Newbies win the Fringe lottery

ROB CALLAHAN | Updated 2/5/2013

Shows selected for the 2013 Minnesota Fringe Festival include a large batch of new talent.

Minnesota Fringe officials conducted the 2013 Fringe lottery at the Brave New Workshop Student Union on Monday night.

Most people who tune in to watch numbered ping pong balls getting pulled from a big hopper usually end the endeavor with the ceremonial tearing up of their Powerball tickets, possibly while cussing out the TV. For the Twin Cities theater community, another event comes to mind. Every year, hopeful actors, writers and producers brave the cold and converge upon a local theater to watch, wait and crack a few juvenile ball jokes as Minnesota Fringe Festival executive director Robin Gillette picks numbers to determine who gets in and who goes to the wait list.

The process guarantees that a random selection of applicants are granted venues, supplied with technicians and aided over the next six months in their promotions and development. For more established companies, that aid may not be necessary, but for newcomers every little bit helps. Newcomers, by the way, make up more than half of the applicants for the 2013 Fringe; 224 of 421 productions that applied this year are first-timers.

The lottery was held Monday at the Brave New Workshop Student Union in Minneapolis, and produced a total of 176 shows, which will take place across 16 venues Aug. 1-11. The Fringe Festival posted a list of winners on its web site on Tuesday.

The majority of the list consists of names with no Minnesota Fringe track record. "A huge part of Fringe’s mission is to get folks on stage who’ve never been there before," said Gillette. "While I love walking into a theater full of anticipation for an artist whose work I know, there’s something exhilarating about seeing work from complete strangers. I think that’s one of the big appeals for our Fringe audiences – they’re on the vanguard of discovering new talent."

While the crowd gathered at Brave New Workshop was predominantly made of veterans, it was peppered with the new talents Gillette loves to see. Among them was first time writer Rachel Austin, who hasn't yet come up with a title for her show. "I've felt like I needed to write my own show for a while," Austen said. "I've acted in shows before, but never produced one or written one." She said the Fringe Festival was the best impetus to push her toward reaching that goal, and that now she has to write the show, based on the rough ideas she already has. "It's going to be a one-woman show. It will be about me, my own mythology and my family's mythology." Her rough idea starts with a look at her own life and a question: 'What Would My Southern Grandmother Do?' Austen went on to describe the show idea as funny, charming, sweet and kind of assertive. Just like her grandmother was.

Like Austin, Julie Kemna-Edner had a show in her as well. Her application to perform in the Fringe Festival was prompted by a conversation about gun control, which will be the primary topic of her also untitled play with a small cast. "It's a timely topic, and that's why I'm doing it. It will look at the original intent of the Second Amendment, I'll be doing some historical research and, from there, building upon my interpretation of it." This will be Kemna-Edner's first foray into writing a play and her first time producing with her company, Jules Theatrical.

Jakey Emmert brings his own outside credentials with him, having won the 2012 title of Funniest Person in the Twin Cities. "When you have that title, it's like you're Miss America. You have a year to do something with it, or else before you know it someone else wins it, and in four years no one cares that you used to be the so-called funniest person." To help him make the most of his title, Fearless Comedy Productions dispatched two Fringe veterans to mentor Emmert as he develops his show. Together with his mentors, Tim Wick and Jena Young, Emmert talked about his upcoming show with a frantic energy.

Emmert's show, titled "They Shoot 25-Year-Old Gay Men, Don't They?", unfolds somewhat like a gay "Logan's Run" without all that running. He plans to use the medium of comedy to ask pressing social and cultural questions about what age and aging mean for a gay man, for whom passing 25 can feel like reaching middle age.

While the Reverend Pat V is new to the Fringe, he's no stranger to the stage. His acerbic, sometimes grating style has graced many an open mic at Kieran's Irish Pub. His spoken word comedy show will be based on the idea that he was Laura Ingles Wilder in a previous lifetime, and his current life serves as a cosmic punishment for having sugar coated the Little House stories. At least, that seamed to be the premise of his show, and not just something he actually believed. It can be hard to tell what's tongue-in-cheek and what isn't in a conversation with Reverend Pat V, his Asperger syndrome sometimes muddles the exchange. Appropriately, his show is titled "I Have Asperger's, What's Your Excuse?"

"It will be a lot of crude humor," the Reverend said, adding that he hopes to emulate one of his favorite comedians, George Carlin.