I'm going to try to be more pro-active and interactive about it. So, ladies, I'm not hitting on you. I'm gay. Gentlemen, heck, I may be hitting on you, but just humor me, tell me about a Fringe show you loved or hated and I'll go away without asking for a phone number.

Talk to strangers, people. Otherwise, you might miss something.
Fringe Opening Night - Part 8

Unfortunate Juxtapositions

I'm glad they shuffle the schedule around.

EXPOSURE had the amusing misfortune of following SELLING BLOOD opening night in the same space.

They both use the song "Bicycle Built For Two"

EXPOSURE is trying to use the tune to invoke romantic nostalgia.

However, SELLING BLOOD, not 30 minutes prior, closes with this song, with new lyrics, in a charming ode to masturbation.

Gives the second show a whole new subtext. Gotta admit, it was fun to snicker, though I may have been the only one in the audience who got it.

So mix and match your Fringe shows for fun today.
Fringe Opening Night - Part 7

Voice In Head
Minneapolis Theater Garage

Maybe it's better if you have the free beer.

Don't get me wrong. It was fun enough.

The whole company gets a big 10 for "Degree of Difficulty"

It was a real kick to see so many artists from so many different shows - mine had people from - The Art of Ruth Draper, I Hate This, Tour Bus From Hell, War Golems, Jungular Tics, Beowulf, Park-N-Ride, A Woman's Place (and they all get to plug/do excerpts from their shows throughout the performance - so it's a great Fringe sampler) and even several innocent bystanders plucked from the audience.

And it was fun to be interrogated by cast members taking notes to be used later in the show.

And the Pepto-Bismol pink outfits that the staff wore were quite distinctive.

The mock releases they want you to sign prior to the show let you know you're in for a different kind of experience.

But in the end, it felt MUCH longer than it actually was. It's only an hour but I could have sworn it was 90 minutes until someone looked at their watch and corrected me.

Maybe I'm just in need of more structure. But it was really just a very long Shaggy Dog story. And I tend to be one of those people sitting in the audience who wants the experience to add up to something in the end. In the end, it just kind of...well, ended.

Am I glad I went? Yeah. The cast and producers are to be commended. It's pretty amazing to watch come together (warning - come late or close to curtain at your own risk, you may get dragged into the middle of something)

Do I recommend it? Sure. Just not as strongly as some others. The idea of it is fabulous. The execution, I'm guessing, requires free beer. So drink up.
Fringe Opening Night - Part 6

Oh to be Matthew Foster, Now That Fringe Is Here...

I'd like to be flattered, but really the flattery extends to Mr. Foster.

Someone introduces me as a blogger and a playwright to some Fringe staffer or theater person I don't know, and they smile broadly and say, "Oh, I love your blog. Great stuff. Especially the part where..."

And as the compliment continues, I become painfully aware that they don't mean my blog, or even my playwriting, but Matthew Foster.

I try to interject this fact into the conversation before I have been reduced to under three feet tall in my mind. I don't always succeed. And so I slink awkwardly away.

And this has happened more than once, and the Fringe has only begun.

Here's to you, Matthew. People love you, dude.

Once the Fringe is over I can cease to bask in your reflective glory and go create some of my own.


Friday, August 01, 2003

Fringe Opening Night - Part 5

It's A Small, Small World...

We're officially down to less than one degree of separation at this point.

The ladies in SELLING BLOOD are also in MEDEA.

The creator of EXPOSURE is also directing SIX STEPS.

And perusing a show card for SIX STEPS, I found out an actor friend of mine, William T. Leaf, is in that show. He's done a production and a workshop of two of my plays over the years. Happy to see him on stage yet again, even if I have to wait til Friday.
Fringe Opening Night - Part 4

Visible Fringe Artists

Minneapolis Theater Garage has three rather intriguing artists on display.

Kyle Fokken - three metal sculptures that at first I mistook for headless horses. Upon closer examination of the tails, and a rudimentary stab at translating the German titles, I realized to my chagrin that they were dogs. This artist also has two delightfully transmogrified tricycles on display at the Visible Fringe exhibit in the gallery at Calhoun Square in Uptown. Every time I see them, the wave of nostalgia hits me and I yearn to both buy and ride them.

Charlie Kraft - large swaths of canvas hung on the wall. Bright colored backgrounds. Elongated heads, sometimes just noses. Square-bodied birds, all dripping paint (dried, of course). Sayings and slogans etched into the pictures. All untitled. But they make me wish I had a wall big enough to hold them.

Tom Cassidy - Mixed media, mostly consisting of Keith Haring-esque paintings of figures and buildings on top of pages ripped from magazines from the 1920's and 1930's. Also an art box full of plastic figures, 50's catch phrases spelled out in Scrabble tiles, all surrounding an actual thank you letter from J. Edgar Hoover on FBI stationery, thanking a woman for her fruitcake. J. Edgar Hoover. Fruitcake. I'm sure all double meanings there are intentional.

There are tiny foldout Visible Fringe programs at every box office. Pick one up and look them over. It's a great way to pass the time while you're waiting for the house to open.

Oh to have a bank account that could afford such knick knacks.
Fringe Opening Night - Part 3

The Publicity

You can't swing a dead cat without running into some kind of show advertisement.

I spent the bulk of the evening at Minneapolis Theater Garage, and the artists just kept on coming. There's a table in the corner literally filled with show cards. And more kept getting placed there as the night wore on and more actors, writers, directors and other assorted show reps dropped by and then were off to paper the next venue. Also, posters all over the inside and outside of the doors.

Brilliant Marketing Move #1 - The one man of "One Man Hamlet" and his female stage manager both came to a show I was at wearing T-shirts with the name and image of the show on the front, and the name and one word glowing reviews of the show on the back. Crafty.

Mystifying Audience Moment #1 - Two well-meaning theater-going ladies were chatting up the female stage manager in the "One-Man Hamlet" T-shirt and asked (I'm not making this up),"So, are you in the show?" the math. (And while you're at it, check the gender)

Hint to show-pluggers - Color helps. Even the tiniest bookmark-size show ad, if it had color, drew my attention more effectively than a black and white copy. Same holds true for posters. Doesn't need to be a photo, doesn't even need to be a picture. One card just had alternating stripes of nearly flourescent green and black, in which were spelled out the title of the show. In this case, size doesn't matter. Appearance does.

Plea to show-pluggers - Leave some room for your fellow Fringers. A couple of shows laid out huge posters taking up all kinds of table space that might have held cards for six shows instead of just one. One show had both cards *and* 8 1/2"x11" flyers out on the same table. That makes me like you less, not more. There's persistence, and then there's gluttony.

Brilliant Marketing Move #2 - A photographer that does headshots had a stack of her cards on the show table. Simple business cards with a couple of images of quality, interesting head shots on them. Way to drum up business. I don't even need a headshot and I almost took one because the photos were so nice.