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How the Fringe Festival can improve

For the last 14 years, the Minnesota Fringe Festival has had a policy that defeats quality: the lottery. In fact, they brag about it, as though it were a good thing. But a lottery, quite simply, institutionalizes mediocrity. Period. A performing arts organization should not have mediocrity as its goal. Its goal should be excellence — providing the most excellent performances possible for a discerning audience. That's it. (Though of course there should also be a policy that ensures diversity.)

Dawn Bentley, the Fringe's new executive director, talks about democratizing the arts. Democracy is an essential goal — if you're trying to build a performing arts organization that reaches out to all citizens of Minnesota. But not if you're designing the final program of performances.

My other gripe is the no-latecomers rule, which has been in effect for many years. The Fringe says it imposes the rule for reasons of safety and disruption. Then how does it explain that every single venue that it borrows allows late seating all the rest of the year? Are the venues being derelict, or is the Fringe intellectually deficient?

I didn't come to this opinion because of an enlightenment experience, but because of a bad one. I was volunteering at Mixed Blood, which because it has a second entrance that leads directly to the back of the room has no disturbance or safety issues, when a woman and her five friends showed up. They had come to see her daughter in a Fringe show. Because of her work schedule, she couldn't attend another show; this was the only opportunity to see her daughter. They were all excited. They had driven more than 50 miles and were two minutes late. Of course, we refused to seat them, though they posed no threat to anyone. 

I hope the new executive director will move quickly to rescind this misbegotten rule. 

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