Here’s the Fringe Festival 07 Lineup

The Cincinnati Fringe Festival has announced 30 productions that will be on display during the two-week celebration of risk-taking performances early this summer, opening May 30 and continuing through June 10. Showcasing artists who push the boundaries of the norm and experiment with style and content, the 2007 Cincinnati Fringe will present more than 150 performances of 30 productions in venues around the city, with an emphasis on Over-the-Rhine’s Main Street.

I have a full rundown here with comments on some of the more interesting performances.

It’s actually hard to plug Fringe performers into categories, but according to publicity materials from Know Theatre of Cincinnati (the festival’s organizer) there will be nine theatrical productions, two musicals, five solo performances, two dance programs, two multi-media events, five interdisciplinary programs, two works focused on gay/lesbian/bisexual and transsexual issues and three addressing women’s issues.

I prefer to look at these in some of my own categories: works coming in from out-of-town, some repeat performers with track records and a couple of intriguing first-timers with local roots. (Find the full listing of the 2007 lineup on the Fringe Festival’s web site.)

So Percussion is a quartet with rhythmic inclinations. They’re from Kyoto, Japan, but now find themselves in Brooklyn, N.Y. Based on their recently released recording Amid the Noise, their performance — using the same name — is an accompaniment to/expansion on 12 short films drawn from street scenes in Kyoto, Osaka, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Bali. Fringe organizers call it “interdisciplinary.” I call it intriguing.

A Cleveland-based dance duo, MN2 Productions, will present Ancestral Voices, a dance-theater piece that explores the divergent fates of two sisters. The story is drawn from Ukrainian folk songs and poetry and is told using modern dance, puppetry, music and theater.

For the math-inclined, the Fringe is importing from Austin, Texas (a hotbed of alternative theater) a piece called Calculus: The Musical. It’s a comic review of the concepts and history of, well, calculus. The group matheatre uses musical parodies from light opera to Hip Hop to “put the edge back in education.”

If you’re planning a June wedding, you might want to consider I Do … I Think. It’s a one-woman show by New Yorker Amanda C. Thompson, who explores her take on “the blissful day” and the first year of marriage. Solo performers have become a staple of Fringe festivals, and this one sounds like one audiences will flock to see, in the vein of last year’s wildly popular A Catholic Girl’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity.

Given the present polling on the popularity of President Bush, I Take It Back should be a hit. It’s another solo piece. This one follows a Ohio woman’s quest to take back the vote she cast for George W. Bush during the 2004 presidential election. It’s been assembled by Odds & Ends Productions from Pittsburgh.

Sometimes we have to let the publicity speak for itself. Woof! The Road Show, presented by Ragged Blade Productions from St. Louis, is described as “a two-man musical about dogs, pancakes, sex and theater.” It also appears that this continues to be a work-in-progress, so the actors are never quite sure from one performance to the next what they’ll be doing.

In the 2006 Fringe Festival, Richard Hess (who heads the drama program at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music), had the golden touch. His (UN)Natural Disasters was the Fringe’s most innovative work (and winner of the Producer’s Pick), and The Catholic Girl’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity, which he directed, was the most popular (and winner of the Audience Pick). This year, Hess is staging The Kid in the Dark, an original one-act song cycle dealing with love, loss, fear and hope. It will feature five CCM students performing original songs by a local team, Mark Halpin and Andrew Smithson. This one gets my “best bet” award.

Some of the most energetic theater on the local scene has been emanating from New Stage Collective, which recently announced a permanent space on Main Street. A dimension of NSC, the Satori Group, is undertaking an ensemble piece inspired by experimental writer Charles Mee, who encourages theater companies to take his works and evolve them into derived performances. Satori will use Mee’s Fetes de la Nuit, set in the France’s worker revolution from 1968, to explore the phenomenon of cultural revolution in today’s world. They’ll weave in spoken word poetry by Saul Williams and films by Jean-Luc Godard and Richard Linklater to create iLove — what they’re calling an “un-original, original work.”

Local audiences flocked to Know Theatre back in December for Christmas Yet to Come, a Christmas Carol update that featured Exhale Dance Tribe Project. The brainchild of dancers Andrew Hubbard and Missy Lay Zimmer will be back for its third Fringe Festival with a new program.

