Cincinnati Fringe: Community, Camaraderie and Passion

The 13th annual Cincinnati Fringe is under way. Shows start Wednesday and continue through June 6. CityBeat writers will attend the opening performance of every production and provide next-day reviews

The 13th annual Cincinnati Fringe is under way. Shows start Wednesday and continue through June 6. CityBeat writers will attend the opening performance of every production and provide next-day reviews to help you pick and choose shows to see. With 40 or so productions in 2015, that’s a big task, so I offer a big shout-out to these dedicated theatergoers: Bart Bishop, Ed Cohen, Jane Durrell, Joe Gorman, Nicholas Korn, Joe McDonough, Kirk Sheppard, Stacy Sims, Joshua Steele and Kathy Valin. That’s right — it takes 11 of us (counting me) to bring you this overnight coverage.

Before this year’s festival launched, I talked with some of the people who make the Fringe roll, and I want to share their thoughts, which will give you a sense of what makes Fringe such a magical 12 days every year. Andrew Hungerford is the artistic director at Know Theatre, the company that annually takes on the challenge of producing the Cincinnati Fringe Festival. What keeps him coming back? “The camaraderie and artistic community is a unique and beautiful experience,” he says. “It’s unlike any other Fringe I’ve been to.”

Know staffer Chris Wesselman is the associate Fringe producer, the high-energy guy who serves as the liaison for artists. He’s been involved since 2007, initially as a performer in Wet Dream, in which he played a transvestite clown wearing a balloon dress. He joined Know’s staff in 2011 and dove headfirst into working on Fringe in 2012. “The amazing, unequaled enthusiasm and joy that comes with Fringe every year refuels my spirit,” he says, “and it reminds me why I dedicate my life to theater. Between barebones, performance-focused shows, passionate artists, risk-taking audiences, hardworking staff and loyal volunteers, an atmosphere is created where everyone is truly present and dedicated to the moment and to embracing the community.”

Tamara Winters was involved with a Fringe show a decade ago as an intern at Ensemble Theatre. Now she’s Know’s associate artistic director, staging several shows during the regular season and keeping basic operations spinning during Fringe. “I wouldn’t trade this job for the world,” she says. “The Fringe is by far the most exciting — and OK, fine, exhausting — part of our season. It’s 12 adrenaline-fueled, sleepless, 14-hour-plus days of nonstop art-making, art-experiencing, mingling with artists and art-lovers, enjoying local beer, laughing hysterically, being moved to tears, meeting new friends, reuniting with old friends — you name it.”

Doug Borntrager is Know’s Fringe production manager, an especially busy guy when Fringe is presenting shows on 18 stages in 14 venues. “The Fringe happens at the end of the sometimes long and arduous theater season,” he says. “But the performers and patrons bring an infusion of excitement and passion to everything in Over-the-Rhine. That energy is contagious, and it really recharges me and challenges me to step up my own work in the season to come.”

As Know’s resident stage manager, Kristen Ruthemeyer keeps performances in order and on schedule at Know’s home base on Jackson Street throughout the season. She does that during the Fringe, too, on a broader scale. She started as a venue tech back during the 2008 Fringe, a job that led to being hired for a full-time staff position with Know. “Fringe is the most fun job I’ve ever had,” she says. “The energy of this festival is food for the soul. I meet people from all walks of life who have all been drawn to the festival in different ways, but all fit together for two glorious weeks.”

Brian Wheeler is a volunteer who fills the role of coordinating all the volunteers. He has two reasons for his continued involvement: “Pride and community,” he says. “From my very first year a decade ago, all of us pulling this together had a sense of pride because we were helping Cincinnati have something it needed, as well as thinking ahead to the community we wanted to build.”

Tom McLaughlin has worked for several theater companies locally; he got involved with the Fringe in 2006, the year that Know moved to Jackson Street. He manages the Fringe box office — no easy task with 40 productions and thousands of people clamoring for tickets. “The audiences help build the Fringe community,” he says. “They are passionate about the works and artists that come to the festival. Many audience members become regulars at the nightly bar series. That builds on this sense of community and camaraderie.”

It’s a theater experience that’s not to be missed.

Contact RICK PENDER : [email protected]

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