Fringe Day Two kicked off with my extremely questionable choice to bike over to the north side despite it not being nearly as warm as I wanted it to be. After stopping at James Street for my now-customary pre-show beer (two times counts as a custom, right?) I locked up my bike outside Allegheny Inn and headed inside to join the Hugging Army.
The Hugging Army: An Experience in Connection is a storytelling performance by Vanessa White Fernandes, who shares her experiences offering free hugs to people over the last several years. For an intimate experience like this, the living room of the Allegheny Inn bed & breakfast is an ideal setting. Sitting on the couch, White Fernandes invited the audience to pull their chairs in closer and form a circle. As she discusses her thoughts and memories, she cycles through a series of pictures illustrating key points or meaningful moments.
The goal of The Hugging Army is to help people feel a connection with other people, whether they’re strangers or someone you already know. So naturally, the show ends with an invitation to hugs all around. I happened to be sitting next to Laundry Night’s Captain Ambivalent, so I can report to you, dear readers, that that dude is a good hugger. During the show we were told that a good hug lasts for three breaths, and he stayed in for all three. No hesitation.
Unsurprisingly for a person who spends her time hugging strangers, White Fernandes does a good job of making the audience comfortable in what feels more like a conversation than a performance. And sharing long hugs with seven or eight fellow theater-goers in a bed & breakfast is honestly a great way to warm up after a chilly bike ride.
My second event of the night was Proxemics, upstairs at AIR. Proxemics is a short visual art performance by fabric sculptor Hannah Thompson. I’m just
going to walk you through my train of thought on this one, because it has been my biggest Fringe-venture surprise so far. When I read the description the other day I saw the sentence “The sculptures have bodily connotations challenging the concept of proximity,” and thought “This is going to be weird and I’m not even remotely artistic enough to know how to appreciate or write about it.” But hey, it’s Fringe, so I’m game for anything.
Sitting on the floor of AIR’s upstairs gallery, I was able to chat for a couple minutes with the artist and some other people in the audience. She’s a Pittsburgh native, and had just returned from a residency of Proxemics out in Spokane, Washington. The performance itself consists of Thompson wearing several of her creations, moving her body and changing positions within the colorful, stretchy fabric to create changing images. She also has some kind of electrical apparatus that changes the sound generated by an amp on the side of the space depending on its position. I was seriously enthralled. If we’re being honest, I’m not sure I got the full message of the piece, but as a visual experience, it’s really striking. The performance only lasts twenty minutes, and it feels much shorter. I’d definitely recommend seeing this if you have a chance.
To finish out the night, I stayed at AIR for The Portable Dorothy Parker. Three one-woman shows in one night! TPDP, written by Annie Lux, features Margot Avery portraying the writer as she selects the pieces to be included in a collection of her works. Quips and poems are excerpted as she reminisces to her unseen and unheard editor. I’m not super familiar with Dorothy Parker (do I have to turn in my NYC ID after that admission?), but Lux’s dialogue and Avery’s performance definitely matched the tone of what we heard of her actual writings. And both are very funny – my “ooh, I’m totally using that line” reflex was triggered several times.
While the writing and acting were both strong throughout, it did feel a little longer than it needed to be. That might have been a result of seeing it as a late show after several shorter ones, so take it with a grain of salt. The Portable Dorothy Parker plays again at AIR Sunday afternoon, and this summer in Edinburgh. So if you happen to be in Scotland in August, stop in and give it a shot!
Epilogue: I ran into Hannah Thompson on my way home. Hats off to her for impressive memory skills. Recognizing a beardy white dude on a bike in the Strip as someone from a performance hours earlier is pretty amazing. There’s about a million of us out there.