Saturday, May 23, 2020

Strange Wor(l)ds: A Maximum Verbosity Restrospective and Minnesota Fringe Festival fundraising event

This is not so much a review as a reunion, a celebration, and a plea.

And you can join in the fun yet this evening, Saturday 5/23.  Read on.

If you’re wondering if we really need a Minnesota Fringe Festival, let Maximum Verbosity’s phillip andrew bennett low convince you.

Tonight is part 2 of his Fringe retrospective/fundraiser for the Minnesota Fringe, Strange Wor(l)ds, and damn, it reminded me quite vividly how much I miss theater and the Fringe brand of theater specifically.

You can watch it streaming live at: (9pm EST, 8pm CST, etc), tonight, Saturday, 5/23.

You can donate to the Fringe at - he’s asking $15, since that’s the price of a Fringe ticket - but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.  If you can give, please do, and if you can give more, definitely please do.

“I tend to chafe at genre restrictions.”

And the thing is, phillip personally doesn’t even need the Fringe anymore as an artist.  But that’s because, and he freely admits this throughout the evening, the Fringe taught him everything he needed to know - about telling a story, about collaboration, about how to advertise yourself, about a million different little details that make a theater producer successful in gaining and building an audience, about mixing genres, about making friends you might not otherwise meet because the Fringe gathers such a large cross-section of artists from all over the Twin Cities, the state, and the country, sometimes even the world.  So, as he says, “Not for my sake, but for every other artist in this community” - we need to keep the Minnesota Fringe going.

“I’m pretty sure I performed this in a brothel.”

Phillip understands that the next generation of artists needs a Fringe, too.  (And a Strike Theater, and a HUGE Theater, and a Crane Theater, and a Bryant Lake Bowl, and a Southern Theater - support all these places - the venues for smaller companies and artists year round as well as at Fringe time need to be here on the other side of the pandemic.)  Phillip made the point that, yes, theater will survive, in some form or other, because it always has.  But if the only thing that survives are the big companies, then the theater we have will be poorer.  It will be harder for developing artists to create new work and find an audience.  (Phillip is right when he says there aren’t a lot of places that teach you how to “usher a production from concept to curtain” like the Fringe does)  It will be harder for audiences to see themselves on stage.  We will be missing something if we don’t have the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

“Somehow his arrogance is so intense it bends reality to his will.”

And if you want proof of that, just watch Maximum Verbosity’s Fringe journey through time.  Last night (Friday 5/22), phillip took his online audience on a tour of his Fringe offerings starting back in 2004, and bringing us up through 2011 to conclude part 1.  He put each show and its year in context, both for his career and the Fringe in general.  And it was fascinating, and amusing, and brought back a lot of very fond memories.  All the things he learned, the mistakes he made, the people he met.  The man knows how to spin a tale, and also stay on message.  Once he’d teed up a show, he’d perform an excerpt.  He even sang a song (which, of course was based in the Norse mythology of Loki and Thor, but, it’s phillip, not Rodgers and Hammerstein, what were you expecting?)

“My partner he is thicker
than a copy of Jane Eyre.”

And it reminded me of all the shows I saw, all the shows of my own that had gone up on a Fringe stage, all the people I’d met, all the time with my Mom bingeing as many shows as she could cram into a week’s visit.  In her honor, I pitched in enough to get a ticket for each of us.  Messaging with Phillip after the show, he said, “I remember your mother fondly and flatter myself by thinking she'd get a kick out of this.”  Oh she would have, I assured him.  Particularly seeing bits from shows that for scheduling reasons, she didn’t get to see the first time around.  Phillip was always a priority with her, but the timing didn’t always work out.  I’d like to think she’s still watching, wherever she is now.

“In a room full of Chinese, I’m not half-Chinese anymore, I’m half-white.”

As each year and each show passed, he returned to his theme, none of this happens, if there isn’t a Fringe.  And if any of these names which arose in his narrative mean something to you, you should definitely be giving to the Fringe if you’re able because the Fringe brought them into my life as well, and I’m grateful: Matthew Foster, Walking Shadow Theater, Les Kurkendaal, Scott Pakudaitis, Alison Broeren, Allegra Lingo, the Rockstar Storytellers, Wobbles, Mike Fotis, Ben Sandell, John Munger, Sara Stevenson Scrimshaw, Danielle Robinson Prater, Tim Mooney, Zoe Benston, and more.

Part 1 (Growin’) of the Maximum Verbosity retrospective known as Strange Wor(l)ds included:
2004 - Lokasenna
2005 - Camelot Is Crumbling (Mordred and the Death of Merlin version)
2006 - no show of his own but the beginning of his blogging career and other Fringe insights
2007 - Descendant of Dragons
2008 - All Rights Reserved: A Libertarian Rage
2009 - The Rise of General Arthur
2010 - My Mother Told Me
2011 - Camelot is Crumbling (Mordred and Lancelot version)

Part 2 (Showin’ - because there’s always a dick joke) this evening will take us from 2012 to 2020.

