Fringe Website Live!

Happy Treason Day, everyone! The Fringe website officially went live on July 1st, which means that, hurrah, I finally have content to analyze. So let’s dive right in:

THE VIRTUAL POSTCARD TABLE

…and my verdict is: awesome. (Although it is sort of weird that the vertically-designed cards are, like, twice as large as the horizontally-designed ones. I get that it’s a presentation thing, but still…)

And as a student of marketing, it’s a pretty fantastic way to survey, at a glance, a variety of approaches. Here’s two extremes, both by companies I know nothing about:

Bohemian RAPPsody

I’ll confess that this is one my eye simply drifts over – there are bodies doing something interesting, but there’s just too much information. At a glance, all I see is tiny text and tiny figures:  it requires me to peer fairly closely to decipher it, and it’s simply lost in a table full of other images.

Threads

I’d point to this one as being more successful: it’s a simple, clear image and title. There’s more information on closer examination, but it immediately hits you with something distinctive. (Bonus points for an image that asks a question that the show has to answer: “Why is the cute white girl wearing a paddy hat?”)

My personal favorite, however, has to go to…

Font of Knowledge

Ba-dum-bump, the Shelby Company, of which I’m a long-time fan. Regardless, I think they knocked it out of the park with this one: it’s arguably cluttered as well, but I’d say it succeeds, again, by having an immediately clear, distinctive image and title. Beyond that, it has an *aesthetic*: it promises all sorts of hard-boiled noir goodness.

Those are just images, though. The Fringe site being the cutting-edge piece of technology it is, it promises us something more fantastic still: images that *move*.

VIDEO TRAILERS

Let’s get to it. Here’s two that I found hugely successful:

COOL IMAGES

Cards on the table that I have known  – and have worked with – Kirsten for many years (also that I’ve seen this particular show in other Festivals, and highly recommend it). And this: yes. It’s a single joke, a simple joke, that’s both nicely executed and doesn’t wear out its welcome.

Here, on the other hand, is a company I know nothing about, but successfully caught my eye with this. Again, its strength is its simplicity: it doesn’t tell me what their show is, it *shows* me. Shadow puppetry is awesome, and this did exactly what a trailer is supposed to do: pushed my interest from zero percent to well over fifty.

STAND-UP COMEDY

Here’s an interesting contrasting case. I think that these are two excellent stand-up comics: and I think that one trailer works, and the other doesn’t.

Both groups chose to excerpt their shows for their trailer. If I had to guess, I would suspect that Mary’s excerpt is from the beginning of her set, while Billy’s is from the middle. (I’m happy to be corrected, if I’m mistaken.)

Mary’s excerpt feels like an introduction: we can hear the audience getting to know her, and we do, too. It feels, weirdly, like the first couple of minutes of a date: the awkward getting-to-know-you phase, and she comes off as absolutely charming.

In Billy’s excerpt, we can hear that the audience is *loving* what he’s doing. I’d say his material here isn’t amazing – it’s mostly puns – but the audience is grooving on it because of the relationship that he’s already established with them. They have an affection for him, so they enjoy his company and want him to succeed. The issue is, he hasn’t yet established that relationship with *us*, who are watching at home – so we’re eavesdropping a relationship that we’re not really a part of.

They’re both obviously skilled at what they do. But I walked away from Mary’s trailer feeling a great deal of warmth to her and the show; I walked away from Billy’s feeling like a detached observer.

TOO FREAKING LONG

I’ll confess that I stifled a groan when both of these came up, at the sight of the time listing in the corner: both are about seven minutes. That’s not a trailer: that’s a short film, and if you’re doing what I’ve been doing – i.e. sitting down and watching all of these in a row – well, I was getting pretty goddamn restless.

Two quick observations, then: the content of one of these videos is very strong, the content of the other one is not. But both of these videos would have been exponentially more successful by simply pulling out their most successful two minutes.

