Friday, February 25, 2005

The Fringe 2005 Ping Pong Ball Awards

The "Forget the Pizza, Is there Any of that Beer Left?" Award

Goes Straight From Uranus

er, goes to the producing team known as Straight From Uranus, with the ever popular show title


otherwise known as "45 minutes written comedy show followed by 15 minutes of improv"

Which would have put them in the running for the first show to run into overtime in this year's Fringe, if they made it onto the schedule.

Unfortunately, the "is there any beer left?" comment was penned by me because these folks had the misfortune of being the very last ping pong ball pulled out of the Fringe lottery's spinning cage.

They had the unenviable experience of sitting and watching every other show get pulled for the 140 or so slots on the schedule, and then another 93 shows get pulled out of the cage ahead of them for a spot on the wait list.

That can't have been pretty. My only hope is that perhaps they were spared and just found out the next day because they couldn't attend the lottery itself.

I had the advantage of being one of the few folks in the audience not waiting to hear the fate of my show, since I didn't have a show in the running this year. Still, I felt for them. And wanted to offer them a beer, if only I knew who they were. (Assuming of course they were of legal drinking age - but since they were in the Teen category, odds for that aren't good either).

[To see the rest of the Ping Pong Ball Awards, click here.]

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe 2005 - Reunion of the Top Ten Class of 2004 - Many Happy Returns part deux

Claire Simonson - Boob Toob

What can I say? Claire Simonson's 2004 Fringe outing, The Origin of Consciousness in The Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind was, unfortunately and undeservedly, one of the best kept secrets and at the same time among the very best productions in last year's festival.

It was an amazing mix of human performer, camera tricks, and crude but evocative cartoon work (in many ways a sister show to the just as deservedly popular Fringe hit Knock! - both of which made my pre-Fringe Top Ten list). And let's not forget the evil rubber duck and St. Claire dueling it out for the performer's eternal soul. But I digress. You can read my review and catch at least a hint of what you missed.

The thing I liked best about the performance and the script was how they kept sneaking up on you in the friendly and innocuous guise of comedy, and then hit you between the eyes with a lot of food for later thought, even as the production kept whizzing along at its own quirky pace.

Perhaps the title scared people off. Well, no worries this year. Claire returns with -

Boob Toob
Solo performance using live and pretaped video/satire/object manipulation to explore evils and benefits of TV.

It's short, it's catchy, it's misspelled (but that could be a typo), it promises both sex (boob) and television/multi-media (things that seem to be popular with Fringe-goers.)

Don't miss out this time. Let Claire show you that there are almost no limits to what one person on stage can do.

[To see the full list of some of my favorite returnees from Fringe 2003, click here.

- Rik Reppe (2003's Staggering Toward America)
- Kevin Kling (2003's Baseball, Dogs and Motorcycles)
- Ballet of the Dolls (2003's Beauty and The Beast)
- Rhino Productions (2003's The Hobbit)]

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
The Fringe 2005 Ping Pong Ball Awards

The "Somebody Up There Likes Them" Award

Hallel Praise Production

The very last company to be chosen for a slot on the schedule during the lottery before they had to switch over and start drawing for the wait list.

The production?

Angels of Warfare
Spiritual production based on Christian beliefs and values.

Now here's the odd thing. I find myself torn over this production, because unfortunately the media has seeped into my brain. I happen to consider myself a Christian person. Both my parents are ordained ministers. I've been very active in the life of several churches over the years, not just showing up on Sundays and putting something in the offering plate but actually serving on committees and doing the grunt work involved in keeping the place running. And yet, here I am, a relatively intelligent person, and I see words like "spiritual" and "Christian beliefs and values" and my immediate knee jerk reaction is to think - "Oh, well they must be closed minded and judgmental."

Pot, meet kettle. Kettle, pot.

Where does ignorance like that come from? I mean, I know better. I want other people to know better. That's why discussions of religion and faith are woven into plays of mine with titles as obvious as Heaven and Home and as unlikely as Studpuppy. And yet here I am having the same dismissive reaction I'm trying to defuse in other people.

After all, these people are applying to be in the Fringe.

Which means they must have seen the Fringe. They must have attended some shows. They must feel like this is the right place for them to be.

So I'm withholding judgment. Actually, better than that, I'm going to go out of my way to try and see this one if it remains on the schedule. It may be the kind of theatre I'm longing to see more of - like Fringe 2003's Book of Names - less stereotypes, more real people with complex lives. If you're having the same reactions I am, you might want to give it a shot yourself.

