For Minnesota Theatre fans, the Minnesota Fringe is like Christmas — which means that it’s either a magical time when all your dreams come true, or a letdown where you’re forced to make small talk with people you’ve been intentionally avoiding all year. While my own social anxiety runs a fair amount of my life, I tell it to shove it every year for at least a few days during August when new producers and seasoned vets alike produce (mostly) new work for the stage. Though it’s primarily intended and set up to be a theatre festival, storytellers, musicians, and dance/movement artists all take part too, making it a breeding ground for inspiration and creativity.
One of my favorite things about the Fringe Festival is that while there are likely thousands of applicants a year, the shows are selected to produce in Fringe on lottery. At times, I’ve had mixed feelings about this, as literally anyone can do it and the level of professionalism is sometimes questionable. But gatekeepers of major festivals and events undeniably favor the status quo, pushing actual “fringe” or marginalized artists to the side, even if they don’t know they’re doing it. There are HUGE conversations in theatre right now about the discrepancy between the number of white male playwrights who get produced and…well, everybody else, and how to fix that. Well, Fringe found a way, and every year I’m introduced to total newbie or emerging artist that come from the queer community (or other important marginalized communities) that I end up following, befriending, or both as a result. Some of my favorite shows I’ve ever seen have come from Fringe, and many of the spoken word, comedy and theatre artists held in the highest esteem in the Twin Cities got their start by being hits at Fringe.
Before I dive in and tell you all about the marvelous LGBTQ+ artists, shows, and characters I’m looking forward to the most this year, I wanted to give a primer for those who have never been to Fringe before. Fringe takes place over 10 days. This year, those days are August 4 to 14, and there are 169 different shows to choose from at many popular performing arts venues all over Minneapolis. All shows are an hour long or less — the Fringe is very strict on this guideline so your time always feels respected. The festival is changing things up this year, and from their website (fringefestival.org) this is how ticketing works now: “In 2016, Fringe will be ticketed with day passes. Weekday passes cost $16, granting access to up to four shows. Weekend passes cost $22, granting access to up to seven shows. Tickets will go on sale starting July 1 at fringefestival.org and at box offices 30 minutes before the start of a performance.”
This year’s process appears to be much more streamlined, affordable, and user friendly, so if you’re new to attending, this is the perfect year to jump in. Instead of the popular Fringe buttons, this year you will need to purchase a Fringe wristband, which will get you into all of your shows for the day. This is included in your day pass.
That does mean that to make the most of your day passes, you will want to visit the website, and check out the Fringe shows actually playing. I like to make my own list and grid and see when the best days to go are based on how many of my “must sees” and “would be nices” are performing. Luckily if charts and grids aren’t your thing, the Fringe Festival website has their own tools to help you. For starters, you can just click here and actually see how the schedule looks, searching for the ones you want to see, and if they’re close by other shows you want to see on the same day.
What I recommend doing after that, is creating an account (or signing into your existing one) and creating a schedule or queue RIGHT ON THE WEBSITE. If you click on a show you’re interested in and scroll down to just below the publicity shot or graphic, there’s a Heart button. That adds it to your queue, which means after you add a few shows, you can look at your queue to figure out scheduling from there. The most handy feature in my opinion is the actual scheduler guests can utilize. To use the scheduler on the Fringe site, scroll down on the show’s page to the dates and times, and when you see one that works for you click the box for that show, and the box’s check mark will change color. Then after you add a few of those, you can double check your schedule by going to “my schedule” to make sure nothing overlaps too much, or to move a show to be on the same day as some you’re already seeing to save money. You can also reserve a spot on the website for an extra fee, which guarantees your spot at the show you want to see in case it fills up with other day pass holders. If there’s a show you are dying to see or that your mom/partner/important business associate is in, I recommend doing this. If cost is an issue don’t stress, just make sure you get there extra early since seating is first come first served.
