Fringe Culture

If you’ve been keeping up with our coverage of the Fourth Annual Pittsburgh Fringe Festival, you’re probably assuming that this is also my first time attending such an event.

If you did assume that about me, you’re half correct.

Two years ago, I had my very first Pittsburgh Fringe experience. I saw an outdoor performance of an original play produced by my friends. I cherished the chance to support them. I also relished getting a taste of what guerilla theatre can look like and of who it can reach with some professional support.

Little did I know that that small taste, that one play was only the cherry on top of something greater.

This year, I came to realize that it is not just a random assortment of performance pieces. It is a family. Pittsburgh Fringe has its own culture.

I learned that eavesdropping in the lobby before shows just as important as watching the performances. I found it thrilling spotting patrons attending all the same shows as me and trying to guess what the other official Fringe lanyard colors—besides the purple one I wore—signified. It was interesting to hear performers share war stories from other fringe festivals around the country.

It became clear that this festival is an accepting space for all types of storytelling by all types of people. My first day of the Fringe binge featured two one-woman shows. Both were alike in structure, but very dissimilar in content and genre.

p1000995_2Swan? was the first. In it, we follow Essie, the stereotypical ugly duckling. She doesn’t have a home where she was hatched and is told as much by a curmudgeonly bullfrog. With that, she flies off in search of herself. Along her journey, she encounters a cat that teaches her about companionship, a peacock that exposes her to culture, an eagle that brings out her creative side, and a beetle that shows her the silent power of introspection.

Suddenly, with a clearer vision of the beautiful swan she always was, she is finally able to find her tribe.

Kristin Ward wears a lot of hats in this production of Swan?. Literally. She employed light and sound cues to establish an interactive atmosphere for her play. Portraying nearly a dozen characters, she also cleverly uses gesture to switch between various points of view. I admired the playfulness of her custom animal-themed head pieces and of her joyful dance steps. Much of the audience may have been too shy to groove with her onstage, but we were with her in every other way.

Next up was the hilarious Mo-to-the-oncle. This was New York-based actress Melissa Cole’s Bronx hood chronicle of Detroit Price, Jr. When his father losesimg-2737 his vision insurance, it is Detroit Jr. who must give up the shred of street cred he possesses in exchange for his sight. Since the family can’t afford any brand of glasses, all that is left for Detroit is, you guessed it, a monocle.

I simply could not stop laughing at Cole’s joke-a-minute script. She grounds outlandish characters like the country music loving pimp Uncle Sugar Free with the most thorough costumes I’ve seen featured in a solo show. Just when you think there are no more surprises in store, Cole nails a silly original rap and belts out a side-splitting rendition of “What Hurts the Most”. This was my favorite show of the day, if you couldn’t tell.

Luckily, Mo-to-the-oncle was not the only show to incorporate strong musical storytelling elements.

When it comes to that, it’s hard to beat Penelope’s Dragon. This original 45-img-20170131-092118468minute musical comedy by Puppets in Performance welcomes us in song to a peaceful, medieval kingdom. Everything changes when Lester the Jester feeds the baby dragon locked up in the kingdom’s zoo. Drake grows up, escapes his prison, and eventually finds love with a human girl named Penelope. Friendships and family ties are tested as everyone objects to their relationship, including her parents and the brave knight Sir Dirk.

The star of this show is undoubtedly PIP’s detailed and gorgeous puppet design. There were a couple of gasps from my audience when the Drake puppet first flew onstage with his magnificent sequined scales shimmering in the light. The score is a small collection of catchy charm songs that find every rhyme for the word dragon from wagon to waggin’. I also loved Elena Egusquiza’s performance as Penelope whose ferocity and fascination with dragons can be matched only by Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones.

Last on my agenda today was surely one of the more unique pieces in the festival, Teeth and Sinew. It exemplifies the mission statement of the 404501_10150601331240797_648691161_nexperimental theatre company Cup-A-Jo Productions. Through dance, three women embody the real-life account of one woman’s loving turned toxic relationship. The interpretive dance is echoed by a stirring suite of original music and by two artists who hand paint a visceral portrait of the narrator’s struggle with her abuser.

This performance featured an eclectic mix of artistic disciplines. During the final dance interlude, the movement and the voice over synced up to truly breathtaking effect. The most resonant image had to be the twisted collage of hope and regret that the improvised painting evolved into by the show’s end. New meanings and images reveal themselves depending on where and how you look at it.

Right before the house opened for Teeth and Sinew, I overheard the end of What Comes Next: A Hamilton Sing-Along. Of course, I couldn’t help mouthing along with the lyrics with the tracks. I also couldn’t stop smiling when I realized that many of the people having the times of their lives performing at that karaoke extravaganza were kids and tweens.

For me, this was further proof that Pittsburgh Fringe really is for everyone. Whether you love dragons, have memorized all the words to Hamilton, have unfortunate vision insurance, or, like me, you’re guilty of all three, there is a Fringe button and a good time awaiting in the North Side.

