On my second day of shows at the 2010 Indianapolis Fringe Theatre Festival, I found myself standing in line next to a zombie. I asked if I could make a little video with him for my blog while we were waiting. He “grrr!”ed affirmatively, so I pulled out my iPhone and began.
Unfortunately, I must not have tapped the correct icon, because when I got home, I had no zombie video. “Epic fail!” as the gamers say. Grr!
So…Zombie Ryan, if I see you around the Fringe again, I’d like to try again, if you’re willing. In any case, I will look forward to seeing you in “Ophelia’s Revenge” at the Marian Underground venue later this week.
In the meantime, for my beloved blog readers I have two little videos of some of this year’s IndyFringe most hypnotic street performers. The video at the top of this post is of Carenza bint Asya and her friends. The video at the bottom of this post is of some hula hoopers about whom I know nothing, unfortunately, except that they were able to do amazing things with not only hoops but huge fire batons and more.
(8-29-10 update: The woman with the hula hoop in the video below left me a comment. Her name is Lynn Spencer-Nelson and she is part of Indy Hoopers, a “Hoop Instruction Company.” She teaches weekly classes and workshops. Her company also offers instructional parties for ages 8 and up and parties just for fun for all ages. They also bring nationally known instructors to the Indianapolis area.
The man in the video will always be Sexy Fire Guy to me, but he is officially part of a company called Phoenix Fire Productions.
During the second weekend of the fringe, more performers from both groups were back on Mass. Ave., this time with a comedic announcer and many more kinds of hoops and fiery juggling items. It was even more of a treat to watch their work a second time!)
I also saw four more shows in theatres at IndyFringe. Here are my thoughts on them:
“Grind: the Musical” – Theatre on the Square
The Act – A coffee shop called “The Rush” in Minneapolis, Minnesota is emotional home to several people. Only the owner, a young woman named Coco who is trying to fund her brother’s college degree in music, knows that their building is scheduled for demolition. Each of the characters has his or her own concerns. Their stories, and the overall story arc, are conveyed through spoken interactions, dance, beat poetry, shadow puppetry, web comics, and live instrumental music sampling a variety of musical styles from rap to gospel.
The Art – The plot is a cliché but the execution of it is not. The fact that the show is a portfolio of the company members’ many talents could be overwhelming but somehow it is delightful instead. Somehow, the overflowing artistic smorgasbord is also a neatly packaged homage to the wide variety of creativity and human interaction that (forgive the expression) percolates daily in coffee shops around the world. Also, from the dinging of the bell over the invisible shop door to the funny coffee references in the script to the hand-lettered “practice encouraged” sign taped to the electric piano to the paint-spattered barista aprons to the dramatic red and blue lighting design to the exaggerated Minnesotan accent of one of the cameo characters, the show is filled with pleasures for fans of theatre craft. Also, my first down-my-face tears at the 2010 IndyFringe came during a song in this show when Coco and her brother, Dylan, remember their parent’s deaths and re-affirm their gratitude and support for each other.
The Appeal – This is a fully-staged theatrical production with live music and a gazillion props and set pieces. It has an 8-member cast and a 3-member traveling crew. All of this is rare (perhaps nuts) for a Fringe production, especially one from out of town. If you don’t usually go to the Fringe because you think it is all solo shows, this IndyFringe show is worth going downtown for. Also, the piece itself is an original piece and its presence at the 2010 Indy Fringe Festival is an Indiana premiere. Beyond all that, this piece, although it has different content and structure, has a heart that reminded me of “Edges,” “bare: the musical,” and “Songs for a New World.”
The Audience – I don’t remember any language or content that would make parents of elementary school children cringe but its main audience is probably teens, college students, people in their 20s, older adults who are still young and idealistic in their hearts, and any solo artist of any age that has ever found the human interaction they needed in a coffee shop.
“A Brighter Shade of Blue” – ComedySportz
The Act – Solo performer Paul Strickland shares angry-funny stories related to his (recent?) divorce as well as stories from his growing up in the Hope Grounds Trailer Park in Florida and his travels through Arkansas. Some of his jokes put down other individuals and groups of people. Sometimes his humor is self-deprecating.
The Art – If you run into Paul walking along Mass. Ave. this week handing out postcards to promote his show, he will say that in his show “I talk about my divorce and learn to think positive.” Normally I would run screaming from a sexy man (and Paul Strickland is sexy, whether he thinks he is or not – those twinkly blue eyes! that huggable body!) who is still calling his ex-wife “childish,” especially if he thinks playful comments about dinosaurs are something to be scorned out of hand. I also don’t usually enjoy humor that is based on put-downs and (paradoxically I know) I have my own history with dysfunctional family sayings such as “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” In Paul’s show, one of his stories is about his mother telling his 7-year-old self to go back to bed until he can “wake up in a better mood.” I know from outrage at having my feelings dismissed and I know, like Paul, that learning to process one’s anger in a healthy way is a life journey.