Admittedly, this process can be slightly stressful to get the hang of if you’re NOT a charts and graphs person. My recommendation is to START by queueing or scheduling the shows you HAVE to see, then going back to see if there’s a way to consolidate. Fringe does NO late seating, so it’s not a good idea to plan to see a show at the U of M at 4pm and then a show at Huge Theater in Uptown at 5:30pm. However, to make the most of your day pass usage, I HIGHLY recommend scheduling a show at Mixed Blood at 4pm, a show at the U of M’s Rarig at 5:30pm, a show at a different U of M theater at 7pm, and finishing your night at Theater in the Round at 8pm or 10pm, for example. This gets you four great shows, a chance to walk around a neighborhood you don’t explore that often, and full advantage of your day pass without screaming at other drivers or getting across town to find out that your other show is sold out. Certainly on Saturday and Sunday you could plan a 1pm show in Uptown and a 4pm show at Seward, it’s just that half hour time crunch that gets to be stressful at best and impossible on some days.
Switching gears, this year’s Fringe LGBTQ+ round-up looks quite promising and there are some shows not explicitly listed as queer where you will still find some of your favorite LGBTQ+ artists. I have included the shows I am aware of in the latter category in my master list at the end of this article, and while it would be great to highlight every single show with LGBTQ+ content, you would get bored and stop reading and I’d be here at my computer forever. Instead, here’s some more about either my personal must-sees in this area or those generating a lot of buzz.
One name I check the Fringe list for every year is Allegra Lingo, storyteller extraordinaire. I saw her show Genealogy of Happenstance about her and her wife Amy’s journey attempting to conceive a child and become parents a couple of years ago. I still rave about it. I related a lot to both parties in the story, and as an eventual queer parent this show spoke to my own fears and hopes in an uniquely personal way. Lingo’s storytelling gifts are top notch, and I felt waves of empathy for her throughout the entire show. I was elated this year to not only see Lingo returning to the Fringe stage in another solo show, but in a follow-up show entitled Happenstanced, which is described on the website as a more “rough draft” sequel to the show I loved so much. This one is a series of essays and stories based on life once Lingo’s long-awaited child, Matilda, finally came.
Says Lingo of the show: “Happenstanced came about 1) because so many people keep asking me for the sequel to Genealogy of Happenstance and (rightly) assume that I’ve got loads more stories now that the kid is here, and 2) the main struggle I find in being home with my kid is carving out time to actually write. Where Genealogy spoke to trying to claim a word and identity for myself in relation to my soon-to-be-born child, Happenstanced is about trying to keep hold of what makes me “me,” – which I think is a struggle that many new parents face. And it is fairly unspoken, I think. This show has been constructed on index cards, which is about all the time I have to write in the course of a day, and it’s still being built. The material is all new, and I’m looking forward, as I always do, to my lovely Fringe audience who over the past 10 years since I did my first solo show have always been the ones who encourage me, laugh at my jokes, and tell me what’s good.”
While storytelling and solo shows like Lingo’s are a cornerstone of the Fringe (and one I absolutely love) another thing I think Fringe artists do incredibly well is mixed medium shows. While I love being able to get my theatre, storytelling, and dance fix all in one place, my truest love has always been experimental art and exploring what happens when we combine multiple formats. Seeing Self by Eduardo Productions, directed by Nathan Eckstein, is described on the website as such: “Created from gathered stories of self-empowerment, Seeing Self collides text, scene, and modern dance in a kaleidoscope of self-discovery. Relatable stories welcome viewers to see their own empowered selves.”
While already intrigued by that description, Eckstein reached out to me to let me know that in addition to the cast (Rahila Coats, Nathan Eckstein, Brid Henry, and Ashembaga Jaafaru) including LGBTQ+ artists and artists of color, there is a section of the show designed to empower queer artists and audience in their journeys of self-discovery. To create this show, that aforementioned core creative team reached out to basically everyone they knew asking for stories of empowerment. They received everything from one-sentence gut punches about what empowerment is to stories of profoundly life-changing “a-ha” moments. Self-empowerment is a vital characteristic for marginalized people to nurture, and it’s one of my favorite topics to explore in my own work and writing. I’m thrilled to hear about this show, and can’t wait to see the metaphor of the kaleidoscope in action to address this necessary subject.
