Fringe Festival key for Artists...

Date 2003/7/29 7:01:00 | Topic: Elsewhere...

Fringe Festival key to many performers' careers
Nigel Hatton, Star Tribune

Published July 27, 2003 STAG27

The Minnesota Fringe Festival lasts only 10 days each summer, but for many performers the event is the key to year-round stage action. Success in front of a Fringe audience can boost a career.

"I look at the Minnesota Fringe Festival as a place to take artistic risks and try out new material," said Edina native and New York City resident Rene Foss, a 1999 and 2000 festival performer who returns this year. "There are people coming from all over. You have an opportunity to meet other performers, see what other people are doing. There's a plethora of creativity."

The 10th annual Minnesota Fringe Festival starts Friday, and organizers forecast 35,000 people will seek out something to make them laugh, cry or at least help them unwind.

The largest festival of its kind in the United States, the Minnesota Fringe has grown 400 percent in the past four years. A props-rattling 783 performances of 162 dance, theater and spoken-word shows will take place at 20 theaters, cafes and art spaces around town.

Choreographer-dancer April Sellers

Duane Braley
Star Tribune
At the same time, Visible Fringe will feature the work of contemporary artists at these same venues. Outside, the gray sidewalks will be enlivened by chalk artists.

New this year are the League of Extraordinary Fringers, roving Web loggers who will post opinions and anecdotes about the behind-the-scenes workings of the festival; Vox Fringe, a Web page for electronic audience reviews (both at and a vote for the best and "Fringiest" shows.

"I'd like this to grow into the Oscars of the Twin Cities," executive director Leah Cooper said of the best-of-show awards. "We'll have a little statue of Shakespeare on a unicycle juggling."

Fringe as career boost?

Performers such as Foss reap the benefits of the Fringe's innovative edge.

"It has given me confidence and I can say my show is part of the Minneapolis Fringe," she said. "Minneapolis is known as a theater town in New York. People have a lot of respect for what is done in the Twin Cities."

A flight attendant, Foss turned her airborne experiences into the popular airline lampoon "Around the World in a Bad Mood." The five-person musical debuted in a tiny Greenwich Village theater in 1998, and a year later was part of the Fringe Festival.

She premiered a solo version of the show last summer at the fringe of all fringes in Edinburgh, Scotland. Now Foss wants to see what Minneapolis audiences think about her one-woman show.

Twin Cities performers such as actor David Mann and dancer April Sellers also have used the Fringe to take risks and open doors.

Mann's "Sex with David Mann" performance at the 2000 Fringe ranked in the top five for attendance. The exposure helped him land his recent "Revelations of Mann" gig at the Great American History Theatre.

Sellers founded the modern dance company Inner Connect in 1999. She danced in the Fringe two years later and her well-received performances led to productions at Walker Art Center, Red Eye Theater and Minnesota Dance Alliance. After a few years away, she returns to the festival with a new show, "Jugular Tics."

"Other venues look at the Fringe as a notch and sequence," Sellers said. "It's definitely a gateway. In a time when artists are being called upon more often to self-produce, the Fringe gives you the opportunity to do that in an affordable way. It provides a couple of really key things: the opportunity to talk to a wider range of audiences and the chance to have people who are maybe not dance patrons see your work."

Nearly 100 out-of-town performers are expected this year, including some from Canada, Australia, England and Nigeria. Cooper has started to form her own categorizations of Fringe artists. There are the veteran and equity actors looking to experiment, the new university graduates who want to be in theater, and the artists who have never produced a show before but have always had a script hidden in the desk drawer.

"One of my goals is to get out to more minority communities to do outreach," she said. "Everyone is invited, but if I'm a Hmong artist and I've never seen a Hmong artist at the Fringe, I might not come."

Storyteller Noel LaBine of Rockford, Minn., is coming to the Fringe this year because he needs an audience. For decades, the Vietnam veteran shied away from telling his Southeast Asian experiences because "people weren't there," he said. "They don't understand it."

A friend he met while both were driving cabs in Fargo, N.D., changed his mind. LaBine has created "From Viet Nam: Stories & War Memories," a series of sketches he'll perform at Loring Playhouse.

LaBine got his first taste of the Fringe last year at the Spoken Word Fringe at the Dunn Brothers coffee shop across 15th Street from Loring Park. The event has been expanded for 2003. Twenty spoken-word shows are scheduled with titles such as "Afunctional," "Say You Want A Revolution . . ." and "Did You Want Fries With That?"

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