UPDATED!! Review of I’m Not Playing at Minnesota Fringe Festival.

WHO’S LOUIS?

I’m Not Playing is a rarity among the virtual Minnesota Fringe Festival offerings in that the video is very high quality. Clearly shot with an HD camera and very well lit. Unfortunately, like many Fringe offerings the audio is not great. I’m not sure if we are not supposed to hear what is happening at times or if sound has just been poorly captured. The installation is comprised of a single static shot, characters move in and out of frame. The story is about four roommates Dev, Jeremy, Jess and Caitlyn. Jeremy and Jess have just broken up the night before and the narrative is about the roommates efforts at facilitating Jeremy and Jess’s communication. The description says you can view it from a different POV which might help us to make sense of everything including long segments when nothing is happening on screen. If it can be viewed from different perspectives there must be a game to figuring out how to do it because it isn’t obvious or explained and I couldn’t figure it out. The POV I saw it from was “The Living Room” If there are indeed others like “the Bathroom” or “Jess’s Room” it might make the project more worthwhile. You definitely have the feeling you are missing something and you are not sure if this is one piece of a puzzle or if it’s just been inadequately produced.

As frustrated as I was by low and unintelligible dialogue when the presentation ended I went looking for other POV’s. That says something about what this group of performers presented. I suspect there are other cameras set up in different areas and the cast moves between them in real time so that you never have the full picture until you have seen all POV’s. That is a brilliant construct. The audio issues could be intentional because you’re not in the location where the dialogue is clear. If that is what’s happening here, then these are probably the first performers I’ve seen yet that figured out a way to do this virtual Fringe effectively, except of course the part where they maybe didn’t do that or did but didn’t make it clear how to see the other POV’s. I’d love to hear the answer to this question and if there are other POV’s, be pointed to them and I’ll gladly amend this review. At this point it’s a miss, with the feeling it might be a hit.

UPDATE: It’s a hit!!! Thanks to facebook comments from Derek Lee Miller, I was able to view the other POV’s and it was as I hoped, cameras set up in other locations all in real time. The trick to the viewing is that the Living Room is the only view available at the beginning, after it cuts from Jeremy’s instagram video other buttons appear above the video with other locations. Aside from the “Living Room” there is also “Dev’s Room” “Jess’ Room” “Whiteclaw” and “The Bathroom” which is the last room to become viewable. Once you’ve watched two or three you’ll be able to tell as you view the other rooms when you can slide the bar along and skip ahead. Put altogether I found this one of the most effective uses of the virtual experience. It probably owes more to film than it does theatre but it grabbed my attention and held my interest through five separate POV’s. the audio issues I mentioned earlier for the most part are eliminated by the different video streams, though the “Living Room” does have a sound issue in that a lot of Jeremy’s conversations you have to strain to make everything you should be catching.

Stuck in an Elevator with Patrick Stewart. Boldly Playing at the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Photo by Pedro Juan Fonseca

Stuck in an Elevator With Patrick Stewart is another recorded show from a previous Fringe Festival, in this case 2013. If you’re a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation you should find this very entertaining, if you are not a fan you probably will as well. Much like The Scranton Strangler: An Office Musical as enjoyable as the video of this is, it does make you long to see it in person. I hope this is something I’ll get a chance to see performed live some day. The play takes place at a Science Fiction Convention between the first and second seasons of ST:TNG. Patrick Stewart has gotten word that they are moving forward with the second season and in all likelihood will be exercising their option on his 6 year contract. Because of this he will have to turn down the lead in Richard III on stage, a role he has always wanted to play. In this foul mood, and seeing ST:TNG more as a curse than a blessing he loses patience with the fans lining up for autographs and the questions they ask him, eventually storming off. He ends up in an elevator with Daniel, his biggest fan. As the title foreshadows, the elevator gets stuck. Patrick over the course of their entrapment learns the true meaning of Star Trek from Daniel.

What is really smart about the script is the way it weaves true autobiographical information into the play. The parallels it illustrates between the fandom and escapism that Patrick at first ridicules with the way he coped with similar situation when he was young. More than once Stewart judges the books by their covers and makes assumptions about the people who are Trekkers only to be surprised by the realities. He tells Daniel he should read more than stupid tie-in Star Trek novels only to be surprised to learn that he read A Tale of Two Cities not long ago. There are many other examples like this and playwright Brandon Taitt does a skillful job of working all of these little aha! moments into the dialogue naturally. I was surprised by a subtlety I did not expect from such a high concept play that is only one hour long. There is quite a lot going on in this play, it’s entertaining and funny, but there is also some real food for thought, but it wisely lets that breathe rather than hammering it home. George M. Calger plays Patrick Stewart and he does a good job, but I felt there was room for a closer interpretation. It’s always difficult to play an extremely famous person. A impression is not the right approach, but I do think you want to try and capture their mannerisms and vocal work as closely as you can. It felt like some of those subtler mannerisms could have helped the illusion more. Brandon Caviness plays Daniel and he does a really nice job. He embodies the Fanboy, but shows us the person underneath that is all too easy to dismiss, he’s a fully rounded out character, again a tough thing to pull off in a short play. I really recommend this one.

