Fringe binge

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August 2, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott

// Eight years. Over 300 shows. Blogger Matthew A. Everett is the Minnesota Fringe’s perennial glutton. //

The Minnesota Fringe Festival hadn’t even started yet, and Matthew A. Everett was already showing signs of compulsion.

His blog listed 33 posts for the month of July. At the time, this meant that he had written well over one entry per day — each a jaunty, quip-heavy teaser for this year’s Fringe — and that he was averaging close to a dozen per week. Most of these postings weren’t even about full performances. Everett had just attended the first Fringe For All, a two-part festival preview event where artists present three-minute snippets of their in-progress shows.

On Everett’s blog, each little snippet of theater warranted a thoughtful review, some of them triggering 1,000-word torrents of insight. And as impressive as that output appeared, it was just a warm-up. Like a competitive hot dog eater, Everett was just stretching his appetite, limbering up before the great gorge.

Everett, a longtime Loring Park resident, is known in theater circles as the Single White Fringe Geek. Last year, during the 11-day Minnesota Fringe, he attended 56 shows. Thirty of these he saw with his mom, who travels from Everett’s hometown in Pennsylvania every August for a mother-son theater binge. Everett wrote full reviews of each of the mother-son shows, banging out copy during the lunch breaks at his day job. For July and August 2009, his total blog postings topped out at 166. The day after Fringe ended, he sat down with Joshua Humphrey of Twin Cities Theater Connection for an epic, three-part podcast summing up his festival experience.

“It’s among the most popular content on the site,” says Jay Gabler, arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. The Daily Planet has hosted Everett’s blog since 2008, when the community news site adopted six reviewers who had previously been writing on the official Minnesota Fringe website. Of the six, Everett is far and away the most read.

“You can tell from his reviews that he really cares about the shows,” Gabler continued. “He’ll write 800 words or 1000 words when only 400 are required, because he really wants to talk about every aspect of the show, from the lighting to the music to the actors to the writer. Every show is an adventure for him.”

“He’s meticulous. He’s just so meticulous about how he covers it,” says Matthew Foster, communications director for Minnesota Fringe.

Foster, along with then-executive director Leah Cooper, recruited Everett and the other bloggers back in 2002 — when the term “blog” was still exotic techno-babble.

“I remember very distinctly, when a mention of [the bloggers] appeared in the Pioneer Press, they actually put the term “blog” in quotes and had to explain what it was,” recalls Foster.

Everett was chosen partly because of his credentials. He boasted a master’s degree from the Yale School of Drama and had worked for a few years at the old Cricket Theater, now the Music Box Theater on Nicollet Ave. He was a respected playwright, winning commissions and other honors from theaters around the country.

But Everett was also chosen for his Fringe enthusiasm.

“I became one of those people who’s like, ‘Yeah, if I get a pass, I can go to several shows every day.’ It was a cool idea. I could just binge on theater,” says Everett. “And a lot of it at the time was around the Loring Park area, which was where I lived. That was where a lot of the new plays would be done, where a lot of the GLBT theater would be done. I didn’t always get to see myself and my life on stage as much as I wanted to, and that was sort of a concentrated time where I could just dig in and see some strange and unusual stuff.”

Now in his eighth year of Fringe blogging, Everett says it’s the festival’s staunch non-juried ethos that keeps it interesting after all this time. The Minnesota Fringe awards performance slots via a random lottery, which means that first-time amateurs win stage time along with the seasoned pros.

“It’s always different,” he says. “The fact that it is a lottery, that nobody actually decides [who gets in] means that there is no one overriding aesthetic that you can get sick of. And, well, there’s 169 shows. Even if a person saw something in every single time slot and didn’t repeat themselves, they could only see a maximum of I think 66 shows. So no matter how much Fringe you see, you’re going to miss twice as much.”

Everett aggressively defends the lottery system, which stands as a perennial controversy.

“The only way theater gets better is if everybody gets to participate in the conversation equally,” he says. “One of the components that I look forward to every year, and this is sort of a microcosm of the festival, is the Teen Fringe. Because they are completely new to it. Sometimes they have no idea of what they “can’t” do yet, so they’ll do anything. And that’s when the boundaries get pushed, and you come out with all of these outlandish things.

“I haven’t sensed it getting worse every year. Or one year’s really great and one year’s really awful. Or where did all those great acts go? Why do we have all these losers this year? It’s never one or the other. If you apply yourself and look around, you can find what it is you’re excited about.”

Now, on the eve of the Minnesota Fringe 2010, Everett has a long list of productions to be excited about.



Everett’s take

What would Everett “feel horrible about missing” at this year’s Fringe? Here are some names that came up in our conversation.

Pommelhorse
: “I’ve never seen them perform together before. And Sam Landman, he’s amazing. I’ve wanted to see their act forever.”

John Munger and Third Rabbit Dance Ensemble
: “My mother always looks forward to him. It’s great. Dance as live performance.”

Jessica Ferris: 
“She did this show that I thought I totally wasn’t going to be into because it was about mime and children with disabilities. It was kind of mind-bogglingly good and cool and not the least bit overly sentimental or about what terrifies people about mimes. Now this year, she comes back with a show about the search for her father who left when she was a young kid.”

Troy Conrad and “The Bush Monologues”: 
“Troy’s back this year as George Bush. The title is what I thought might be a take on the Vagina Monologues.  The content is all George W. Bush, as Troy Conrad sees him.  Last time he visited our Fringe, he played Jesus.  He's clearly not afraid of controversial comedy."


Casebolt and Smith: "Their show is called 'O(h).'  They were wonderful last year, and I'm sure they'll be the same again.  Mom can't wait to see them.

Mahmoud Hakima: "He has a great solo piece called ‘Can Michael Come Out and Play?’”