MN Fringe 2015: Recommendations from a Fringe Addict

The 2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival runs Thursday, July 30, through Sunday, August 9, and features nearly 175 theater, dance, and other experimental performances. All shows are 60 minutes or shorter and are being hosted at 25 venues throughout Minneapolis.

Having made it through the first five days of Fringe as a performer (Tony ’N’ Cleo’s Wedding), volunteer, and festival attendee, I am proud to say I’ve sacrificed sleep to make it to a handful of shows so far (with nine more on the docket for the rest of the week). Some have been better than others, but overall I’m overwhelmingly impressed with the shows this year. Here, I’m rounding up five shows worth mentioning from the first five days of the festival that you can still catch between now and Sunday. (To see all of our coverage of Fringe 2015, click here!)

Fringe logo - white

1. Demo Tape (Philip Simondet)

Demo Tape Fringe 2015 Promo Image

Demo Tape, Fringe 2015

Category: Musical Theater
Description: With songs more self-aware than the characters that perform them, this original musical comedy pokes fun at the tribulations of forming a band.
When to See It: Wednesday, August 5 @ 10:00 p.m.; Friday, August 7 @ 5:30 p.m.; Sunday, August 9 @ 7:00 p.m.
Where to See It: Mixed Blood Theater, 1501 S 4th St., Minneapolis

Demo Tape fits snugly into the musical-theater category it’s been sorted into, but if musical theater isn’t your thing, take note that it’s also a brilliantly written comedy. The show expertly weaves despair with hilarity as it follows an intentionally overenthusiastic protagonist, played by Philip Simondet (who also wrote and directed the show), as he tries to start a band. After having his heart broken maliciously by his initial love interest, Heather (wonderfully played by Katie Vannelli), Simondet enlists a motley crew of musicians he meets at open mics and on Craiglist to help him channel his energy into a band they come to call the Cautiously Optimystics. The acting is on point, and the songs are hilarious. It makes my top five Fringe shows this year.

2. Petunia and Chicken (Animal Engine)

"Petunia and Chicken" Fringe 2015 Promo Image

Petunia and Chicken, Fringe 2015

Category: Drama
Description: Inspired by the works of Willa Cather, two daring performers create an epic story of love and loss on the prairie with just a hat, a scarf, and song.
When to See It: Friday, August 7 @ 8:30 p.m.; Saturday, August 8 @ 10:00 p.m.
Where to See It: Illusion Theater, 528 Hennepin Ave. (8th floor), Minneapolis

Carrie Brown and Karim Muasher delight as the titular characters in this incredible show. Having gone in with zero expectations and not having read a single review, I was delighted at my choice. Petunia and Chicken follows the story of young love between Petunia (Brown), an immigrant who relocates to Nebraska with her family for the promise of rich land, and Chicken (Muasher), a Nebraska native with dreams of adventure much larger than farming on the prairie. The story follows their introduction as children, their inevitable shift into young adults, their separation as Chicken leaves to travel the world, and their eventual reunion years later. With no set and only two props (a scarf and a hat), Brown and Muasher manage to craft a dozen distinct characters and settings, including a tent, a train, tall grass, a cat, children, and the elderly. I laughed and I cried. This is a show you cannot miss.

3. Dance with the Devil (Erin Sheppard Presents)

Dance with the Devil

Dance With the Devil Fringe 2015

Category: Dance
Description: Through dance and storytelling, Dance with the Devil toys with soul selling, collecting, and attempting to outsmart the master of tricksters. When you want something badly enough, you’ll do anything to get it.
When to See It: Wednesday, August 5 @ 7:00 p.m.; Friday, August 7 @ 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, August 8 @ 4:00 p.m.
Where to See It: Ritz Theater Proscenium, 345 13th Ave. NE, Minneapolis

This show was so good the first time that I went back to see it again. Take note of the punchy lighting jokes that highlight Rita Boersma’s storytelling and each entrance made by Rhett Romsaas as the Devil. Read my full review here.

4. Collyard / Nelson’s Guide to Reviewing Fringe Festival Shows and Other Tips to Help Keep Your Cool in the White-Hot World of Amateur Criticism, OR “So You Kept Their Postcard; Now What?” (CNM Productions)

Collyard / Nelson's Guide to Reviewing Fringe Festival Shows & Other Tips to Help Keep Your Cool In the White-Hot World of Amateur Criticism OR "So You Kept Their Postcard; Now What?" Fringe 2015 Promotional Photo

Collyard / Nelson’s Guide to Reviewing Fringe Festival Shows, Fringe 2015

Category: Something Different
Description: Online reviews are the pinnacle of a Fringe Festival, but most of them stink! So come to this crash course on all things criticism, complete with FRINGE LEGENDS discussing their worst reviews from Fringes past.
When to See It: Thursday, August 6 @ 8:30 p.m.
Where to See It: New Century Theater, City Center, 615 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis

Presented as a required seminar for all Fringe-goers, this show is nonstop tongue-in-cheek banter between supposed advertising executives Alex Collyard and Cody Nelson, together with their awkward and nervous intern, Sami Dee (Samantha Dillon). I was admittedly unsure how to write reviews about theater (or, well, any art form) until Collyard / Nelson taught me that art means nothing until it’s reviewed. Covering comparative, expectation, and rage-induced reviews, all I have to say is this: this show (improv comedy) was not as good as Demo Tape (musical comedy). I expected better music and more zippy one-liners based on the random third-party musings I had heard, and when I didn’t get the free sandwich my stomach was hoping for I was forced to give the show two stars. OVERALL THIS SHOW MADE ME REALLY, REALLY MAD.*

* Go see this show and my review will make sense.

5. Area 51 (11th Hour Productions)

"Area 51" Fringe 2015

Area 51, Fringe 2015

Category: Comedy
Description: Leo and Haley are lost in the desert just outside of the mysterious Area 51. As they wait for a sign, they question whether they are headed in the right direction, both on their journey and in their lives.
When to See It: Thursday, August 6 @ 8:30 p.m.; Friday, August 7 @ 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, August 8 @ 4:00 p.m.
Where to See It: HUGE Theater, 3037 Lyndale Ave. S, Minneapolis

Excellent writing and strong acting make this a solid choice if you’re looking for an evening show in Uptown. With some solid laughs along the way, Area 51 follows Leo and Haley as they discuss their future, both together and apart. This production could have easily been expanded into a longer show, but it was an entertaining and engaging piece as-is—I wouldn’t pin it at the top of my list, but that’s only because there are so many incredible shows this year that it had to contend with. You’ll have no regrets seeing this one.

I’ll report back after I get a chance to see more—stay tuned!

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