Fringe-for-All #1

Hey hey — thoughts on another series of previews, and another one I was involved in — both of my pieces were in the first act, however. (I didn’t anticipate being able to get in, but fortunately — well, for me — the theater wasn’t sold out, and I was able to slip in for the second half.)

One thing that definitely struck me was the number of people taking copious notes — schedules and programmes open in their laps, notating carefully show-by-show. People are really visibly using these to determine what interests them. As for whether or not you agree my own thoughts? Most of these previews should be up on the Fringe site in the next couple of days, so you’re welcome to check them out for yourself.

Nightmare Man by Studio Alathea Productions

I actually had a brief conversation with the performer backstage, in which he outlined some of the interesting stuff they were attempting to do with this. My impression of the performance was mixed: some of the levels didn’t seem that well-balanced, and his voice dropped beneath the music several times, causing me to miss what he was saying. On the other hand, I found the music and vocals themselves to be reasonably interesting, with him pushing his voice up into some very raw and ragged places at moments of tension. I’m a huge fan of horror, so I’ll probably check this out if I get the chance — I’m curious to see if the vocal tension is something that’s sustained throughout the performance.

The Devil Wears 9/11 by John Ervin

Urk. Okay, the performance was fine, with a performer who seemed to really listen to his audience and respond to them well. That said, I don’t really see myself in the audience for this: the character was essentially a right-wing cartoon, spouting monstrosities to draw gasps and laughter from a left-wing audience — it’s the kind of comedy that, in many respects, seems to me to revolve around allowing the left-wing audience to feel superior. There could easily be much, much more to the show than this, but the preview, I’m afraid, didn’t do much to suggest that to me, and since I sit through about a dozen of these shows at every Fringe Festival I go to, I’m inclined to give this one a miss.

Callahan and Lingo presents: The Last Ditch by ACM Productions

Full disclosure: I’m a member of a storytelling group with both of these performers, and have worked with them extensively over the years.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was “Take the worst aspect of your show, and turn it into your marketing hook.” This is one of the clearest illustrations of that idea I’ve seen: they learned that they would be in the Festival within the last week, and they chose to lead with that, in a piece that was sharp, funny, and clear. What it does is showcase their strengths: dry comedy writing and delivery, and a playful back-and-forth with each other — while confronting their obvious weakness (their significant lack of development time) head-on. It’s really the best possible way it could have been approached; hats-off.

License by The Black Butterfly

So this is a company that caught my eye early on, despite their lack of marketing material (and I just pulled up their Fringe site, and, ugh, that is one big wall of undifferentiated text), and I was quite taken by their last preview, which I wrote up here. So what were my impressions this time around?

Much more hesitant, certainly. A different combination of characters, this time around — a mopey indie poet-type amazing a stuffy businessman with some remarkably shallow, posturing language. And there’s two ways this could go: if this show is about ridiculing the pomposity of both of them, that’s something pretty clever that I could really groove on. On the other hand, if this turns out to be a story about the wise artist teaching the stuffy businessman to unlock his inner healing through the power of awful fucking poetry, then that sounds like something really horrific to sit through. It was not clear to me which direction the show is ultimately going from the preview, and I remain — particularly in conjunction with their previous preview — intrigued, if cautious.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Dr. Jekyll by Tim Uren

More disclosure: I’ve also worked with Tim quite a bit.

This is a show that was pretty much a gimme for me: I think the premise is brilliant (a Dr. Jekyll who only *thinks* that he’s transformed into a monster), and it’s put together by one of the finest local monologists and comedians.

If anything, I was surprised at how, er, not-funny the preview was — not that it was trying to be funny and failing, but that it was just a fairly detailed look a neurotic nebbish, with little in the way *jokes*, persay. (Although there were several effectively comic moments of him repeatedly undercutting himself, that wasn’t really what drove the monologue.) If anything, more interested.

Rambler Family Ramblers Final Christmas Reunion Spectacular by OAFtrax Productions

So here was my first really pleasant surprise of the night, a show that wouldn’t have landed on my radar if I hadn’t seen it previewed. This was definitely an example of being more interested in the singer than the song — I didn’t find much of what he was *saying* to be terribly compelling, but was totally engaged by the *way* he told it. He has a fine sense of comic timing, and there’s actually some fairly clever, subtle writing going on here (bits of self-revelation taking place in his own storytelling). Yes, interested now.

Once Upon a CSI by Theatre of the Cheshire Cat

So here’s a preview that I saw, and it was fine, but — it didn’t really do much to convey to me exactly what the show was about that I couldn’t already have gleaned from the title. I mean, if the comedy emerges purely from the mix of incongruous elements (in this case, CSI and faery-tales) — I just saw that, surely? I’m sure there’s more, but I simply don’t know what it might be.

