Reefer Madness

I was patiently standing in the ticket line at the Fringe Festival. Then the middle aged man right in front of me abruptly took off his pants. When he began to twist and turn and fidget with his belt, I nervously stepped back. Personally, I didn’t think that when I signed up to cover the Fringe Fest it meant I would be within tickling distance of another man’s ball sack. The throng of theatre goers at the Bryant Lake Bowl hardly even noticed the disrobing right in front of them. I guess this was just normal Fringey behavior. I took a long hearty gulp off my beer. Then I realized that the man was only taking the lower half of his pants off. He was wearing those camping pants that can convert into shorts with a quick flick of a zipper.

"Oh, that’s much better," the man said, refreshed. He folded the calf parts of his pants and tucked them into a large backpack that was slung over his shoulder. The man was a theater nomad. He purchased an Ultimate Pass Ticket and was travelling across the Twin Cities attending as many shows as possible.

"I’ve been to forty shows this week," he boasted to me. "I’ve attended three today!" I took another pull of my beer because I had nothing to say to the guy about the Fringe Festival. The brain trust at The Rake chose me to review some shows during the city-wide acting festival. I think they like me because I’m a bit rough around the edges. I’m the kind of guy who enjoys hockey fights. It’s not exactly Shakespeare.

As we waited in line, the man lectured me extensively on the nuances of the different venues in the Festival. He gushed about this Fringe superstar named Alexis and how she has once again taken the Festival by storm. Then the man killed our pleasant conversation by asking me what my interests were in the highly regarded performing arts festival.

"Ugh, I chose the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater because it sold beer," I said rather bluntly. "The BBQ pork sandwiches are awesome, too."

His face turned bitter. He ruffled his limbs like a pissed off peacock. When theater patrons talk about their appreciation for stage acting, pork sandwiches usually aren’t a factor. By the time we got to the box office, the show had sold out. Without a single hesitation, the Fringe Fest Freak whipped out a map and a showtime schedule. He moved quickly through the bustling restaurant/bar/bowling alley/theatre and was out the door towards the next gig. I had no idea what to do. So in the sake of good journalism, I put down my pen and notebook and went bowling.

The next night, I attended Reefer Madness: The Musical. The pretentious theatre crowd from the night before was gone. The bar was now filled with an alternative class of theater folks: stoners, rockers, and dipshits. Needless to say, I fit right in.

As I waited at the bar for my sister Becky, this Genghis Khan looking mofo thumbed through a well worn novel next to me. Then a dude with a spiky pink mohawk and a "Punisher" T-shirt saddled up next to him. They fist bumped, got their tickets, and went into the theatre. In a nutshell, that was the true beauty of the Fringe Festival. It was an awesome collection of local and national talent that had been brought down to the street level for everyone to enjoy.

When a rolly polly man with a giant white beard waltzed in to the Bryant Lake Bowl, I knew it would be a good night. With his rosy red cheeks and Hawaiian shirt, he looked like Santa on vacation. He heartily back slapped several patrons and they all moved into the theater. My sister and I took our seats in the back.

The musical remake of the infamous anti-marijuana movie was being put on by a local Twin Cities youth acting company. There was a funky house band kicking out jams on the wing of the stage. Although the play was about the evils of smoking weed, the majority of the patrons were thoroughly stoned. Everywhere I looked people was munching on heaping plates of nachos. Midway through the play, people started letting out cat calls. They playfully hooted and hollered at all the righteous anti-drug rhetoric in the script. When an actor sang the line, "We will bring down jazz musicians and immigrants!" the place bristled with good humored outrage.

The play ended with classic Fringe flair: President Roosevelt performed a death row pardon on a young dope fiend and girls danced in bikinis.We left the quaint theater and headed back to the bar. A long line had formed for the next dramatic performance. Obscure hip hop music bumped out of the Bryant Lake Bowl sound system and washed over the patrons anxiously waiting for the box office to open. My sister and I had no idea what was showing next, but that didn’t matter at all. We ordered two more beers and got right back in line. Who knew theater could be so much fun?