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On Monday evening, the scene outside the Ritz Theater in northeast Minneapolis was familiar to anyone who has attended a Minnesota Fringe Festival performance: On the sidewalk out front, dozens of artists promoted their Fringe shows by aggressively pressing postcards into the palms of passers-by.
Four young actresses were doing duty for Sundial Theater Company's "Dying for the Chance," when David Pisa, an actor dressed as a zombie, started lurching in their direction. Pisa was distributing postcards and small, plastic zombie toys to promote Walking Shadow Theatre Company's "Shakespeare's Land of the Dead" when he overheard one of the women name the high school from which she had just graduated.
"Who went to Mounds View?" shouted Pisa -- he was so excited, he slipped out of character. "I went to Irondale!"
In fact, there was a strong north-suburban contingent. Only a few steps away, Coon Rapids resident Greg Eiden was wearing a top hat and passing out postcards for his show, "War of the Worlds: The Musical! A Tribute to Old-Time Radio."
Finally, just before 7:30 p.m., about 250 dedicated Fringe-goers pushed past the guerrilla marketers to grab a seat for the sold-out Fringe-For-All, a two-hour program of three-minute teasers for 29 shows scheduled for the upcoming Minnesota Fringe Festival, Thursday through Aug. 10. The crowd wasn't racially diverse -- mostly white folks -- but the range of ages was certainly impressive. In particular, there were more teens than you'll see on a usual night at the theater.
They were generous, too. Each performance was met with hearty laughter and applause -- even when the material was rather lame. However, there were resounding responses for the evening's comic standouts: Joseph Bingham's "Conundrum Rehabbed," a show in which twirling ballerinas are hunted Elmer Fudd style, and LSD Productions' "Great American Horror Movie Musical," a campy show replete with a slinky ax murderer belting '80s songs.
Equally entertaining was the evening's emcee, the Fringe Festival's radiant executive director, Robin Gillette, who strutted onstage in black pumps and a kicky black dress. Whether she was pitching the festival's five-show punch card or waving at her parents, who drove all the way from Kokomo, Ind., Gillette's style was breezy and likable -- with a dash of sass. In fact, immediately following a preview of "The Mistress Cycle," in which a chanteuse laments the lovers who never called or, even worse, imparted an STD, Gillette returned to the stage and deadpanned: "I think she and I have dated the same guys."
Back on the sidewalk, during intermission and then later, after the show, a pack of casually dressed thespians and theatergoers smoked cigarettes, sipped on bottles of Summit beer, handed out more postcards and sang the praises of their favorite festival.
Bill Cassidy, who works as a technician for the Guthrie Theater, went so far as to say: "I consider it the most wonderful time of the year."