The 29th Annual Minnesota Fringe Festival takes place August 4-14 in several Minneapolis theater venues. It’s the largest performing arts festival in the Midwest. This year will be the first in-person Fringe Festival since 2019, with 119 shows and over 800 individual artists performing. All attendees must purchase a $5 button, buy tickets to their performances of choice and check in at the box office the day of the show.
“It’s an exciting time for theater creators because, on any given day, there are hundreds of shows happening, and they’re short, so you can go between as many as you want,” said Maria Bartholdi, co-writer and director of Endometriosis: The Musical. Bartholdi is a full-time podcast producer working in the Northrup King Building.
“Endometriosis: The Musical,” by Ripped Nylons Productions and written by Bartholdi and Kristin Stowell, is a humorous and playful look at the world of women’s healthcare.
“We decided to hone in on endometriosis because [Kristin] has endometriosis, and it affects one in 10 women. A lot of people don’t even know it exists, and there’s not a lot of research or funding put behind it,” Bartholdi said. She has performed before at Fringe with an improvised comedy group, The Bearded Company.
“We use the show as an allegory for women’s health and the importance of talking about this stuff generally,” Bartholdi said. “I think we’ve done a good job at talking about something serious but making it more approachable and kind of funny. That was a big challenge for us.”
The show was planned to premiere in 2020 but paused due to the pandemic.
Each year for Fringe, Amber Bjork, founder of The Winding Sheet Outfit, aligns her show’s theme with current-day events. In 2018 she used a historical theme to comment on the #MeToo movement and how women’s voices have been viewed throughout history. This year, her show covers the story of a tradition that is lost after a plague destroys a community—which directly relates to the changes today’s society has seen since the pandemic began.
“Årsgång: What You Follow Follows You” is a historical fiction, drama-horror about the annual event, Årsgång, that took place around the 1800s in Scandinavia each year during the winter solstice. “If you’ve ever participated in a New Year’s Eve or walked around banging pots and pans around the house, that stems directly from this tradition,” said Bjork. “It’s a little bit of a dark bedtime story.”
Bjork has lived in Northeast for over a decade and first premiered her company at Fringe in 2012. She now works on staff for the Minnesota Fringe Festival.
Another long-time Northeast theater junkie, Tom Reed, has done several shows at Strike Theater in the Thorp Building. This year at Fringe, he is performing a solo act of comical spoken word, “Erotica for Houseplants.” “Steamy succulents, lonely redwoods and corn-ographic tales of crop pollination,” Reed said. He is even planning a VIP section for plants, so if audience members want, they can bring a plant and have it get a front-row seat.
Reed is best known at Fringe for creating solo musical parodies of pop culture phenomena like Twilight, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and Stranger Things. “Erotica for Houseplants” is his “fringiest show yet,” Reed said. The theme is an ode to 2020 quarantine—when not everyone was able to receive the amount of physical touch they used to.
“A lot of these shows are very experimental, and some can be quite personal. It gives people the chance to see a type of show that they wouldn’t normally see,” said Jack Bertelsen, Northeast resident and an actor in the show “Virality.” “The Ordway or the Guthrie would not be putting on the more experimental shows that Fringe would.”
It’s Bertelsen’s first year in Fringe, where he will take on the role of a Goth character. After honing his craft as a local stand-up comedian for the last decade, he got into acting and was invited on the production of “Virality” by friend and show director, Zoë Rose Jennings.
“Virality” by Lady Chamberlain Productions is a horror dramedy about life, death and teen woes—all under the roof of a sorority house. A ghost, a sorority girl and a true crime podcaster are the show’s three main characters. All that Bertelsen would give away about the plot is that “the ghost has unresolved issues, like all ghosts.”
Dramedies make up a large number of the shows that appear at Fringe. Another dramedy is “Developers” by Michael Rogers. It’s about a fictional video game studio that is disgraced upon the release of its latest game. Three of the studio’s developers then go rogue to craft their own game.
“The two big themes are ‘trust’ and ‘what it means to leave someone’ both personally and professionally,” said Tara Lucchino, Northeast resident and an actor in the show. “It’s touching, but there are moments that will be funny, too—without being too on the nose or too sappy.”
Lucchino worked with director Rogers in 2019 and has been a part of Fringe for several years. She’s also a company member of Sheep Theater and recipient of City Pages’ 2018 “Best Theater Troupe.”
Lucchino’s show character, Hannah, is a female developer who sticks out in the male-dominated tech industry. She has the skill but works twice as hard for the same recognition as her male counterparts. “It’s cool to take on a role where you get to see a woman doing stuff like that,” Lucchino said. “I almost went into science, but I thought, oh my god, I love theater too much. But wait, I could play a doctor if I wanted to.”
Minnesota Fringe, which hosts the Fringe Festival, has the mission of offering artists a platform to take their talents and work to the next step.
Erika Dierke and Josie Johnson are both local high school students and Fringe first-timers. “She’s Already Gone” is a period-drama mystery musical. “We tried to get a Twilight Zone-type show, spooky, with comfortable confusion. We want to keep the audience, for lack of a better word, on their toes,” said Johnson, the show’s director.
Writer of “She’s Already Gone,” Dierke submitted a script to Fringe that she had created in her free time. She has been in the theater scene since she was young and has performed with Morris Park Players and at the Guthrie.
“I’ve worked at Catholic Eldercare for a year and a half, and you meet all kinds of interesting characters working at a nursing home,” Dierke said. “Specifically, one of my residents told me her life story, and that was what sparked the idea. All of the residents were part of the inspiration.”
After the script was accepted to the festival lineup, Laura Dierke, local community theater artist and the writer’s mom—and best friend, Johnson—hopped on board as a producer and director. “I’m excited that these kids wrote a musical. They wrote the lyrics, they scored the music and the director is working on every inch of the performance,” Laura Dierke said. “It’s the hardest working, most earnest crew I’ve ever been exposed to.”
Fringe’s lottery system offers a platform to artists no matter their background so that people who wouldn’t be offered this opportunity by the city’s theater scene have a chance to showcase their talents.
“There’s a specific energy that happens and camaraderie [to Fringe]. It just brings people together,” Lucchino said. “You get to watch all these people producing things they otherwise would never have a chance to, in a space they would never have a chance to use.”
For many, Fringe is the one time a year that they can take the stage alongside friends and like-minded theater artists—and have their entire show be up to their direction.
“You get to hang out, see everybody and talk about what you’re working on, which is a celebratory feeling, especially since the pandemic,” said Bartholdi.
Minnesota Fringe Festival, August 4-14, 2022
Following are the dates for shows mentioned in this article. Check minnesotafringe.org for show times.
Endometriosis: the Musical: Theatre in the Round, 245 Cedar Avenue, Aug. 5, 6, 9, 13, 14
Årsgång: What you Follow Follows You:
Theatre in the Round, Aug. 5, 7, 10, 12, 13
Erotica for Houseplants: Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S 4th St,, Aug. 4, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13
Developers: Center for Performing Arts Black Box, 3754 Pleasant Avenue, Aug. 4, 6, 11, 13, 14
She’s Already Gone: Augsburg Mainstage, 625 22nd Ave. S., Aug.5, 6, 10, 12, 14
Virality: Center for Performing Arts Black Box, Aug. 5, 7, 9, 12, 13
See volunteer info at event https://www.mynortheaster.com/event/volunteer-with-minnesota-fringe-festival/
Below: The cast of “She’s Already Gone” in show attire. Front page promo photo from a rehearsal of “Endometriosis: The Musical.” (Provided photo)