The balance and layers in this piece are subtly wonderful. This piece includes emotional risk-taking, vulnerability, and honesty, but it is crafted in such as a way as to be art rather than therapy. If Paul’s jokes make you laugh, you can just laugh. You don’t have to worry about having to rescue him. And they probably will make you laugh, at least sometimes, whether you are usually a fan of anger-comedy or not. I heard big laughs at different times from different parts of the room during this show, which is always a sign to me of a piece’s richness. I also had to be careful about sipping my own lemonade because Paul’s work prompted me into several near-snorts as well. But the rest of the time I relished his word-smithing, his easy rapport with his audience, and his good comic timing.
The Appeal – If you love redneck humor and/or anger-humor, consider seeing this show. If you are a fan of comic storytelling (as opposed to just strings of punch lines) there’s a lot to appreciate here in terms of layered story crafting, too.
The Audience – This show is definitely not for children, but that’s mostly because the stories probably wouldn’t interest them than because of language or explicit content. This is probably not for adults that are offended by even mild political incorrectness, either. I imagine that people who have blind-sided by divorce will be able to relate to this show, but it deserves a broader audience than that.
“Teen Jesus: A Tuneful Testament” – Theatre on the Square (TOTS)
The Act – This musical theatre piece plays with the question “What would Jesus do” if he had been a high school student in 2010 when he found out through a career aptitude test that he had been called to save the world? What if he looked like Justin Beiber? What if his girlfriend, Mary Magdalene, was a Britney Spears wannabe? And so on. It is narrated by John the Baptist’s still-alive head on a platter set on a cart pushed by a mute but feisty leper.
The Art – This piece prompted my first (and only, so far) standing ovation at the 2010 IndyFringe because it was so much funnier, richer, more clever, more polished, and more emotionally satisfying than I had expected. For some reason I had thought it was going to be not even offensive but stupid. Boy, was I wrong!
(In case you’re wondering, although I like to think of myself as a theatre adventurer, I am not usually a theatrical masochist. I went because a) a fellow devoted Christian and theatre junkie told me that he had seen a rehearsal and thought it was hilarious and b) I found out that a woman with a distracting laugh was already in the audience at the show I had planned to see in this time slot. Divine intervention? Quite possibly.)
I wish there had been a program for this show, or at least a website that identified the artists associated with it. The script is full of groaners but also full of hilariously accurate Biblical references. Although it throws wicked verbal daggers at organized religion and strokes just about every rage button there is for people that feel let down by their religious experience, ultimately, and without preaching, it honors Christ’s most important teaching, which is to love one another. Okay, there is one teeny bit of preaching at the end, but even that escapes being maudlin by provoking a bark of laughter with John’s sincere four-word reinterpretation of “Love one another.”
I recognized all of the cast members as local actors whose work I have enjoyed in several other shows at TOTS and other theatres around Indianapolis. Their comedic singing/dancing/acting work is quite enjoyable in this show, too. The direction is tight in terms of blocking and pacing and there is enough substance in terms of lighting, sound, costumes, props, and set design to make this feel more like a show from TOTS’ regular season than a Fringe piece. The songs are mostly parodies of famous songs from other movies and musicals, but the sexy-funny choreography is (I learned via a tweet from her) original, debut work by local performance artist Erin Cohenour, who is currently appearing in another IndyFringe show, “Bill and Erin: One Night Standards,” written by Matthew Roland.
This piece reminded me of other spoof theatre pieces such as “Jewtopia,” by Brian Vogel and Sam Wolfson, and “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead,” by Bert V. Royal. However, even though in some ways “Teen Jesus” is derivative of those pieces, both of which were produced by TOTS within the past couple of years, it is more successful, I think, because with all of its spoofing it still follows the basic, iconic Christian story.
“Teen Jesus” also succeeds because, like Christopher Moore’s novel, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, it is definitely irreverent but it is NOT mean-spirited.
The Appeal – Like “Grind: the Musical” this is one of those rare Fringe shows with a relatively large cast and a relatively fully staged production. “Teen Jesus” is also a world premiere and a fine example of parody.
The Audience – If you’re offended by the suggestion that Jesus would have found his calling to be a “cock-block” even as he accepted it, then this is not the show for you.
I also saw and enjoyed “Bill and Erin: One Night Standards” – a characteristically quirky world premiere by local playwright Matthew Roland about truth and loneliness, starring sexy-funny performers – but I have run out of writing time for today. More later, maybe.
In the meantime, here is that other little video I promised you. (I apologize for the ad. YouTube didn’t used to put ads right on the videos. I am going to have to re-think my method of adding video clips to my blog.)
The Indy Fringe Festival continues at six venues on or near Massachusetts Avenue in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana (USA) through Sunday, August 29, 2010. For a schedule and more information about the shows, please see www.IndyFringe.org.
‘See you at the theatres!
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com and www.Twitter.com/IndyTheatre