A photo of Blackout Improv’s award-winning performance at the 2017 Minnesota Fringe Festival. Photo by Keith N’Dong, courtesy of the Minnesota Fringe Festival.
Applications are now open for the 2018 Minnesota Fringe Festival lottery. The annual theatre festival will return with some hefty changes in the coming year, including new venues, new venue tiering, a family-friendly Fringe branch, tweaks to make the festival more hospitable to touring artists, and the return of single-admission tickets.
Audiences will be especially interested in the updated slate of venues, which impacts parking and restaurant selections. While the exact list of venues varies each year, in recent times audiences have gotten used to a cluster of venues in Minneapolis’s Uptown neighborhood. In 2018, however, Uptown is getting shown the door. Venues for the core festival will be clustered in just two areas: West Bank/Cedar-Riverside (8 venues) and Northeast Minneapolis (4 venues). A new Family Fringe offshoot will also take place at the Celtic Junction Arts Center in St. Paul – roughly the same distance from the U of M’s Rarig Center as the Northeast Minneapolis venues.
Conspicuously absent from the 2018 venue list is the Intermedia Arts space in Uptown. This absence was not unexpected – Intermedia Arts abruptly closed its doors in September, citing mounting financial problems. With the organization currently pursuing the sale of its building on Lyndale Ave, it is not likely to return to the Fringe lineup in coming years.
Other Uptown venues such as the Jungle Theater have already been booked during the festival period for the organizations’ own, in-house productions. By the time the 2018 Fringe Festival opens, for example, the Jungle will be a third of the way through its run of Robert Askins’ play Hand to God.
The 12 official Fringe venues will be sorted into three tiers (up from two in 2017) with scaling production fees:
- Tier 1: Up to 99 seats ($400 production fee)
- Augsburg Studio, Ritz Theater Studio, Strike Theater, U of M-Rarig Center Xperimental
- Tier 2: 100-199 seats ($450 production fee)
- Augsburg Mainstage, Minnsky Theater, U of M–Rarig Arena
- Tier 3: 200+ seats ($500 production fee)
- Mixed Blood, Ritz Theater Mainstage, Southern Theater, Theatre in the Round, U of M–Rarig Thrust
44 Tier 1 slots, 30 Tier 2 slots, and 55 Tier 3 slots will be available. This multi-tier system aligns the Minnesota Fringe Festival more closely with the practices at other large Fringe festivals in North America such as the Orlando Fringe, which have sliding fees based on venue size and accoutrements. Applying to the lottery costs $30.
Prospective Fringe artists can also apply to the Bring Your Own Venue (BYOV) category, a largely cosmetic change in nomenclature from last year’s site-specific category. In keeping with the more compact clustering of venues in 2018, BYOV locations must be located within two carefully outlined spaces surrounding the West Bank venue and some of the Northeast Minneapolis locations. A maximum of two BYOV proposals each (four overall) will be selected. Submitting a BYOV application costs $30; BYO production fees range from $300 (Tier 1 equivalent) to $350 (Tier 2 equivalent) to $400 (Tier 3 equivalent), depending on seating capacity.
Should the number of applications exceed the BYOV quotas for each area, a lottery drawing will be held to determine the lucky shows.
Past MN Fringes have included a fair number of family-friendly shows and a much larger category of shows mocking childhood entertainments. In 2018, the Minnesota Fringe Festival will include a separate Family Fringe category with tiered, single-admission pricing for adults ($10) and children ($5). Festival day-pass wristbands will not be available for or include Family Fringe shows. A separate Family Fringe Central will operate with free programming.
In a departure from MN Fringe’s roots as a 100%-unjuried theatre festival, the Family Fringe will also inaugurate a new role as content curator. In contrast to the lottery system used for the general festival (and, if sufficient applications are received, the BYOV category), Family Fringe applications will be evaluated and scored by a 7-member jury panel whose members are listed on the Fringe website.
Family Fringe Shows will range shorter than the normal Fringe length (40-50 minutes vs. 45-60), and run on two extended weekends (Thursday-Sunday 8/2-8/5 and 8/9-8/12). Family Fringe show venues will seat approximately 100 people, and entail a $350 production fee. Unusually, Fringe producers will be able to apply for (and, if selected for both, produce in) both the Family Fringe and the main festival.
Touring Artists and Merchandise
Two changes are of great interest to touring Fringe artists. The Minnesota Fringe has historically banned its performers from selling merchandise after their shows – a policy that has given MN Fringe the unfortunate sobriquet “Where touring artists go to die.” (Many professional Fringe artists derive a quarter or more of their income from merchandise sales.) At the same time – and contrary to the norm at most other large Fringe festivals – the Minnesota Fringe Festival has not historically reserved a percentage of its slots for touring artists. It also does not currently participate in the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals shared lottery, which – despite the name – includes many large U.S. Fringe festivals.
The first change addresses the merchandise problem. Under a new policy, Fringe performers are allowed to sell merchandise within their venue during their performing timeslots. This change, like DACA, more or less authorizes something that was already happening covertly in some venues.
The new Touring Artist Initiative is also of great interest to touring artists from and beyond Minnesota. In a May 2017 interview, MN Fringe Executive Director Dawn Bentley listed diversifying the Fringe audience and performer mixes as an important priority after the 2017 festival closed. The Touring Artist Initiative will reserve 10% of the regular festival’s performance slots for artists located outside of the Twin Cities metro region.
Once the TAI drawing is complete, any leftover touring artist applications will be added to the general lottery pool for the main drawing. According to Bentley, the Touring Artist Initiative is intended “to welcome fresh perspectives and new talents to the Twin Cities arts community”, and to further its ongoing “commitment to serving artists of all backgrounds and levels of experience”.
Ask a Minnesota Fringe attendee about the festival and you’ll probably hear an earful about the day-pass wristbands introduced two years ago. In a 2016 interview with the Arts Reader, then-MN Fringe Executive Director Jeff Larson described the passes as a necessary device to tame the massive audience lines that frequently snarled areas like the University of Minnesota’s Rarig Center. They were also, Larson stated, an experiment in boosting festival-goers’ average show attendance.
The wristbands have been an indisputable success at taming lines, but other aspects have proven more controversial. Single-admission ticket sales were eliminated in the same year that the wristbands were added, stirring a lengthy and ongoing debate about the wristbands’ impact on audience attendance, artist revenues, and Fringe payout formulas. Since wristbands at the last two festivals were counted but not scanned (doing so would require new equipment purchases), it’s difficult to gauge whether or not they’ve spurred audiences to experiment and see more shows than they would otherwise.
Much of this debate is likely to become a moot point in 2018: single-admission ticket sales are being reintroduced. The wristbands aren’t going anywhere, but they’ll no longer be the only option for casual theatre patrons.
The 2018 Minnesota Fringe Festival will run August 2-12, 2018 in Minneapolis, MN and St. Paul, MN. Applications for the 2018 festival are currently available on the MN Fringe website and will be accepted through 5 PM Central Standard Time on February 16, 2018.
2018 Minnesota Fringe Festival Venues
- The Southern Theater
- Theatre in the Round Players
- Mixed Blood Theatre
- University of Minnesota–Rarig Center (3 stages)
- Augsburg University (2 stages)
- The Ritz Theater (2 stages)
- Strike Theater
- Minnsky Theatre
Celtic Junction Arts Center
Basil was named one of Musical America's 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017.