There will be blood and chaos behind the stage at this year's Fringe

Categories: Theater
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Katie Vannelli
There is a sense of danger at Fringe. Some of that is unintentional. Comedy Suitcase, the brainchild of Levi Weinhagen and Joshua English Scrimshaw, specializes in madcap, physical adventures. At times it can go very, very wrong.

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The pair has created a series of mystery-action spoofs about the "Harty boys," a pair of clueless teenage detectives who solve crimes around the Twin Cities. During one performance, Weinhagen says, "There was a moment when Andy Kraft was to deliver a stage punch to the face of Joshua Scrimshaw. Andy unintentionally connected with Joshua's face, splitting his lip and spilling blood all over the baby-blue sweater. Joshua was pretty dazed from having been punched, but he managed to tell everyone that he was fine backstage even though he was
clearly confused."

Then an abrupt meeting with the floor gave Weinhagen his own concussion symptoms in, ironically enough, The Gentlemen's Pratfall Club. "I did an intentional forward fall, but held my head wrong and spiked my chin on the Southern Theater stage. Blood poured down my white dress shirt, making it clear to the audience something was awry. We had 10 minutes left in the show and I kept moving and talking, but really don't remember those final 10 minutes."

Teams of professional designers and stage managers work at each venue to keep things running smoothly. That's not easy at Fringe's breakneck pace. Instead of days or weeks to perfect a piece, each show gets only a few hours to work out cues, conduct an on-stage run-through, and plan the vital load-in and load-out of the set. The Fringe requires that everything come off the stage after each hourlong performance -- with only 10 minutes
to make it happen.

Sometimes the journey behind a show can be as epic as anything on stage. Scrimshaw, who is involved in three different shows this year, has waited a long time to get one of his pieces back into the festival.

From Here to Maternity, which explored the comic tragedy of parenthood, first found its way into the Fringe in 2007. The show missed out on the lottery for one of the main venues, so
Scrimshaw and co-creator Shanan Custer used the "bring your own venue" option
to mount the show. That feature allowed shows to be mounted all over the Twin Cities -- in an art gallery, a grand old home, or a classroom.

The only place they could find was the downtown Minneapolis offices of Carmichael
Lynch, an advertising firm. "In the wake of Mad Men, this location might have possibilities, but back then it didn't end up making a lot of sense for a show about having a baby," says Scrimshaw.

"The space was very hard for audiences to find and when they finally got there, they discovered no chairs, just a cold, hard staircase to squat on." Bringing the show back has always been in the pair's plans. It just took a while. "We entered it in the 2011 lottery, but didn't get in," he says. "Then the 2012 lottery. Then the 2013 lottery. And finally, this year we got in! Only seven years later."

After a few years without it, the Fringe has brought back the "bring your own venue" concept. Four shows will be presented outside of the normal festival environs, from a downtown office building to the streets around Rarig Center.

Gemma Irish and Mark Sweeney's Into the Unreal City is staged as a walking tour. It's a musical journey through a relationship. They looked to "incorporate the intimacy you find with another person in the spaces people use every day," says Irish. "Sometimes the only place to connect is a very public place."

The real thrill comes when it all works despite the chaos. Scrimshaw finds that the Fringe hones his theatrical senses. "There's something about the Fringe -- the crazy scheduling, the impossibly tight set and strike, cast members in two, maybe three different shows. It creates
a survival-driven clarity of thought and purpose that forces you to think harder and move faster, the theatrical equivalent of 'bullet time' from the Matrix movies."

That, in turn, makes for special theater.


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