[To see the rest of the Ping Pong Ball Awards, click here.]

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Fringe 2005 - Many Happy Returns - Top Ten Class of 2003 back again

Rhino Productions - Spare Parts

Last time, Rhino brought us a stripped down version of the The Hobbit for the stage that found its way into my pre-Fringe Top Ten list.

This time out, Mic Weinblatt is bringing a play of his own to the party.

Spare Parts
Two friends travel cross country for their buddy's funeral. At the diner across the road, the chef lies dead on the kitchen floor. An old man in his underwear wanders in and a rattled woman stumbles in with more questions than answers. A comedy.

I've seen this script in several stages of its development and it's a goofy farce with a dark edge. The string of revelations that bring the mystery to its conclusion are a hoot. Knowing Mic, he's going to streamline those earlier drafts into another wild ride that fits snugly into a Fringe-sized performing time limit. Not every new script that makes it to the stage is worth the effort, but I expect this one will be well worth the trip.

[To see the full list of some of my favorite returnees from Fringe 2003, click here.

- Rik Reppe (2003's Staggering Toward America)
- Kevin Kling (2003's Baseball, Dogs and Motorcycles)
- Ballet of the Dolls (2003's Beauty and The Beast)]

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Fringe 2005 Ping Pong Ball Awards

The "Well, that was easy. Where's the pizza and beer?" Award

To Interact Center for the Arts,

the first group to be chosen in the general lottery (after the specialized lotteries for International, Kids, Teens, Artists of Color, Showcases, 90 Minute Shows, and Southern Theatre [aerial work shows] specialized mini-lotteries were held to insure diversity, filling the first forty or so slots out of the 140 some that were chosen that night for the Fringe 2005 schedule)

Interact will be filling their slot with the following ecclectic selection:

Imagination Memory
A surrealistic landscape of singing cigars, comic book alter egos and visions of lives lost and found.

Congrats on getting in, and being able to relax sooner than most during the festivities of the lottery evening.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Interact, their cadre of artists and little blackbox theater space (I had some of the most fun at Fringe 2004 - Patrick and James: A Love Story and The Judas Cradle to name a couple of favorites - and hope they're hosting others there as well again this year.)

[To see the rest of the Ping Pong Ball Awards, click here.]

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe 2005 - Many Happy Returns - Top Ten Class of 2003 back again

Ballet of the Dolls - Stripped

What can I say? When I finally saw Ballet of the Dolls in action in Beauty and The Beast at Fringe 2003, I was blown away.

I'll gladly line up and see what they're doing now. And this time I'll probably bring Mom along.

The short initial description of the new show goes something like this:

"The light and dark side of fears, phobias, and obsessions."

Regardless of what that translates into in the final product, it's bound to be interesting - and visually stunning.

Glad they're back.

[To see the full list of some of my favorite returnees from Fringe 2003, click here.

- Rik Reppe (2003's Staggering Toward America)
- Kevin Kling (2003's Baseball, Dogs and Motorcycles)]

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Radio Silence

Hey there. Back again.

Spent the last couple of days cleaning up and consolidating posts from last year's Fringe blog on my website.

And getting ready for the latest round of taping for the TV show, Cue To Cue.

Now it's back to Fringe in the present and future tense.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Brush Up Your Shakespeare Redux

One of the strange things about my Fringe-going schedule was that I managed to miss every one of the shows which had a Shakespearean bent to them.

Normally, I'd go out of my way to see them, so I don't know what happened. Producing two slots and having a script of my own produced by someone else in a third cut into my schedule more than I realized, I guess.

I was a huge fan of One Man Hamlet back during Fringe 2003 (it made my pre-Fringe Top Ten and proved it more than deserved my anticipation of it).

Last year, I missed Starting Gate doing "Akespearshay," Fifty Foot Penguin doing "MacBlank," and Lakeshore Players doing "The Tamer Tamed."

This year, we've got another handful in the planning stages, some of them we're going to get to see, some we may not.

In addition to the Richard III potential double feature with Kevin Kling doing "Dick da Tird" and Girl Friday Productions planning for a Rocky Horror-style "Richard!!!," we have...

currently on the schedule...

Knighthorse Theatre Company
A Tempest…for Two
Two person adaptation of Shakespeare's Tempest. No sets, no special lighting, minimal props. Two actors, classic language and the audience's imagination.

currently waiting in the wings...