Les Kurkendaal has been entertaining Cincinnati Fringe audiences for three years with his solo performances. For 2007 he’s back with Christmas in Bakersfield, about the challenges in meeting the family of the man of his dreams. So what if he’s black and gay and Mike’s family is white and conservative?

Last year Performance Gallery drew audiences to a provocative work called godsplay. This time around they’re offering girlfight, another ensemble created piece that explores conflict through physical theater, sound and character. Interestingly, this work is described as a “challenge play” with another fringe performer, Louisville’s Le Petomane Project. The two groups will mutually incorporate words, themes and props in their two separate performances.

One of the most interesting pieces in the 2006 Fringe was Ink Tank’s Behind the Wheel, drawn from real-life narratives about riding on and driving buses — which was staged on a bus. This time around the writers collective is offering Mad, a piece about a family’s efforts to understand their schizophrenic son. It’s written by Jen Dalton, a familiar face on local stages and television, and it’s about the experiences of her own family.

New work is emanating from Cincinnati and nearby sources, too, even if the groups are newly formed or composed of performers not yet on the radar of local audiences. Here are four that are likely worth checking out:

Wet Dream is one Fringe organizers couldn’t stuff into one category: They describe it as “GLBT, minority issues, women’s issues, comedy, solo, drama, musical, dance, performance art.”

Jammingtalent Productions is staging a multimedia piece that begins with a night of partying and evolves into a fantasy that uses aerial dance, live vocals, performance art and video.

Last fall we saw the renowned Cirque du Soleil. For the Fringe, it will be Soque du Soleil offering Extreme Puppet Theatre. I loved the tongue-in-cheek (foot in sock) wordplay of the title of a work that’s positioned as an “adult variety show which exposes the sordid history, the hand-to-mouth lifestyle and bizarre sexual practices of today’s puppet population.” Soque du Soleil recommends leaving the children at home for this one, which is described as “Monty Python meets the Muppets on crack.”

From nearby Yellow Springs, Maple Leaf Theatre Productions will present Noble Parasites, “a very funny post-apocalyptic tragedy about a society living underground.” While this one comes from nearby, it’s been tested — and enjoyed — at other fringe festivals. In Toronto, a critic said it’s “shot through with trademark martini-dry humor” and praised it as “deliciously written sci-fi.”

While theater is the dominant form at the Fringe, one of the more interesting shows could be a one-man musical piece by Jazz guitarist Todd Juengling, Think Fast Go Slow. He will create an electro-acoustic performance that uses guitars and four Simons, an electronic memory game with flashing lights and sounds, plus a few other musical devices. The description says, “Sometimes quiet, sometimes loud, humorous yet completely serious, a bit atmospheric but always in the groove.” I want to be there for this one.

About the Fringe: The Cincinnati Fringe Festival was founded in 2004 as a collaborative organization to provide opportunities and exposure to artists willing to take risks. Fringe artists push boundaries of the “norm” by experimenting with style and content. Many Fringe artists don’t define themselves by just one medium; more often they assemble performances from a menu that blends theater, dance, music, poetry, visual art and film.

Four years ago, Cincinnati’s Fringe was one of a half-dozen nationally, including large siblings in New York and Minneapolis. The number of national Fringes has doubled.

This year the Fringe expanded community involvement with a broad-based artist selection process. Applications were reviewed by a selection committee of six local arts leaders, representing different genres of art: Michael Haney (Playhouse in the Park), Jefferson James (Contemporary Dance Theater), D. Lynn Meyers (Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati), Victoria Morgan (Cincinnati Ballet), Brian Phillips (Cincinnati Shakespeare Company) and Jason Bruffy, Know Theatre’s artistic director and Fringe founder and organizer. They considered applications from all over the world. This year’s festival boasts world-class regional artists as well as performers from such cities as St. Louis, Austin, Pittsburgh, L.A. and New York, not to mention international acts from Canada and Japan.

The 2007 Cincinnati Fringe Festival will also feature late-night post-performance programming for its Bar Series and Celluloid Fringe, the experimental film series; an Outdoor Fringe Stage with events free to the public; and Visual Fringe art galleries. Details on these programs will be announced at a future date. For more information, visit www.cincyfringe.com or call 513-300-5669.

It’s worth noting that the Fringe is made possible by several generous sponsors, including John Court, David C. Herriman and Dr. Robert Thierauf. The media sponsor for is WVXU-FM, and venue sponsors are Eric Avner and Adrienne Cowden.

— Rick Pender

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