Fringe in my Rear-view Mirror

Another Minnesota Fringe Festival has passed by, and once again I’m surprised at how significant this event is to the Minneapolis (and St. Paul) arts scene. It used to be a blip on the radar, overshadowed by other community wide events like the Uptown Art Fair. Now it’s a force to be reckoned with, every year growing a bit larger, a bit more noticed and bit more loud.

This year seemed to have more media coverage and more word-of-mouth on the street, which may have helped pay off at the box office. They broke the 50,000 ticket mark, and opening weekend was up by something like 15%. That’s no easy feat for a small year round staff—to cram all that excitement into over 15 venues, with 169 different productions, over 11 days, takes some dedication and hard work.

But what I really take away, a bit more each year, is the ingenuity, the raw creativity that gets put out there. Good. Bad. Blasé. Whether it’s genius or complete crap, the excitement is in the trying, and getting other people of like minds to try with you. The majority of the shows tend to be new, fresh material, or at least previously unproduced. It’s a place where writers can try out materials, and performers can dabble in styles or materials they normally wouldn’t or don’t get opportunities to do.

As for that community….I don’t think Twin Cities audiences are as supportive at regular, typical theatre the rest of the year the way they are at Fringe. This has turned in to such a community event that there’s a lot of support for the risks (and sometimes failures) taken on those stages, and even more than that there are strangers talking to strangers, sharing thoughts on plays, giving tips and helping each other navigate the lines and system. And then, of course, there is the mingling and drinking and cavorting at Fringe Central, late in to the night.

Fringe has come a long way from the early days of feeble marketing, cash-only tickets (or $4 – $6) and struggling to find an audience. It’s no longer the place where only unestablished artists dare to tread, and brings together the youngest, most inexperienced of performers with seasoned (and life-long careered) talents.

It’s matured nicely.

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