The Fringe is No Joke

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Last weekend (which also happened to coincide with Mother’s Day weekend) was Pittsburgh’s very first Fringe Festival. It also happened to be my first Fringe Festival. I always knew that Fringe Festivals involved some out of the ordinary acts and performances but these shows were nothing like what I was prepared for. And that’s a good thing.

The first show I saw was 40 Minute Divorce produced by Cup-a-Jo Productions on Friday the 9th. This production happened to take place at the Winchester Thurston School in one of their libraries, which I found fitting, as they mentioned having “so many books” at the beginning of the play. The piece started out with music coming from a few live musicians in the corner of the room. The music was very moving and fitting to the inevitable sadness that was 40 Minute Divorce (spoiler alert: they get divorced at the end). Honestly, I could listen to those musicians all day; they were wonderful and refreshing and meaningful. A lot of 40 Minute Divorce was a movement piece; mostly interpretive-type dance while spouting poetry mostly related to colors and descriptions about each other. These little dance breaks happened at the beginning of the show, during the scene changes and at the very end all happening while another separate dancer moved gracefully in the background. The show finished with the couple talking about who gets what and what to do about their son then shifting into another song by the musicians. While singing an entire song with the actors still standing onstage seemed a bit awkward and excessive, I really enjoyed hearing them play. This show was very moving, very sad and very personal and I very much enjoyed it.

Serotonin Syndrome produced by Serotonin Syndrome Productions I saw Saturday morning at 10:20am. Waking up early on a Saturday was obviously not for everyone as I was the only one in attendance at their first show. I introduced myself to Genevieve Taricco and Mycah Leigh Artis before the show started and I instantly felt like I could relate to these young women. The show started out with a routine of the two walking back and forth erratically with rolling suitcases through the balloons on the floor. This shifted into introductions by each actress. At this point I realized that this show was going to be very poignant and very personal. And boy was I right. The pair took turns asking each other personal questions (while using Fisher Price medical toys), they required audience participation at multiple points, they then shifted into what I felt was the most intimate part of the performance. The two took turns reciting words they’ve written about their real life experiences including a devastating breakup and a tragic death in the family all while a slide show of the people they’re referencing play behind them. I really felt like the majority of this show was a comment on modern society and how women are treated in this day and age. All of this is real life, true stories, actual experiences by Taricco and Artis. This show will obviously continue to morph and change as they grow as people. This show will also never be the same twice. They pull phrases out of hats, the audiences will react differently, and they answer different sets of questions. It’s incredible that a show this astounding and relatable will never be repeated exactly ever again and will likely be equally as moving, if not more. Serotonin Syndrome was the most thought provoking performance I saw all weekend and is why it was chosen as Best of Show in the festival this year.

A Well Balanced Madness was written and performed by Pittsburgh’s own Mad Muse, Lori Howsare. Like it says in her program bio, the Mad Muse is a persona she created based on and inspired by Shakespeare. She performs spoken word written with the language used in Shakespearean times. I find this absolutely incredible and impressive. Shakespeare is lacking appreciation from a lot of young people, including myself unfortunately. Howsare’s resonant, intense voice kept our attention for every second of her performance. Sadly, I came into her performance a bit late and missed most of the beginning, but the moments I actually saw were spectacular. It takes such talent and patience to take such a complex and specific language and turn it into an original work. A Well Balanced Madness was made even quirkier by her two musicians sitting in the back; one on a kazoo, the other on a tiny ukulele used for emphasis when certain things were said. The audience participation included standing up and “birthing” your madness and feeling the things around you, soaking it all in. A Well Balanced Madness was quick, to the point and very smart. Definitely keep your eye out for The Mad Muse, she’s a force to be reckoned with.

Even though my experience with the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival was slightly confusing, I had a really wonderful experience. I noticed a general theme with the shows I saw: real life. These shows were so personal and so real. I’m truely inspired that there are people out there that can share such intimate things with an intimate audience. It can really make one think. It’s comforting to know that there are so many other people out there working on so many different types of performance, not just theatre. Hopefully the kinks will be worked out in time for the next festival and we can really sink our teeth into this next year.