It wouldn’t be too surprising for a first-time Fringe performer to feel a little overwhelmed with the whole experience. Ten minutes to load in, an exact amount of time to perform your show, then ten minutes to load out. If you run longer than the time allotted, you get the lights turned off on you. This stress, on top of my day job and internship, could be enough to overwhelm me, but I just don’t have the time.
I am a performer in Dying in Public Places: a darkly comic new musical, one of the 156 shows premiering this year at the Minnesota Fringe Festival. It concerns five total strangers who find themselves bound together by fate. That fate is an invisible box trapping all five inside, refusing to release them until they’ve discovered what they have in common. Hilarity ensues as they try everything (except what’s really needed) to escape: seduction, coercion and even… cannibalism? And, as the title suggests, it’s a musical!
Far be it for me to say it’s going to be the best show of the whole festival, but it’s…ahh… the best I’ve seen so far. (Pause to let the audience digest the joke.) This is my first time performing in a Fringe show. The whole ordeal really kicked into high gear when a small group of people (many of who are still involved with the show) previewed three songs at a Bedlam Theater cabaret last November. The response from the audience was overwhelmingly positive and with the ingredients of a surefire crowd-pleaser in hand, our trusty writer Keith set about crafting the other 51 minutes to surround the songs.
Rehearsals started in mid-June, and our mission was clear from the start; we’ve got to be able to finish the show in time. Our initial read-through clocked in at 59 minutes. Rather alarming when we’ve only got 60 minutes to perform, so we made cuts and additions. More of the former than the latter, but it was all for the good of the show. We found what bits worked and which ones fell flat (we hope). We sang to within an inch of our life and were given sips of water before we did it all again. But we are artists, and so we must suffer for our art. We didn’t want to make that process too easy, after all.
When we previewed a few minutes of the show at the July 7th Fringe for All, we were all struck with conflicting emotions. It took a while for the audience to get the song, which can best be described as "touchy." But once they did, the laughs abounded. We were faced with the irritating rigors of time; each show having exactly three minutes to present their material. If they exceeded the time limit, all the lights turned to red, a trap door opened up and everyone on stage fell to a fiery pit below. That last part isn’t exactly true, but turning all the lights red did seem to be a rather menacing way of telling troupes they’d run out of time.
It was here I got my first sense of how important the other Fringe performers are to what we do. A great deal of the audience was comprised of other performers, and they ate up every preview as if it were the greatest thing they’d ever seen. The level of support was unbelievably high – the lobby afterward crowded with people, trading their postcards and plugging their own shows while going on and on about what others they’d enjoyed. We’re all here for each other–to spread our love of theater to Twin Citizens everywhere. And as I watched the 29 other shows perform, I wondered to myself, "How is any person with any kind of job going to have any chance to see all the shows worth seeing?"
The time restriction once again resurfaced as a threat when we arrived at our performance space for our tech rehearsal. We are one of 11 shows performing at the Minneapolis Theater Garage, and our two tech members told us that staying on time is key. If we run overtime, they WILL turn the lights off on us. They seemed pretty cool, so I avoided the urge to go all "who do you think you’re dealing with here?" on them. But things became clearer as we made our way around the space. Finally we knew where the seats would be and which staging positions would hopelessly block half the audience. The lights shouldn’t be turning off at unexpected times, so that was one problem taken care of.
Now I wait for our first performance on Friday, August 1st. A hundred emotions swirl around my stomach as I think about it; excitement and anxiety and everything in between. Will people think the show is funny? (They should.) Will they be able to hear our un-miced voices over the musicians? (Sing out, Andrew!) When this is over, will I finally be able to do what I always want to do in the summer? (Nothing.) The clock is ticking to the first performance and my first exposure to a Fringe audience. I think the show has come together amazingly well and I know people with a slightly off-kilter sense of humor will love it. I guess the only thing I have to worry about now is squeezing in the time to see others’ shows, you know, to share the love.
To read Inside the Fringe: Installment One by John Ervin, click here.
To read Inside the Fringe: Installment Two by Jill Yablonski, click here.