Local Color

2016 Cincy Fringe offers sure signs of hometown creativity

May 25, 2016 at 9:27 am


he 2016 Cincinnati Fringe Festival (No. 13, in case you’re counting) will bring a big splash of local color. These days we’re urged to buy locally manufactured products and eat in restaurants that feature locally produced food. If you’re adherent to this “locavore” mindset, this year’s Fringe, May 31-June 11, will be right up your Over-the-Rhine alley. Nearly two-thirds of the shows chosen (31 of 50) for this year’s two-week celebration of all-things weird have local roots.

Know Theatre, the local theater company that organizes the annual Fringe, received a record number of applicants: 105. That’s a sign of Know’s success and the result of thoughtful management that encourages local performers and traveling artists who visit Fringe festivals during the spring and summer months.

“It’s thrilling to see so many local artists in this year’s Fringe,” Andrew Hungerford, Know’s artistic director, says. “Our breakdown of applicants was an even 50/50 split between local and out-of-town, so the number of local shows the jury selected is a testament to the quality of the work of local Fringers: They didn’t get in just because they’re local — they got in because their work deserves it.”

Hungerford adds that he is proud to provide a showcase for this type of work on stages in OTR.

“This community is a part of what makes Cincinnati such a great city for artists and audiences,” he says.

Know’s Chris Wesselman, who is the hands-on producer of the Fringe, puts it succinctly: “There are a lot of fresh faces doing cool shows.”

Some festivals simply conduct a lottery to select shows. Others take a “buy-your-way-in approach,” with productions paying an entry fee and more or less fending for themselves in terms of finding a venue and production support and marketing their performances. Know goes at it more deliberately, using the “jury” Hungerford mentions, comprised of local actors, directors, producers, arts administrators, playwrights, musicians and college drama teachers who review applications for Fringe productions. The decision to contain the festival more or less in the confines of Over-the-Rhine also limits how many productions can be chosen.

To be considered, artists submit a pitch of 1,000 or so words as well as supporting video or other materials to provide a sense of the performance they propose. Each juror has a set of shows to consider, and each applicant is considered by at least two jurors. The rapid expansion of Fringe applications has required more jurors — in 2014

there were 12; this year that number jumped to 30. They rate

shows with a “yes,” “no” or “maybe” designation and make

some comments on their assessments. Then Know’s

staff weighs all the recommendations to pick productions. The resulting mix for 2016 means the Fringe will offer 25

plays, 10 solo performances, seven shows that are interdisciplinary, four dance pieces and four musicals. (Coming from out of town are 18 more, plus one international offering from Australia.)

Touring shows tend to be smaller, often solo works that are more affordable to produce and tour. Most of the locally produced works are plays, an aspect that Wesselman appreciates. “It enables local theater artists to create material.”

Richard Hess, head of the drama program at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, staged Fringe shows from 2005 to 2008. His production of The Catholic Girl’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity was a hit in 2006, restaged in a brief run at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It was an “audience pick of the Fringe,” as was his 2008 musical, Don’t Make Me Pull This Show Over: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Parenting, which received a full staging a year later at Ensemble Theatre.

Hess is pleased to return this year. “Actors love to act!” he says. “The Fringe allows actors to take control of their work and present original material in an exciting professional setting. The experience can’t be beat. The Fringe has no boundaries, and that freedom is liberating. The creative energy is palpable. It’s like a drug I’ve been craving, so after an eight-year absence, I came back for more.”

His 2016 production, Naked Strangers, exemplifies the timely and imaginative creativity that goes into Fringe shows. “I have been obsessed with etiquette for two decades, so Naked Strangers has been stewing and germinating for a long time. It took this particular presidential election cycle, this particular insensitive year, to launch me into action. Naked Strangers is an exploration of our mannerless world — sort of Emily Post meets Donald Trump.”

Hess’ production will feature nine actors from CCM’s drama training program. What’s in it for them? He says, “The Fringe is a beginning, not an ending, a playground resting on fertile ground. Audiences can sample raw, truthful, unique, surprising, powerful work each and every night in each and every venue.”

Shows by other local producers represent an impressive range of possibility. All Shades Theater (producer of Cincinnati’s first-ever South Asian Theater Festival in 2014) will stage Duryodhana the Unconquerable, a work based on Indian mythology. Storyteller Paul Strickland (who came to the 2013 Fringe as a touring performer but has since relocated to the Tristate) has written a zany mystery, My Left Teeth, that he’ll direct. Performance Gallery, which has performed in each of the previous 12 festivals, is back with Other Bother, a piece about annoying people. Trey Tatum’s and Bridget Leak’s Queen City Flash will be back with Midnight Express. (A show they staged in the 2014 Fringe, Slut Shaming, will be staged at Xavier University this fall.) Several other multiyear performers are back, including a third outing from Hugo West Theatricals (Cessna, a noir drama about an actual plane crash in Montgomery, Ohio in 1982) and a new work from writer/actor Kevin Crowley. His play, We Did It, Girl! featuring actor Torie Wiggins, has a stated goal of eradicating racism in America. (Good luck with that!)

“FringeNext” productions by high school students have moved out of the School for Creative and Performing Arts. Productions from Walnut Hills, St. Xavier, Seven Hills and Highlands high schools will be part of the regular schedule in the same venues as other Fringe performances. “We’re always impressed by the quality of work and level of professionalism we see with our FringeNext participants,” Wesselman says, “and now, no longer isolated in their own venue or confined to a shorter run, we hope they are able to experience more of Fringe alongside their adult counterparts, giving them even greater opportunities to learn and grow as artists.”