A Good-Natured Gut by LS Dance Collaborative

More disclosure: I have a history of collaborating with dancers, and had the pleasure of directing Liz Schoenborn (one of the dancer/choreographers) in a production earlier this year. I’ve found her to be extremely funny, talented, and creative, and I’ve been looking forward to this show.

I enjoyed the preview piece. A lot of a dance holding my attention hinges on the music they choose, and I was pretty thrilled with their choice; I was also really interested in the mixture of mundane, everyday movements with more stylized dance. If I have a complaint, it’s that most of the choreography seemed to revolve around three bodies snapping into place in unison, and they were often a half-beat off from each other. Still, two weeks until Fringe open.

The Magnificent Story of St. Marlene’s Marvelous Moonshine (Made by Monks) by Christy Marie Kent

I recently wrote a glowing review of her last preview, which I cheerfully stand behind. I’ll confess I was bit disappointed with the preview tonight, mainly because I had the sense that the audience wasn’t getting the opportunity to see what she’s capable of. She’s a storyteller whose style relies on the space *between* words — on long, elaborate buildups and meaningful expressions shared with the audience — and tonight I found her delivery a bit tense and rushed (she skated out right at the 3:00 mark). I suspect, if such speculation isn’t inappropriate, that she attempted to do too *much* material, in too brief a time; I think she would have been better served by creating something briefer, and leaving the space she needs to build her relationship with her audience. That said, still highly recommending the show.

SCOTUS! (Supreme Court of the United States) by Serious Hedgehog Arts

This is a preview that got me both really, really interested, and really, really hesitant about the show. The writer came out, and asserted that, since her cast was in rehearsal, she felt reasonably qualified to talk about the script: and then proceeded to do what was essentially an excellent stand-up routine about the content of the play. Afterwards, I asked her if the play was as funny as she was. We both laughed, but I was only half-joking.

See, there’s no doubt that she’s an excellent comedy writer with a sharp eye for politics, but much of the strength of her performance came from her own dry, deadpan delivery — it’s hard for me to visualize that kind of material playing in another context. So really, the only thing that this preview effectively guaranteed was that the jokes would be good. Which is, actually, a pretty good guarantee for a Fringe show.

Depression Glass: A Cheery Little Play About Death and Decay by 1929 Productions

Er, I’ll confess that I found my attention drifting: an acceptably amusing premise, but the acting was over-the-top in a way that might easily make perfect sense in context, but in three-minute sound-bite form came off as a bit shrill and caused me to tune out.

How Do You See It? by Christopher Watson Dance Company

I mentioned about the previous dance performance that I thought they needed to (and easily could) pull together their performance in the remaining weeks leading up to the Fringe: here’s a company that seems to already be there. (Actually, does anyone if this is a remount? It has the polish of a piece that’s been done before.)

It’s actually an interesting compare-and-constrast case: this is one that revolves around the heightened emotions of the performers, and using dance to express that emotion through movement — which is, I suspect, more accessible; whereas the LS Dance Collaborative revolved, I think, around a fascination with more abstracted movement, which is more my own area of particular interest. I’m actually really interested to hear what other people think about this.

Uncle Tom’s Condo by Milliepadd Productions

Before this, all I really knew about the show was the involvement of Mahmoud Hakima and Kirsten Stephens, who are, in my opinion, two extraordinarily talented local artists. Oh, and that they have a fucking amazing show image.

Similar reaction to this one, as I had to the Rambler family thing — less interested in *what* the performer was I singing, than in the fact that he was singing it extraordinarily well, with a phenomenal sense of comic timing. So, really, I don’t know much of anything beyond the fact that there’s three pretty great performers in it. Which is, once again, a pretty great guarantee for a Fringe show.

Entwined by Awkward Moment Productions

Another performer I’ve worked with often, and another preview which I’ve already reviewed, albeit in much stronger form tonight, I think; she chose a stronger excerpt, gave herself room to play audience response, and left off at exactly the right moment. This was a good storyteller engaging her audience well.

Our Freaking Kids Show by Mainly Me Productions

Another discovery! (Although I’ve been a Josh Carson fan for a while, I didn’t, for whatever reason, register his involvement until tonight.)

As someone who worked in children’s theatre exclusively for six years, I can attest that this conversation is terrifyingly familiar, and one that I partook in many, many times. It seemed to hit just that right balance between natural speech and jokiness that I was willing to follow wherever they led: consider this officially on my list.

Closing Thought: Writing previews is hard.


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