It was a very good year for the just-concluded 2018 Cincy Fringe Festival

"Eddie Poe" had the highest attendance, "The Bureau" received the Audience Pick award, "There Ain't No More" was the favorite of Fringe artists, and more

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click to enlarge "The Bureau's" Tatum Hunter and Maya Farhat - PHOTO: Paul Wilson
PHOTO: Paul Wilson
"The Bureau's" Tatum Hunter and Maya Farhat

The dust of weirdness left behind by the 15th-annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival is still settling, and many fans are continuing to talk about being entertained, challenged, moved and educated by the two-week event’s multi-faceted offerings. Although Fringe Producer Chris Wesselman had at first said he expected to see an increase in total attendance, final numbers showed a slight decrease — 9,175 total entries to shows versus 9,321 in 2017.

Anecdotally, it seemed that numerous productions received standing-room-only audiences, a good sign of across-the-board success for Fringe. Select acts have built-in followings. For example, The Coldharts’ Eddie Poe, a quirky take on the adolescence of Edgar Allan Poe (in 2016 they presented Edward Allan, about the macabre writer’s childhood), was the best attended of the fest, especially by folks who have become fans of the deliciously off-kilter performances of Katie Hartman and Nick Ryan from Brooklyn. They hinted that a third Poe was being developed.

Coming in second was Project Mobile’s ExTrashVaganza!, in which a local pair, storyteller Paul Strickland and puppeteer Erika Kate Macdonald, used found objects — a broom, a coffee carafe, a broken lamp, a one-legged mannequin — to present a collection of cleverly told tales peppered with jokes and wry songs. The third-most-attended show was The Blackface Project, a retelling of the true story of Bert Williams, a black man who performed on Broadway a century ago — but had to do so wearing caricatured blackface.

Attendance is not necessarily a factor considered in earning “Pick of the Fringe” recognition, although the Audience Pick went to The Bureau, which did achieve the fifth highest attendance among Fringe’s 35 shows. The original script from Shit Talkers Anonymous (the brainchild of Tatum Hunter, a recent Xavier University grad) was about a pair of “re-educators” whose assignment to induct folks into the New World Order overseen by the Chiquita Corporation goes wildly off the tracks.

Another well-attended work — There Ain’t No More by Breaker/Fixer from Fayetteville, Ark. — was the favorite of Fringe artists. In a solo show, performer Willi Carlisle was a dying Folk singer in the final moments of his eventful, colorful life. He was an accomplished and sometimes manic storyteller and an astonishing musician who played fiddle, banjo, button-box accordion, harmonica and guitar and did some fine square dance calling, too. His show earned the plaudits of other Fringe performers in the form of the David C. Herriman Artists’ Pick of the Fringe.

Writers who critiqued Fringe performances (including CityBeat’s team of Bart Bishop, Ed Cohen, Sue Cohen, Nicholas Korn, Harper Lee, Jackie Mulay, Rick Pender and Sean M. Peters) voted their preference, bestowing the Critics’ Pick of the Fringe on Musical Chairs by Gideon Productions. Created by the same group that won the Fringe Full Frontal Pick in 2017 with the disturbing God of Obsidian, this year’s tale was about a triangular marriage that experienced more ups than downs.

The Linda Bowen Full Frontal Pick (voted by those who purchase all-access passes to the festival) went to Queen City Flash’s of Monster Descent. Actor and writer Trey Tatum gave a gripping one-man performance, directed by Bridget Leak, about a boy confronting his family’s legacy of mental imbalance in a vividly realized Southern Gothic world of scary monster stories.

The Producers’ Pick by the Fringe  staff went to Re-Grooving by Yarroway Productions from Cincinnati, a dance performance that interacted with film in an exploration of self-identity. The Fringe Next Pick for a high school production went to Annalise, written by Vicky Alcorn from Highlands High School, intriguingly personifying anxiety and depression as characters interacting with the show’s protagonists.

While the principal element of Fringe is always these performances, presented in venues ranging from theaters and storefronts to churches and classrooms, there are many other aspects to round out the experience: music, film, art, workshops, fun and games at Know Theatre’s Underground Bar and an array of special events. 

Contact Rick Pender: [email protected]

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