A LITTLE TOO META

I know Les pretty well – we’ve seen each other on the circuit for years. I like him, and his shows, a lot. So seeing him on the screen generated a lot of warmth from me. The issue is that it worked for me because I’m *already* affectionate towards the guy – for someone who doesn’t know anything about him, this video doesn’t convey what they need to know. The people a video like this will work for are the people who already know him. What’s frustrating for me is that he’s a skilled writer/performer – but the video doesn’t convey that. So what does it look like to someone who knows nothing about him?

Possibly something like this. I’d speculate that if I knew who these people were – if I already liked them – I would find this charming. But I don’t, so I don’t.

FAR ENDS OF THE BELL CURVE

So here’s my least favorite trailer on the site:

“You, yes, you darling audience, have no idea what these four women are capable of.”

That’s…accurate, yes. One of them’s a dancer? I guess? Another one does…something into a microphone?

See, for all I know, this show could be absolutely amazing. But what really rubs me the wrong way about the language of this trailer – and the language of their show description, as well – is that it assumes that I’m stupid.

Its braggadocio suggests that I would be amazed by the very idea of creatively skilled women! But…I’m not a fifties sitcom dad. I’ve been working alongside amazingly skilled women for the bulk of my career. I *know* that women are equally capable of producing amazing artistry. I also know that women are equally capable of producing lazy hackwork. What I *don’t* know is which category this show falls into, because the trailer didn’t convey that to me.

…as opposed to this trailer, which didn’t bother to *tell* me anything, because it was too busy *showing* me.

This is, hands-down, my favorite trailer on the site. I’ve never seen either Tamara Ober or Present State Movement – though I’ve wanted to, as they’ve been very successful at Fringes past. And now, I think I see why.

See, it’s interesting because this trailer shows off what she can do physically – and marries that to some very cool filmic stuff. It’s not just about what she can do with her body, but what she can do with her *presentation*. And it’s the combination of elements of here – the song, the movement, the stop-motion – that adds up to something I found very compelling. Yeah, I’m game to see what she can present onstage.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. For any of this — there’s a ton more videos and images on the brand-spankin’-new Fringe Festival site. Go forth, and analyze.

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Binge of the Fringe: Rarin’ to Go

…and here we are, at the gargantuan quadruple-venue Rarig Center.

Let’s start in the Rarig Arena, where Amy Salloway (finally!) returns to the Fringe for the first time since 2007, with a brand-new show! Really, I’m groping after what more to say here to plug it, but that alone should be enough. She’s been rocking the circuit for the past three years, but her hometown Fringe has had a paucity of her viscosity. The new show, Entwined, carries the tagline “Behind every failed relationship…there’s at least one really good yarn.” Ouch.

Meanwhile, we have a premiere performance by local sci-fi author Rob Callahan. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know him various places — he’s a regular guest performer with the Rockstar Storytellers, and a demon at CONvergence — and I couldn’t be more thrilled to see him finally storming the Fringe stage with Idiosynchronicity. He’s nailed every venue and medium he’s worked at so far — talented and versatile. I feel like I’m introducing that cool guy I know to all the other cool guys I know, and thereby trying to, like, absorb some of their coolness, but I’m still the guy who’s just kind of writing about them. it hurts

Tim Wick (the Vilification Tennis dude, though he wisely seems to be playing down that connection for this particular offering) is joining the list of performers known for adult-oriented comedy now presenting material for all ages in Story Time Time Bomb. He’s the words guy: on the pictures side we have Chris Jones, whose work I’ve seen floating around on page and stage. I mean, he draws Batman. For realsies.

