Saint Paul, MN Sunday August 3
We have been back from WI for a week now and are continuing our explorations of our home area, an area we have neglected for the last 18 months as we have traveled around the U.S. The last week was one in which we continued testing out a few new events unaccomplished in our previous ten years here.
Friday and Saturday we explored the Minnesota Fringe Festival. The Fringe Festival is a potpourri of short (less than 60 minutes), adventurous acts of comedy, drama, dance, music or a combination of the former. This year there are 169 different shows at 19 different venues around Minneapolis. Each show is performed five times over an 11 day period, but at just one of the 19 different venues. Show descriptions are brief, until online reviews are written providing an attendee’s explanation and critique of a show. Ticket options vary from one show, to ten ticket packages, on up to an unlimited number. Shows are offered every 90 minutes. To get into a show, you have to show up, get in line to obtain a ticket, and then get in line to get into the theater. Seating capacity varies on the venue. Performers actually receive 65% of the ticket revenue for each show they perform so online reviews are important. The artists may also have friends passing out flyers about their show at some of the other 168 shows. It seems they also try to get friends to write early positive reviews, sort of stacking the deck. One veteran fringe-goer we talked to in line said to pay more attention to reviews written by people who write multiple reviews, those are less likely to be written by friends or family.
There are about 25 fringe festivals in the U.S, 10-12 in Europe,and another 10-12 in Canada and Australia. Minnesota Fringe is the largest non-juried festival in the United States and the third-largest Fringe festival in North America. This year is the 21st one in Minnesota. Supposedly it started in Edinburgh Scotland in 1947 but took a while to gain traction elsewhere.
This being our first time, our tactic was to focus on two locations and decide among shows being offered Friday and Saturday. Friday evening we were in the Lyndale-Lake area with three venues close by each other. Saturday we chose the Rarig Center at the U which offered four venues in the same building. We figured trying to drive to another part of town and get into a theater in 30 minutes would be a pain. We had purchased a punch card good for ten tickets, or five shows for us as a couple. Of course, given our habits, we were in each area plenty early. In fact, Friday night we had time to walk around Lyn-Lake and have appetizers at Bryant -Lake Bowl (one of the venues). The neighborhood has changed dramatically since we lived here 40 years ago; much more upscale housing nowadays. This first weekend of fringe we did not encounter any sold out performances; supposedly this is likely the second weekend as reviews coalesce around the top shows and attendees try to make sure they can get in to the top performances.
Four of our choices were comedies, one was a mystery. Three were pretty decent, one so-so and one kinda lousy. The lousy one was still receiving pretty positive reviews 24 hours later from other people on-line. No sense describing the plots, you won’t see them and I probably could not detail them in an interesting and concise fashion. But the overall experience was a fun one; one we might well continue if we are home next summer. But we think five is a reasonable number to see. There is considerable standing around time for a performance that probably will only last 45-55 minutes. (If the show goes over 60 minutes, they turn on the stage lights and tell them to get off.)
Saturday was a particularly busy day. A morning bike ride went into Crosby Farm Park to observe if the bike/walking trails had been completely cleaned up after the flooded Mississippi River had inundated the park. The City crews had done a great job and we enjoyed the ride, even more so when Jim and Heidi spotted us on the path and we stopped to chat for a while. Unfortunately our Fringe Festival activities prevented us from watching Jim’s St. Paul Pioneers football team win again Saturday afternoon. One more win and they are on to another national title play off next January in Florida. We may have to adjust our winter plans if they make the championship. After the bike ride, we headed over to the Guthrie area of Minneapolis. We had a 1 P.M. walking tour sponsored by the Mill City Museum.
