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Previews offer peek into Fringe Festival

The Minnesota Fringe Festival is so huge that it can prove daunting to even the most seasoned theatergoer. With more than 150 shows spread out over 18 venues, the dizzying breadth of it all can leave you paralyzed.

The Fringe folks realize this as well, and have made plenty of moves to make entry all the easier. Along with copious information on its website (there’s even a “need help getting started?” button on the front page of the site), there are a string of previews during the weeks leading up to the event.

Judging by Monday’s “Fringe-for-All” at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis, we’re in for a wild ride in 2009. The highlighted shows featured a microcosm of the festival — a touch of one-person shows, some original oddities, a few ambitious projects — that promised a lot of potential. Where else could the kid-friendly folks at Top Hat Theatre be followed by the decidedly adult “The Problem of the Body. Why is our society ashamed of bodily urges?”

It’s a bit like off-the-cuff natural selection. Some shows connected immediately; some didn’t at all. What’s tough is that a poor showing (or poor preparation) can cause a show to be crossed off from the potential “to see” list. On the upside, a title that didn’t appeal one bit can rise up on that mental list. Maybe not to the “must see” side, but at least the “well, if I’m in the neighborhood and I really want to see the show afterwards” side.

Several pieces moved to that side Monday night for me, including “Burning Man and the Reverend Nuge” (an out-of-town show presented as a video tease Monday night), Pauper’s Theater’s “Schrödinger’s Cat Must Die” and Nancy Donoval’s “Every Pastie Tells a Story” (remember, not every show is for all ages). The evening ended with “The Return of LICK!” which looks to be the kind of show Fringe was made for: four doughy guys in tight pants and spangley shirts doing a “sexy” dance to Tomoyasu Hotei’s “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” (must … resist … urge … to make additional snarky remark).

A few more showcases are scheduled for the next week at area libraries. Check out the Fringe’s website here for more information.

Another way to make Fringe decisions? Check out trailers for the shows. This year, creators of the 162 Fringe shows have been invited to create 60-second snips of their pieces. Not only does it give them a way to highlight the work without fighting for space on a crowded table outside of the venue, but there’s even a prize.

Visitors can vote for their favorites for the first “Fringey Awards.” These votes — and those of a panel of experts — will determine the winners, all of whom will receive a year of web hosting from sponsor VISI. Not to mention the glory of picking up a new kudo for their mantles (oh, the grand prize winner gets 500 bucks too).

Voting runs through July 28. Visit online to view and vote. So far, about three dozen shows have posted their clips.

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