Jeff Larson, the new executive director, threw out the first pitches of the 2014 Minnesota Fringe Festival on Monday night at Rarig Center. “Fringe Previews #1” gave about 120 people a taste of what’s coming up in the July 31-Aug. 10 festival of theater, dance and performance art.

Larson jockeyed 30 shows into three-minute previews (and how disciplined 98 percent of them were – staying within the time limit!). There will be another preview 7 p.m. next Monday (the 21st) at Rarig. Again, 30 shows will get three minutes to tempt you into spending an hour with them at the festival. If you need even more information, the out-of-town Fringers will do a preview at 7 p.m. July 30 at Mixed Blood. Admission is $4, which gets you a Fringe button and you’ll need that button to get into the festival.

It's always chancy to choose shows from three-minute previews but as with a book, sometimes you really can judge it by the cover. It would be unfair to torpedo any of the vignettes I saw Monday night and scrawled in my program these variations: “No, not worth the trouble; No, absolutely not; No-No, ignore.”

However, if you want some positive feedback, these shows hit the top of my list: “Failure: A Love Story;” “Tatterhood;” “The Tourist Trap;” “Cursed;” “Indefinite Articles;” “Marie-Jeanne Valet;” “Sex and Sensibility,” and “Hour Town.” The last two were my favorites but the others were solidly on the nice list.

Again, caveat emptor. Just because you can put together three good minutes, is no guarantee. This is not a prospectus, nor a solicitation to buy. But I liked what I saw.

As Larson noted, at least on Monday night, what’s with all the Southern accents this year? There were three or four shows in a row with a possum-pie feel. Has “Dukes of Hazzard” made a comeback somewhere?

Larson also announced that the Fringe was one of 69 finalists chosen by the Knight Foundation for a program that funds arts and cultural programs in St. Paul (the Knight family once owned the newspaper there). About 75 percent of the finalists made the cut so it’s a good bet there will be a second Fringe during the Winter Carnival – which was the festival’s proposal for fund dollars.

I don’t know whether it’s a sign of the quality this year, but the previews Monday were generally so much better than previous years. Make no mistake, there are stinkers. But I remember past occasions where a three-minute preview felt like an hour with a splitting headache.

See you next Monday.

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