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Fringe Dwellers

Pioneer Press writers will be reviewing dozens of shows during this year's Fringe Festival. While traipsing from show to show, they'll have eyes and ears open to notable moments, odd encounters and unusual events. Those observations will be recorded here.






Monday, April 01, 2013

The Claw - Baron von Raschke movie kickstarter campaign - 24 hours to go

Hello everyone!

We have 24 hours to go in our fundraiser for The Claw!  If you're thinking of making a pledge but haven't yet, go here now - http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/theclaw/the-claw-a-documentary-about-baron-von-raschke

Thanks a million to everyone who has pledged already!

This will be my last email blast about kickstarter. Thanks for letting me clutter up your inbox! If you're curious about how the fundraiser ended up  you can visit the link above after 11AM CDT tomorrow to see the final result.

Pass this along to any old school wrestling fans you might know. This may include but isn't limited to the Uncle/Brother/Grandpa who gave you The Claw when you were little.

Thanks!
Karl

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Box office shout-out

So I went to Kevin Kling's show last night at the Minneapolis Theater Garage. It was a madhouse, as you might expect, with throngs lining up for the show by the popular Minneapolis-based storyteller.

(By rights, Kling probably should have appeared in one of the Fringe's larger venues instead of the 136-seat Garage. But that, evidently, was his choice. Here's the explanation from the Fringe site:
In the run-up to Kevin Kling's opening night, we've been fielding a lot of
questions: Why is Kevin Kling one of the smaller venues? Why such a late
opening?

'Cause that's what he put on his application.

Venues and schedules are assigned by what the artists put down on their
applications. They can request a certain stage size, house size, technical
requirements, etc., and rank them in their order of importance. Some artists put
video capabilities as their top priority. Others—like dance shows—want side
lights or floors suitable for bare feet. Others want a certain number of seats.
Some have commitments other than the Fringe, so they can't have shows throughout the entire festival. And this year, our dear friend and ally Kevin Kling wanted a smaller house and was doin' stuff for the first part of Fringe.)

Anyway, we arrived a full half-hour early; although we had reservations, I was still expecting chaos. But things ran smooth as silk.

There were plenty of Fringe staffers directing people to the correct lines (reservations versus advance sales). The box office folks were harried but polite, and they had a solid grip on the audience count. When they ascertained they had a sell-out on their hands, the word went out with efficiency and compassion.

In other words, these volunteers did their jobs as well as any professional box office staff could have. I've given the Fringe box office system a few knocks in the past, but I have to say that the system seems to be working very smoothly this year. The Kling show was the acid test, and the Fringe folks aced it.

-Dominic P. Papatola

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Bard of the Fringe

In case people aren't reading the comments appended to the various postings here, I wanted to pull up Tim Mooney's literary-minded thoughts on our reviews, as well as the "star" system of reviews on the Fringe website.

"Avoid it like the plague," says Pi'neer Press,
While missing every message that it bears,
There's reasons life is later in such mess,
It seems something to do with just who cares.
Three hundred years from now we see the fallout
Of actions we are only starting now
But with an idle warning or a callout,
We may get clues of when or why or how.
The arrogance of bloated, bastard fives,
The reckless tyranny behind the fours,
The thoughtless rearrangement of our lives,
The elephant who's here, which each ignores.
It's just a play, a few thoughts out on loan;
The plague you miss, though, may well be your own.

Thanks, Tim!

-Dominic P. Papatola

First weekend results

The first weekend of the Minnesota Fringe Festival drew attendance of 15,484, about 8 percent higher than last year's opening weekend.

The festival's first four days -- Thursday through Sunday -- produced its share of sellouts (including the Ministry of Cultural Warfare's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being American") and big-selling shows (like perennial Fringe favorite Joe Scrimshaw's "Die, Clowns, Die!" and upstart La Vie Theatre's "Wonderland").

But none of the Fringe's 160-odd shows have emerged as gangbuster, absolutely must-see productions that have become the talk of the festival. And that makes executive director Leah Cooper happy.

"We have a lot of newcomers this year, and not as many veterans" among the performers, Cooper said. "That means that there aren't as many obvious choices in terms of what to see, and so it feels a little more egalitarian this year. The audiences are spread around more evenly."