A lot of Fringe audience goes to the festival specifically to see more standard theatre formats, so I was relieved to see some good plays listed in the “LGBT” section. One such show I was excited to see on the line-up is Katherine Glover’s Celebrity Exception. Celebrity Exception recently had a successful limited run at the Phoenix Theater that I was sad to miss. The basic plot riffs on and challenges the “exception” a lot of monogamous couples make about certain celebrities. In this case, the wife, Kayla, finds that her biggest celebrity crush is more interested in her husband than her, so the show seems to push the right boundaries not only about diehard monogamy but firm heterosexuality as well.
Glover’s program notes from the recent Phoenix Theater run explored this in more detail. “I first heard of celebrity exceptions more than ten years ago. I was hanging out with a certain local theater couple — let’s call them John and Amy — and John was saying that if he ever got the chance to hook up with Bjork, well, “Sorry Amy.” Amy simply nodded, as if this was not only perfectly understandable but also a long established rule between them, because it was. This struck me as incredibly bizarre. Either you’re comfortable with non-monogamy or you’re not; your emotional response doesn’t change just because the third party is someone famous. If anything, I’d think the jealousy would be worse because, in terms of looks and accomplishment, the celebrity interloper has you beat. It all seems to rest on the assumption that it will never happen: “It’s okay for you to cheat with X because I know you’re never going to cheat with X.” But it’s still a non-zero probability. What if it does happen? Is it really okay, or is there a second, unspoken clause, a loophole within a loophole, that says, “Unless it becomes a real thing”? What if you meet your second choice celebrity (or #6 or #11) and they want to sleep with you? Can you change the list at the last minute, or are you out of luck? Do celebrities, who are more likely to meet their own celebrity exceptions, still get to have them? So many questions! This play really doesn’t answer any of them, but I do hope you enjoy it.” I recently had the pleasure of seeing most of this show’s very talented, hilarious, and charming cast in a set of plays at the One Minute Play Festival, so I’m excited to see how they tackle this fun story.
Two companies who’s work I always try to see include New Epic Theater and Savage Umbrella, and any time a company I love has a show in the Fringe I get excited. It helps that they are tackling a play I’ve been interested in in a long time and a retelling of a story I love, respectably. New Epic Theater is bringing the controversial hit Now or Later, which gained a bit of a following and a lot of press when it premiered at the London Royal Court Theatre in 2008. The plot is simple, as stated on the Fringe website. “On election night, controversial photos of a presidential candidate’s son spread over the internet, potentially sparking an international incident. Smart and timely, from the ensemble behind 2014’s ONE ARM.” The impact of the show is not simple, directly addressing the intersection of Islamophobia and queerphobia while not shying away from the fact that there is a seemingly uncrossable gap between fundamentalism Islam and Western freedom of speech.
Savage Umbrella’s Penelope, a retelling of the Odysseus stories from Penelope’s point of view imagines a more modern world in which the title character does not passively wait around but instead takes matters into her own hands, and is another remount I embarrassingly missed the first time. Penelope had a workshop performance in 2015 that was a hit with critics and audiences, so I’m relieved to have a second chance. The show description promises “BBQ, murder, and yarn,” and is listed in the LGBT section even though there’s not much in the description to show what that means. Savage Umbrella has queer company members and consistently does a good job creating their work though, so I’m pretty trusting about this label and the show itself. What stands out especially about this show is that it’s a site-specific show that is interactive. Basically Savage Umbrella is throwing a backyard BBQ party with a play taking place that you are encouraged to participate in. The company does promise that although this show takes place in a park, there are more accessible options, and though the show is interactive it does not require being put on the spot or overt participation.
A staple of Fringe I have mixed feelings about is the parody. A really well done parody is, of course, one of the most welcome forms of comedy by almost anyone’s standards. Over the years though, Fringe’s embracing of parody has gotten a little over the top, with the amount of non-parodies being outnumbered, creating a festival that is sometimes hard to take real art seriously.
