Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Minneapolis Fringe

The Nonsense Company returned from the Minneapolis Fringe Festival a few days ago. What an amazing experience. Now in its 14th or 15th year, the 11-day festival is remarkably well-organized by great, energetic people who have a genuine interest in a wide variety of types of performance, and in the truly odd to boot. Minneapolis seems like a great town; the people who thronged to the festival tended to be open-minded and intelligent, constantly discussing what each other had seen and what was most surprising or unique. The Festival makes every attendee buy a $3 button, which they have to wear in order to get tickets to individual performances; this means that Fringegoers are immediately identifiable, which facilitates the ongoing discussion (buzz) in a smart and simple way.

Our own performance got great responses from audience members and official Fringe bloggers (my favorite is here) and sold out the last night. It took place in the lovely Theatre de la Jeune Lune, known around the city for its innovative work. All the spaces (and there were many) used in the festival were lovely, and I got to see performances in the vast majority of them. The most amazing thing about the experience (connected to everyone's mutual support) was the astonishingly high quality of the work. I probably saw seventeen performances, and only one was utterly intolerable... three were halfway-decent wastes of time, and everything else ranged from the basically worthwhile to the truly amazing, leaning more toward the latter end of the scale.

My three personal favorites:

Sock Puppet Serenade, a remarkable marionette show by Kurt Hunter. I'm puppet-friendly, but this show was remarkable in terms of its status as theater in general. The first half featured animals and animal-like things, and even there the "acting" was more precise and complex than that you'll find in most human performance. The second half, though, was the truly amazing part, featuring a cardboard box that could imitate perfectly the dance moves from the "Nutcracker" and "Riverdance," followed by an abstraction of a box (just the outline), changing shape in impossibly expressive ways, and finally a marionette that was nothing but a dress shirt with a red nose. Pretty weird for a guy who turns out to be a methodist.

Gayle Austin's Resisting the Birthmark: A Feminist Theory Play, performed by Atlanta's Twinhead Theatre. Kind of like a mid-period Yvonne Rainer film for the stage, the play is more or less a staging of Hawthorne's short story "The Birthmark" that's constantly taken over by excerpts of feminist essays about the story, as well as about literature and the role of the gendered body in theater. The acting was fantastic; there was a kind of visual flatness to the staging (almost without set), as if the distance from the audience of a given performer at a given time were meant to mimic the layering of texts and commentaries. Sharp dressers, too, these Georgians were, and great folks.

The Missoula Oblongata's The Wonders of the World: Recite is by far the hardest piece to describe. If they ever do it again, and you hear about it, go.


  • At August 16, 2006 at 11:11 PM, Blogger david raphael israel said…

    way cool. A reminder (to me) that contemporary culture exists in (plus, visits) middle America and is not (strictly speaking) a coastland monopoly commodity.

  • At August 18, 2006 at 3:46 AM, Anonymous mark said…

    thanks for these descriptions (and meta-descriptions) that whet my regret that i didn't hop in the car that friday to pop out 9 or however many hours later to see not just your show. it was a big weekend for community courtwatch and the patrick thompson retribution case.

    i tried emailing the nonsense contact to ask how and when i can help you all bring these performances to urbana -- i don't know if anybody saw it, but here it i'm asking again.

    i wonder whether jeff and lisa have been meeting any of these groups in asheville this week...



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