Here are some quick notes about the 2009 Indy Fringe shows I saw and a few of the other Fringe-y experiences I had on Sunday and Monday. Still no duds, but several surprises.
I spent most of the day at the Earth House venue.
I had never been to the Earth House before. It is a very fun place! It is architecturally interesting and filled with people trying to make a difference in the world. The walk to it from Massachusetts Avenue is an easy one. If you are going to a show at the Earth House after seeing a show at the Phoenix Theatre or the Indy Fringe Building, you don’t want to dawdle but you don’t have to rush, either.
At various times during the day I went to the Café on the first floor and had lentil soup ($5), a strawberry smoothie ($5.50), and three of cook Jenxie’s exotic sides: marinated beets, spicy Moroccan carrot salad, and flavorful potato salad. (I don’t remember how much they cost.) All organic and yummy.
The theatre is upstairs, so be ready to either climb a bit or see if the ancient-looking motorized railing chair really works. (Update Tuesday night: I asked someone and the chair thing-y does work. They used it today!) But in any case, the stairs are covered in a velvety carpet, there is a comfy padded bench at the top, and the chandelier in the upstairs lobby is ringed with bits of fringe and other interesting decorations.
I recorded a conversation with the Earth House Cafe manager, which you can now view on YouTube. As you can see above, I also recorded a snippet of Brent McCoy juggling with fire outside Theatre on the Square Saturday night. I might take that down, though, because I didn’t ask his permission first and technically it was a show. I know, I know: you saw me attempting to take videos of some of the previews at the Fringe Preview Night Party last Thursday. It’s true. However, I don’t think it’s right to take pictures or make recordings during a regular show because a) it’s distracting to the performer, b) it’s distracting to the audience, and c) I think of a theatre as a sacred space, a place in which you’re supposed to try to be as present as you can, even if you’re a blogger, not be thinking ahead towards reliving the experience later. I.e. – have the experience as fully as you can first and then tell people about it later if you feel so led. (Or, of course, if you got in on a media pass. Then you are duty-bound to write about the show publicly whether feel like it or not and whether you have an accompanying photo or not because otherwise it’s the same as stealing ten dollars from the performer’s pocket.)
But on the other hand, I’m still keeping my notebook handy at every show even though I bet my scribbling distracts some people so…I guess I’m still figuring out the ethics of being a theatre blogger.
Anyway, I thought I would have three other video recordings of conversations with performers to share with you, too, including one with “Crossing the Bridge” director Erin Schlabach, one with FringeNext poet Mat Davidson, and one with comic storyteller Les Kurkendaal from “The Attack of the Big Angry Booty.” However, apparently the one with Erin didn’t record at all and I can’t get the other two to load onto YouTube, even after I have trimmed them down to well under ten minutes. I confess that I am tired of fussing with them. Let’s go back to “just” words, shall we? At least for now.
On Sunday I saw:
“Blunder Construction” –
Festival favorite Brent McCoy was a charmer as usual. His set this year includes a tall structure that I thought at first was an over-sized shower but which turned out to be his portable street lamp. He has done almost 200 juggling shows this year; most of them have been for crowds on the street – in places as diverse as Boston and China – rather than in enclosed theatres. He said the street lamp makes him feel more at home. It also gives him a new set-up for his hilarious, death-defying, light bulb changing trick.
Also new this year is spoken patter and a teeny bit of storytelling at the end. Brent’s background is in clowning, including mime, so in the past, Brent’s conversations with his audience have been almost completely nonverbal. Only very recently has he begun to explore what it’s like to converse with his audience more directly, using spoken words. The experience for me was different, but still intimate and fun. He is the same person either way, so I like conversing with him either way.
