As they prepared to take applications for the 2011 Minnesota Fringe Festival, executive director Robin Gillette and her staff decided to take a chance this year. So they tweaked the beloved random-lottery system that the performing arts festival has long used to select its acts.
"We'd always done sub-lotteries as a way to be sure of some diversity," says Gillette. "But it put us in a weird position of having to ask artists to categorize themselves and to then enforce the accuracy of those categories" -- for example, whether a show was for kids, or whether it was by artists of color.
So this year, there were only three lottery categories: for large, medium and small venues, with the producers choosing for themselves how many seats they wanted to try to fill.
Fringe veteran Mike Fotis is behind two of the 21 shows that applied for large venues -- all of which were automatically in, because the festival had reserved 22 slots in that category. Fotis is confident that both of his shows, the juggling-oriented "Comedy = Tragedy + Someone Else" and the "historical western comedy" "Once Upon a Time in the Suburbs" (with the Ferrari McSpeedy troupe) will do well on the University of Minnesota's big Rarig Center Thrust stage.
"It's word-of-mouth more than anything" that makes a show do well, Fotis says. "Rarig has so many stages in one place, people are able to talk and spread the word."
Seth Lepore is at the other end of the spectrum: a Massachusetts performer taking his one-man show "Losing My Religion: Confessions of a New Age Refugee" on a national mini-tour of three fringe festivals. Lepore's was the first show selected in the small-venue category.
"Minnesota has a really, really good reputation on the fringe circuit," he says. "It's incredibly well organized, and they're enthusiastic to help out-of-towners."
Gillette is pleased with the way the new lottery went, but she says that what she's most looking forward to this year is the same thing she gets excited about every year: "a whole passel of people I've never heard of doing shows I've never seen before. It's a giant treasure trove of cool, unexplored stuff."
Best bets: Fringe Festival 2011
Old stories made new
"This ain't your grandma's fairy tale," promises the description of "Red Resurrected", a show that sets the Red Riding Hood tale in an Appalachian setting. It's presented by Isabel Nelson, who created last year's stunning sleeper favorite, "Ballad of the Pale Fisherman." In "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Jekyll", funnyman Tim Uren portrays a scientist who goes on an addled bender after drinking a decongestant.
Storytelling is meat-and-potatoes Fringe material, and a few returning favorites are taking the stage again this year to unspool their yarns. Rob Callahan and Allegra Lingo promise "stories from the edge of insanity" in "Callahan and Lingo Present: The Last Ditch". Mike Fotis, perennially one of the Fringe's biggest draws, is combining a trio of jugglers with storytelling for "Comedy = Tragedy + Someone Else".
Fringers looking to get more adventurous might look to book seats at "Losing My Religion: Confessions of a New Age Refugee," a solo monologue about the eccentric spiritual journey of Bay State performer Seth Lepore. Rebekah Rentzel, a recent Minnesota transplant who's been active behind the scenes at several local shows, takes center stage -- alone -- in "Tales of the Perilously Grounded!," a show about "finding home on your own terms." Both are playing at Augsburg Studio.