Plus, hey — The Jack Chick Plays. I’ve been a fan of the tracts (in a way that’s ironic, I swear to God it’s ironic) for years, and the idea of someone even attempting to make a production out of them seems like comedy gold. Also, this is one where the cease-and-desist is surely going to be at least as entertaining as the show itself.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet a whole new community of people that I feel like I should have been working with for years, while working with Theatre Arlo and CONvergence. A clear standout among them is Duck Washington, one of those ludicrously multi-talented writer/performers who’s able to dynamically shift and sort through various references with the ease of whatever the pop-culture equivalent of a jazz soloist is. So this particular show at the Rarig Proscenium, Couch Aliens vs. the False World, seems like an appropriate vehicle for his brand of comic philosophy:

After getting dumped by his longstanding girlfriend, a depressed young man closes himself off from the world by hiding in his apartment. When he comes face-to-face with the alien anthropologist that lives in his couch his world is puréed in a cosmic blender. Together they go on a journey that crosses dimensions, they meet strange creatures, and argue about the nature of reality TV while watching reality TV. It is a tale of acceptance, love, science, religion, cartoons and pizza toppings.

Well, obviously.

Also in the Proscenium, we have my single most anticipated show of the 2010 Minnesota Fringe Festival: Alexander at Delphi. I know absolutely not a goddamn thing about this, other than what appears on the site:

Before setting out to conquer the world, Alexander the Great went to the Oracle at Delphi in Greece to seek the blessing of the gods, but the Oracle refused him. Why did the Oracle withhold Alexander’s prophecy, why did she finally give in, and was it really the blessing it appeared to be, or a curse? The story of this visit and its aftermath reveals that all politics is personal, too much knowledge is not necessarily a good thing, and Fate always wins out in the end…

I think a lot of what impresses me here is the specificity: it’s not some vague, sprawling riff on the classical world, but a very narrowly-focused examination of a single historical footnote, and a fascinating one. Its focus also seems to be on that bizarre intersection between religion and politics, story and history, and yes yes yes yes yes

Plus, hey! Someone’s doing The Little Prince. I’m a huge fan of Antoine de Saint-Exupery — he’s one of those writers for whom I spent about a month devouring everything he’d ever written — and his darkly philosophical children’s book is one of those bizarrely imaginative, image-driven stories that seems to lend itself to all kind of theatrical possibilities.

Whew! Let’s get to the Thrust, shall we? I had the pleasure of reading in the part of John Middleton at the initial reading of The Damn Audition, so I got to see one of the earlier drafts of the script, enough to determine that it’s pure Scrimshaw — solid, laugh-a-minute construction, with actual, like, characters and ideas and stuff if you feel inclined to dig further than that. Definitely for the Fringe crowd, it’s largely a satire of the theatre scene — but for those of us who are a part of it, at least tangentially (i.e. the entirety of the Fringe audience), there’s a lot to recognize, in moments of both audience superiority and shame.

For fans of Mike Fotis, the Thrust is offering a two-fer — Mike & Matt, in which he appears with his brother, which is fascinating enough all on its own, and Speech!, which features the comedy duo Ferrari McSpeedy mounting their first ensemble show. I honestly don’t feel inclined to talk these up too much since I presume they’re going to, like, sell out every show, so.

…annnd also along the lines of artists who have committed themselve to multiple Fringe shows (don’t you just despise those people? Have nothing but hate and contempt in your heart for them?), Jimmy Hogg is seizing the stage in the ambitiously-titled Wisdom: Part I. I look forward to many drunken arguments following the performance with this scurrilous skeptic.

Finally — the Rarig Xperimental space. I only had the opportunity to catch the very ending of Grind: The Musical!, but I’ve spent a huge chunk of time hanging out with this crew in Kansas City. They’re an incredibly enthusiastic gaggle of college students, traveling the Fringe circuit this summer on a variety of grants, and I’d be thrilled to see them get a warm reception in the Mini Apple (where the show is, oddly enough, set).

And closing out, perhaps appropriately, with another performer I haven’t seen before — Candace Stimpson is an Edinburgh Fringe vet (with this very show, Pop Goes the Cherry) who’s apparently floated around a number of projects in town for the past year that I’ve failed to catch.

A show that proves you’re both a sexual and spiritual being and that being a prude is not always prudent….this story takes its roots in the writer’s own experience of being abused and then learning to cope by burying the memories, the pain and even her sexuality.

Yowch.

But wait! There’s more!

…down the hatch…