‘Fringe’ displays its benefits

Paul Sanders

Adam G. Gerstacov of the Acme Miniature Circus drove for 24 consecutive hours from Montreal to perform with his two fleas in the Third Minnesota Fringe Festival.
The pair of fleas, Midge and Madge, were shot from a miniature cannon Tuesday evening through a flaming hoop into their “dressing room” — a tiny model trailer.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Gerstacov told the mesmerized audience of 30 people in the University’s Nolte Experimental Theater, “I’m happy to announce that Midge and Madge are OK!”
The Minnesota Fringe Festival features an eclectic mix of theater, music, comedy and poetry performed by entertainers from around the world for the general public. The festival takes place at five different venues on the West Bank, including two theaters in the University’s Rarig Center. This year, the nightly performances began June 20 and will continue through Sunday.
Variety and experimentation are the only constants in fringe festivals and West Bank theaters have plenty of both this week.
“The idea behind the Fringe is great,” said Steve Arrowood, a senior majoring in theater. The festival gives the public an opportunity to see experimental acts that might not otherwise be performed in local clubs, he said.
“They allow you to put on whatever you want,” said Arrowood, an actor in Guerrilla Comedy, a group of University students performing sketch comedy during this year’s festival.
Fringe festivals, held in cities throughout the world, are part of a 49-year theatrical tradition that started in Edinburgh, Scotland.
When eight performing groups were excluded from the 1947 Edinburgh International Festival, they defied event organizers by staging their own performances just outside the arts event. Their “fringe” festival upstaged the original event, starting a grass-roots tradition that has endured through the years.
Fringe festivals have since spread throughout Europe, Australia and Asia. Edmonton, Canada, hosted the first North American festival in 1982.
Bob McFadden, producer of the Minnesota Fringe Festival, said there are currently 12 Canadian events, forming a summer fringe circuit. Five U.S. fringe festivals compete with the more established Canadian ones and often feature a higher percentage of local performers than their Canadian counterparts, McFadden said.
Fringe festival performers are selected on a first-come, first-served basis, McFadden said. The first 46 applications received by festival organizers were accepted, he said, “and there are no aesthetic barriers.”
Jay Scheib, a recent graduate from the University’s Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, wrote and directed a play for this year’s festival. His play, “Tom Taylor Thomas,” features a character who has trouble relaxing in an urban environment. The character struggles through daily life with his pants down around his ankles, exposing a crudely stained pair of underwear.
After Tuesday night’s performance of the play at the Mixed Blood Theater, Scheib said he thinks local theater critics often miss the point of his work by dismissing it as pretentious.
“Theater,” Scheib said, “is never anything more than pretense.”