The 2011 Cincinnati Fringe Festival wrapped up on Saturday, June 11, with an 11 p.m. party and awards announcement. Festival organizer and Know Theatre Producing Artistic Director Eric Vosmeier (amazingly recovered from a traffic accident a week earlier in which both of his arms were injured) was onstage and frenetic as ever to share the news that this was by far the best attended Fringe in the festival’s eight-year history: 280 artists in 33 productions viewed by approximately 7,000 people.
The Audience Pick of the Fringe went to Opal Opus: Journey to Alakazoo (Tangled Leaves Theatre Collective from Cincinnati), while the Producer’s Pick was awarded to Memoir of a Mythomaniac: The True Story of a Compulsive Liar, or Tallulah Dies (East Tennessee State University Patchwork Players). With the addition of several high school productions to the Fringe Next aspect of the festival’s first week, The First Book of the Bible, staged by a group of students from the School for Creative and Performing Arts. And the Critics’ Pick of the Fringe was bestowed on Joe Hutcheson’s moving and entertaining monologue (actually an internal dialogue between two characters portrayed by the New York actor), Miss Magnolia Beaumont Goes to Provincetown. I was among the critics voting for this fine piece of theater. (Read my review and others by CityBeat contributors here.)
I attended few performances that were not full houses. Aside from rain on June 10, the Fringe was blessed by decent (if overheated) weather for 11 days. This was perhaps the most satisfying festival yet, offering varied and diverse shows that kept audiences coming back for more. My personal top choices in addition to Miss Magnolia were Missing: The Fantastical and True Story of My Father's Disappearance and What I Found When I Looked for Him, Headscarf and the Angry Bitch, Melancholy Play, Peyote Business Lunch, Curriculum Vitae, I Love You (We’re Fucked) and You Only Live Once Forever. (With the advantage of editing the CityBeat reviews, I saw about half the shows, avoiding a few clinkers and missing only a few that were surely worth seeing.)
On June 11, the Fringe’s final day, I attended two new additions to this year’s Fringe: a workshop of a script in progress based on Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and a special edition of True Theatre featuring Fringe artists telling stories about themselves. The Canterbury adaptation was directed by Elizabeth Harris, using a cast of five actors, including several from Cincinnati Shakespeare, the company that commissioned the work. It was inventively staged, applying different theatrical modes to each of four tales — shadow projections for the “The Knight’s Tale,” dance and music for “The Merchant’s Tale,” commedia dell’arte style for “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and masks for “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale.” Know Theatre’s upstairs stage was filled to the brim for the promising work.
True Theatre, which has offered quarterly evenings of themed storytelling since last October, recruited five theater artists who shared their personal tales with another full house at Know. Jason Ballweber from the Twin Cities described the beginning of a new relationship. Local actor Randy Lee Bailey recounted working for an outdoor historical drama in central Kentucky. Cincinnati Shakespeare actress Miranda McGee described the amusing results of her proclivity for lying. Karim Muasher from New York City described his father’s reaction to his career decision about theater. And Cincy Fringe co-founder Jeff Syroney, sipping a “Trashy Pam,” a Fringe signature drink, talked about the Fringe’s early days and his admiration and amazement for what it’s become.
These five monologues were a perfect final act for the 2011 Fringe, a distillation of its magic.