However, another audience member told me later that she misses the mime. She loved the mystery of it. When I mentioned this to Brent, he said that he could sympathize with that woman. (I’m paraphrasing now.) In some ways, mime allows the audience to imagine more, to engage more, to put more of themselves in the show. Brent feels led to explore speaking aloud now, so that is what he is doing now as a performer, but at the same time, he is mindful of what he’s giving up as he grows. No matter what, he wants to continue to pay attention to his audience in each moment and to figure out what he can do to give them what they need to feel good while also staying true to himself.
I have had a couple of very rewarding conversations with Brent on the back porch of the Chatham Tap about program development and audience care. I hope to have time to share some of those conversations with you in a separate post. (He gave me permission.)
In the meantime, “Blunder Construction” is still the only Indy Fringe show that I feel confident suggesting to ANYONE. The pleasures in it are layered so that people of all ages feel seen, appreciated, and entertained.
(Note: The venue for “Blunder Construction” is Theatre on the Square, not Earth House.)
“New Vaudeville” –
This richly-varied variety show was paradoxically much racier and much sweeter than I expected, but/so I loved it.
It is a very theatrical and fascinating program of stories within stories that look both backwards into the history of vaudeville and ahead into the future of it. It is all tied together by a series of huge slides and the rants of the amazing Krembo (Elliot Feltman), whip-wielding magician and MC. The other acts include:
- Hunky BMX bike champion Andy Cooper.
- Yikes-worthy contortionist Allan Mercer.
- Steamy musicians John Orr and Joey Welch.
- Irreverent stand-up comic Dion Curry (standing in on Sunday for Ms. Pat, their usual comedienne.)
- A variety of exotic dancers including a sassy duo known as the Crème de les Femmes (Christie Lilleth Centfranc and Liz-Jezebel Sinfell); a strip-tease artist (Liz-Jezebel Sinfell) who evokes the dancers who “went about as far as they could go” back in the day; and hypnotic belly dancers Molly Wyldefyre and Amanda Boreales.
Later, in the Earth House Café, a man came up to me and introduced himself as Claude McNeil. He said that he started the original American Cabaret Theatre and ran it for 15 years. (The ACT was formerly housed in the Athenaeum building. It is now under new ownership in a new location.) His daughter, Amanda Boreales, is one of the belly dancers in “New Vaudeville” AND she conceived and directed the whole show. I was afraid I was going to be late for my next show, so I didn’t ask to do a video interview of her, but I hope I get the chance later in the festival.
“Crossing the Bridge” –
The fusion of theatre and dance, of dialogue and mime, of humor and poignancy, of life and death, in this show made me weep – I mean, soaked hanky, soaked shirt, and no make-up left on my face weeping – but it also left me feeling uplifted and blessed. I said something like “Wasn’t that amazing?!” to a woman standing in the upstairs lobby of the Earth House afterwards and she replied proudly, “My daughter wrote it!”
She introduced me to her daughter, Erin Schlabach, who said that actually the whole company created the piece together. Leonix Movement Theatre Ensemble is based in Los Angeles but Erin grew up here in Anderson, Indiana. This piece grew out of her and some of the other members working together in London, England and reading a book by Studs Terkel in which he interviews terminally ill people and their caregivers.
“Crossing the Bridge” is about a man who finds out he has HIV, but I hesitate to tell you that in case you think, “Oh, bleah, not another one.” One of the things I loved most about this piece is how refreshingly free it is of clichéd material, either in terms of movement or dialogue.
“Groundwork Suites” –
Kenyatte’ Dance Company is one of my personal favorites from the Indy Fringe Festival because I love resident choreographer Nick Owens’ work and I love the beauty and emotion that comes across when he and the rest of the dancers bring his work to life. Kenyatte’ is an African-American dance company based here in Indianapolis. It is managed by Nick’s sister, Vanessa Owens. They always leave enough time in their Fringe shows for the audience to meet the dancers and ask them questions if they want, so I know that some of the dancers are still in high school while others are a bit older. Nick has also choreographed for Dance Kaleidoscope. Vanessa calls their style “contemporary modern.”
