Coffman gets preview of Fringe Festival

by Dawn Throener

The lick of summer’s heat encased in an annual performing arts festival offered the University community a taste of the Twin Cities’ creative offerings.
Coffman Union presented two previews of “Plays with Fire,” at the sixth annual Twin Cities Fringe Festival, on Monday and Tuesday to audiences totaling about 60 people.
The performances showcased 10 fringe acts gearing up for the festival which opens Thursday for an 11-day residency in the Loring theater district. This year’s festival has 71 dance and theater acts, twice as many as last year’s.
Local acts, such as Mr. Elk and Mr. Seal, the Christopher Watson Dance Company and Barrie Cole, as well as the visiting acts, such as blink and The Gentlemen Callers, worked to entice the University community to view other groups in a festival known for its daring and avant-garde performances.
“It’s theater that doesn’t fit into the mainstream,” Cole said, a first-time performer at the Fringe. The festival will include over 300 performances at 10 different venues along Hennepin and Nicollet avenues, north of the Uptown area.
The Gentlemen Callers, a three-member group from Toronto, has been performing together for two years. University campuses are more responsive to their kind of comedy than other audiences, said castmember Alex Oliveira.
“It’s a dark comedy in an upbeat fashion,” group member Michael Balazo said. “The University seems to be very supportive of the festival.”
The group sang a parody of the Lipps, Inc. song “Funkytown,” putting Dinkytown in the lyrics instead. They also sang about “the man with a metal penis.”
Audience members welcomed the show as an odd curiosity. Juggling bits, multimedia dance performances, one-person acts and two-person plays made up the sampling of performances that will be put on next week.
“(The show is) kind of different,” said Beth Grosvenor, a junior scientist working at the University Cancer Center Research Building.
Dean Seal, the festival organizer, performed in Mr. Elk and Mr. Seal, singing songs resurrected from their performing days in the 1980s. The University shows acted both as an opportunity for audience previews as well as performer preparation.
“It’s a chance to get things cooked up before the festival opens,” Seal said. He added this was the second time the festival preview was performed at the University.
Performers use the festival as vehicle to continue work on pieces they may have in progress.
“In dance, unlike in theater or music, you only get an opportunity to do (a piece) three or four times,” said Christopher Watson, a University researcher. “As we perform for the Fringe, we get another six shows.”
The Fringe Festival began in 1947 in Scotland next door to the Edinburgh International Festival when eight uninvited performers set up their own event. Fringe Festivals today have become popular in Canada and the United States as an alternative venue for experimental works to test their mettle in front of live audiences.
Future plans for the festival include maintaining its rate of growth. Opportunities are missed, Seal said, because the festival lacks the staff members to follow through with contacts with other shows and acts.
“We would like to do a better job of integrating into the Fringe system,” Seal said. “We hope the funding community that built the Guthrie and the Loring get behind us.”