Matthew Foster is the Minnesota Fringe Festivals PR man, and he's been part of several shows over the years himself. Foster says each year themes emerge in the Fringe line-up. One year adaptions of Alice in Wonderland were all the rage.
"One of the themes that we've really noticed is - and it might have something to do with the fact that the RNC is going to be in St. Paul - but there's a huge number of political shows this year," explained Foster. "There were so many shows about religion and politics that we actually added those as genres in addition to comedy and dance and kids shows."
This year political junkies can revel in such shows as "Stimulate This!," a comedy inspired by the Stimulus check presented by Mad Munchkin Productions. Then there's "All Rights Reserved: a Libertarian Rage," presented by Maximum Verbosity. Teatro del Pueblo is staging "Vote for Pedro," Chain Coffee Productions presents "Bull - an American Story of Bullheadedness" and Vanderpan Enterprises is offering "Paul Bunyan Runs for President."
SUN TZU'S THE ART OF WAR
For a more historical look at politics, there's "Sun Tzu's The Art of War," by No Refunds Theatre Co. While the text was written in 2nd century BC, the circumstances described in the Art of War sound as though they could have been written yesterday.
Sun Tzu guides would-be war generals on how much meat to buy for the troops and how to put your opponent off balance, as well as more philosophical ideas, such as when to go to war, and when to use diplomacy. Director Matt Dawson says it's amazing how relevant the text remains.
"We can make bigger explosions, we can hurt more people but in three thousand years we haven't changed," said Dawson. "Politcally, militarily - the problems they had then are the problems we're having now."
A guide to war might seem like dry material for a theater show, but No Refunds Theater Company has spiced it up with ninjas, bad kung fu, and a mambo.
AN INCONVENIENT SQUIRREL
This is probably the most important thing you'll hear today regarding grown men dressed as squirrels. They star in a Fringe show called "An Inconvenient Squirrel." It takes place in the lost village of the squirrel people where everyone is named after their most distinctive trait.
There's "Really Important Squirrel," "Wise Squirrel" and even "Socially Awkward Squirrel."
"An Inconvenient Squirrel" is a family friendly Fringe Festival show created by Fringe favorite Joseph Scrimshaw.
"Well, I've had a kind of an obsession with squirrels for awhile," admitted Scrimshaw.
The squirrel village is thrown into chaos when the "inconvenient squirrel" of the show's title refuses to pick a name.
Scrimshaw says that while the show borrows its name from the Al Gore documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," it's not about global warming, but conformity.
"The show really is about, not only looking for identities, but also about being willing to look at what are the societal norms and being willing to maybe break them or question them."
Start with the legend of motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel. Mix in a trapeze, some bell-bottomed jumpsuits, and a little operatic flair. Then add the insight of the late philosopher Joseph Campbell.
The result is Herocycle -- or, as actor Erik Hoover describes it:
"It's a big, fiery crash explosion with music and movement and ramps and a wheel chair. And action figures."
Hoover is also one of the co-creators of Herocycle, a show that uses Joseph Campbell's myth of the hero to examine the life of stuntman Evel Knievel.
Campbell was the guy who wrote all about the role and path of the hero character in society. Knievel, of course, was the guy known for jumping his motorcycle over things like rows of semi-trucks and aquariums full of sharks. Herocycle is what happens when these two American icons collide.
The actors leap and spin and execute aerial acrobatics -- all while trying to answer questions like, "Why does society need heroes?" and "What happens to heroes once we tire of them?" and, last but not least, "What can a 70s superstar who shattered 35 bones during his curious career, what can he teach us about heroism?"
REINCARNATION: ANOTHER CHANCE AT FAILURE
How to describe the comedy of the improv duo Rampleseed?
"We basically do the comedy of, 'your parents are in the other room getting a divorce and you're trying to smile,' " said Rampleseed co-founders Tyler Samples and Tom Reed.
Besides humor, there's a lot of pathos in the group's improv, and it's fringe show, "Reincarnation, Another Chance at Failure." The two performers say using the concept of reincarnation allows them to go anywhere they want theatrically while presenting their own vision of what it might look like. And if you follow the flight of one soul back and forth through history, there's bound to be some weird stops along the way. Such as two spaced out bacteria having a rather weighty conversation, or a monster/comedian, who deliberately perpetuates monster stereotypes to boost ratings for his TV show.
In between each life, the soul chats with god about what it all means, buddy to buddy. In the end, Samples and Reed say "Reincarnation: One More Chance at Failure" is about searching, and they're still searching too.
"We're looking for the answer just as much as everybody else," Samples said.
"So if the audience finds the answer, please let us know because we didn't find it in writing or working on it," Reed said.
"Exactly," Samples said.
The Minnesota Fringe Festival opens today and runs through August 10 at multiple venues in Minneapolis.