Despite recent chilly weather, I have received a sure sign of intense future warmth. It came in the form of the news release from Know Theatre listing the shows that will make up the eighth annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival, which opens its two-week run on May 31 at 6 p.m. with CityBeat’s official Fringe Kick-off Party. All in all, there will be 35 different productions to see, including three works from a new program, FringeNext, that’s powered by high school students.
According to the organizers, a record number of applications were submitted for the 2011 Fringe, more than half from out of town. The result is a festival split just about evenly between local producers and acts that come from elsewhere. Among a lot of familiar faces will be new performers, too — roughly half of the acts are new groups, and half are artists we’ve appreciated since 2004. Get a pass (you can get one for six shows for $60, cheaper than the $12 per show ticket) and come on several different evenings to see a mind-boggling array of material: 13 plays, nine solo shows, two musicals/operas, five dance pieces, two circus/variety acts and one walking tour.
There will be more to read about the 2011 Fringe in CityBeat as the festival draws closer. And as acts open we’ll again offer timely overnight review coverage of every one of them, providing you with insights to help you choose which shows you want to see.
Here are some highlights to whet your appetite.
Monologue pieces are the stock-in-trade of Fringe festivals, and several booked for 2011 look really interesting. Dawn Arnold from Chicago performs The Lydia Études, focused on Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. Based on Jimmy Hogg’s appearance in 2010 in A Brief History of Petty Crime, I have high expectations that the solo artist from Toronto will engage audiences with Curriculum Vitae, about the world of work and underemployment.
Zehra Fazal was named the best solo performer at the DC Capital Fringe in 2009 with Headscarf and the Angry Bitch, which went on in 2010 to make waves at the New York International Fringe. The New York festival also offered fertile ground for Joe Hutcheson, whose Miss Magnolia Beaumont Goes to Provincetown portrays a Southern debutante trapped in the body of a gay man.
Two of Cincinnati’s excellent theater companies will be part of the Fringe for the first time since 2004. Cincinnati Shakespeare produced the original festival eight years ago. They’ll participate this year with an offering that presents five of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales using unique theatrical approaches for each piece. New Edgecliff Theatre, which normally hangs out in the East End, returns to offer Darker, a mind-bending new script by the company’s playwright-in-residence, Catie O’Keefe. In addition, the intern company from Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, always a source of solid acting and engaging Fringe productions, will present the local premiere of Melancholy Play, a contemporary farce by Pulitzer Prize winner Sarah Ruhl.
Local groups that have made names for themselves at past Fringes are back, too. Artemis Exchange, which had hits in 2009 (A Perfectly Wonderful Evening) and 2010 (Aberrant Reflections on the Barbarism of You & I, a work that heads to the Chicago Fringe this summer) returns with Peyote Business Lunch by Paul Lieber. Performance Gallery, which has contributed a production to all eight Cincinnati Fringe Festivals, will collaborate with dance company Pones Inc. (itself a Fringe participant since 2008) for The Body Speaks, a work that uses seven images by photographer Sean Dunn as the inspiration for spoken word and movement pieces.
Let’s not forget about the high school element, too. FringeNext is set for June 1-5, consisting of productions created and performed by two groups of students from the School for Creative and Performing Arts (The Players of the Imaginarium will present The Color of Harmony and The Biblers will offer The First Book of the Bible) and from Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Ky. (presenting Talk to the Hand). This new Fringe component is intended to provide training for aspiring theater professionals; the kids are attending workshops by Fringe artists this month to learn about producing a show. They will also volunteer at Fringe performance venues in Over-the-Rhine.
There’s lots more to look forward to, including a half-dozen works that feature puppets (Schedule C from Indiana is offering Puppets Should Speak, a play about forbidden love involving ventriloquist puppets) and several works inspired by circus acts (including “cabaret-style fire entertainment”). Five dance productions are on the docket, several with great titles — Psophonia Dance Company returns from Houston to present Rip in the Atmosphere, while Cincinnati’s own MamLuft&Co. will perform S/M/L (as in “small, medium and large”).
If I were you, I’d put a big red circle on my calendar for the evening of May 31 and plan to attend the Kick-Off Party at Know Theatre (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine). For a $5 voluntary donation, you’ll get music, food (from local restaurants like Mayberry, Skirtz & Johnston, Washington Platform and Venice on Vine) and Christian Moerlein drink specials all night long. Best of all, you can meet Fringe artists and staff (and maybe even sign up to volunteer). It could be the beginning of the best two weeks of your summer.
CINCINNATI FRINGE FESTIVAL returns to various Over-the-Rhine venues May 31-June 11. For more details and to purchase all-access and six-show passes (as well a gift certificates), visit www.cincyfringe.com.