This walking tour was about the conditions for working women in the mill area during the late 1800s and early 1900s. A re-enactor in period dress gave the presentation for us and about 15 others as we walked along the mill area streets and the river. The day was warm and hazy (smoke from Canadian wildfires has drifted our way) but the 90 minute tour was worthwhile. The re-enactor portrayed a female reporter(Eva Valesh) for a St. Paul labor paper who later became a union organizer and national speaker.Valesh was just 19 when she began reporting and would go undercover, get jobs in the factories, and then report on working conditions. The good factories were relatively clean with reasonable wages for the time ($6-7 per week.) Many were dirty, low paying, and required standing on concrete for 10 hours per day, frequently 6 days per week. At one factory, the women went on strike for better working conditions, the owner would not make improvements and the factory closed and went bankrupt a few months later. When Valesh was on her speaking tours, she charged $5 per speech except when she was back in Minneapolis where she presented her talks for free.
Sunday we returned to the Mill City Museum for another 90 minute walking tour. While we were waiting for it to begin, we caught the 19 minute film on the history of Minneapolis. It is a humorous account of the city’s history but there is one inaccuracy. When talking about the local labor movement, the narrator (Kevin Kling) gives the history of Minneapolis labor but calls it Twin City labor history. In reality, the two cities approached labor relations in completely different attitudes. St. Paul was more benevolent while Minneapolis was run by corporations who maintained a strict anti-union workforce until the 1930s and 40s.
The Sunday walking tour was about the water power of the falls. In this tour, a costumed museum interpreter portrays William de la Barre, who was born in Austria and moved to Minneapolis from Philadelphia to be the head engineer working for the Washburn Crosby mills and water power company. He spent half a century developing flour mills and waterpower for the company. The guide has been giving these presentations for a dozen years and does it very well. The Washburn-Crosby mills were the forerunner of today’s General Mills. General Mills makes a flour labeled as Gold Medal. In 1880, the national milling association held an international competition to determine the best flour. The Washburn Crosby company, using the new technology that de la Barre installed, won the gold prize and hence the brand name. Fortunately for the company, the competition was only held once and thus the prize could not be claimed by any other company.
Mr. de la Barre was hired after the Washburn A mill exploded in 1878 to build a new mill that would not explode and went on the be the person responsible for controlling and maximizing the water power created at St. Anthony Falls as Washburn bought up all of the riverfront land and its water rights. The city wanted water power and the industry it would sustain. Flour mills, saw mills and textile mills all lined the riverfront and along the parallel canal which had been created to furnish the waterpower. Over time, saw mills and textile mills dropped out and milling became the dominant force for many decades. The river bed geology is soft sandstone over a varying depth of harder limestone. Besides creating Minnehaha and St. Anthony Falls, the geology led to numerous sinkholes and collapsed tunnels at the dam and raceways that had to be repaired. One factoid we learned, the original suspension bridge on Hennepin Avenue was the first bridge crossing the Mississippi River. (St. Louis tries to take credit erroneously.) Izzy’s ice cream has located a second shop three blocks from the Mill City Museum so we ended our afternoon activities with a visit there.
Earlier in the week I volunteered for the National Park Service doing the enviable task of pulling weeds. At Coldwater Springs is a new park along the Mississippi created on the site of a spring that provided water to Fort Snelling. The Park Service has been the responsible party in bringing this to fruition as a park. In most of the Mississippi River National River and Recreation area, they just partner with local governments and park agencies to provide a coordinated approach. I spent 1.75 hours bending over, hunched over, or kneeling on the ground pulling out crown vetch. Great fun; my lower back is still crying out to me.
Thursday night was the Lynx, our WNBA team that has won the WNBA championship two of the last three years, finishing second the third year. We met the Sarahs and some of their friends at Kieran’s Irish pub before the game. The Lynx had close to a sell out crowd at Target Center as they played the Phoenix Mercury, the team currently with the best record in the WNBA and riding a 16 game winning streak. Well, the Lynx put an end to that streak in an exciting game.
The rest of the week was quieter. We had dinner with Kathy and breakfast with Bernie and Tony. We paid a visit to Indian Mounds Park in the Dayton’s Bluff area of St. Paul. We figured if we drive to Iowa and Mississippi to see Native American mounds, we can certainly make another visit to our local ones. There is no museum here though.
Ed and Chris Monday August 4 2 PM