The 13th annual Minnesota Fringe Festival continues through Sunday at more than 20 venues scattered throughout Minneapolis. For a list of shows, go to www.fringefestival.org. For ticket information, call 651-209-6799 or go to www.uptowntix.com.

-Dominic P. Papatola

Breaking news!

The Enemy Paper (I can call them that again, since, as of last week, the Pioneer Press is no longer owned by McClatchy) reports this morning that -- horrors! -- the reviews posted on the Fringe Festival website might be less then completely objective!

Yes, you read it there first, campers. An intrepid -- an evidently unaffiliated -- reviewer on the Fringe site speculates in a story in this morning's Strib that "friends and family of those involved in a Fringe play write online reviews praising a play that really doesn't deserve it in hopes of increasing attendance."

I'm shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

Artists at practically every Fringe show are imploring audiences in curtain speeches to log on and write a rave on the Fringe site. That's exactly what they should be doing -- promoting their show with every breath and at every opportunity every single day of the festival. But I don't think anyone believes that these reviews are anything close to an objective guide. They are, as Fringe chief Leah Cooper said in the story, "an open community forum, not (a) science."

Meanwhile, if you're looking for fair, unbiased -- albeit slightly more cranky reviews -- you can find the scribblings of our intrepid critics on our OnStage page.

I haven't checked in with the paper yet, but I think what's in print today represents most of the rest of what our crack, conscience-tinged reviewers saw this weekend. As for me, I'll be checking out Kevin Kling's show tomorrow, and might catch one or two more over the course of this week. But I'll continue to blog for the next few days with other news, info, gossip, gripes and the like. So stay tuned.

-Dominic P. Papatola

Monday, August 07, 2006

The system explained...sort of

As the creator of the much-discussed Must See / Worth Considering / Avoid Like The Plague paradigm, I've been mulling Carolyn's dilemma. I feel for her. It's been a middle-of-the road kind of Fringe for me as well.

I have reluctantly assigned some shows Must See status ("Love in a Time of Rinderpest") while others were consigned to the bowels of Avoid Like the Plague hell ("How to Cheat") with an equal lack of enthusiasm.

The reason for the stratification is to help offer a key to readers. We'll review 50-some plays in this year's Fringe when all is said and done. Most of those reviews are written hastily (I myself have become adept at writing 100 words of deathless prose in about five minutes), go online almost immediately and will be bunched into the paper and the website.

Without some organizing principal, the result would be a mishmash as difficult to decode as "Past the Size of Dreaming."

Fringe junkies may love pouring through all that writing, comparing and contrasting, but the casual Fringe-goer -- the kind of patron, by the by, that is essential to the Fringe's existence and survival -- will have neither the time nor the inclination to go through endless blocks of gray, separating the good from the not so good.

The labeling of shows is a conceit, a shorthand. The two categories on either end of the spectrum are hyperbolic, and they are supposed to be. I suppose we could offer a more refined system for evaluating shows -- letter grades or stars or something. But...isn't this much more fun? Much more discuss-able?

We'll save the cutting-a-break-to-weeping-playwrights story for another day...

Meanwhile, you can see the most up-to-date listing of Fringe reviews on our OnStage page. These reviews will drift into the paper in the next day or two as space allows.

-Dominic P. Papatola

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Streak Continues--Plus, a Sold-Out Warning

I was all set to check out 1926 Pleasant, but the 2:30p.m.
performance was sold out before the clock had struck two. (Here's
your warning: I hear it's a cool show, but it seats only 18 people,
so make a reservation now.)

Anyway, I decided to mosey on over to Intermedia and see another porn
show, since my first, "Watching Porn," had turned out pretty well.
I'm happy to announce that, with "Pomo Looks Like Porno, Deluxe," I
am now 2 for 2. Another "Worth Considering." Not bad at all. I'm
definitely going to go for the Porn Pass next year.

--Carolyn Petrie

Sympathetic Sucker or Gutless Wimp?

Yesterday was tough, and I'll tell you why. Here at the PiPress, as I'm sure you've noticed, we intrepid reviewers are instructed to toss each show into one of three buckets: "Must See," "Worth Considering" and "Avoid Like the Plague." This year, I'm finding that task really,
really, hard. Don't like it at all.

"Must See" is not the problem. Everyone loves finding a show that's cool or nifty or funny enough to warrant a hearty endorsement. When something really engages me for an hour, I feel great about spreading the word.

