Can Fringe do better than best?

The Minnesota Fringe Festival plans the sequel to a record year

Shakespeare fans: This is your year at the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

The Bard’s works pop up with unusual frequency on the schedule for this year’s Fringe, the annual non-juried performing arts festival running Aug. 4–14, including at least two sci-fi adaptations. Add up the student productions, solo shows, mash-ups and even one take on “Macbeth” as a video game and the tally rises to 11 Shakespeare-inspired Fringe shows.

But that’s not the real storyline of this year’s festival.

The 2011 Fringe has a big act to follow: its own, from last year. 2010 was, by almost every measure Fringe organizers report, the festival’s best performance ever.

“Definitely the record,” affirmed Matthew Foster, Fringe communications director.

“We finally broke that 50,000 (ticket) mark, which was awesome,” Foster said.

Ticket sales were up about 8 percent last year over 2009. Average attendance at shows, gross box office revenues and the total payout to Fringe artists — whose cut nearly hit $250,000 — were all at the highest levels in at least six years.

Fringe turns 18 this year, and Foster suggested it has matured to the point where, like the Minnesota State Fair or the Holidazzle Parade, “it’s just something that you do” as a Minnesotan. If familiarity is one ingredient in its success, the other is the depth of training festival organizers give producers in marketing their shows to the public, which Foster said was “pretty unique among fringe festivals around the world.”

Here’s a look at a handful of productions hoping to attract your attention and, maybe, win one of the encore performance slots on the final night of the festival, when each venue’s top-selling show takes one more turn under the lights.

“7 (x1) Samurai,” David Gaines Productions

David Gaines slashes his way through the Akira Kurosawa epic, “Seven Samurai,” on both sides of the battlefield. Good guys, bad guys — Gaines plays them all in an energetic performance that has earned raves at other fringe festivals. The violence is “cartoonish,” said Gaines, who trained as a mime at Paris’ École Jacques Lecoq — so don’t be afraid to bring the kids.

“Fletcher & Zenobia Save the Circus (by Edward Gorey),” Live Action Set

Local physical theater specialists Live Action Set adapt this tale of two friends, a cat and doll, who must gather up the animals and performers scattered in the aftermath of a circus train accident. Known for its experimental work, Live Action Set is “in a more whimsical, fanciful state” for this show, said producer Joanna Harmon.

One of several BYOV (Bring Your Own Venue) site-specific performances, this one takes advantage of the old railroad tracks outside Mill City Museum.

“The 612,” Rogues 
Gallery Arts

Another BYOV production, “The 612” matches four new short plays to work by local visual artists inside Cult Status Gallery in The Wedge. Each play explores a different aspect of Minneapolis, both past and present. Duck Washington’s piece, about a young man stuck in a snow bank on the drive home with his California girlfriend, explores the writer’s love-hate relationship with the city — “you know, love the people, hate the weather,” Washington said.

“Minnesota Middle Finger,” Ben San Del Presents

Stand-up comic Ben San Del returns to the Fringe for the fifth time as a writer-director, but for the first time won’t appear on stage. San Del explores the nature of Minnesotan passive-aggression by trapping his three characters in one house under an apocalyptic 100-inch snowfall.

“It’s a plot device, but it’s something that really was based off my psyche last winter, a winter that’s never going to end,” he said.

“My Dinner with Andrew,” Right Brain Productions

For about 10 months, playwright Robert John Ford would regularly chat with Andrew Cunanan at a San Francisco dog park where they both walked their dogs. Two weeks after their one dinner together in April 1997, Cunanan left town for Minneapolis, where he committed his first murder and started on a killing spree that ended with the death of fashion designer Gianni Versace.

Ford waited for an opening in Minnesota Fringe to tell his true story for the first time on stage.

“Uptown: The Musical,” 
Box Wine Theatre

Hipsters band together in song to save their neighborhood co-op in this musical inspired by Trader Joe’s aborted attempt to open a Lyndale Avenue store just blocks from The Wedge. If you missed its May premier at Intermedia Arts, now is your chance to catch the same cast supported by a live rock band.

If you go

Minnesota Fringe Festival runs Aug. 4–14, and includes 168 productions at 18 venues in Minneapolis and St. Paul. For information on the productions, venues and multi-show passes, go to

Tickets are $12 per show for adults and $5 for children under 12. Students and seniors with valid ID pay $10 per show. A Fringe button ($4) is required for admission to any show (except for children). Tickets may be purchased online at the Fringe website, by calling OvationTix at (866) 811-4111 or at venues 30 minutes in advance of any show.

All seating is general admission. No late seating is allowed.