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Fringe: Antidote to Uptight

By Rick Pender · June 8th, 2011 · Curtain Call

You’ve been reading a lot about the current Cincinnati Fringe Festival in CityBeat for several weeks. Now’s my chance to sum up what I like about this crazy annual event, and why it’s more than just fun. It’s actually good for our city.

It’s a creative shot in the arm. The artists who perform — about half from Cincinnati and half from elsewhere — get to exercise their creativity with few limitations. Well, of course, they have to do it in about an hour and more use their imaginations than props, sets and costumes. But within those strictures, performers can do and be whomever they want. Joe Hutcheson is Miss Magnolia Beaumont, a Southern belle from the 19th century now inhabiting the body of a 21st-century gay man; Dawn Arnold is a woman who loved playwright Anton Chekhov. Actors in Peyote Business Lunch meet in an Olive Garden restaurant in a casino on an Arizona reservation for an interview about an accounting job that turns into a vision quest. Elsewhere, Pones, Inc., a dance troupe, Performance Gallery, a theater company and filmmakers Golden Brown Enterprises respond to abstracted “calligraphic” photos of human forms by Sean Dunn, resulting in The Body Speaks, three intriguing responses in disparate media.

It fosters communication.

Groups that might not otherwise connect work together. New Edgecliff Theatre moves from its usual home in the East End to present Darker at Know Theatre, also the venue for Cincinnati Shakespeare’s reading of a new work based on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. High school kids from Highlands in Fort Thomas, Ky. and the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Over-the-Rhine work with theater professionals and others to create Fringe Next productions for the first time. Solo artists come from out of town — people like Jessica Ferris (Missing), Kevin J. Thornton (I Love You, We’re Fucked)) and Jimmy Hogg (Curriculum Vitae) — and rely on tech support and volunteers organized by Know to make their productions work.

It brings people to Over-the-Rhine. This year’s festival used 11 venues all over Cincinnati’s artsy, historic neighborhood that’s coming back to life everywhere you look. Storefronts on Main and Vine streets, the black-box theater at SCPA, Ensemble Theatre, Know Theatre’s mainstage and underground bar, the Art Academy, Media Bridges and more. Fringe staffers buzz around the neighborhood on Segways, on loan from Shawn Jenkins and his OTR store. Walking from one venue to another on Saturday, I crossed paths with Mike Deininger, owner of MiCa 12/v, a gift and artsy décor shop at 12th and Vine streets. I asked how business had been, and he had one word: “Great.” The synergy between arts patrons and merchants has been electric; restaurants (including the new A Tavola at 1220 Vine) and parking lots have been full.

It’s thinking outside of the box. Everything about the Fringe Festival gives people a new perspective: the art, the buzz, the camaraderie. My favorite thing to do is to hang out at the Underground, Know Theatre’s downstairs bar, and listen to conversations between artists and audience members. People compare notes, encourage others to see a show, ask about one that’s coming up. Cincinnati is often described as an uptight kind of place. Spend an evening in OTR during the Fringe and you’ll gain a very different impression.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: rpender@citybeat.com



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