Stay tuned for more Pittsburgh Fringe fun! Follow along with our adventures through our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #PITRdoesFringe 
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival for complimentary press passes. For tickets, day passes, and more information, click here. 

Friday Fringe at AIR!

17636851_781096878709340_3255313992491545639_oThe evening began with the ridiculous but thoroughly entertaining one man show Laundry Night by Captain Ambivalent.  Captain Ambivalent sings with the accompaniment of a gold accordion,  telling the story of an ordinary super hero.  The one man show reflects on the struggles of being a regular guy in Chicago, through lyrics reminiscent of They Might Be Giants or King Missile.  Sharing experiences of heartbreak, boredom and public transit as well as his rise to local fame, and a brief stint on America’s Got Talent. His costumes and props, including a 15’ purple inflatable dinosaur(not Barney) compliment the silliness of his lyrics.  The show is amusing and certainly a production all ages will enjoy.  Of course in Pittsburgh, everyone loves the the accordion.  All music performed is original, except for the famed 1989 hit by Technotronic, Pump Up the Jam, which is beyond hilarious played on an accordion.  

Next up, is Melissa Cole’s Mo-to-the-Oncle.  The story begins when Detroit img-2737Price loses his vision insurance, just at the time his teenage son, Detroit Price Jr. is in need of new glasses.  When Price reveals to the eyewear associate he has no vision coverage for his son, Detroit Jr is provided with a monocle in place of eyeglasses. The teen is horrified at the abuse he anticipates upon returning to school with a monocle. He goes to school only to have his greatest fear come true.  Another student threatens to jump Detroit Jr, so he elicits the help if his uncle, a pimp.  

Through detailed costume changes, voice reflection and finely tuned body language Cole expertly presents each character; father, optical sale associate, teenager, pimp and doctor.  The program lists Mo-to-the-Oncle as a comedy.  Detroit Jr’s rhyme is clever, the colorful characters depicted by writer/ performer Cole are well developed, the dialogue is sharp but in today’s political climate, to clarify this is a dark comedy.

Proxemics, a wearable art performance by local Pittsburgh fabric sculpturer hannah-thompson_origHannah Thompson is performed on the 3rd floor at AIR, in the gallery exhibiting Visual Fringe 2017 artists. By definition,  Proxemics is the study of humans use of space and the effects of population on behavior, communication and the ways in which humans interact with one another. I was intrigued by the synopsis in the program, I enjoy how performance art challenges my perceptions. Unfortunately, this performance was tarnished for me before it even began.  The artist arrived late, experienced technical difficulties with her music and as she prepared her props, she casually engaged other audience members in conversation about her political positions. When launched, the performance consisted of Thompson climbing into several elaborate cocoon-like stretchy ‘Snuggie’s’. Then she rolled around on the floor, extending her arms and legs or stood and stretched inside the long tubes of fabric.  Maybe she was practicing yoga or some form of free movement dance.  No one else in the audience seemed bothered.  Others mingled around after the 20-minute show engaging the artist in conversation and asking questions.  Performance art? Definitely, but definitely not my thing.

The Pink Hulk: One Woman’s Journey to Find the Superhero Within is written valerie-david-the-pink-hulk-richard-booper-photography-pressand performed by Valerie David, 2 time cancer survivor and improv artist.  Part anecdotal comedy and 100% personal narrative, solo artist David shares her terror,  frustration, depression and anger after learning she is diagnosed with breast cancer just weeks after celebrating her fifteenth anniversary of being cancer free from Lymphoma.  David bares her soul and owns the stage as she reveals the darkest time of her life; a direct attack on her womanhood; breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.  She holds back nothing, is brutally honest and frank. This is uncomfortable and frightening but David’s skill for storytelling puts me on the edge of my seat, almost immediately feeling an alliance with her.   She uses minimal props and I am tempted to say, they could actually be eliminated altogether as her narrative and stage presence are engaging enough.  

pittsburgh-image-2The Portable Dorothy Parker written by Annie Lux is a flashback in time.  The year is 1944, New York.  Writer Dorothy Parker is visited by a young editor for Viking Press, tasked to help edit the soon to be released The Portable Dorothy Parker.  Parker reflects on her time working for Vanity Fair, her friends and enemies, and the places she visited and shares these experiences and stories.   Actor Margot Avery portrays Parker over the course of the eighty minute solo performance.   Avery delivers Parkers witticisms and a straightforward rendition of her life and career with brilliant ease.  Avery reincarnates Parker on stage, and Lux channels her intellectual poise and intelligent cynicism through the script. The show, directed by Lee Costello is smart and moves fast despite being nearly an hour and a half of monologue.  

Avery’s ability to capture and exhibit Parker through delivery of dialogue, body language and slight movement are further captured through the use of period dress.   If you are a Dorothy Parker connoisseur, do not skip this performance.

Stay tuned for more Pittsburgh Fringe fun! Follow along with our adventures through our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #PITRdoesFringe 
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival for complimentary press passes. For tickets, day passes, and more information, click here.