The real problem I'm having is with "Avoid Like the Plague" (ALTP). Ouch. That just hurts. It's really a bit on the harsh side for the run-of-the-mill mediocrities I've been loading up on this year.

Here's what it boils down to: In order for me to get behind a statement as harsh as "ALTP," I think the show in question has to be really offensively bad. Like, when you get that sense that a
performer is so haughty and self-centered that they never stopped to think how an audience might be bored to tears by their litany of crap. Or when a company aims to offend and stir up controversy, but does it with so little forethought or intelligence that they wind up with a big haphazard mess, instead of a provocative piece of work.


Those folks--and yes, those shows are somewhere to be found at every Fringe--those folks deserve "ALTP."

But what about the stuff I saw yesterday? Take "Bud 'n' Wally," the piece about the friendship between Marlon Brando and "Underdog" comedian Wally Cox. Great premise, but a terribly executed script.

Just terrible. Talk about clunky exposition: "We've been friends since we were 9 years old," one character would say to another. "I remember our long hikes and talks so well." Or, "Your mom was an alcoholic." Picture that for an hour. I'd be willing to bet that Brando's IMDb filmography page contains more organic drama.

Still, the script was well-acted by two earnest and talented young men. And the writer-director, a longtime journalist who was producing his first show, came down for a curtain speech and actually wept. He was so thrilled at having his show produced and seen by a real live
audience.

In the real, non-Fringe world, this show would have earned a pretty severe pan. But this is the Fringe. I'm happy for that writer-director, as bad as I found his script. His heart was in the right place, big-time. And so I wrote an honest, not-too-nice 100-word review and slapped a "Worth Considering" on it. It veered close to "ALTP," but I can't go there. Not after he wept.

Maybe we need another category. "Crappy, But Not Offensively So." Or "Won't Quite Bore You to Tears." Or "A Show Only Friends and Family Could Love."

Thoughts?

-Carolyn Petrie

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Open the floodgates!

I've been in touch with Ever-Dutiful Deb, who's been wrangling Fringe reviews all the livelong day. She tells me that the onslaught of reviews today is overwhelming the space we have available in Sunday's paper.

So, the bad news is that not everything that our phalanx of reviewers saw today will be in tomorrow's paper. Boo, limitations of newsprint.

But the good news is that most of what we've seen today has made it onto the web. Yay, unlimited bandwidth!

You can check out our OnStage page, or here's a quick peek on most of what we saw, and how we liked it:

MUST SEE
'Angst: A New Teen Musical'
"Love in a Time of Rinderpest" ]
"Marie Taglioni Is Not a Dish of Pasta"
"Sin Cities 7"
"The Secret Life of Kitty Williams"
"Curriculum Vitae"
"Hot Springs, Cold Sex … Good God!"
'Tall Tale of a Broke Heart'


WORTH CONSIDERING
'Higher Power'
"I Wake Up Beautiful"
"American Drama: Pocket Edition"
'Tape'
"Joanie Loves Chachi, and So Do I"
"Dancing Rats and Vampire Moms"
"Viva Venezuela"
"Jordan"
"The Depth of the Ocean"
"P54 Section G"
"Thanks for the Scabies, Jerkface"
"Watching Porn"
"Monsters in America: Puppets of Mass Distraction"
"Amnesiac Jack"
"Die, Clowns, Die!"


AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE
'Past the Size of Dreaming'
"Corncobs, Hotdogs and Other Dirty Secrets"
"Skool, The Musical"
"How to Cheat"
'I Got a Fundamentalist up my A--'
"Criteria"
"Porn! Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dong"
"The Dr.* Matt Show (*not a real doctor)"

-Dominic P. Papatola

Raves for the Home Team--plus Potentially Hungover Lady Sighting

Two exciting things happened while I was standing in line for "Viva Venezuela" this afternoon.

1: I saw Possibly Drunk Lady, from last night's "Whoops. Was That Me?" posting. She was wearing an absurdly large and floppy hat, which could have indicated a colossal hangover. Also, when I sat behind her and her partner, all ready to eavesdrop, nothing happened. No chit-chatting and friend-making, like there was last night before "C.V."--again, another indicator of potential morning-after syndrome.