One Quick Review From The Minnesota Fringe Festival

Super Patriots! is a program consisting of 2 short plays written by Carl Danielson. The first play focuses on Senator Joseph McCarthy and is manly staged with cutout photos of Mccarthy and other politicians. It is a satirical play which while presenting a fairly accurate account of the early 1950’s “red scare” and the rise of McCarthyism also draws parallels to the current state of politics and the “orange scare”. At around 10 minutes it is an entertaining and engagingly thought provoking piece of theatre. Part 2 is “Doughface” about President James Buchanan. This 10 minute short isn’t quite as successful, partly because it has 4 performers acting together in a Zoom session. I know it’s one of the few tools we have to still try and present theater in this time of Covid-19, and this works as well as Zoom performances do. “Doughface” while not as successful as Part 1, is still worth your time and like the play on McCarty, it draws some very strong comparisons to today. These are definitely worth your time, Part 1 being a more effective theatrical presentation in these days of social distancing. Both are humorous and based more on fact than you might think, some of the more outrageous sounding bits are actual quotes.

Three Reviews from Day Two of the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Daniel Hertz

The Prostate

Daniel Hertz one man show about a prostate exam runs about 12 minutes which is about 11 minutes longer than any prostate exam I’ve ever had and about as enjoyable. It isn’t really funny nor poignant, it’s sort of just a monologue about a prostate exam and the follow up procedures. It lacks any sort of driving force other than to relay what happens. I thought it might be a fun bit, but it’s really lacking anything to say about the prostate, humorous or otherwise. I’m at a loss to understand what Hertz was trying for here and as such, I have to recommend skipping this one.

Photo by Alyssa Rae

The Graveyard

A 20 minute video created using Zoom or a similar application featuring 4 high school kids. Written by Alyssa Rae who also portrays one of the teens. The title leads you to believe there might be something spooky in store but there isn’t. It’s simply four friends walking around a graveyard looking for the gravestone of the boy who supposedly haunts the grounds. But that’s just a setting for the characters to be and lends itself to help us accept the artifice of the Zoom format. They are basically just four people surrounded by the pitch black of a graveyard at night. The four actors do a good job of performing their roles naturally, given the fact they are not in the same place. The conversation and where it leads has some thrust but we are left feeling like this is an excerpt from a larger piece. It’s worth checking out if anything for the performers, who along with Rae, are Michael Munoz, Tara Stona, and Elliot Stevens.

A Circus Show

This is a great show for the whole family as long as you don’t have impressionable and daredevil children. It lends a professional quality video recording of an acrobatic act that will have you biting your nails. There is the hint of a story given by a narrator that the two tumblers if you will, are brothers forced to perform until they are released by an audience that doesn’t applaud. They are going to be at this for a very long time. The brothers feats of fitness begin with a giant ring and some balancing acts where they use each others weight to accomplish amazing positions and movements like the one in the photo above. They are so graceful that they make it look easy, which I am sure it’s anything but. They graduate to doing handstands on a precariously balanced stacks of chairs on top of a wooden platform to a height where their feet are literally up in the stage lights and rafters. They end with some high flying on a makeshift teeter totter that will have you flinching waiting for one of them to land wrong and break a leg. Not quite as nerve racking as seeing it live, knowing it was recorded does remove to some extent the fear that they will fall. The narrator and acrobats are Csaba Szilagyi, Zachary Miller, and Alex Wiggins.

Two Reviews From Opening Night of the Minnesota Fringe Festival

PHOTO BY BRIAN FELDMAN PROJECTS

#txtshow (on the internet)

I’ll let you in on a little secret, tonight was my first ever Fringe show. Coincidently it was also Brian Feldman’s first Minnesota Fringe performance. #txtshow (on the internet) is a fully interactive performance piece. Brian Feldman is the creator if the show and the performer but you and I, your partner or BFF, or even your grandmother are the writers. The show takes place on zoom, most of us have become very familiar with zoom over the last few months. Be warned you will have to leave your microphone and camera on for the entire performance. Hey, a reason to put a little effort into your appearance again for a change isn’t really a bad thing. The concept is simple and the tech works pretty smoothly. Once Feldman, in the character of Txt (pronounced Text), sits down at the desk, we the audience begin to feed him lines of dialogue. Feldman reads the lines of dialogue as they come up and does so for about 45 minutes straight.

