Around 11:15 p.m. on Saturday night, the crowd at Know Theatre’s Underground Bar was about four deep. There were nearly 200 people jostling and hobnobbing at the Over-the-Rhine theater, waiting for final words about the 2013 Cincinnati Fringe Festival, the announcement of the “Pick of the Fringe” awards. No one, however, was in a hurry. There was plenty of food from OTR restaurants, and everyone was having a good time — theater fans, performers from Cincinnati, the East and West coasts (and beyond) and dozens of volunteers. Conversations, some silly, some serious, were fueled by two weeks of creativity. It was a heady atmosphere.
Everyone wanted to buzz what she or he has seen. “How many shows did you catch?” is a frequent question. “And which one was your favorite?” There was a lot of debating on the latter topic, largely because of the high quality of shows for 2013. Fully 20 percent of the performances in the 10th anniversary Fringe (34 in total) were sold out; all the tickets for the four performances of the imaginative Loon by Wonderheads from Portland,Ore., were snatched up before it opened on June 2. (Their Grim and Fischer was a big hit of the 2012 festival.)
Eric Vosmeier, Know’s artistic director and Fringe producer, told the crowd that the 2013 Cincy Fringe had the highest attendance in 10 years, up 14 percent from 2012, with an additional 1,000 additional tickets sold. That was driven by a 154-percent increase in the sales of the “One-Night Stand” passes, good for two shows and a drink at the Underground Bar.
Around 11:35 p.m.
the fast-talking Vosmeier and associate Fringe producer, the ebullient Chris Wesselman, took the stage to offer dozens of thanks to all who made the festival possible — performers, sponsors, staff, volunteers (from bartenders to box office staff), technicians and more. Apparently it takes a city — or at least a neighborhood like OTR — to make a Fringe.
Almost one-third of the 2013 productions won some form of voted recognition. The “Audience Pick of the Fringe” went to Vortex of the Great Unknown by Tangled Leaves Theatre Collective from Cincinnati. (That group and musician Serenity Fischer were winners in 2011 for Opal Opus: Journey to Alakazoo and in 2010 for Sophie’s Dream.)
A special 10th-anniversary category was voted by the founders who returned to celebrate: They singled out And All the Rest is Junk Mail from England and Pulling Off Procreation from Cincinnati’s Homegrown Theater. (For full commentaries on these productions by CityBeat reviewers, go here.) Vosmeier and his team offered a pair of “producer’s picks”: Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity by Ben Abbott from Bloomington, Ind., and The Killing Game by dog & pony dc from Washington, D.C.
Theatergoers who purchased “Full Frontal” all-access passes, giving them the opportunity to see every show in the festival, picked Ain’t True and Uncle False by Paul Strickland from Indianapolis, who observed that he’d probably had the best experience one could ever enjoy as a first-time artist in Cincinnati. Each of the performing companies were invited to vote for an “Artists’ Pick,” and that one went to Petunia & Chicken, the charming and creatively told two-performer love story by New York City’s Animal Engine. Accepting the award, performer Karim Muasher, held two fingers close together and proclaimed, “I am this close to getting an OTR tattoo!”
Critics, including the 10 contributors who provided CityBeat’s next-day coverage of every production, voted for their own pick: It went to a very funny rendition of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita by three men, including a beefy guy playing the nubile nymphet of the title. That production came from Four Humors Theater in Minneapolis, a group that has come to think of Cincinnati as its second home.
A few other recognitions included Thou Shall Rot in Hell (one of three FringeNext productions) and This Is One Shitty Party, upon which was fittingly bestowed the very tongue-in-cheek designation of the “Worst Show in the Fringe.”
Missing out on recognition were the poetic Loon from Wonderheads; The Elephant in My Closet, a monologue by David Lee Nelson, about telling his dad he’d become a Democrat; the odd but beautifully performed Shut UP, Emily Dickinson!; and Dirk Darrow: NCSSI, a noir murder mystery with magic tricks. They were passed over because there were so many great shows this time around. I’m already pumped for the 2014 Fringe.
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