Pictured: The official show image for Trusty Paper Ship’s The Real World: Fringe Festival.
One of the great things about the Minnesota Fringe Festival is that it’s a large, unjuried festival with an adventurous audience. “Unjuried” in this context means that there’s no gatekeeper – no individual or committee who says, “This is what I call art” or “This is worth putting on stage.” If you enter the festival lottery before the deadline, pay your deposits on time, and your show’s ball comes up, you’re good to go! In a performing arts world where there are some clear and systemic biases about what gets done where, this is often a breath of fresh air.
The archetype of unjuried festivals is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival – 25 days, 3,300 shows, and more than 50,000 performances. Founded in 1947 as an alternative to the invitation-only Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe takes a “big tent” approach to inclusivity – it even has an exhibitions category, and features pop-up galleries and performances in just about any place imaginable (and some that you really wouldn’t have expected).
Although the Minnesota Fringe Festival isn’t quite as large as our Scottish cousins (2016 will span 11 days, 169 shows, and 880 performances), there’s still far too much for one person to entirely take in. Since there are only 56 time slots in the festival (57 if you count the final encore round, where the top-selling shows of each venue are reprised), even if you see every show that you want, there’re still 112 shows you won’t be able to see.
To help Fringers decide what to see, the Minnesota Fringe Festival organizes three official previews that are open to the public at a modest cost ($4 last year):
Can’t make a preview? Not a problem – the Fringe Festival previews are all posted to Youtube in a timely fashion. Note: Each of these previews are just as unjuried as the festival itself – the showcase participants sign up on a first-come, first-serve basis that rewards frenetically checking email – but provides a strong look at what’s to come. If a show can’t hook you with a 3-minute preview, it’s probably not going to do so with more time.
In case you don’t want to wait until August 3 to plan out your schedule, though, there’s always old-fashioned word of mouth, social media (actors tend to wax eloquently about shows that they love), and reading. Each show has a brief description, some have video trailers, and (as companies update this) some even have detailed cast and other background information posted. Or, you know, you could just look at the pretty pictures and make snap judgments, like with movie posters.