Here’s a rundown of shows by local producers:

Boo-boo, a comedy about a frustrated nanny and his 30-year-old charge (Homegrown Theatre, Cincinnati).

Cessna: A Drama Noir, a dramatic play with music based on a 1982 plane crash in Montgomery, Ohio (Hugo West Theatricals, Cincinnati).

Charlie’s Girls, about the women of the Manson family (InBocca Performance, Ft. Thomas).

Clara , using dance and drama, the story of a 20th-century woman as a child, a young adult and a mature older woman (Physical Productions, Cincinnati). Duryodhana the Unconquerable , drawn from the Indian epic, the Mahabharata, about the universal nature of rulers (All Shades Theater, Mason).

The 4th Graders Present an Unnamed Love-Suicide, a darkly curious drama by Sean Graney about a kid who shoots himself and leaves behind a play as a suicide note. His classmates perform it as a memorial. (Performed by the acting intern company at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati.)

Furlesque, a coming-of-age comedy inside a burlesque club for furries (Autumn Kaleidoscope, Cincinnati).

Golconda , a play bringing together artists Magritte, Van Gogh, Picasso and Warhol at brunch in a heady conversation about sexuality and more (Tongue of the Mind Theatre, Cleves). The Gospel of Fat Kathy , a play about God checking in on Earth disguised as a high school student (#theatrecompany, Cincinnati).

Graphic, six open-air dance performances using murals by ArtWorks and Higher Level Art as pop-up stages (Pones, Inc., Covington).

Here’s Hoping There’s a Radioactive Spider in Your Future , a FringeNext production taking a satirical look at absurdity in the lives of five high school students (Digital Middleground Productions, Highlands High School, Fort Thomas).

I Hate It Here, about an outgoing hypochondriac and a functional agoraphobic who try to meld into one person (SHEatre: Cincinnati Women’s Theatre).

Ice Candle , an “undocumentary” solo show about a strange girl in a strange land, the winner of the “Best

Female Performance” award at the Orlando Fringe (Erika Kate MacDonald, Covington).

Midnight Express , a dramedy about two girls with

a complicated family history who are forced into an unexpected reunion (Queen City Flash, Cincinnati).The Munitions Man, a one-night-only work-in-progress, parodying The Music Man, with a focus on guns and gun ownership using a South Park sensibility (Paper Pete Productions, Cincinnati).My Left Teeth, a play by storyteller Paul Strickland featuring Miranda McGee as a woman cleaning out her dead aunt’s home and Annie Kalahurka as a peculiar neighbor (Paul Strickland Presents, Cincinnati).Naked Strangers, a meditation on evolving from babies (“naked strangers”) via etiquette and social interaction. “These are nasty times,” we are told. “Are you ready?” (Performed by CCM Drama actors through Out of School Productions, Cold Spring).

A Night with the Dream Keeper, a FringeNext production about a legendary figure who has been monitoring individuals’ dreams. She is brought before a live audience to share her favorite stories (The Walnut Hills Group Theatre, Cincinnati).

Other Bother , a comedy about dealing with the annoyance of other people (Performance Gallery, Milford). Punk’s Not Dead and Neither Is Sam (Yet) , about a Punk music benefit for an ill friend that expands exponentially (Bro City Mahalo Crew, Newport). Ryan and Alice? , a comedy about unlikely strangers trapped in a rundown bathroom at a Louisville apartment party (2060 Theatrical Productions, Cincinnati).

Seen, But Not Touched, a FringeNext production about a toxic relationship between Hale and Kenric, focused on the lasting impact of seemingly innocent interactions (NextStep Productions, St. Xavier High School, Cincinnati).

Squeeze It from the Middle: A Love Story, about a couple armed with a chair, a table and a bottle of bourbon, told with music and humor (Donkey and Unicorn Productions, Cincinnati).

Through the Mickle Woods, a family-friendly dance-theater story about a boy and a king who travel into the woods after the queen has died — in search of a storytelling bear (Say Yes Dance, Cincinnati).

Twiggy Fartdust and Her Nemesis from Mars , a Glam-Rock-Karaoke musical about a rescue mission to Mars (Colleen Ladrick, Cincinnati).

We Did It, Girl! , a solo show by Kevin Crowley featuring actor Torrie Wiggins about racism in America (Me and Torrie, Cincinnati).

You Are Here: A Play in Retrospect, a Fringe Next production about August and Violet, a pair of dissatisfied high school seniors sucked into a memory wasteland (Old Souls, New Works/The Village Idiots, Seven Hills School, Cincinnati).

Other performance offerings this year include several one-time special events:  

From Within happens during the Kick-Off Party on Tuesday, May 31, at 8:30 p.m. Partygoers will be invited to congregate in front of Know Theatre on Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine to listen to a live concert emanating from within the Gateway Garage across the street. During the concert, artwork from Visionaries + Voices, an organization that celebrates artists with disabilities, will be projected on the garage’s façade, adding a visual layer to the music.

An improv performance that promises to be “fun at the speed of thought,” OTRimprov: The Fringe Show, is set for 8:45 p.m. Monday, June 6 at the Woodward Theater (1404 Main St. Over-the-Rhine). It features performers from OTR Improv, voted Best Improv Troupe by CityBeat readers in 2014 and 2015. The storytelling series True Theatre (hosted quarterly at Know Theatre) again presents an edition of trueFRINGE at 9:20 p.m. Thursday, June 9 at Know. It’s an hour of festival artists sharing personal stories about life behind the scenes.

The 2016 CINCY FRINGE FESTIVAL runs May 31-June 11 at various venues in and around Over-the-Rhine. CityBeat will publish reviews of first-run performances throughout the fest at citybeat.com. Tickets and more info: cincyfringe.com.