Atomic Shakespeare
A modern language take on one of the Bard's more famous works.

Fat Hamlet
A black comedy about a pastry chef who becomes involved in a murder

MN Shakespeare Project
T&C A Niff on Shakespeare's Troy & the War on Love
A company created show based on Shakespeare's Troilus & Cressida. Will focus on themes of falling in love and other mundane concerns during a time of war.
(this one kills me. I'm fond of the play Troilus and Cressida and it sounds like a great idea. Sigh. Cross your fingers.)

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

You may notice I'm mentioning folks on the wait list.

According to Fringe folk at the lottery, last year they got down to number 58 on the wait list.

This doesn't mean that 58 of the people currently on the wait list are getting in.

It just means the Fringe staff worked their way down the list as openings appeared in the schedule due to people dropping out.

Many people just couldn't hold on long enough and moved on to other projects. So they were unable to take the Fringe up on the offer when they came calling.

After the lottery, those on the wait list were given their checks back. The Fringe doesn't sit on your money on the off chance you might get in. Most artists don't have that kind of spare cash just lying around (I know I don't). So often the money goes to mounting something else on your own.

Five groups have already pulled out of the waiting list this year. Granted, they were pretty far down in the pecking order, so chances weren't good they'd get the call anyway. Meanwhile, everyone else is staying put. That will likely change weekly. I'll try to stay on top of things but if I make a mistake, forgive me. No harm meant.

If I mention someone on the waiting list, it's just because they tickle my fancy and I'm hoping they make the final cut. As always with the Fringe, there are numerous great acts on either side of that dividing line. We'll just have to see how it all shakes out.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
The Fringe 2005 Ping Pong Ball Awards

The "Winter of Our Discontent" Award

To Kevin Kling and Girl Friday Productions, for bringing us Shakespeare's compelling supervillian Richard III - Fringe style!

Kevin Kling presents "Dick da Tird" - Richard the third meets the Iron Range

Girl Friday Productions
(currently just 10 notches down on the wait list, so chances are better than average we may get to see them)
An adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III performed a la the Rocky Horror Show.

Perhaps you get a discount if you attend dressed with a hump on your back. I'm not sure what you could safely throw at the actors on stage. But everything will be forgiven if you can do it in iambic pentameter (kidding - please don't throw anything at the actors. Fringe artists have it hard enough)

[To see the rest of the Ping Pong Ball Awards, click here.]

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe 2005 - Many Happy Returns - Top Ten Class of 2003 back again

Kevin Kling - Dick da Tird

There was some concern expressed when the lottery was implemented - "What if Kevin Kling doesn't get picked? How can you have a Fringe without Kevin Kling?"

So when, about halfway into the drawing, Kevin's number got pulled, mistress of ceremonies Leah Cooper said, "OK, you can all relax now. Kevin's in."

He hardly needs me to mention him. The man was selling out the Women's Club last year. It's a big space and not always the easiest to find for some folks - even though it's right off of Loring Park where a lot of the other central Fringe venues are located. But people made it a point to find Kevin last year for his show "Whoppers" and I'm sure they'll do the same again this year, whatever space he ends up in. My mom got to see him the year before with me, when his show Baseball, Dogs and Motorcycles - which for some reason I want to call Baseball, Hot Dogs and Motorcycles but that's my Freudian slip showing, I guess - when that 2003 show was filling the (former) Hey City (now) Henepin Stages downstairs space beyond the bursting point.

This year's a little different for Mr. Kling. Instead of another ecclectic bunch of stories, his concept for "Dick da Tird" is summarized as follows...

Richard the Third meets the Iron Range

So, still that Minnesota flavor. And I can't think of anyone I'd rather see paired with the Bard than Kevin. Should be fun. And doubtless will sell out early. So start lining up now, I guess.

[To see the full list of some of my favorite returnees from Fringe 2003, click here.

...including, Rik Reppe (2003's Staggering Toward America)]

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Just a Bit of Whimsy

Just in case it doesn't go without saying...

The Fringe itself isn't giving out awards or anything.

I'm totally making these Ping Pong Ball Awards up, based on oddities, trends and coincidences I noticed while sitting through the Fringe Lottery last month.

It's just for fun, and to perhaps help spotlight shows I might not otherwise think to mention.

So take them in the spirit that they're meant. And if you feel the need to blame anyone, blame me.

[To see the rest of the Ping Pong Ball Awards, click here.]