This particular piece is filled with flowing, yet pounding, entwined lines and poses, plus themes of redeeming, planting, and harvesting. After a moving solo segment by Adrienne Jackson in which the earth mother on stage asks for help, the rest of the dancers answer her call from the back of the theatre, ebbing and flowing forward through the center of audience, drenched with “sweat” from their long, fearful journey. If you happen to sit on the inside of the aisle, as I did, the dancers are RIGHT THERE next to you, which is a fascinating experience.
“Gone, Gone, Gone” –
This is a very witty, endearing dance piece about relationships. In a light-hearted yet profound way it explores the necessary processes of setting boundaries and letting go of enough baggage to make room for love and all of its sticky, billowing, absorptive qualities. (Or at least, that is how I interpret it. The piece is abstract enough to be whatever you want, I suppose.)
It is choreographed and performed by Milwaukee cuties Monica Rodero and Daniel Schuchart. They play with long(!) strips of masking tape and paper toweling while they dance and interact silently in unexpected ways. There will be a movement that makes you think, “Wait! Did someone just flub up there?” but then the exact same bizarre movement is repeated a few bars later, and it becomes delightfully intentional.
The music that accompanies them is delightfully unexpected, but just right, too. One whole part sounds like masking tape ripping!
“The Worst Show in the Fringe” –
This piece about a frustrated actor who kidnaps a smug theatre critic surprised me by being more thought-provoking than funny. Don’t get me wrong: I laughed, but I also thought a lot about the ways that we all constantly evaluate each other whether it takes the form of written criticism or not. I also thought about the ways that we all crave some kind of recognition and feedback from other people, at least part of the time. I also thought about how the phrase, “I’m coming to see your show” (or “I read your blog”) fuels one’s creative efforts even when one is exhausted or otherwise despairing.
I think that theatre people – both commentators and performers alike – are the main audience for this piece, which was written by Joseph Scrimshaw and directed by Rachel Simmons, but I loved that it went a little beyond being a story about a Mean Critic (Nathaniel Kent, played by Ken Gist), a Wimpy Actor (Thomas Wayne, played by Kevin Roach), and a Random Everyman that doesn’t give a hoot about either the theatre or theatre reviewers (Biff, played by Shaun Beal.)
I also enjoyed all of the local references. The critic, for example, writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal.
On Monday night I saw:
“Phil the Void: the Great Brain Robbery”
Stand-up comedian Phil van Hest is now and will always be on my “must-see” list for the Indy Fringe. He is intellectually brilliant, pure and simple, but he somehow makes his brilliance accessible to the rest of us in a hilarious, take-no-prisoners-but-also-leave-no-corpses way. You’ve heard of philosopher poets? Phil is a philosopher comedian.
His work, like Brent McCoy’s, is going in a new direction that people who have seen all or most of his previous Fringe shows might need a beat or two to get used to but which is, ultimately, more satisfying than ever. This new show, which is having its world premiere here at the 2009 Indy Fringe Festival, is a little less angry – and Phil is the first to admit that that is probably because of Noel, the woman in his life – but it is even richer in terms of where he takes us geographically, historically, politically, ethically, culturally and yes, comedically. (Is that a word?)
His fans can still shout “anal” at him without feeling out of place, and he still sells “Real men find Jesus sexually attractive” bumper stickers at the end of his “f-word”-filled show, but it’s as if he has made room in his humor for deeper and even richer layers of thought.
I feel privileged to be sharing his new space.
Note: the venue for “Phil the Void: the Great Brain Robbery” is ComedySportz.
The 2009 Indy Fringe Festival continues through Sunday, August 30. I have today and Wednesday off from my day job, so I’m heading downtown to see some more shows. I will try to figure out what I’m doing wrong with my videos, too.
‘See you at the Fringe!
www.IndyTheatreHabit.com and @IndyTheatre on Twitter.com and (I hope) IndyTheatreHabit on YouTube.com.