Tag Archives: Minnesota Fringe Festival

For my late friend, John Munger

A friend and colleague of mine passed away this spring. I kept meaning to write something, but the right thing never came together. As I commented in one of many drafts, “John was one of those people who touched my life in more ways than I realized until it became clear that he wasn’t going to be around much longer. From the responses of many others, I think his life affected a lot of people that way.” There was so much to say, and yet anything seemed like not enough.

But now the Minnesota Fringe Festival is underway, and yesterday would have been his 68th birthday, and it seems like it’s time.

John Munger performing at the Minnesota Fringe Festival

John Munger. Photo courtesy Minnesota Fringe Festival

 

I met John Munger when we were both dancing with a group that changed names a few times but was most frequently called the American-Russian Dance Company. Soon after, he hired me to dance in his company, the Third Rabbit Dance Ensemble, and thanks to John, for a few months I was able to pay my rent by being a modern dancer (granted, I lived with 3 other people in a small apartment, but still – dancing was paying for the roof over my head).

Skip forward.

John loved the Fringe Festival. He was a passionate dance advocate and loved to create shows that might entice people to give dance a try. For six years, he hosted a version of a Dance-Shows-That-Got-Into-The-Fringe preview night at his ongoing dance series at a local theater/restaurant/bowling alley. He had already booked this year’s show before he passed away, so this July April Sellers and I continued the tradition.  I took his place and emceed the show, filling in between the dance pieces with excerpts of his dance-at-the-Fringe-focused blog.

One of the things I love so dearly about The Fringe is that it reflects real life on so many levels. The good, the bad, the ugly, and the fabulous. That’s how art should be. It should be real. (Fringe Fried, 8-11-2009)

Last night I was sitting backstage at The Lab Theatre waiting for my next cue…It occurred to me that I was privileged. Audiences who are not themselves performers as well don’t sit where I was sitting, seeing what I was seeing, experiencing what I was experiencing. I don’t own the backstage. Only divas of either gender think they do. But I know that as a performer in this show, and as a long-standing performer in many shows, I know my way around in the dark back there. I’m allowed.

I became very grateful. I realized that this is exactly where I want to be. I know this backstage world, and I know the onstage world as well. I am very, very comfortable in these worlds. At my age and in my declining physical condition (I’m 66) I am grateful that I am still welcome here. (Alone In The Dark, 8-10-2011)

John also loved to talk about dance. He liked to deconstruct the mystery of show production and would frequently call his shows from a microphone onstage. He loved picking music for new pieces, and I have many fond memories of rehearsals when he was about to start choreographing a new solo on me. I would arrive at the studio and he would be sitting happily on the floor, piles of cds surrounding him. He would always have a few top choices, but for solos he wanted to know what felt right at that moment for both him and the dancer.

John, myself, and Alissa Karges in a Third Rabbit performance 2004

John, myself, and Alissa Karges

The last solo John choreographed on me was in 2007. We listened to a few pieces, and eventually settled on a fado piece. A lover of musical genres from all over the world, John quickly gave me a detailed history of the Portuguese music as we listened to the different options. Over the next few weeks, he choreographed, I danced, and eventually I performed the piece in our spring show and his show at the Fringe Festival that year. The development of each piece was different with John. This time, although we knew the basic persona of the character, we didn’t discuss the details. At one point a ways into the rehearsal process, it came out that both John and I had come to the same conclusion without talking about it – that she had just buried someone she loved and was both grieving and trying to show strength for those around her. When I heard John was in the hospital this April and didn’t have much time left, this was the piece that haunted my brain. (Here’s the piece, with introduction by John)

 

This year I’m performing in the Fringe Festival in a show by DRP Dance. It’s a collection of dances by different choreographers. I made two short little pieces that I like to think of as “amuse-bouches” between longer pieces. I’m also dancing a duet choreographed by Danielle Robinson-Prater, the DRP of DRP Dance, and my frequent dance partner. Extra appropriate to this post, Danielle and I first danced together in my first Third Rabbit Dance Ensemble show in 2000. We opened our show yesterday, on what would have been John’s 68th birthday. A random date in the Fringe lottery of performance schedules, but unmistakably appropriate.

I think part of the reason I never knew quite what to say in a blog post about John was that I had already seen the following video, created by James Peitzman for John’s memorial celebration. It’s a wonderful tribute, and if you have a few minutes, please watch it. Whether or not you knew John, whether or not you like dance.

In the words of John Munger, “Fringe On!”

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The Little Glass of Champagne Inside Me

If you follow me on Twitter or we’re friends on Facebook, you probably know I just finished a show in the Minnesota Fringe Festival. The show was called “Happy Hour,” and it was a collection of dances inspired by different drinks.

I was thrilled with the show. I was thrilled with the pieces in it, I was thrilled with the overall arc of the show, and I was thrilled that it was received positively. I also found I didn’t quite know how to deal with how thrilled I was.

