Theater festival brings out the local talent
– By Harper Lee
Cincinnati’s Fringe Festival describes itself like this: “Kinda weird, like you.” Produced by Over-the-Rhine’s Know Theatre, this annual summertime theater-bender draws a fleet of artists – dancers, actors, playwrights, musicians, visual artists, puppeteers, clowns and storytellers – from across the country to share their strangest, riskiest work with audiences in spaces scattered throughout OTR – more than a dozen venues, with Know Theatre serving as Fringe HQ.
The 2018 Cincinnati Fringe Festival opens May 29 and runs through June 10. Those 13 days showcase 45 live theater, music and dance productions with 250-plus performances, as well as visual art experiences, free family-friendly offerings, film screenings, unique special events and nightly after-parties. For theater-lovers, Fringe is a buffet of delights, a wide variety of creative minds sharing engaging, experimental work that stretches the definition of theater.
Among this year’s Fringe offerings is a talented and eclectic group of Cincinnati-based artists. With their rehearsals in full swing, Movers & Makers spoke with a few of these local performers about their creative process, their passion for theater, and the work they are planning to share with Fringe audiences next month.
Theatre Mobile – ‘ExTrashVaganza!’
Award-winning Fringe veterans Erika Kate MacDonald and Paul Strickland have created a found-object puppet fantasia about transforming a painful past into a beautiful new future.
So what about these puppets?
Erika: The puppetry that we’re doing in the show is probably not what people think of when they think of puppetry. It’s object puppetry; specifically, found object/trash/materials actually pulled from the recycling bin and made into puppets.
How does the story unfold?
Paul: I’ve been saying that probably it’s more of a fantasia. I think it does a really good job of being open enough that it allows the audience to bring their own experiences into it. The idea of an “ExTrashVaganza” is a theatrical fantasia on the idea of reclaiming the past or mistakes and then recycling that or perhaps even upcycling that into some sort of useful, beautiful future.
Erika: That’s a big question. That’s a huge one. I think I could make a whole show about it.
Paul: I have been a professional opera singer. I still do stand-up comedy professionally. And I’m a professional musician. I make theater because sometimes I have something to say that cannot be said in those other ways.
Erika: Fringe, specifically, is an awesome medium. I think people have an idea of what theater is, and we’re trying to stretch that. Fringe is a place where that effort is rewarded. Hopefully, within the frame of Fringe, enough people will be like ‘OK, I’m going to take that risk even though I don’t really know what [kind of performance] I’m going to.’ And I think that’s a great attitude. Fringe attracts audiences that are up for something new. They are actively seeking an experience that they have not already had, which is what life’s all about, I think.
Yarroway Productions – ‘Re-Grooving’
Three artists – dancer Katie Chal, Rob Keenan of electro-folk band Dawg Yawp and visual artist Patty Chal – combine their different talents to explore letting go of a past self to better embrace the future.
Describe your process.
Katie: The three of us are each bringing our area of expertise to our rehearsals and through a lot of discussion about what the piece means to us, letting the work unfold. We’re kind of grappling with the ideas that we have about ourselves – things we really love, and our memories and the things that we hold onto really tightly. And that can even be a career or a whole lifestyle. It’s like a chrysalis. It’s a form that you may have for awhile, and then at some point you shed that and go into your next level of growth. And that process is riddled with a lot of struggle and also a lot of discovery and beautiful times and hard times. It’s exploring what it is to shed an old idea of ourselves.
I hope that it really resonates with people. It’s about being able to push past your boundaries. I hope that it’s a transformational theatrical experience.
As a Fringe veteran, thoughts on the festival?
Similar to the piece we’re doing, Fringe really encourages you to do something individual. It’s a safe space to be strange and put it all out there and take some risks.
Vicky Alcorn – ‘Annalise’
Highlands High School student and Fringe Next playwright Vicky Alcorn is participating in her second year at Fringe. Fringe Next productions must be written, produced and performed entirely by high school students.
I personally choose to make theater because it gives me a chance to express myself. Since I’m not the best at speaking, it gives me a chance to write it down and put it out there for more people to see.
Moment of inspiration?
I was thinking of possible shows for this year because I really wanted to do Fringe. And I was just thinking, I’m really personally struggling with my [anxiety] disorders – I wonder if I can take that and make it into something, and so I did.
What’s it like to share personal things in a play?
It has been very difficult. Especially at auditions. I had one scene where Annalise and her anxiety were getting into this big fight. Just seeing it and hearing it almost brought me to tears. It’s a lot of vulnerability, which I’m not used to, but I think it will be good for me in the end.
I really hope that people who are dealing with the same things as I [am] know that they are not alone. That’s something that personally I have struggled with the most – feeling like I’m alone, and I’m the only one dealing with this. But in actuality, there are so many people who feel just the way you do.
What’s it like being a Fringe Next playwright?
I have just gotten such a confidence boost from being involved with Fringe, and I have made so many different friends. Not only from my school but from other productions as well because we all have the same interests. And we all just enjoy being part of Fringe.
Society’s Tongue Productions – ‘Lost Generation’
Fringe newcomers Siri Imani and her mother Jennie Wright of Society’s Tongue Productions use music, dance, true stories and spoken-word poetry to unpack the stereotypes attached to millennials.
Describe your piece.
Siri: “Lost Generation” is basically a spoken-word stage play. It goes into the details of every cast member’s real life, and [they take] the stigma that they’ve been told or that’s been given to them over the years, and they’re breaking it during their performance.
The idea really came from my mom. She did a spoken-word stage play while I was growing up, and I watched it come to life and how she was able to use these real personal accounts from women at a time when I feel like women were just not being heard. And this time I feel like millennials are not being heard, and a lot of things are being projected onto us. We’ve got a lot of stigmas right now, so I think this attempt to really speak for ourselves is so important.
Siri: I hope they listen to “Lost Generation,” to people’s firsthand accounts. I hope that … can spark sympathy for my generation. We’re not just a bunch of bad teens. We’re not just a bunch of bad young adults. A lot of us have stories that need to be explained or should be explained.
Favorite part of the show?
Jennie: My favorite part is the awesome musical presence that this piece is going to have. The curtain goes up, and we just have this mishmash of classical instruments, like violins and violas and an upright bass. But we also have a guitar and a keyboardist and a live DJ. You kind of feed on that, and you’re like, ‘Whoa, what’s about to happen here?’
Victoria Hawley – ‘All We Have Borne’
Inspired by the kidnappings of Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, this piece examines the complex relationship between two women held hostage.
Being from a small town and living a pretty sheltered life and preparing to go off to college and experience more of the world – I was already really scared of that anyway. The idea of like, ‘Oh, there are people out in the world who kidnap other people and do really horrible things to them. Yeah, I don’t know if I want to go see the rest of the world.’ The idea was very much born of a personal fear and not just related to that extreme case of kidnapping. But also fear of sexual assault and sexual violence as a woman.
I hope they can come away with a little bit of perspective. And perspective that makes them feel less alone and that they, too, can do something positive with their fears or turn them into something better. I don’t necessarily want them to come away with any great revelation – just stop and think and feel something.
Cincinnati Fringe Festival
May 29-June 10, Over-the-Rhine
For the 2018 lineup, guide, tickets and volunteering opportunities: cincyfringe.com