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Building a Community from the Fringe Festival

By Rick Pender · June 10th, 2009 · Curtain Call

The 2009 Cincinnati Fringe Festival wrapped up on June 6 with approximately 200 people jammed into Know Theatre’s bar space, the Underground. It was a festive finale to the sixth annual event’s successful 12-day run. Two days before the Fringe was over, the festival’s ticket goal was met; final attendance was approximately 6,600, spurred by a 140 percent increase in pass sales over 2008.

The exhausted staff and volunteers (often seen tooling around Over-the-Rhine on Segways) were relieved and overjoyed by the results. Late Saturday evening, after a series of amusing pseudo-awards and numerous thankyous, producer Eric Vosmeier announced three “pick-of-the-Fringe” recipients, selected from 31 productions. I experienced 22, and the choices were tough — at least a half-dozen works deserved serious recognition.

David Gaines’ 7(x1) Samurai, a one-man rendition of a Kurosawa film, was the Critic's Pick. The wildly popular show, faithful to the original and yet hysterically funny, was the best-attended Fringe show, with 547 admissions recorded at Gabriel’s Corner. The Producer's Pick went to Empire of Feathers, an inventive work by Giant Bird, a London-based trio of actors who created a fable about an epic journey in search of the truth.

Some viewers (including me) found it murky and overlong, but others reveled in its humor and creativity.

The Audience Pick went to Gravesongs (pictured) by local playwright Sarah Underwood, a showcase for the five actresses comprising Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s intern company. Underwood’s script about death from the perspective of women in their early twenties was tailored for the performers. Some scenes were about people affected by the deaths of acquaintances, while others portrayed young adults recently deceased who looked back at life. The thoughtful work was engagingly performed by the interns, who excelled individually and as an ensemble.

These “picks” demonstrate the growth and strength of the Cincinnati Fringe: Local offerings are as strong as those from elsewhere. Perhaps performers in Cincinnati have been inspired by work from those on the Fringe “circuit.” But I suspect it’s actually the byproduct of a steadily serious theater scene.

[If you want to catch up on the shows presented this year, check out reviews of all 31 productions on CityBeat's Fringe Fest microsite here.]

Jeff Syroney, Know’s board president and Fringe co-founder, described the original idea of a festival where “artists could experiment.” But could it be sustained? In fact, he says, “We have started building community here in Cincinnati” — of theater artists, volunteers and appreciative audience members — present in force to celebrate at the Underground on this joyous Saturday evening. It’s a community that has put down roots and built the collaborative relationships that shore up a creative, inventive and vital theater scene.

While you’re feeling good about the Fringe’s 2009 success, you might consider sending a contribution (go to cincyfringe.com). Two generous sponsors passed away earlier this year, and finances have been tight despite this year’s attendance success.

The seventh annual Cincinnati Fringe is set for June 1-12, 2010. Mark your calendar — it’s one of the most important arts events in our city.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: rpender@citybeat.com



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