In less than a week the Cincinnati Fringe Festival will kick off its sixth annual celebration of offbeat theater and other art forms. Not every city has a Fringe Festival, and occasionally people ask why we have one. The quick response is similar to the one sometimes offered as to why a city needs an alternative newsweekly like CityBeat: A conservative, buttoned-down place needs events and media that shake things up, that give us a new perspective on things. Of course, some of it will offend and some will mystify. But a lot of what gets presented during a Fringe Festival is about vitality and experimentation, commodities too often in short supply in our city.
That’s why we need this annual shot of experimental adrenaline, to make us open our eyes a little wider and think a little differently. For 12 days, from Tuesday through June 6, you’ll have the chance to watch more than 30 productions in multiple performances (about 170 events) featuring nearly 150 artists. The Fringe takes place in 11 venues, all but one in Over-the-Rhine. Festival organizer Know Theatre of Cincinnati (1120 Jackson St.) serves as ground zero, where you can pick up tickets and passes to events after parking (for just $2) in the adjacent Gateway Garage. The Know’s Underground bar is where Fringe-goers turn up nightly to talk about what they’ve seen and meet many of the performers.
CityBeat will preview Fringe performances in next week’s Hot Issue, and you’ll be able to read coverage on a special Fringe web section. For 2009, two-thirds of the performers are new to the Festival, and more than half are from out of town. But a quick survey of local producers indicates there will be lots of familiar faces performing, not to mention acts that are coming from sources that have provided predictably thoughtful work by local arts organizations and educational institutions.
Actress Amy Warner has become a favorite with many theatergoers — she’s performed at Cincinnati Shakespeare and New Stage Collective, not to mention playing Mrs.
Fezziwig in A Christmas Carol at the Cincinnati Playhouse. For the Fringe, she’s onstage at Ensemble Theatre in The Edge, a story about a mother and her estranged daughter. They use poetry, confession, dance and dreams in their effort to connect. Michael Haney, associate artistic director at the Cincinnati Playhouse (who happens to be married to Warner), directs the piece.
Ensemble Theatre’s acting intern company gets to show off its talents with Gravesongs, a script by local playwright Sarah Underwood, while DLF productions, which presented a vibrant Hip Hop poetry piece a year ago, is back with Free at Last and Confused in the Land of Good and Evil. Cincinnati poet Richard Hague, a four-time recipient of fellowships from the Ohio Arts Council, will present a poem of grief and ecstasy, “Where Drunk Men Go.” He’ll be joined by Michael Henson, providing traditional and Gospel tunes to complement Hague’s writing.
The drama program at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music typically provides talent for several strong Fringe entries, and this year is no exception. Drama professor k. Jenny Jones will stage Guns and Chickens with 20 student actors, most of them from the drama class of 2010. It’s an allegorical fable that features song, dance, comedy and tragedy. Painted, a work focusing on moments that shape and “paint” the rest of our lives, features CCM drama major Alison Vodnoy, who took In Rehearsal, her memorable 2008 solo show, to Fringe Festivals in Indianapolis and Minneapolis. Also in the cast is recent drama grad Kendall Karg, a key performer in last year’s Body Language, staged throughout the School for Creative and Performing Arts. Juliana Bloodgood, another CCM drama grad, had a leading role in Body Language in 2008; this year she’s directing a cast of CCM students in It Might Be OK, a look at America and its contemporary folk heroes.
Body Language II, a sequel to last year’s show, is again assembled by writer Stacy Sims. It focuses on “Phys. Ed.” and is presented in the gym at the downtown YWCA. Call Me sounds intriguing, too: Participants will use their own cell phones to get a message that will draw them into a quest to help a woman in trouble. It becomes a kind of scavenger hunt for more phone numbers and locations. Another good bet will be KAZ/m by Performance Gallery, the only group that has appeared in all six years of the Fringe. (Hint: The title is a play on words — say it out loud.)
While most people come to the Fringe for the performances, don’t miss other components of the festival, the Visual Fringe and the Film Fringe. On the visual side, local artists Matt Dayler (Art Academy of Cincinnati) and Danny Babcock (River City Scenic) return to create another mural on Know Theatre’s Jackson Street building. Last year they adorned the south wall; this year they’re taking on the one that faces north, visible from 12th Street.
Northern Kentucky University professor Chris Strobel returns, too, as the Film Fringe organizer. This year he’s conceived “Life on the Fringe,” an experiment in short social cinema. Filmmakers have been challenged to create short films, three to 10 minutes long, that complete the statement, “Life on the fringe is …” Strobel, a veteran of avant-garde film, has played a key role with the Underneath Cincinnati festival in addition to the annual 48 Hour Film Project.
Be on the lookout for Fringe “newscasts” each evening at the Underground. These videos will be created by the Know Theatre team providing updates about what’s going on, in addition to wry reports of unusual incidents and coming attractions. It’s sure to be video on the fly with a comic bent. The Fringe definitely has a sense of humor about what it’s doing, another reason why Cincinnatians need this annual dose of energetic creativity. So what are you waiting for?
THE CINCINNATI FRINGE FESTIVAL presents its first performances on May 27 and continues through June 6. The festival opens with the unveiling of Visual Fringe at 6-9 p.m. May 26 at the Art Academy, followed a kick-off party at Know Theatre at 9.