Fourth Annual Pittsburgh Fringe Festival!

16903412_599257663596775_7895113580438336207_oPartaking in the spectacle of theatre and performance is a profoundly immersive phenomenon.  An audience member can be wholly consumed, enraptured by the dialogue, the stage tricks, the legerdemains and exuberant physicalities of the actors that communicate a much larger emotional message, and the story as a whole.  To experience a play as a singular microcosmic event is riveting, emotionally electrifying, challenges the conventions of expectation—but can often leave the viewer thirsting for more intensity, or perhaps different kind of elaboration on the theatrical experience.  The Fringe Festival, a competitive theatrical bonanza that allows for multiple shows from a multitude of performers and creators across the country to vie against one another in a theatrical best of the best.

Capitalizing on the multifaceted potentiality of theatrical presentations, local Pittsburgh talent O’Ryan McGowan Arrowroot (also known by his performance name O’Ryan the O’Mazing) presents his interpretative piece, “The Seven Suitcases of a Snake Oil Salesman.”  As a child reared among religious zealots and the outlandishness of ecclesiastical chicanery, O’Ryan’s title stirred a bit of anxiety and trepidation.  But the show, a multi-audience approved (given the generally kid friendly rating of PG) performance piece that will call upon some audience interaction is more a display of his incredible physical talents and the satirical side of pious antics.  Like a flamboyant Music Man, O’Ryan will display extravagant storytelling conveyed through skilled juggling, physical marvels, absurd stories and a dazzling movement meant to beguile the audience and distract them from the deceit of the Snake Oil Salesman.  Before premiering at Fringe, O’Ryan has enjoyed an extensive career in the physical arts in Pittsburgh, from stilt-walking at the Children’s museum, to teaching the terrifying art of fire-eating, and instructing classes on acroyoga.

In the realm of absurdities, the Awkward Attic Ensemble travels from St. Louis to Fringe to present “The Really Funny Improv Show.”  Veering away from the physical spectacle but still emphasizing the ludicrous and mind-bending, the Missouri troupe will boast an audacious—and at times, delightfully raunchy and profane—will demonstrate the fast-on-their feet improvisational skills of spontaneous comedy.  Claiming to be the funniest export from the Midwest since the pilgrims on the Oregon Trail (who were, irrefutably, hilarious), “The Really Funny Improv Show,” which is intended for mature audiences only, features the comedic talents of some the freshest and promising improvisational comedians around today.  The show was met with great reception at the St. Louis KC Fringe Festival, and the troupe hopes for similar uproarious responses at the Pittsburgh Fringe.

Drastically shifting from the comedic, Allison Scarley Jaye brings her harrowing and darkly compelling “Hurt People” to the upcoming Pittsburgh Fringe festival.  The hour long play investigates some of the more disturbing and aching themes of recent national crises and disturbances.  “Hurt People” tells the story of seventeen year old Sara, who attends a school that is devastated by a mass shooting.  In the wake of the turmoil, Sara is separated from her twin sister, and consequently must relocate and hole up with her toughly resolute, former-military aunt who chooses to live off the grid in seclusion.  Almost entirely removed from society, Sara manages to discover an alarming piece of news gripping the nation, and, in a move eerily evocative of films like “Elephant,” Sara resolves to guard the future by rectifying the horrifying past.  Intended to hauntingly recreate the frenzy and trauma associated with school shootings and gun violence, “Hurt People” is intended for mature audiences, as it relies on disturbing imagery and language as well as vivid optics and flash lighting.  Allison Scarley Jaye boasts an impressive acting career, earning her MA in acting from Penn State and a BFA from the University of Pittsburgh.  She will travel from Redlands California representing the Fearless Company to present her alarmingly provocative piece at Fringe.

The endlessly innovative performers from Pittsburgh’s own Cup a Jo productions are set to premiere their marvelously carnally titled “Teeth and Sinew.”  Created by the founders of the company, Liz Tripoli and Joanna Lowe, the piece challenges the conception of the theatrical performance in that it is crafted as a documentary-style, interpretative assembly of actual stories told by real individuals.  Visceral, unfiltered and unfettered, “Teeth and Sinew” examines the delicate and often unpredictable balance between internalized narratives, confessions and revelations and externalized articulations of these moments.  In doing so, the play will be a savagely and beautifully juxtaposed to three distinct dance performances intended to physically and rhythmically express the introspective moments shared by the six person cast.  Cup a Jo is known for its non-conventional performances and innovative uses of spaces and dimensions, spanning from one-person plays to multi-generic pieces, ensuring a riveting and unique experience for audiences at Fringe.

Keeping with the trend of personal traumas and externalized grief and fear, but elaborated on a larger, calamitous scale, Anna Bennet’s “Triage,” explores the intersection of individual and national peril.  Set in a terrifying yet engrossing hell-scape, the play examines two artists (who are notoriously well-equipped to be survivalists) as they scrape together an existence after living through the apocalypse.  In addition to their dire, existential peril, the two artists are stalked by colossal, shapeless beings.  The play, categorized as a work in progress, is a production of the Bent Antennae company out of Oklahoma, and potentially features an emcee who will narrate the saga and interact with the audience.

A cursory look at the plethora of plays and abstract performances set to compete at Pittsburgh’s Fringe indicates the outstanding variety and exciting and intriguing quality of the lineup.  The performances span in content and style, and are evidence of the exhilarating nature of the festival and the promising future of Fringe.

The Pittsburgh Fringe Festival will be held in several venues on the North Side starting March 31st through April 2nd. For more information visit their website at http://www.pittsburghfringe.org/

For our previous coverage of the 2016 Fringe Festival, click here.