Tuesday, July 29, 2014
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The Fringe Festival takes center stage
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Performers get ready for the annual Minnesota Fringe Festival. In the last days before the start of the Fringe, many shows gave preview performances to give audiences a taste of what this year's festival will be like. (MPR Photo/Marianne Combs)
The Minnesota Fringe Festival gets underway Thursday in Minneapolis. It's an opportunity to see a myriad of theater, dance and visual art in a matter of days. This year the Fringe Festival has fewer shows, but it's expanding in other ways.

Minneapolis, Minn. — When Scott Pakudaitis talks about the Minnesota Fringe Festival, it sounds rather like he's talking about a growing addiction.

"The first year, I went to maybe five or six shows," says Pakudaitis. "The second time it was maybe 15. Last year, I saw 48 shows."

Last year Pakudaitis became a volunteer Fringe photographer, because in return he got a Fringe Ultrapass, which allowed him to see as many shows as he wants.

He says he loves the community spirit of the festival, and the opportunity to see dozens of productions in a short period of time. Like other hardcore Fringers, Pakudaitis is looking forward to some of the changes to this year's festival.

"I'm really excited that they've added another day this year, because that gives me an opportunity to see more shows," says Pakudaitis.

On a recent evening, Pakudaitis is at a Fringe Preview show. Balls Midnight Cabaret at the Southern Theater is hosting the show, which means many actors are staying up way past their bedtimes to try out their work in front of a live audience. Pakudaitis is there to check out which shows look like they have potential.

Fringe Festival director Leah Cooper is also there, making sure everything is going smoothly in the final hours before the start of the festival.

"Things are crazy!" exclaims Cooper. "This is like Christmas Eve. We're all about to get to open the presents, after shaking them all year long and wondering what's inside."

If Cooper seems a little giddy, it's because this is her third preview of the day, meaning she's seen excerpts of at least 30 shows in the last 24 hours.

But that's only a fraction of the 168 acts that are a part of the Fringe Festival this year.

The festival started out 12 years ago focused on theater, and grew rapidly. This year, the Fringe has cut back the number of shows in it just slightly. Cooper says she did this to help all the performances get better attendance, and as a result, higher revenue.

Still the Fringe has lots to offer. Cooper says there's a kid's fringe for younger theatergoers, and a teen fringe with shows produced by and for teenagers. The visible fringe blends visual art and performance art and takes them out onto the street.

"Another thing that's new is Fringeville at Suburban World in Uptown. We're going to have Fringeville open until 1 a.m. every night, with live bands and sneak previews of shows, and food and drink," says Cooper.

"Another new thing is podcasts. On our Web site we have sneak previews of fringe shows in audio form in podcasts," Cooper says. "There are also two shows you can buy tickets to and experience in a portable fashion on your MP3 player. These are both audio plays that you can download and listen to wherever you want."

Strangely enough, the Minnesota Fringe Festival isn't really at the fringe of anything. The original Fringe Festival was started in Scotland in 1947, by performers who couldn't get into the Edinburgh International festival.

Its popularity took off, and now major cities around the world have copied the model, creating their own unique Fringe Festivals. So it's only natural that as the Minnesota Fringe Festival has grown in size, it too has spawned other festivals.

Zaraawar Mistry is the co-artistic director of the Center for Independent Artists, which produces the "Frinj of the Frinj."

"The Minnesota Fringe Festival is a great thing," says Mistry. "It's really grown and it's really blossomed. But there are some restrictions."

Mistry performed in the Minnesota Fringe Festival, but he was put off by the more than $400 entrance fee, the early application deadline and the one-hour format. So he and his wife created the "Frinj of the Frinj," with no entrance fee, no time restriction, and a much more relaxed production schedule.

Now in its fourth year, the festival has grown to near four times its original size. This begs the question: will there someday be a call for a Fringe of the Frinj of the Frinj?

"That is a slippery slope," Mistry laughs. "It's interesting to see what's going to happen in the years to come, as this Frinj of the Frinj becomes more popular and more people know about it."

The Frinj of the Frinj is already underway at the Center for Independent Artists in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Fringe Festival runs Aug. 4-14.

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