I stood to applaud after each of the three shows that I saw on my third day of the 2010 Indianapolis Fringe Theatre Festival, and not just because all three came with paper programs.
Paper programs are understandably rare for Fringe shows since their cost keeps performers from reaching the goal of breaking even financially, let alone making a profit. It can be argued that spare cash is better spent on designing and printing postcards that include a web address directing interested people to more info about the show’s background, cast, and design team. The postcards double as programs and as something for “off-duty” performers to hand out as they’re schmoozing the people waiting in line for other shows.
However, for local (usually professional) theatre companies that exist, or hope to exist, beyond the Fringe circuit, a separate paper program, printed in judicious quantities so as not to waste paper, can offer a good return on investment in terms of audience development.
Paper programs are also a good way for a show’s producer/parent to publicly say “thank you” to the village of individuals that have helped raise the show, especially since there is little or no time for a curtain talk at a Fringe show.
Paper programs are also an opportunity for an additional revenue stream if someone associated with the show has the time and skill to go after paid advertising and get it into the paper program before the show opens.
I know, I know: paper programs use up limited natural resources. I’m working on decreasing my carbon footprint by doing things like bringing my own cloth bags to the grocery store, but I think I will always enjoy bringing paper programs home from the theatre.
Anyway, here are my thoughts on the three IndyFringe shows I saw last night:
“Blizzard Rewind” presented by the Bloomington Playwrights Project – Theatre on the Square
The Act – Six actors, flanked by two long tables filled with props and backed by several whiteboards covered with a chart of years from 1981-2010 with corresponding titles, explain to the audience that their challenge is to present 30 very short plays in 60 minutes in the random order that the audience calls for them. A huge digital clock projected on the back of the set blinks down the time that is left. Someone in the audience yells out a year, one actor wipes that year from the white boards while the other actors scurry to grab the props and minimal set pieces that go with that year’s play. One of the actors repeats the title and yells, “Go!” and the play begins. At the end (usually mere moments later), an actor yells, “Curtain!” and it is time for the audience to shout out another year.
The Art – This piece is so much fun, like a roller coaster ride! It made me laugh like a seal sometimes and I can’t remember the last time I felt so engaged at a sketch comedy show. In other words, the energy in this piece is tremendous and infectious. All six actors are consistently, fully present, and it is a rush, a high, a whatever you want to call it, to be part of their work. There are fun flashes of improv comedy during the lightning-fast scene changes. There is comedy in most of the tidy little plays, too, but the pacing within them varies deliciously without ever losing the momentum of the show overall. For example, the play for 1986 is called “Instant Replay.” Things were moving much too fast for me to check off each play on my program during the show, but I think that must have been the one in which we see a couple fighting over a TV show…and then see their fight again in slow, slow, slow motion from the rear. Oh, my goodness, I am laughing again, remembering that one. In contrast, the play for 1985 is “Popular Dance Moves in 1985, Performed by the Worst Dancer in the Cast.” It is not a story, but it is hilarious because it is exactly what the title promises. The actor who performs the dances moves quickly as they are announced and okay, maybe she is not the best dancer in the cast, but I loved her full-bodied effort. I wanted to shout, “Sister, you dance FINE!” Still another contrast on top of contrast comes in the hilarious British reserve conveyed in 1997’s “Terrible ‘Yo Mama’ Harry Potter Jokes Stolen From the Internet.” At the end of the show, the floor is covered with carrot peelings and other detritus from the 30 short plays, and the actors are drenched in sweat and other liquids, but the audience is left both weak and refreshed.
The Appeal – Since the show’s order is completely random and different every time, the arc of each performance is completely different every time. If one of the things you love most about live theatre is that anything can happen, this is a show for you. Also, since the Bloomington Playwrights’ Project is devoted to promoting new work, I assume that this show is a world premiere of each of the 30 short plays. There are 30 plays because BPP has been in existence for 30 years, which is worth celebrating in and of itself. And if you are a compulsive clock-checker, you won’t have to distract your neighbors by lighting up your phone in the middle of the show because you can check the show’s clock any time you want.
The Audience – Some language and content make this an adults-only show, but within the range of adult generations, there is something for everyone here. If one nano-play bores or offends you, don’t worry: it will be over in just a moment.
The Artists – Since I have a paper program to refer to, I can tell you that “Blizzard Rewind” was directed by Chad Rabinovitz. He and Emily Goodson, Gabe Gloden, Janet Burroway, Julian Livingston, Jonathan Graham, Nancy Beverly, Mark Levine, April Smallwood, Rachel Himsel, Mark Anderson, Erin Sullivan, and Josie Gingrich wrote the 30 short pieces. The six-member acting ensemble includes Kathleen Walker, Gabe Gloden, Emily Goodson, Derrick Krober, Shannon Walsh, and Daniel Petrie. Tommy Wilson was the assistant director, Sam McKay the stage manager, Kelsey Sheppard the choreographer, and Delcie Pace the props master.
“Not a Peep” by the ShadowApe Theatre Company – Theatre on the Square
The Act – This IndyFringe show is a three-for-the-price-of one bargain presented by three local professional actors. 1) You get the title piece, which is a wordless story about three co-workers’ interactions during one fateful day at the office. 2) You get the set change piece that is a little character-driven story all by itself. 3) You get the third piece, which is a cautionary tale about consumer lust. They are all hilarious.