And yes, theater on video isn’t really theater, but in the right hands, it’s still performance.  And that’s what we have here.  I knew I’d enjoy it on the basic level of “hey, I get to hang out with some friends, kinda - and see another human face for a while.”  But phillip isn’t doing this halfway, when he’s performing the excerpts, he’s all in.  It’s compelling viewing, just like it all was on stage when first performed at the Fringe.  And he’s not just rambling his way through a random set of recollections in between performance segments (and if he is, he’s a very cogent rambler). The visual elements are well plotted out, and each year brings to mind the next stage of his development as an artist, and a person, and how the supportive environment of the Fringe helped make that possible.

“No one is gonna catch that beast but me.  Me, or my children.”

Honestly, if every artist helped by the Fringe instigated some sort of fundraising event (and I know a number of them already have), we’d be a lot further along in shoring up the financial base of the Minnesota Fringe Festival.  I know there’s a FringeMiss event coming on Friday, July 31 (which would have been opening weekend of the Fringe) and I’m sure that’s going to help a lot, but I don’t think we can afford to wait that long.  If we could find a way to keep up a string of other events, however small between now and then, I think we should.  No one fundraising event can probably save the day on its own, but a multitude of them working together, that might do it and then some.  If I could get through the recording of a video without crying and being unable to continue, I’d turn in something for the FringeMiss/Adventurous Artists Friday video series they’re presenting (there’s two up already).

“Do you honestly believe that one of these monsters is gonna save you from the other one?”

Maximum Verbosity shows the power of this particular concept - it's a love letter to the idea of the Fringe.  In addition to the encore performances or screening of documentary production videos that have already taken place, if there are other artists able to gather together a sampler of all the things the Fringe helped them bring into being - and make the case not just in the subtext of presentation, but make it explicit in the text - “here is a sample of many things that would not exist, here is a why my life would be fundamentally different, if the Minnesota Fringe did not exist.”  If all of us who have those stories told those stories, that’s exactly the kind of material fundraisers dream of (I can say this because one of my day jobs is in fundraising). And not only do we have all this great material, many of the people who have these stories are themselves performers, so they know how to tell good stories.  That’s what we get here with Maximum Verbosity, and I hope a lot of other artists follow suit.

“Anything they don’t tell me is gonna be lost, forever.”

And I certainly don’t mean for anyone to bankrupt themselves by giving money they can’t afford, or if they don’t have the resources to stage something.  (I just got laid off from my second day job, and we’re not sure when exactly it’s coming back.  We’re hopeful, but no one can say, so, I get it.  Things are tough, and some people can’t give.). But you don’t have to do it alone.  We all know somebody, probably several somebodies, in this Fringe community who could continue to band together, both in this FringeMiss event but also in advance of it.  There’s two months between now and the end of July.  And assuming that most of us are still alive, of course, what would we normally be doing during those two months?  We’d be preparing for Fringe.  So let’s conjure up the ghosts of Fringes past, let’s keep entertaining and inspiring each other.  And let’s keep giving however we’re able.

“I know that this is sin but it is the only time I feel pure.”

(A quick caveat: I’m not willfully forgetting things that other people have already done.  Very likely the reason we’re already over halfway to the goal of $100,000 by June 30 is that everyone has been pitching in so zealously so far.  To be perfectly honest, I’ve been operating on about half a brain and half a heart since my Mom died from a brain tumor last July.  So I am VERY out of the loop.  Thank you to everyone whose efforts I have missed these last several weeks, or only noticed in passing.  I’m grateful for your efforts.  I’m just saying we need to keep doing it.  Because losing Mom, AND the Minnesota Fringe Festival, AND over 100,000 people (so far) that didn’t need to die if we had competent people in government who gave a sh*t about someone other than themselves, well, that might be too heavy a lift to ask my grief therapist to help me handle.  So that’s why I’m asking.  Let’s at least save what we can.)

“I am baptized again in her tears.”

Just like I don’t want the election to go the wrong way and wish I’d done something more, I also don’t want us to lose the Minnesota Fringe Festival - look up one day and find it gone - and miss it, and really wish we’d done more to save it while we had the chance.  They may well be over halfway to their goal, but that still means there’s about half left to do.  And we shouldn’t settle for that.  We should meet the goal and blow past it.  We need this foundation for creating the next generation of theater artists, and performance.  We need a place that’s worth gathering again, when we can gather again.  We need the Minnesota Fringe Festival.  But we’re going to have to fight for it.

“There’s no better place to try and reinvent yourself than the Fringe.”

One of the many nice things about the first part of Maximum Verbosity’s two-part retrospective was actually feeling like I was at the Minnesota Fringe again, just for an hour and a half or so.  And it made me feel hopeful - which I haven’t felt a lot lately.  Both were very welcome feelings.

So treat yourself, and help the Fringe, however you can.

Thanks, everybody.

Maybe I’ll see you online tonight.

Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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