A Fringe Festival sampler

A suggested weekend schedule to whet your Fringe appetite

Let’s start with the obligatory run-down of the numbers:

— 156 shows

— 808 performances

— 22 venues

— 11 days

That’s the 2009 Minnesota Fringe Festival in a nutshell. Or is it?

The numbers alone barely hint at the breadth, the dizzying diversity of offerings for this year’s Fringe, which runs July 30–Aug. 9. Like the tap list at the Red Gnome, or the tapas menu at Solera, it’s hard to decide where to start.

Some will buy the $150 Ultra Pass and gorge on dozens of hour-long productions. Those with lighter appetites may want to stick with single-show passes, just $12 for adults (with purchase of a $4 Fringe button, of course).

The following schedule is something like an appetizer platter. It runs through just the first few days of the festival, leaving plenty of room for dessert.

Craft your own menu on the Fringe website (www.fringefestival.org/2009/), where you’ll find ticket information, show descriptions and a new, easy-to-navigate calendar and schedule system.


Three women, one soul

Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S.
5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 30

For Candy Simmons, it all started with one character, the 1920s Appalachian midwife she portrayed in “The Mothering Instinct.”

Simmons said she “fell in love” with that character when she performed the one-act, one-woman drama written by her friend Chris Van Strander. It seemed like a natural place to start when she set out to develop a solo show several years ago.

Her new production, “AfterLife,” takes Van Strander’s script as its starting point. From there, it journeys to present-day New York City, with a pit stop in Menomonie, Wis., around 1960, in two new acts co-written by Simmons.

“It traces the evolution of women through modern history by dropping in on a day in the life of three different women in three different time periods,” she explained.

The play pivots on the second act, when a Wisconsin housewife finds a book on yoga. Decades before yoga was offered at the YMCA, the eastern discipline still was tinged with taboo.

Simmons, who expressed a personal interest in yoga and various Eastern philosophies, said she used the second act to introduce themes of karma and reincarnation that unite the three women. If that sounds groovy to you, you’re not alone: Simmons has garnered glowing reviews for “AfterLife” on a tour of the Canadian fringe circuit.


A building, a body

Colonial Warehouse, 212 3rd Ave. N.
4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1

Ready At Will Dance Collective has performed mostly site-specific work during its relatively short existence. So it was inspiring when, last year, they first explored the Colonial Warehouse building, a mash-up of old, industrial architecture and slick new office spaces.

“It’s been around for so long, and it has really gone through a bunch of transformations, so the actual structure of the building is really interesting,” dancer Denise Gagner said.

Early in its existence, Colonial Warehouse was a part of the Minneapolis street car system. It seems to retain evidence of its use during that era, but the mysterious, vestigial remains are puzzling.

“It’s been totally revamped, so it looks like an office building,” Gagner said, “but there’s hooks and knobs that are hanging off the walls that are just awkward and hanging in strange places.”

For their Fringe entry, “Re:Trace,” Ready At Will dancers plan to explore the building like a three-dimensional stage.

“The audience is going to move and follow the dance,” she explained. “We move to different floors, different corners and use the stairways, the elevators — even the bathrooms.”


Totally exposed

“Full Frontal Improv”
Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St.
7 p.m. Friday, July 31

Swandive Theatre’s Damon Runnals explained there was a dual meaning behind the title to their Fringe show, “Full Frontal Improv.”

The show was designed as a kind of improvisatory version of the old “This Is Your Life” TV series, with the goal of exposing the life, more or less, of one willing audience member. But the volunteer likely won’t be the only one feeling exposed: Runnals said his cast was going out on a limb, too.

Past Swandive productions have incorporated improvisation, but this show — the company’s second Fringe appearance, after “Bliss” in 2005 — will push their skills to the limit.

“It’s a great opportunity to try something that is definitely not in the realm of the standard stuff that we work on,” he said.

Runnals will play emcee for “Full Frontal Improv,” guiding his cast members through an improvised highlight reel of one audience member’s life. Those moments — from high school prom to marriage to death — will be selected at random.

“It’s probably going to fall to the comedic [as we’re] having fun, playing with it,” he said. “But there could be moments that get more serious. There could be moments that bring someone to tears. Anything’s possible up there.”


Line dancing

“Storm Still”
City of Lakes Waldorf School, 2344 Nicollet Ave. S.
10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1

Imagine a line: Over here are musicians; over there are actors.

Now, imagine you could zoom in on that line with a microscope and blow it up to the size of a field. That’s where you’d find the members of The Nonsense Company, frolicking with their instruments.

Only, the Madison, Wis., theater company doesn’t use instruments, per se.

“We’re all musicians who work in the experimental chamber music mode,” member Rick Burkhart explained. “… We’re sort of like a string quartet that doesn’t play instruments.”

Instead, for a scene set at a Thanksgiving dinner, they might play a “conversation” with glasses and silverware. Or, as in the case of their dark, dystopian play “Storm Still,” a collection of cast-off toy instruments, including a child-size ukulele, xylophone and cymbals.

The play is set at night, in a disintegrating school building. The students have been locked up in the building for so long they may not even be children anymore, Burkhart said.

They pass a dark night by staging Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”

“It won’t seem very much like ‘King Lear,’” Burkhart said. “It will seem more like a strange dream or a nightmare in which King Lear keeps flashing up.”

This one’s set in a real school classroom, but Burkhart warns it ain’t for kids.