The most successful Cincinnati Fringe Festival since the annual event’s launch in 2004 wrapped up on June 9, boasting a nearly 9 percent increase in overall attendance compared to 2011, from 7,177 to 7,728. More than 230 artists performed, and the number of sold-out performances, 24, set a new record. As the Fringe looks to its 10th anniversary in 2013, it’s become a freaky fixture on the local arts scene, a welcome jolt of creativity and community found at 10 venues throughout Over-the-Rhine.
At a raucous final party in the Underground Bar at Know Theatre on Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine, 150 performers, patrons, volunteers and staff gathered to thank one another and announce favorite performances selected from among the 29 productions as well as two FringeNext shows conceived and performed by high school kids.
The Audience Pick of the Fringe went to On Her Pillow: Too True Tales of a Black Little White Girl, written and performed by Honour Pillow. CityBeat reviewer Nicholas Korn, after noting that “racial identity … fuels the better part of this personal history and emotional travelogue,” concluded by saying that Pillow might “have given you reasons enough to feel sorry for her. But you won’t want to because you know that hers is an accomplishment, funny and deepened spirit that still has a long way to go.”
The Producers’ Pick of the Fringe, selected by the staff of the Fringe Festival, was bestowed on The Screw You Revue, a show that was recommended by CityBeat reviewer Julie Mullins featuring Wayburn, an elderly bigot, and Didi, his “lady” friend, actually a drag queen. In a highly interactive show driven by improv, performers Douglas McGeoch and Dewey Chaffee were “pretty much equal-opportunity offenders: racist, homophobic, anti-hippie and so on.” Mullins observed, “If you can take it, they are a crack-up.”
CityBeat’s reviewers as well as people writing for other media were invited to name a Critics’ Pick of the Fringe, and they chose Bombus and Berrylinne or the Bumblebee and the Hummingbird from Four Humors Theater in the Twin Cities, back for their fifth Cincy Fringe. Their charming show was a humorous tale about an inept bumblebee (Jason Ballweber) and an ambitious hummingbird (Rachel Petrie), accompanied by a droll musician (Ryan Lear) playing whimsical instruments, including a ukulele. The show’s sweetly childish nature appealed to many Fringe attendees.
The Fringe’s organizers added two new award categories this year, one decided by “all-access” pass holders and another by Fringe performers themselves. The pass holders chose Grim and Fischer: a deathly comedy in full mask, a show that completely sold out its three performances. It was strongly recommended by reviewer Nicholas Korn, who said that, from its opening moment, “you know this is going to be something special.” The show, a pantomimed encounter between Death and an elderly woman, featured a great deal of humor, as well as masks many audience members swore changed expressions, actually the result of Andrew Phoenix and Kate Braidwood’s skill in performing with the masks crafted by Braidwood.
The Artists’ Pick was given to Methtacular, a gripping but hilarious solo show by Steven Strafford, based on his life as a gay crystal-meth addict. His skill as a musical theater performer lent an entertaining element, peppered with pop culture and theater references, to his autobiographical 80-minute performance, despite his sordid experiences with abusive relationships and self-destructive drug use. Strafford presented only four performances, but his winning stage presence earned him fans among his fellow artists, as well as audiences.
Diane Carr, Tom Peters and Betsy Shank from the League of Cincinnati Theatres performed the herculean task of attending every production to be able to bestow recognition on nine shows. They identified Grim and Fischer and Bombus and Berrylinne as outstanding productions; cited the work of four solo acts — Breaking Rank, Methtacular, Strange Dreamz and Trapped in a Box; praised the ensemble of Don’t Cross the Streams; and singled out Nothing, a work about an autistic boy who is bullied, for its use of video, sound and computer support.
Dewey Chaffee, onstage to receive the award for The Screw You Review, said he and McGeoch, based in Florida, had no idea what to expect from a Fringe festival in Cincinnati. They are veteran performers across the U.S. and Canada, but Chaffee praised the Fringe organization: “You have such a sense of community. In fact, you’re all fucked up, just like us,” he joked, echoing the Fringe’s T-shirt slogan, “Kinda weird, just like us.”
CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]