THEATER: All Hail the Fringe!

Or, "You Go See 'Audish'"--Novelist/performer Geoff Herbach offers an unabashed ode to the Fringe Festival, the Twin Cities, and especially the teenagers of the Bakery Theatre Company, who are behind the endearingly wacky Fringe production, "Audish."


YES, THIS IS A LOVE NOTE TO THE TWIN CITIES, to the Minnesota Fringe Festival, and to everyone involved in the show, Audish. Let’s just get that out of the way. So…
         Slight Dylan Frederick runs around the house at Theatre de la Jeune Lune, nervously clicking a pen, barking directions at the actors on stage. This is a tech rehearsal: lights, sight lines, voices; Dylan shouts to one actor to use better breath support. The stage is mammoth. “We were practicing in a 9×6-foot space before this,” he tells me, clicking his pen ten times, then speed-walking away. There is a lot to accomplish in the three hours allotted for this production to handle its tech concerns on site at the venue, but things are moving with great efficiency. The actors are comfortable on the stage. They’re professional. They take direction. Everyone knows what’s going on. And Dylan Frederick seems like an old pro.
         In some senses, he’s just that. Dylan is a veteran actor in the Twin Cities, with credits at the Guthrie, the Chanhassen Dinner Theater, and the History Theatre, among others. In another sense, however, he’s just a dang kid (as is everyone else involved). At the age of sixteen, Dylan and his similarly youthful (and accomplished) pal Anders Nerheim have written and are directing a play, Audish, at this year’s Fringe.

He (and everyone else involved) is just a dang kid! I was a theater geek too, but at sixteen I was buying bags of unpopped popcorn, driving around for hours giggling and firing popcorn seeds through McDonald’s drinking straws at pedestrians. I wasn’t doing this.

         This, by itself, seems incredible to me: Really… teens do this in the Twin Cities? Write, act, direct, present—on their own? I did not. At sixteen, I bought bags of unpopped popcorn, drove to McDonald’s to pick up straws, then drove around—for hours—giggling, firing popcorn seeds at pedestrians in my small hometown. I could easily have killed someone (heart attack). Of course, the town was so small, people recognized me and called my mother; when I got home from my forays, I was grounded. And while I was grounded, I watched MTV and ate Cheetos. Would I have spent my time differently had I grown up in the Twin Cities? Yes. Undoubtedly. See, I was a theater geek, too.
         Audish, which is industry lingo for an audition, is a comedy starring the writer/directors Dylan and Anders (as a short-shorted stage manager with a past and a director with something excellently in common with Ricky Gervais, respectively) and five young women who have arrived… someplace, probably a theater, to audition for… something, in front of… someone—a director of some note, apparently, although we never know his name or what show he’s planning to direct.
         The young women exhibit many of the extremes in behavior Anders and Dylan have, themselves, witnessed at auditions: there is the annoyingly sunny one, the utter greenhorn, the arrogant one, the absolute stress case, and, oddly but perfectly, the one who is defined by her tendency to pour bottles of Smartwater on herself. In the short time a Fringe show allows, we get to see these women interact with each other and with the stage manager in the lobby and each, in turn, with the alternately sadistic, dismissive, vulnerable, and exuberant director in a separate room.
         The show consists of these interactions and not much else. “I am not looking to change a life in under an hour,” Dylan admits in an email. But that’s not to say Audish is without ambition, however. Comedy is not easy. People who are trying to be funny often are not. And this show is something more than a straight comedy; it is theater of the absurd. It has slapstick, and it is bawdy, and it is dark. “Variation is what attracts me to comedy,” says Anders.

         Uh huh. The script is full of big laughs and little right angles, and one seriously pretty little moment that is, somehow, unglued from time. And these are high school students writing, remember? Whatever. No matter their age, these performers are incredibly savvy about comedy. They’ve studied it. And, although certainly not plot driven, their show is well-structured and it has a solid, if weird, rhythm to it. Maybe the story isn’t life changing, but it’s satisfyingly complicated all the same.
         An enormous part of comedy rests on effective delivery (both vocal and physical), of course, and if an audience is going to swallow all the absurdities in this show, they’re going to need to like the characters enough to go along for the ride.
         So—good cast? Check that.
          “If there’s one thing to brag about, it’s the cast. I don’t know how we got them, but we did,” Dylan enthuses. Yeah, the kids are all right. In fact, reading through the cast bios, I get the sense I’m seeing a “Who’s Who in Teenage Actors” for the Twin Cities; outside those of veteran theater scenesters Dylan and Anders, these dang kids have credits with Stages, the , the Youth Performance Company, with shows at the Southern and productions at the Ordway under their belts. The cast knows what they’re up to.

These kids do the equivalent of The Who bashing their instruments to pieces at the end of ‘My Generation,’ except they’re theater geeks and not rockers, and that is beautiful.

         The entire cast is really good—I could give a shout out to all of them—but Amy Stockhaus, as the annoyingly exuberant Tara, especially stands out. She has stellar comedic timing and a unerring sense for using her body as a comic tool. Megan Collins, as the inexplicably Smartwater-soaked Calliope, is very funny, too; I found myself actually guffawing during Collins’ rendition of her audition song. Zach Mahler is worth mentioning here as well, seeing as how he is responsible for that beautifully unglued moment mentioned above, a moment entirely dependent on the actor’s grounding in physical comedy from silent film (or mime, I suppose). Mahler does it well.
         Okay, okay—if I were a critic (which I am, actually, decidedly not), I might mention that a show attempting to capture a universe of humor in less than an hour is likely lacking a center; and that, maybe, the lack leaves it a little distracting and diffuse. I might also say Audish‘s ending is too easy (mayhem); but, even then, I might observe, “These dang kids just did the equivalent of The Who bashing their instruments to pieces at the end of ‘My Generation,’ except they’re theater geeks and not rockers, and that is beautiful.” And you know what? That is exactly what I’m going to say.
         When I was a teenager, I shot people with popcorn-loaded drinking straws and watched TV. I grew up in a tiny town, and although I was a theater geek, I only spent about six weeks a year actually doing theater. Here in the Twin Cities, we have a whole crew of theater geeks who are professionals by the time they reach their teens—kids who study comedy, who write shows. And we have the Minnesota Fringe Festival which gives these dang kids, if they make it through the lottery and get a spot, the opportunity to put on this show in a theater like Jeune Lune. Are you kidding me? Do you know how much I love this city?
         So I’ll see you at the Fringe. I’ll be over here, cheering and high-fiving people. You go see Audish.

About the author: Geoff Herbach is co-founder of the Lit 6 Project, a group that runs beer-fueled literary events around the Midwest. He is also a founding member of The Electric Arc Radio Show, a literary-musical tragi-comedy, which has aired on Minnesota Public Radio, starring four sad writers who live in a decrepit house and spend time fighting over the television remote and stealing appliances from local stores rather than writing.
     His debut novel, The Miracle Letters of T. Rimberg, was just released this April from Three Rivers Press. Herbach has hope and an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, and he’s also the coordinator for’s flash fiction competition series, miniStories.

What: Audish presented by Bakery Theatre Company
Where: Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Minneapolis, MN
When: July 31, August 3, 5, 7 & 9 (click here for specific performance times)
Admission: $12 (plus a $3 Fringe button)

Check back regularly throughout the Fringe Festival for short reviews of a sampling of shows, updated daily on, as they’re sent in by our intrepid performance critics.