Every show is different obviously, as the audience for each show provides the script. It’s a little tricky at first but the more everyone participates the better the shows will be. It’s a lot like improve but we as the writers have to be the ones who play nice, always say yes and always try to keep the story alive. It lends itself as a concept to absurdist comedy, non sequiturs, and very strange tangents. Be warned, it could go anywhere so this is not a show for children. Feldman’s strength is in his delivery, he knows how to cold read a line and instinctively how to say it to try and blend it with whatever came before or might come next. My suggestion for any aspiring writers out there is to sign up for one of the remaining performances. Write longer lines of dialogue, try to keep with whatever the general theme is and make the wording as open at the beginning and end as you can. When the sentences flow it’s really quite fun, what doesn’t work as well are one or two words at a time, they frequently don’t blend well. The biggest factor on whether it succeeds or not is you, so participate!

It’s a free show and worth every penny. Upcoming performances of #txtshow (on the internet) are Mon Aug 3 & Thu Aug 6 @ 9:00 PM and Sun Aug 9 @ 5:00 PM https://txtmn.eventbrite.com is the link to sign up. The email you are sent once you register will have a PDF explaining how it works so read through it before the show starts. There will also be links for ways in which you can donate to the performer. Please remember all it cost you was the $5 for a Fringe button and to show Mr. Feldman some love if you have a good time.

GRAPHIC BY TAYLOR WEGNER

The Scranton Strangler: An Office Musical

This is a tricky one. This is a video recording from a previous years Fringe festival. The show itself is good, the quality of the presentation is not. I started to watch it on my TV, but I couldn’t make out the words very well, particularly when they were singing. I quickly switched to my laptop and that was definitely an improvement, but it’s still less than ideal. If it wasn’t free I would say skip it. If you are not a fan or if you have just recently started to watch The Office, I’d skip this as there are actually a lot of spoilers for what happens with the characters in later seasons. If you are a fan of The Office and have seen most of the episodes you’ll probably find enough in the poor presentation to make it worth watching. The actors and the writer know the show and the characters really well. They capture the humor and the essence of all the characters. In fact this is one way in which the fuzzy washed out video actually helps as a few of the actors you can almost mistake for the shows actual cast. Particularly effective are Melissa Noelle Murray as Pam and the actor not listed on the Fringe Website who is channeling Kevin perfectly. It will definitely wet your appetite to hopefully see the show live sometime in the future.

The Scranton Strangler: An Office Musical is a well written show and available to view anytime during the festival with your Minnesota Fringe button. If you don’t have a Minnesota Fringe button yet, go here https://www.minnesotafringe.org/. From this site you can click on the heading along the top where it says buy a button. Buttons are $5 and will give you access to the digital hub. That’ll give you access to a lot of free shows, some live shows, and some recorded shows. Some shows will require an additional payment.

The Minnesota Fringe Festival goes virtual

Hello again fellow theater enthusiasts! It’s been quite a dry spell on the theater going front, but that can end tonight for all of us. The Minnesota Fringe Festival launches tonight and runs through August 9th. Obviously in the midst of a Covid-19 pandemic there has been a radical change to this years festival, it has gone virtual. There have been an increasing number of virtual theatre projects in the last 4 months. For the most part I have not been participating in those, I checked a few out in the early days and found them wanting, you may have done the same. Well enough time has passed and I have a feeling that a lot of artists have figured out how to tackle the virtual performance arena. I’m going to dive in and sample as many as I can between tonight and August 9th. I’ll post capsule reviews for the shows I see so that, as is always the arrangement between you and I, you will know where to invest your time wisely.

So some details, which I will correct and add to as I navigate my own way through the Festival.

Go here https://www.minnesotafringe.org/. From this site you can click on the heading along the top where it says buy a button. Buttons are $5 and will give you access to the digital hub. That is going to give you access to a lot of free shows, some live shows, some recorded shows. Some shows will require and additional payment. I will more than likely be reviewing the free shows, giving priority to shows that feature creators or performers I have enjoyed in the past or artists who have reached out directly requesting reviews. I’ll also be getting recommendations from my colleagues at the @TwinCitiesTheaterBloggers . Now there are like 70 performances to check out, I’m not going to get through anywhere near all of them. So I highly recommend going through the list of shows and descriptions for yourself and seeing which ones sound interesting to you. You can also check the @TwinCitiesTheaterBloggers facebook page to see what the other bloggers have seen and what they recommend. Now as I mentioned there is a lot of free content and I encourage you to take advantage of that, but I also urge you to make donations to The Minnesota Fringe Festival so that this institution survives and hopefully next year we can see they festival live in person. Also, if you can, donate to the artists that are creating all of this theater for us. Remember many of them were full time theater folks and many of them are struggling right now financially. Now, more than ever before I think, as we all binge TV shows and long to leave our homes to see some live performances we realize how much our lives are enriched by artists and how necessary they are to a civilization. So stop reading this, click on the link above, buy a button, and start foraging for fun fringe finds.