Champagne: 11.6.2012

“Champagne: 11.6.2012” Choreography by Jeffrey Peterson. Photo by Stan Waldhauser. (Photo taken at Gustavus Adolphus College, Spring 2012)

I like doing dance shows in the Fringe, partly because there is a different audience there than at regular dance shows. It’s an easier time to get non-typical-dance-audiences to see dance, and that’s something that excites me – trying to get people to see a show and in return, giving them a show that they enjoy, whatever that may mean.

It wasn’t that I had a hard time hearing compliments about the show. I was genuinely happy to hear that people liked the theme and found it an accessible way to approach dance. Since the majority of the show wasn’t choreographed by me, I felt like I was accepting compliments on behalf of the concept and curation as much as my performance or choreography. Plus my face was on the postcard, so I was easy to find. But I had a hard time knowing how to process the compliments, or more specifically and vaguely, how to deal with the little light they lit up inside me that also hurt a little.

“Argentinian Malbec: Opulent” Choreography by Danielle Robinson-Prater. Photo by Jeff Larson.

Maybe it’s partly a combination of being on the outside looking at other people’s shows lately (since I’ve been doing a lot more producing than performing) and having a show that elicited a strong response in the moment.

My husband and I were chatting after the Fringe, and he commented that we were both so proud of our Fringe shows this year, we wanted as many people as possible to see them. I think that’s part of it, but more than that, I was delighted that something I liked so much brought enjoyment to other people. I’ve produced a few other shows in the Fringe, and some people have liked them and some people haven’t. I’ve performed in shows that people loved and that people were uncertain about. This wasn’t a runaway hit, there were certainly people who said it wasn’t for them, but the general feeling from the audience at the end of the show was that they were happy. And it feels good to make other people happy.

I guess I feel like a little kid who made up a game, and to my surprise and delight, other people were happy to play the game with me. Or to put it in the theme of the show, I felt like I had a little glass of champagne inside of me. Every time someone told me they liked the show or a specific piece, the champagne bubbles effervesced a little. It’s a nifty feeling to have champagne inside of you. Like champagne, it’s fleeting, and I am humbly thankful for experiencing the happy bubbles.

p.s. If you read my mumble post, I did include the mumble verse in the show:
Listen if you mumble I’m not gonna hear
Mumble-yell or mumble-cheer into your beer
Whatever you want, I’m not here to sneer
Just leave a gal and her whiskey alone.

(Yes, no surprise, whiskey was my drink. And I learned to play the ukulele for the show, because in some weird corner of my mind, whiskey and ukuleles are a natural pairing.)

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#mnfringe

Inspired by AsSeenonCCTV‘s blog earlier this week on mobile presence at the Edinburgh Fringe, I decided to write about my own observations at the Minnesota Fringe Festival. In short, Twitter and QR codes.

Online word of mouth. In my view Twitter really took off this year at the Fringe, providing an online version of talking to the people next to you in line. The #mnfringe hashtag was very active (if Topsy is right, there were 2714 mentions of mnfringe during the ten days of the festival). In addition to the expected show promotions, I was happy to see tweets about traffic, parking, and other logistics from Fringe attendees. People used the hashtag to express frustrations, and in return, others could say that frustrations were heard, dealt with, and resolved to the extent possible.

It’s not remotely a new thought, but I really appreciated the online experience possible via the hashtag. Regardless of who you follow, who you’re Facebook friends with, or who you physically stand next to in line, you can hear what others are saying. For me, that online word of mouth enriched the overall festival.

QR codes seem to be everywhere this summer, but I didn’t see many of them at the Fringe. It’s entirely possible I missed them. The only place I remember seeing them (and that’s part of it, right?) was on the program for Cat. Instead of bios for each cast member, there was a QR code linking to the bio and a short video. I listened to part of one of the videos, but the line was moving into the theater, so I didn’t play the others. I enjoyed what I heard and if I still have the program, I’ll probably go back and watch the other videos.

To me the lack of QR codes is fine. I enjoy them when used well, but just linking to the Fringe website, or to information about the show, isn’t very useful to people who are already at the Fringe or at that particular show. Perhaps there could be a good use for year-round companies producing at the Fringe: a direct link to sign up for emails, a discount for future productions, something else forward-looking and fun?

I didn’t see much mobile presence outside of social networks, but as a festival comprised of shows in theaters, that doesn’t surprise me. Audiences aren’t allowed to have phones out during the shows, so live tweeting or other interactive behaviours aren’t an option.

I did enjoy the daily challenges of @TCTheater, a local podcaster. Tagged #mnfringe, these usually involved getting a photo with someone – promoting interaction IRL and via Twitter!

Daily challenge met: hug a volunteer or staff manager!

Quick note: I have been an audience member and performer at the Minnesota Fringe Festival for over ten years. I know many of the performers, audience members, volunteers and staff involved, but this post, the observations and the opinions, are entirely my own.

Did you attend the Minnesota Fringe Festival? What did you think? I only saw a fraction of the 168 shows, were others doing things I missed? What are your experiences at other festivals?

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