In matters of performing arts, the choice to bare all can be as important as a curtain call.
While lounging in an ivory ceramic bathtub, Siobhan O’Loughlin will dive into themes of healing, trauma and recovery — sans curtain — for her second stint at the Minnesota Fringe Festival this summer. She was here last year with a piece about perception of female body hair.
Her latest show, “Broken Bone Bathtub,” is based on time spent in a bulky arm cast after a severe bicycling accident last fall. Menial tasks, such as dressing or showering, became an inconvenience for the Brooklyn-based artist.
The injury spurred a routine of bathtub hopping at friends’ homes, a regimen that had O’Loughlin, 27, bubbling with gratitude.
She recalled the kindness and generosity of friends who’d wash her favorite robe or leave chocolate on her towel. They’d often share through-the-door conversations, until she invited one friend to simply join her in the bathroom, inspiring the piece’s interactive style.
It’s “very much about being vulnerable and asking someone’s acceptance of you and your flaws and feelings and needs,” she said. “Thinking of that, and the people who took care of me when I wrecked my hand, was definitely the most vulnerable I felt for a couple weeks.”
O’Loughlin’s is one of 174 shows at the 22nd annual Fringe Festival, which serves up 11 days of music, comedy, drama and dance, starting Thursday. This year’s menu of one-hour shows welcomes a spike in site-specific venues — nontraditional spaces such as bathrooms, churches, buses, parks and museums.
Other noteworthy trends include a rise in literary performances, such as Melville and Shakespeare, and traveling storytellers. New shows also confront topics of social justice and diversity, including “Ferguson, USA,” “Arrest Me: A Musical Drama” and “Bring the Children Home,” which is playing at the Minneapolis American Indian Center.
Shaking it up
Offbeat venues, such as pools or cars, have graced the Fringe through the years, although there has been a lull because too many performers tried to use the gambit to end-run the Fringe lottery.
“The Fringe has reached a point where we’re mature as an organization,” said executive director Jeff Larson, adding that the festival often draws repeat performers. “I don’t want people to ever feel like they know what to expect when they come to a festival.”
In spirit with the festival’s quirkiness, Larson wanted to recast site-specific venues as an artistic challenge and immersive experience.
A film of suds will be the only bar between O’Loughlin and her audience, although the piece’s page warns: “Nudity! And extreme intimacy,” which former executive director Robin Gillette said could be a turnoff for more reserved audiences.
“You can create an environment that is so much more intimate than even the tiniest, most intimate proper theater,” said Gillette, who volunteered her own bathtub for O’Loughlin’s use. “It allows that sort of connection that would otherwise be hard.”
The piece, in essence, is a feat of confidence for O’Loughlin, who has performed the show in Tokyo and Los Angeles. Audience members have massaged her hand, dropped soap in the tub or shampooed her hair.
“While it may be really intense for people with this [unfamiliar] woman, it really helps bring us closer to the times when I was really in need or desperate or humiliated,” she said.
This year’s domain will also include the Nomad World Pub, Weisman Art Museum and Lyndale Farmstead Center.
Beyond Midwest horizons
Places near and far have influenced this festival’s flavor. It’s the second year at the helm for Larson, whose visit to the New Orleans Fringe Festival a couple of years ago compelled him to amp up the weirdness scale.
“I was really excited by the stuff I saw there,” he said, citing parades, walking tours and backyard installations. “And I know we have the kinds of artists who are just doing stuff that doesn’t fit into conventional theaters as well.”
For Keely Wolter, a trip to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2011 was the impetus behind her walking tour at the Minnesota Fringe. Wolter, a Minnesota native, lived in London, where she met friends who gave walking tours for money.
Her performance, called “Stuff That Reminds Me of Other Things,” is a compilation of memories from a decade of uprooting her life. She moved to Seattle and the West Coast for change, Cincinnati for love, Washington, D.C., for work and London for education.
“I had moved around so much as an adult that I hadn’t lived long enough anywhere to know about any places,” she said.
Equipped with guidebooks, the audience will walk with Wolter and an assistant, clad in Girl Scout-style jumpers, to various points in Minneapolis. At each spot, Wolter will reference people, places and experiences.
“I think inherently by relating [stories] to places nearby, there is this sort of love of the place you’re in,” said Wolton, 34, who’s been back in the Twin Cities 3½ years.
Taking a gamble
A five-day transatlantic voyage is the tale behind Inga and Dimitri’s “From Russia With Love.” The Russian couple, based in Chicago, will sing at Andrew Riverside Presbyterian Church in a cabaret-style show.
“It’s not just a story about making a journey but about how two people grow together, and maybe grow apart, but grow back together again,” said Inga Rustakov, 33, of her relationship with Dimitri Dimitriev, 26.
“When somebody important is in your life, it’s like an ebb and flow,” she added. “I think everybody in an audience can relate to someone being wishy-washy and changing their minds about something.”
The crop of nontraditional shows will face a survival test among viewers. Minnesotans have a reputation for being “Darwinian,” Larson said. Commitment is at the viewer’s disposal, and show passes run from $44 for four performances to $195 for unlimited, or $14 for a single adult ticket.
Audiences may at first buy into the novelty of inventive shows, but they like to be sold quickly. Social media, such as Facebook, have provided an additional stage to swap reviews or connect with performers.
“There is no gatekeeper at the Fringe,” Larson said. “The more people who can embrace that and take chances and see something weird, the more exciting it’ll be.”
Natalie Daher • 612-673-1775
The Minnesota Fringe Festival
What: Theater, dance, performance art, spoken word. When: July 30-Aug. 9. One-hour shows start from 5:30-10 p.m. weeknights, 1-10 p.m. on Sat.-Sun. Where: More than 15 venues in Minneapolis (see map). Tickets: $14 per shows. Multishow passes available. $4 button required for admission. fringefestival.org Reviews: Posted daily at startribune.com/fringe
See a full schedule on E6-E7