The Art – This IndyFringe show is a triple-threat in terms of artistic value, too. 1) You get the slow build of a laughter ladder: you grin, then you giggle, then you laugh out loud, again and again. 2) You get the breathtaking specificity of the three actors’ work. These are actors’ actors, showing in a very accessible way what pro’s can do without words. 3) You get the delightfully subtle layers of connection between the three pieces. They don’t seem to be connected at first (beyond, of course, what they share in terms of humor and excellent execution) but when you get home and chew on them a bit you realize that they are all about relationships and communication and funny, mistaken desires. They are all three very gentle nudges towards consciousness. Icing is the clean, crisp look of the show: the costumes and set pieces are almost all combinations of beige, black, and white, with a lighting design that perfectly illuminates without being overbearing.
The Appeal – If you are a theatre snob, this is the IndyFringe show for you. Paradoxically, if you are a “just folks” theatre-goer, this is also the IndyFringe show for you.
The Audience – I would not take squiggly people of any age to this show because although it is not hard work at all to be in the audience, you do have to just settle down and breathe while you watch the show unfold. That said, I imagine this would be a great piece for families with older children to bond over and I would recommend it to just about any adults on their own…except possibly those that can’t take a joke about their obsessions.
The Artists – The three actors are Jennifer Johansen, Constance Macy, and Ben Tebbe. Also in the company are Robert K. Johansen, Robert M. Koharchik, Ryan Koharchik, and Michael Lamirand.
“Gilgamesh,” retold and directed by Joanna Winston and presented by Half/Black Productions – Theatre on the Square
The Act – The ancient epic of Gilgamesh is brought to life through the use of spoken storytelling and acting by eight actors plus dance choreography, fight choreography, masks and other costumes, recorded music, and three (or more?) kinds of puppets. Gilgamesh is the story of a god-like king. It is also the story of a human man. Gilgamesh finds, then loses, his best friend and almost destroys himself through grief. It is a story that explores humanity’s ties to both our animal nature and the divine, and our fascination with both immortality and death. It is a power story that has survived for thousands of years.
The Art – I won’t pretend to be a Gilgamesh scholar, but this felt like a good adaptation: true to the very complex and iconic original story yet accessible and satisfying to modern audiences within the 60-minute confines of a Fringe show. In any case, I cried cathartically all the way through it and leapt to my feet at the end to applaud. The masks are eerie and gorgeously detailed. The puppets range from tiny and clever to enormous and stunning. The music, lighting, and set panels are perfectly chosen to enhance the mood of the piece. The actors move and speak in ways that are believable and earthy, yet also timeless, as if to honor the thousands of ways and times this story has been shared over the centuries. Oh, it’s giving me chills again, remembering the power that came through this particular combination of artistic elements.
The Appeal – This is nothing like “The Odyssey” or “The Search for the Holy Grail” and it doesn’t follow the tasks in Joseph Campbell’s description of the Hero’s Journey. However, if those kinds of big stories are like meat to you (or beans and rice if you’re vegetarian, whatever), then you would probably enjoy this piece, too. If you have already heard or read the story of Gilgamesh somewhere else, then yes, you will be better able to take in names such as “Enkidu” and “Utnapishtim” and the finer plot points, but if you hadn’t heard of Gilgamesh before this week, don’t worry. The script, the director, the actors, and the other visuals in this IndyFringe show will carry you along.
The Audience – I wouldn’t bring squiggly people to this show, nor people who can’t help asking questions out loud about a show as it is happening, because I suspect that this show is either a trance-producer or it’s not, and therefore the only people that should be allowed in are people that are polite enough to sit quietly and let others bliss out even if they themselves are not sure what’s going on. (I think I lucked out, seeing it at 10:30pm.) That said, I don’t think there is anything in this show that would offend anyone. And the puppets and masks are very cool. However, parents should be the judge as to whether this is the right time for their own children to see an ultimately hopeful story that includes a lot of sadness and death.
The Artists – “Gilgamesh” was written, directed, and produced by Joanna Winston, who was also the head designer. Amanda Meyer is stage manager and props mistress.
The cast includes Noah Winston as Gilgamesh and Quinn Leary as his beloved friend, Enkidu, with a Chorus Ensemble that includes Joe Esbenshade as Hunter/Scorpion Man; Kienan Finley as Urshanabi; Greer Gerni as Temple Priestess/The Goddess Ishtar; Kerry Stauffer as Hunter’s Son/Scorpion Woman/Ninsun; Patrick Weigand as Utnapishtim; and Kendra Wilcox as Siduri.
Patrick Weigan is the puppet engineer and head puppeteer. Costumes are by Quinn Leary and Kendra Wilcox. Mask design & construction by Pamela Gray & Joanna Winston. Set design & construction by Pamela Gray & Noah Winston.
I’m off, now, to see another show or two. 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!
P.S. – Yes, I took the photo of the programs, above, with my trusty iPhone, and yes, those are my sheets, which means, no, I have not made my bed yet today. Give me a break, please: I’m on vacation and this is IndyFringe week! (Yay!)