Since you can’t go to the Minnesota Fringe Festival, the Minnesota Fringe Festival will be coming to you!

Three months after announcing the cancellation of their annual theater celebration due to a global pandemic, Minnesota Fringe will present its first-ever Virtual Festival July 30-August 9.

The Minnesota Fringe Festival is an annual event that has been “connecting adventurous artists with adventurous audiences” since 1993. In previous years, it has included dozens of venues throughout the Twin Cities that host performances of productions chosen by random lottery over a couple of weeks in early August. Artists from throughout Minnesota have brought their productions to the festival, gaining accolades and a portion of the gate for their efforts.

Pandemic Pivot

Photo Courtesty of the Minnestoa Fringe Festival - The Scranton Strangler will be a part of the 2020 Minnesota Fringe Festival
Photo Courtesty of the Minnestoa Fringe Festival – The Scranton Strangler will be a part of the 2020 Minnesota Fringe Festival

In what Fringe Executive Director Dawn Bentley calls a “pandemic pivot,” hard core theater fanatics will be able to experience their “Fringe binge” as they have experienced much of their interactive lives lately…at their computer. The producers of the largest performing arts festival in the Midwest have gathered nearly 70 artists (and counting) from around the world to present live and recorded events online during the 11 days. Patrons can participate by viewing free live performances during Nightly Fringe and accessing additional content by purchasing a Fringe Button online and logging in to the Digital Hub.

A Unique Model

Photo Courtesty of the Minnestoa Fringe Festival - The Outer Loop Theater Experience will present Volume II: The Secret Handshake at the 2020 Fringe Festival
Photo Courtesty of the Minnestoa Fringe Festival – The Outer Loop Theater Experience will present Volume II: The Secret Handshake at the 2020 Fringe Festival

Nightly Fringe shows include a line-up of local artists and Fringe favorites on a variety of platforms each night. The Digital Hub is a mixture of live events and recorded shows, some free and some of which are ticketed by the artists, who retain 100 percent of the proceeds from their show. The Digital Hub also includes recorded shows with Audio Description or Closed Captioning, making it the first Fringe in North America to pivot online and provide accessible performances to patrons with visual and hearing impairment.

We are all rapidly learning how to structure our work in new ways so we can support artists and appeal to audiences seeking to engage with the performing arts during a time when we can’t gather. Dawn Bentley – Fringe Executive Director

The Fringe Button purchase not only allows access to the Digital Hub, but also goes to support Minnesota Fringe as the nonprofit seeks to raise $100,000 to ensure its future. During typical years, roughly 40,000 attendees fill seats in a variety of theaters to take in hundreds of performances created by more than 1,000 artists supported by a team of seasonal theater professionals and hundreds of volunteers.

Photo Courtesy of the Minnesota Fringe Festival by Dan Norman - Benjamin Domask's Hodge Podge will be part of the 2020 Minnesota Fringe Festival
Photo Courtesy of the Minnesota Fringe Festival by Dan Norman – Benjamin Domask’s Hodge Podge will be part of the 2020 Minnesota Fringe Festival

Supporting Fringe

For the first time in its 27-year history, the festival was cancelled, putting the organization’s future in jeopardy. On May 1, the entire staff was furloughed or laid-off as part of extreme measures to establish financial stasis. A Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, as part of the CARES Act, allowed core staff to return and begin planning the pandemic pivot.

Photo Courtesty of the Minnestoa Fringe Festival - A Circus Show will be a part of the 2020 Minnesota Fringe Festival
Photo Courtesty of the Minnestoa Fringe Festival – A Circus Show will be a part of the 2020 Minnesota Fringe Festival

“It’s our mission to create platforms for artists to connect with audiences,” notes Bentley, a Mankato native. “Since the pandemic began, staff has attended weekly online meetings with local festival leaders or colleagues from other Fringe Festivals around the country and the world. We are all rapidly learning how to structure our work in new ways so we can support artists and appeal to audiences seeking to engage with the performing arts during a time when we can’t gather.”

Bentley hopes that even when in-person festivals return, the Digital Hub can remain a part of Minnesota Fringe’s annual offering. “The Digital Hub provides a place for far-flung artists to share their talents with adventurous audiences, less the expenses associated with touring,” says Bentley. “And audiences who enjoy this type of work can take in even more adventurous art online during the festival.” The current list of performers includes artists from the Twin Cities, Greater Minnesota, 15 additional states and 2 other countries.

Mike Lagerquist
Mike Lagerquist is a North Mankato and Mankato native with a strong interest in local history, stories and buildings. He has been a newspaper reporter, public relations professional and perpetual volunteer.