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Fringe 2005 Ping Pong Ball Awards

The "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" Award

To Rik Reppe and David Mann, who are both doing red state/blue state one man shows to dissect the oddities of our supposedly polarized electorate in the aftermath of the recent Presidential election (that in my opinion was neither the mandate some people are calling it, nor as close as some other folks might wish to think it was).

I just spent some time talking about Rik's show and my happiness at his return to the Fringe this year.

David Mann was originally planning to be part of last year's Fringe - but he had other more pressing productions to tend to - his wife was due to deliver their baby in August, right around Fringe time. So he withdrew from the schedule early on in the gestation period of the 2004 Fringe, to deal with gestation of the different sort. He jokingly commented at the time that he would return in 2005 with a sequel to his popular one man opus "Sex...with David Mann" - calling it "Sex with David Mann - The Consequences." Apparently, other things are on his mind instead.

Currently, while Rik develops Red State/Blue State, David is working on the following...

Red is Blue
A one man show about people from 'red' and 'blue' states, not being themselves.

And just like with Rik, I'm very much looking forward to the results of David's work. It's always a treat. Do yourself a favor and see them both. After all, it wouldn't be the Fringe if there weren't some amusing musing on politics involved.

[To see the rest of the Ping Pong Ball Awards, click here.]

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe 2005 - Many Happy Returns - Top Ten Class of 2003 back again

Rik Reppe - Red State/Blue State

One of many nice things about the Fringe is that the good artists often like us so much they keep coming back for more.

Rik Reppe actually did that one better. He and his wife moved here from the west coast.

Rik wrote and performed his amazing one person show Staggering Toward America in the 2003 Fringe. It was one of my pre-Fringe Top Ten, ending up in a tie with Gilgamesh, Iowa for my Mom's favorite show (and a mighty close second to Gilgamesh for me). Matthew Foster declared it, I believe, the only show in the Fringe that year, required viewing. The audience reviews were falling all over themselves with superlatives. Rik's exploration of post-9/11 America had you laughing your butt off one minute, weeping the next. It was a stunning piece of theatre.

Having just set down new roots in Minnesota, he's already set to work. He traveled the deeply divided country in the throes of election and post-election fever in 2004 and found the red/blue divide to be not as clearcut as the media pundits would have us believe. I'm greatly looking forward to another dose of Rik Reppe's clear-eyed look at America. It is invariably a portrait that makes me think, and gives me hope that we may yet collectively come to our senses and build the country we're capable of.

If you missed him the first time, don't make the mistake of doing it again. This is appointment theatre, and quite likely to sell out quickly.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit

Monday, February 14, 2005

Fringe 2005 - It's a Smaller World After All

And more's the pity.

Two years ago, when I first started blogging for the Fringe, we had several companies from England, several from Canada, several from Australia, and even a dance company from Nigeria.

There were so many groups from out of the country that it wasn't possible to easily see them all, and see all the local companies, or even the ones from other parts of the U.S.A.

Sadly, we don't have that wonderful problem this year.

It's not the Fringe's fault.

In fact, the Fringe had a whole separate lottery set up within the larger lottery, with eight slots set aside to insure that we had a little international flavor in the mix.

Turns out they only needed five slots.

They had only six international applicants, and one of them had to drop out.

Those that currently remain at present are (in alphabetical order):

Mainline Theatre (Montreal)
Sea Peach
A combination of physical theater, multi-media, video projection and performance poetry with a live DJ.

Moving Target Theatre Company (Winnipeg)
Three Ring Circus: Israel, The Palestines and My Jewish Identity.
While Israel fruitlessly pursues peace with the Palestinians, a young Jew in Winnipeg fruitlessly pursues girls.

Never Surrender (Montreal)
Never Surrender's Greatest Adventures
Never Surrender (the world's greatest lipsync band) helps their friend Big Al save his business by putting on a concert in a haunted stadium. The entire show is prerecorded and synced live by Never Surrender.

Theatre Serendipity (Winnipeg)

The Three Sticks Theatre Company (London)
The Adam and Eve Diaries
In a world aching for a revolution, the Adam and Eve Diaries explode the myth of origin to reveal a new genesis. Physically and musically daring.

I'm planning to do my level best to see them all.

First of all, I don't have any disposable income to travel, even to go to Canada, at the moment, and probably for the forseeable future.

Second of all, how often does a theater company come to town from out of the country, and then the ticket price is as affordable as a Fringe ticket?

Lastly, it's just plain polite. They're coming all this way. The least we can do is provide them with a friendly and attentive audience. After all, at worst, you're out ten bucks and an hour of your life. Chances are it won't come near approaching that.