During the show, she was quiet as a mouse--no woo-hooing, no unh-hunhs, no whoooooahs, like last night. So I'm taking all this to mean that she was indeed over-served when first we crossed paths. That would explain her near constant outbursts, which led me to fall into the aforementioned call-and-response trance, causing me to make the egregious error I now so regret. In other words, I now feel confident I can blame her for the whole thing.

2: In other news, a nice couple from Maple Grove at the box office engaged me in a pleasant convo after noticing my "reviewer" pass. When I told them I was stringing for the PiPress, they commenced to gush about how much better the arts coverage is over yonder, across the river. "We live in Maple Grove, and they cover things around us better than the Star Tribune does," they said. Plus, the Nordeast Art Crawl is dear to their hearts, and they said the PP coverage blew the Strib out of the water. I don't have a dog in this fight, so congrats to you and yours, Dom. Somebody out there loves you.

--Carolyn Petrie

LOL -- It's Time for High School!

There's no excuse. I knew exactly what I was doing when I signed up to see two Fringe shows that both happened to be high school musicals. "Torture," some might say. But I looked at it as a pleasant stroll down memory lane...yeah, not really.

Watching "Skool, the Musical" felt like that one day in 10th grade when you had a giant zit on your nose, flunked an open-book test and fell down the steps as you walked into the lunchroom.

Then there's that time when your hair was super shiny, you aced a chemistry test and were voted class clown. That's how I felt during "Angst: the New Teen Musical" where the gay guy and popular chick bond over "The O.C."; the loner realizes that his MySpace page is not a good substitute for human interaction and the school jock is named Nelson Mandela Washington Carver. Did I mention that their teacher uses Internet slang like LOL, JK and lots of WTFs to connect with the kids? And that political lefty student Eric Steinway, sports an Al Franken/Eric Steinway '08 t-shirt? Plus, it's a fun story, the music numbers are a hoot and the whole cast totally rocks! OMG - I might even go again.

- Amy Carlson Gustafson


Great lines so far

"I killed someone. I wanted to tell you about it a while ago. But I didn't."
-dinner conversation from "Phyro-Giants!"

"She likes normal. Who can live up to that?"
-a neurotic guy looking for love, from "Amnesiac Jack"

"Don't clap for the enemy. I learned that in 'Nam."
-Coach's rules for living, from "Love in the time of Rinderpest."

"I hate that I agree with even part of what you people say because you're scary."
-A moderate Republican, to a pair who divides the world into Republicans and terrorists, from "Past the Size of Dreaming."

"I like it like I like a shot of whiskey in the morning. It's good for 10 minutes, but then I want my coffee."
-A friend commenting on his buddy's art in "Tape."

-Dominic P. Papatola

Someone has to follow Carolyn...

...and no one is gonna top her hilarious story. Suffice it to say that the local theater community should be deeply grateful that, after all these years, Carolyn still maintains a very healthy and very willing sense of disbelief.

I'm hanging out at Rarig this Saturday afternoon, where I somewhat inadvertently scheduled my first three shows. To piggyback on something else Carolyn said yesterday, I'm likin' the Rarig and its four venues. Not having to race from venue to venue is old-school Fringe for sure; folks get a chance to chat with each other about what they've just seen, and the hurry-up, hurry-up slows way down here.

The only thing missing is amenities: Some guy with a hot dog cart could put three kids through Princeton if he set up shop here.

-Dominic P. Papatola

Whoops. Was That Me?

First, let me just say

Woo-hoo! I got the good porn this year!! (Fist currently pumping.)

Dom, sorry to hear about your bad sex-show experience. This must be karma. I'm finally getting a teensy bit of payback for covering all those b-team independent shows for you over the years.

But anyway: I have a really embarrassing confession to make. For the first time ever, I actually spoke to the performer onstage yesterday. I don't know why. It just happened, like that scene in "Austin Powers" where he doesn't realize he has no filter from his brain to his mouth.

A nice crowd of 40 or so people were settled in watching "Curriculum Vitae," a show I found to be perfectly adorable, and the laughs were rolling. One woman (who was maybe drunk? I saw her finish a glass of wine before the show) kept responding audibly to performer Jimmy Hogg's anecdotes, letting out pained moans during particularly humiliating tales and "mmm-hmmm"s during others.

I guess I was just absorbed. Perhaps Possibly Drunk Lady had subconsciously convinced me that it was OK for this solo show to evolve into a call-and-response.

