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Fringe Festival preview: Groundbreakers, the digestive tract, and losers on stage

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Dylan Fresco
Dylan Fresco, "certified practitioner" of "the Anton Kissbougel technique."
Submitted photo

The 17th annual Minnesota Fringe Festival pulls up the curtains tomorrow at 15 venues in Minneapolis and St. Paul. 

Minnesota Public Radio's Arts Unit went to find out what's making this year's "Fringe" unique.

HMONG, SOMALI ACTS MAKE THEIR MARK

Trend spotters can always find a trove of treasures at the Fringe.

"Pretty much any kind of thematic or demographic trend you're looking for can be backed up, just because the range of who's in the Fringe is so wide, that we've got pretty much everything covered," Executive Director Robin Gillette said.

She said the Fringe will always contain an amazing range of performance styles and genres, but organizers have also worked hard to expand its geographic, ethnic and cultural diversity. 

The effort is paying off. This year's Fringe will contain the first Hmong show ever, called "Confessions of a Lazy Hmong Woman," and, for the first time, a production from the Twin Cities' burgeoning East African immigrant community.

Aniga Adiga cast
From left, Obsa Ahmed, Abdi Fatah Farah, and Sharmarke Farah perform at the Fringe Festival in "Aniga Adiga."
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts

"This is the first year we've had a show with Somali teens who are doing what looks like a really fun show about being Somali, about being African in Minnesota," Gillette said.

"Aniga Adiga" comes from the Cedar Riverside Art Zone for Youth, or CRAZY, run out of Bedlam Theatre. To Abdi Fatah Farah, 23, it's like a Somali coming-out party in the theater community.

"Aniga Adiga means 'you and me,' and we're entertaining you and you're entertaining us by being our audience," he said.

One of the show's goals is to blast through the stereotypes that hold Somalis back in Minnesota. At the top of the list: the suspicion that any gathering of Somali males represents a terrorist conspiracy. 

Obsa Ahmed, 18, says he's been approached by people asking him to make that clicking sound they've seen on National Geographic specials about southern Africa or in the 1980 movie, "The Gods Must be Crazy."

"Sometimes some people just come up to you, and be like, 'Oh you're Somali, I think you're a pirate.'" Ahmed said.

Throughout the show there will be some rap, some spoken word, some dance, and some jokes. Performers in "Aniga Adiga" aren't above poking fun at themselves and the importance of family history in their culture. 

Ahmed says it's taken a while for the Somali community to feel secure enough to go on stage. The teens are taking the first step.

"It's gonna be great, man, we're gonna rock the Fringe this year," he said.

Ahmed and the other Somali teens plan to show mainstream Minnesota what they're made of. 

-- Chris Roberts

SOUL-SEARCHING, SPIRITUALITY AND THE DIGESTIVE PROCESS

Take a long look at the more than 160 shows in the Fringe Festival, and it's often surprising what trends emerge. 

For instance, this year there are two shows about selkies - magical beings who transform from seal to human. 

Religion always gets a few good hits, whether it's in the form of a reality show in which actors audition to play the part of the devil, or a Lutheran church potluck that gets out of hand. And this year yoga makes several appearances. 

Then there's the Anton Kissbougel Technique, as performed -- or taught, rather -- by Dylan Fresco. His show is actually a participatory class, in a yoga studio.

"I teach this technique as Dylan Fresco," Fresco says.  "And I teach the technique with a lot of love and very seriously. It just so happens to be that most of the material is ridiculous -- or is it?"

For Fresco, his show -- or session -- is meant to poke fun at the precious, breathy tone often heard in yoga classes, acting classes, or other paths to personal discovery. In the case of the Anton Kissbougel Technique, that path travels down your digestive tract. 

"At some point, one of the visualizations we ask you to close your eyes and imagine if you will your favorite baked good," Fresco adopts his breathy yoga voice. "Sweet or savory, what is your favorite baked good? Now for those of you who have any dietary concerns we're very flexible we can modify, if you have a gluten allergy just imagine your favorite spelt loaf.

"And I get to say spelt loaf, which is kind of funny!" he says.

While Fresco's show is lighthearted, urging practitioners to "Digest More of Life Today," he's also been surprised at how some people have taken the Anton Kissbougel technique seriously.

"For me there's an interesting question that I'm playing along the line of which is: Are human beings pure, 100-percent meaning-makers? In that we will find meaning and we will make story given any opportunity," he says. "And I think we will."

If you can stomach the idea of spending an hour contemplating your innards, then you'll eat this show right up. 

-- Marianne Combs

A LOSER FINDS HIS WAY ON STAGE

Every year, the Minnesota Fringe decides who'll perform through a drawing. Executive Director Robin Gillette says a lot more people want to do shows than the event can handle. 

The lottery is just egalitarian, but it was particularly tight this year.

"We had 397 applications," she said. "We had originally planned on drawing about 150 of those, so well under half." 

Because of the crush, the Fringe did add another venue, but that only made room for another 11 more shows.  

Playwright and veteran fringe performer Phillip Andrew Bennett Low says lottery night begins with a sense of excitement and expectation. But that changes.

"You can just feel the energy in the room plummet as everyone realizes how low their chances of getting in are," Low says. "For me, at that point I started drinking."  

Low ended up on the waiting list - seventh from the bottom. A lot of Fringe regulars got skunked. Brant Miller's Four Humors company was 160th on the list. It still is -- he just checked.

"At first it was crushing, because we were like 'This is tradition'" he says, "Our theater company is only five years old, and we had been in the Fringe Festival five years in a row." 

But don't count them out. Miller and Low are examples of hardcore Fringers who somehow find a way on stage. Miller's friend Tamara Ober asked him to collaborate on a show. 

It was based on an idea he suggested. Then Ober got invited to a dance conference in Vienna, so she's gone. But Miller's is going ahead with the piece. It's called "The first five minutes are slow." Ober also gave Miller her slot at the Winnipeg Fringe where he got rave reviews.

Meanwhile Low scored roles in three Fringe shows, and until a few hours before the Fringe begins, he will be in Kansas City at the Fringe there, performing the piece that didn't get a spot in Minnesota.

"I have been rehearsing pretty much constantly for the past several months, " he says. "I will not have a day off until the festival is over, and I haven't had one in a very long time." 

But Low loses out to performer Jen Scott. She's in four shows at the Minnesota Fringe. Gillette says Scott didn't even bother to enter the lottery. 

-- Euan Kerr