Theater Crush Thursday: Mixed Blood Theatre

Forgive me readers for I have sinned, it has been a month since my last post. I spent 2 weeks since my last post at the hospital every night with my son keeping him company (not covid-19 related). That along with the fact there were no shows to attend and review, created the perfect storm of a lack of time and content. I had intended to use the downtime to work on the website and do some features. Somehow the first night home in my own bed and some evening time with my wife led to another two weeks of not sitting down and writing anything. Today that changes. While I have been idle, my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers (TCTBers) have been doing what they can. On our facebook page we have started a new weekly feature called Theater Crush Thursdays. You can access our page by searching in facebook for @TwinCitiesTheaterBloggers I encourage you to pull it up now and follow the page. Along with Theater Crush Thursdays we are also posting events that are happening online so you can get your theater fix during this time of sheltering in place.

This week I wanted to focus Some attention on Mixed Blood Theatre. I saw six performances the last week theatres were open and three of them were at Mixed Blood Theatre. There is something special about a theatre that introduces you to something that comes to hold a special place in your heart. The three performances were all for their World Premiere Production of Interstate. You can read my review of Interstate here. I had actually previously attended only one other production at Mixed Blood Theatre which was Charm in 2016, long before I began reviewing shows. Charm was another production that like Interstate deals with the Transgender experience. The Transgender community is just one of those with whom they work in their mission to as their website says:

USING THEATER TO ILLUSTRATE AND ANIMATE, MIXED BLOOD CHANGES ATTITUDES, BEHAVIOR, AND POLICY BY PAYING POSITIVE ATTENTION TO DIFFERENCE.

Mixed Blood Theatre website.

My first experience with Mixed Blood as a reviewer was when I was invited as part of the TCTB to come and meet with the co-creators of Interstate prior to the opening of the show. For me, new to reviewing, it was an unprecedented invitation behind the scenes to get a chance to hear about the creation of a show I would be reviewing. What struck me was the welcoming we received from Tim Komatsu the Audience Engagement Manager and the creators Melissa Li and Kit Yan. We were lucky enough to also meet the three young leads who happened to swing through after catching dinner together. Of course they were all very nice and welcoming, they wanted us to review their production. But even after my review was published and I came back for as many performances as I could before they closed early, Tim and the theatre staff were always on hand to assist with accessibility concerns for my son who utilizes a walker.

Accessibility is another aspect that Mixed Blood Theatre take very seriously, whether it is physical or financial, mixed blood tries to remove any impediments it can. They call this initiative “Radical Hospitality” and it takes many forms. They have four advisory councils who help them identify and remove barriers for those who want to engage with Mixed Blood. For Transgender People bathrooms can be a huge issue, Mixed Blood has all single stall restrooms. They are on the second floor and there is an elevator right outside the restrooms for those for whom stairs are not manageable. In terms of economic accessibility, they have a policy of no-cost admission to anyone beginning two hours before every performance on a first come first served basis. For those with the economic resources to attend the theatre there is guaranteed admission, which means buying your tickets ahead of time through the box office online or by phone.

Mixed Blood Theatre focuses on works that address issues of social justice, inclusion, and the unseen and underrepresented in our communities. They tackle works that have social and cultural significance with an eye towards bringing us all closer together. They live up to these lofty goals through the works they perform the outreach programs they participate in and the way with which they utilize their space and treat their audience members.

In this time of uncertainty when every theatre has closed down it is important to remember the people who create these spaces and works. They cannot survive indefinitely without resources, remember when these shows closed early or were cancelled, many tickets needed to be refunded. Most theatre’s operate on very tight budgets and rely on that income for rent, utilities, and payroll. Mixed Blood Theatre is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and as such they rely on grants, donations, and ticket sales to survive. If this sounds like your kind of theatre and a worthy theatre to support (It is!!), please consider making a donation. Another option for supporting the theatre is the membership program. Becoming a member for just $9 a month or $13 for a duo membership gets you access to everything they do all year long. You can become a member by clicking here https://mixedblood.com/box-office/member/. To donate to Mixed Blood Theatre click here https://mixedblood.com/support/. Finally, there is an online event coming up called Radical Hope: A Benefit to Sustain Mixed Blood Theatre on April 25th from 5:00 PM to 5:45 PM. you can learn more about it and RSVP to attend at https://mixedblood.com/support/radical-hope/?mc_cid=3d5784f887&mc_eid=c38eb303cd