But anyway, here's how it happened:

About midway through, Mr. Hogg mentioned a girl he had fallen in love with named Cailie. "Just like that great pop song from the '80s," he said. "Does anybody remember that song?" And then, to illustrate his frustration that no one could recall it, he started to play air guitar and sing the chorus.

I, comfortably engaged in the show, didn't get the "Cailie" reference at first, but then suddenly recognized the song when he began to sing it. "Oh yeah! I totally remember that one," I said. Out loud. In a normal, conversational voice. Without even THINKING AT ALL.

Hogg stopped, amused, made a joke, and then LOST HIS PLACE in the script. "No one's ever done that before," he said, laughing. "You get a free ticket to the next show." And then he picked it up where he had left off.

And for a moment or maybe several, I wanted to crawl under the seat and die. I don't understand how or why. It just happened. I fear I have broken several cardinal rules of reviewing theater. The shame. The shame....

--Carolyn Petrie

Not to belabor the porn point...

...and while I stand four-square behind Carolyn's proposal for a Porn Pass, I must add that I learned an important lesson in caveat emptor this evening when it comes to porn-titled shows.

I wasn't the only reviewer sitting in this afternoon on "Porn! Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dong." And while I have not yet read my learned colleague's considered thoughts on the show, I feel comfortable predicting that he will find it pretty much as abominable as I did.

Not wanting to horde all the porn-titled shows myself this year, I decided to be a mensch and let Carolyn go see "Watching Porn." If you read her review, you'll see that she clearly got the better of the deal.

And it's amazing how a really bad show can put you in a foul mood. This can be dangerous for critics like myself, who have to have a hot 'n' fresh opinion about every 90 minutes during the thick of the Fringe. Did "Amnesiac Jack" get a worse review because it was the show I saw immediately after "...Dong?" I hope the catharsis of lambasting a real stinker cleanses my palette for the next show, but these things we'll never know for sure.

-Dominic P. Papatola

Friday, August 04, 2006

Porntastic Idea

It hit me as I settled in for "Watching Porn" last night. The show I'd just seen, "Thanks for the Scabies, Jerkface," contained a reference to porn too: performer Dan Bernitt's college roommate was apparently something of an aficionado.

My critic pals and I chuckle every year about how we all somehow manage to cover the shows with "Sex" in the title. So I wondered last night, how many Fringe shows contain references to porn, even in passing? Shouldn't they all band together and create a group discount or promo of sorts, for porn-curious people like me? There'd be Route 1, Route 2, and the Porn Express. A small discount from all these groups would ensure better attendance, great word of mouth, and most likely a certain amount of social networking too. That's what they call it now, right? Social networking?

-Carolyn Petrie

Content but Disconnected

Here's one for the "I'm old and cranky" file: Does anybody else miss the old days, when Fringing meant wandering around Loring Park on a beautiful evening on foot, instead of sprinting for the car, cursing road construction and maniacally searching for parking spaces somewhere within a mile of the Theater Garage?

Of course, back during the Loring Days, the Fringe was dead broke, no one ever showed up and
the quality of the shows was craptacular at best. But it was convenient, dangit. And we old cranky people enjoy our convenience.

Passing judgment

Once again this year, the Pioneer Press is using its beloved Must See / Worth Considering /Avoid Like the Plague criteria to review Fringe shows. Day One of the festival produced a nearly unbroken string of so-so shows. No raves, and only one that conjures images of avian flu.

You can find a comprehensive listing of the shows we saw Friday by going to our On Stage page.

Here's what we've collectively seen so far, and how we feel about it:

WORTH CONSIDERING

"The Depth of the Ocean"
"P54 Section G"
"Thanks for the Scabies, Jerkface"
"Bitter Boy's Musical Journey from Negative to Positive"
"Die, Clowns, Die!"
"Watching Porn"
"Phyro-Giants!"

AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE

"Criteria"

On a different topic, I'm delighted to report that the two-tiered ticketing system seems to be working well. You may remember my complaint last year about well intentioned but slow box office machinations. This year, the Fringe has introduced a two-line system, complete with eye-catching road-sign graphics. Route One is for folks with reservations; Route Two is for those buying tickets on the spot.

At last night's opening night of "Die, Clowns, Die!" the ticketing staff was working very smoothly, considering it was their first night out. And the two-line setup made the wait both reasonable and manageable for everybody.

-Dominic P. Papatola