Of the six international Fringers, five were from Canada and one from England.

They're the only ones still speaking to us.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure Australia doesn't have a problem with the Minnesota Fringe Festival. We're still as friendly and open as we've always been.

But international travel ain't what it used to be.

Plus our country's policies toward people wanting to visit are making it harder and harder and harder for people to come and share their art. (school? jobs? marriage? - harder still).

And let's face it, the U.S.A. isn't exactly all that great at playing with others these days in the family of nations that make up the wider world. Would you really want to visit a country and share your art and entertain a populace that was electing leaders who made decisions that made smoke come out of your ears? I thought not.

(Sure, we're a "blue" state, but we're one of those United States, so for a lot of people, we all get painted with the same brush)

It's a shame. Because we're the poorer for it.

So, again, let's make sure that the folks that did make the effort to cross the border and/or cross an ocean feel like their trip was worthwhile. Let's support their shows and help spread the word, since they don't have the built-in network that some of the local companies have.

Heck, see them all. After all, it's ridiculously simple.

We're down to only five.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Fringe Lottery 2005

So to institute a lottery, the Fringe makes it a party open to the community, and unlike that Shirley Jackson story, no one had to get stoned before the evening was done (well, not with rocks anyway. I'm sure some people probably went home and...)

But I digress.

The thing I liked most about the lottery, over and above the sense of fun and community, and the free beer and pizza, all of which were big draws, mind you - the thing I didn't just like but admired was how open and transparent it made the process.

Unlike some arts organizations in town, who've become ever more byzantine and cloaked in secrecy when it comes to selecting the chosen few artists they'll spend their time and resources on, the Fringe decides to throw open the doors and let everyone watch. While not everyone got the result they wanted, and might have ended up way down on the waiting list, they got to see it happen right in front of them.

And the Fringe staff just set the lottery up and tallied the results. They didn't even pick the ping pong balls out of the rotating cage. A series of random artists sitting in the audience were picked by Patrick Braucher (perhaps better known as CoCo Fondue from last year's Fringe show "These Pumps Are Killing Me" from DragIn Productions). These volunteers pulled the ping pong balls, without looking, handed them off to Patrick who handed them off to lovely mistress of ceremonies Leah Cooper who read them off, plus the name and description of the show associated with the number on the ball.

While it's not quite the same thing as the panel discussions the Minnesota State Arts Board opens up to the public when deciding who will receive their annual fellowships, the spirit is very much the same. And the State Arts Board doesn't feed you. Go, Fringe!

Rather than let the Fringe and the artists who love it become the victims of the Fringe's burgeoning popularity, the Fringe staff did something about it. They've leveled the playing field. And made a party out of it besides.

Last year, it was all about getting the application in the mail so it arrived on the first day that applications were accepted - not a day before, and hopefully not a day after. The Fringe received 190 applications that first day for only 175 slots. Rather than leave it to the vagaries of fate and the U.S. Postal Service as to who ended up on the top of the mail pile and who ended up on the bottom, the Fringe opened it all up again this year and gave everyone a fighting chance. A two month window to submit materials. Then all the potential productions were given a number, the number was written on a ping pong ball, the full list of productions and their numbers and information was copied so everyone attending the lottery could follow along and learn about their fellow Fringers. The balls were put in a festive wire cage, rolled around, and picked at random by a cross-section of volunteers from the audience - some of whom were so young that Leah had to selectively edit some of the more colorful language out of show descriptions until it was time to take the kids home to bed.

Roughly 240 applications.

Roughly 140 slots.

Roughly 2 hours of ping pong balls, tension, pizza and beer.

The slots may increase and the first folks on the waiting list may yet get in without too much waiting. But venues need to be confirmed. Better to choose too few and then be able to make some more people very happy, than choose too many and have to disappoint some people who thought they were in for sure.

And a whole lot of fluctuation hits between now and March 15, the deadline for people to withdraw without losing their deposit. And June 1, the deadline (last year anyway) for getting in your show description for the big printed program. What we see now on the list will no doubt be very different as it always is with every Fringe by the time opening night in August arrives. One of the many joys of Fringe is that sense of seat-of-the-pants improvisation that happens in pulling together a brand new show. And it's already begun and shall continue.

Kudos to the Fringe for making lemonade out of lemons yet again. And giving all artists a fair shot at seeing their show in the 2005 Fringe.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit