A sneak peek at the Fringe Festival


The Minnesota Fringe Festival features a wide range of theater, dance and music in a short period of time. During this festival in August, there will be 859 performances in 22 different venues over 11 days.

The Fringe Festival lets anyone who has a show -- and is picked in a random lottery -- take the stage. The point is to encourage new ideas and emerging artists.


But the result is not always top notch. Phillip Low saw 45 performances as a blogger for last year's festival.

"I've seen the best and worst shows of my life at the Fringe," he says.

Low knows that choosing which Fringe shows to see can be work in itself, enough to keep some people at home on the couch. That's why the Fringe is featuring, for the second year in a row, "Fringe for All."

Here's how it works: Over two nights, more than 40 different acts perform just three minutes of their show. A series of lights on the stage turn from green to yellow to red as the time expires -- and if the actors don't quit, the audience can clap them off stage.

Robin Gillette
Fringe Festival executive director Robin Gillette.
MPR Photo/Jim Bickal

It's a chaotic scene. There's a full house, and too many performers to possibly cram into the dressing room. One show hustles off the stage as another dashes on. Yet over the course of the night, the audience gets a sense of the range of offerings.

There's plenty of light-hearted work, including Laura Bidgood and Curt Lund's "Take a Left at the Giant Cow: A Beginner's Guide to North Dakota." There are serious shows, too, like Jaded Optimist Productions' "1967."

A good number of the performances involve dance or music. The three-minute preview is a chance for performers, who get 65 percent of their Fringe box office sales, to promote the show.


Phillip Low, the blogger who saw so many shows last year, has his own this time around. His three minutes were designed to draw crowds to his show, "Descendant of Dragons," which tackles Chinese-American identity and stereotypes.

One of the most well-received shows of the first preview night was "Bards," presented by Four Humors Theater. The troupe needles Shakespeare, homophobia, and Catholicism -- all in less than 180 seconds.

Many Fringe fans say the variety is the festival's charm.


"There is going to see a show, and not knowing if you're going to be trying to think of a way to sneak out the back, or if it's going to be something that's just amazing to you. There's an element of risk, an element of excitement to that," says Low.

For those who want a little more certainty, however, "Fringe for All" provides a window into what the festival has to offer this year.

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