However, a really well done parody is often incomparable in laughs and audience intimacy, and a creator I do NOT have mixed feelings about is Basil Considine, Artistic Director of the Really Spicy Opera. Really Spicy Opera is a company that modernizes the art form, creating new work that even people who don’t like or “get” or maybe haven’t even ever seen an opera will love. Considine’s efforts to bring this high art form to a relatable level are at least admirable, and often excel in their artistic endeavors beyond that. Really Spicy Opera has chosen a parody for their Fringe show, Game of Thrones: The Musical. While I’m technically cheating by including this one as I am not a GOT fan (I KNOW!) and will probably skip this one, I do think this sure to be hilarious new work featuring queer artists and characters will probably be a must see for many of you, and not mentioning the company or creator’s work in this round-up would have been a gross oversight.
Finally, a new arts company I am really excited about is a small performing arts organization being run on the ensemble method of both creating and running the show called GARLIC Artists. The company itself has lots of queer people not only “included” but as leaders and active participants. Their first show is a play that is premiering at Fringe, entitled Living With Roaches. The plot is basically every young persons worst nightmare: four of the worst roommates end up living together and navigating through life while living in a (literally) cardboard apartment. Comedic plays rule the Fringe, being what the festival is best know for by many. This is a really smart way to debut this show and introduce who GARLIC Artists are. I’m a sucker for a dose of absurdity thrown into a play, and coupled with this crew of emerging artists, many LGBTQ+, I threw this one into my schedule pretty quickly.
Fringe Festivals internationally are an important time for audiences and artists to come together to celebrate the performing arts and all of the best (and worst) they have to offer. Minnesota Fringe, being Minnesotan, takes that celebratory energy and adds additional offerings. After the shows are done for the night, Fringe Central offers an opportunity to get together and discuss the shows and the process of making them, as well as includes some fun surprises from Fringe staff. If you’ve created a profile on the Fringe website, by all means, audience are welcome to review shows (preferably honestly but compassionately), and while making small talk for ten days straight is my honest-to-Goddess nightmare, having the crutch of new or revamped plays, stories, and movement pieces to talk about as well the joy of seeing those pieces takes precedence. Fringe is often described as a “crapshoot” because of the nature of the lottery, but that lottery takes away much of the elitism and barriers marginalized artists face to creating their work in major venues alongside big players, so it’s worth it. Besides, never knowing quite what to expect is part of the fun, and Fringe changed their own game HUGELY by introducing day passes instead of punch cards or single ticket prices. While pricing accessibility will still be an issue for some, for many knowing you can see six more shows for the price of what many theatre companies charge for one show softens the blow of a bad show.
SO now that I have you all excited, remember the starting points I mentioned earlier: Fringefestival.org will show you the shows and more information on them. When you’ve looked over everything and want to commit to going, make a profile. Mine is six years old but I think it’s still a pretty simple process from what I hear. Then you can “queue”, “schedule”, or even straight up reserve and purchase your tickets. More information on the shows I highlighted in this article can be found here:
Happenstanced by Allegra J Lingo
Produced by Pipermonkey
Performed at U of M Rarig Center Xperimental
Seeing Self by Eduardo Productions
Performed at Ritz Theater Studio
Celebrity Exception by Katherine Glover
Produced by Giant Giraffe
Performed at Huge Theater
Now or Later by Christopher Shinn
Produced by New Epic Theater
Performed at Southern Theater
Penelope by Savage Umbrella
Performed at Matthews Park Picnic Area
Game of Thrones: The Musical by Basil Considine
Produced by Really Spicy Opera
Performed at Ritz Theater Proscenium
Living With Roaches by Garlic
Produced by GARLIC Artists
Performed at Ritz Theater Studio
For a complete list of shows listed as “LGBT”, click here.
Other Shows That May Be of Interest to Colu.mn Readers:
These are shows that heavily feature known LGBTQ+ artists or who’s politics or sensibilities line up significantly with what we’d consider “queer art”.
Broken English, Mother Tongue by Javier Morillo
Produced by minnerican Productions
Performed at Bryant-Lake Bowl
55 Minutes of Sex, Drugs, and Audience Participation by Loren Niemi
Performed at Ritz Theater Studio
(Dis)connect by Wendy Bowlsby
Produced by Eclectic Otter Productions
Performing at U of M Barker Center for Dance
Full Heart Living LIVE! The Boot Camp Experience by Tom Glaser and Nicole Marie Wilder
Produced by Cosmos Theater
Performed at Bryant Lake Bowl