Yesterday I made two little videos while hanging out between shows at the 2010 Indianapolis Fringe Theatre Festival. In the video above, “The Last Straight Man in Theatre,” Kurt Fitzpatrick, talks with me about his multi-media solo show (which I hope to see next weekend) and shares advice about how to succeed as a performer on the Fringe circuit. He is from New York and has taken this particular Fringe show on the road throughout the Midwestern United States and Canada.
(While Kurt and I are talking, his stage manager is recording both of us for their own video files.)
The other little impromptu video, which is at the bottom of this post, is of cast members and friends of “Grind: the Musical” sharing songs from that show for the people walking by on Massachusetts Avenue. I’m sorry I didn’t stand close enough for my iPhone to pick up the sound better, but I think you can still tell that there are some lovely singing voices in the “Grind” company.
Also at the bottom of this post is a review of “Bill and Erin: One Night Standards.” But first I’d like to indulge myself with a sort of Fringe-goer’s reflective journal entry:
This is my fourth year writing about the Indianapolis Fringe Theatre Festival. I love that everyone’s experience of the festival is unique.
A big part of my experience this year so far has been laughter: laughing a lot myself, but also thinking about laughter and enjoying the variety of laughs that I hear in live theatre audiences.
I mentioned in a previous post an Indianapolis theatre audience regular whose laugh annoys me because it seems deliberately produced to draw attention to the laugher and take attention away from what’s happening on stage. I don’t know that it is deliberate; it just seems that way to me.
Another famous Indianapolis laugher is actor Tristan Ross. Tristan has just come off a run as the mute king in Wayne Township Community Theatre’s production of “Once Upon a Mattress.” He was hilarious in that role, by the way.
I hope I won’t make Tristan feel self-conscious if he happens to read this post, but I love his laugh. It is rich and deep and joyful and sincere. More importantly, he produces it generously when he is the audience of a show he enjoys. “Produces” is not quite the right word, though, because although it is controlled – he seems to pull back when he senses he is pulling attention away from the stage – his laugh never sounds faked or forced. It’s more like he allows his mirth to tumble out, like the Ghost of Christmas Present in “A Christmas Carol.”
Anyway, I always notice Tristan’s laugh when we happen to be in an audience together, and in that moment, yes, I guess I am distracted out of the story that is happening on stage. But it is always easy to fall back into the story, smiling with pleasure at the way Tristan’s laugh enhances, rather than detracts from, what is going on on stage.
He was in the audience when I saw “Blizzard Rewind” on Sunday night, and I appreciated his laugh again. I bet the Bloomington Playwrights Project actors did, too.
I am pretty sure that my response to both famous laughers is not based on some deeply-buried cultural belief that it is okay for men to be loud and distinctive but not okay for women. However, that thought made me try to remember audience laughs that I love that happen to be from women. Local professional actress Karen Irwin’s supportive laugh comes immediately to mind and I’m sure there are others.
It is probably no accident that the best audience laughers are also, at other times, performers.
I’m not saying that theatre-goers should pay a lot of attention to the way they laugh. Pay attention to the show! Be yourself and respond in whatever way is authentic for you, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.
I’m just saying that I discovered this week at IndyFringe that one of the many things that I love about being at a live theatre show is the fact that whether I go by myself or with friends, it’s a shared experience, for better or worse. The audience is an influential ingredient in the experience.
I picked up my media pass on Day One of the Indy Fringe Festival as usual because it is a boost to my ego, but I decided to pay my own way to Fringe shows this year. This means I feel no obligation to write about every show I see.
However, I did want to share a few more thoughts about a show I enjoyed last Saturday night and ran out of time to write about on Sunday:
“Bill and Erin: One Night Standards,” written by Matthew Roland – ComedySportz
The Act – This comedy is a five(or six!?)-hander about two friends and roommates: a gay man named Bill (played by Bill Skaggs) and a straight woman named Erin (played by Erin Cohenour.) Bill is lonely and Erin is horny. They decide to look for someone to meet both their needs. Along the way, they meet a wide variety of other characters.
The Art – I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that one of the reasons the playwright wrote this play is that he loved working with Bill Skaggs and Erin Cohenour on other projects and/or admired their performance work in general and so decided to write a play just for them. Bill and Erin are friends in real life, too, and although not, as far as I know, roommates, they are both members of Indyprov (a local improv comedy group) so their on-stage chemistry is extra-comfortable and appealing. Their delivery of their fast-paced dialogue is as chaotic and yet controlled as a game of crack-the-whip.
While he was working on this script, I imagine playwright Matt decided to incorporate several digs and tickles that could only be fully appreciated by other people that he either knows in real life and/or that have seen his other work. Maybe I’m over-thinking it, but for me, for example, the hilarious appearance of a Stephen Hawking-esque character in “Bill and Erin” was a reference to Matt’s portrayal (as an actor) of a similar character in the Phoenix Theatre’s production of the rolling world premiere of “End Days,” by Deborah Zoe Laufer in 2008.
That particular reference is accessible to just about anyone, though, because the actor in “Bill and Erin” is funny in his portrayal, too, and you don’t need to have seen “End Days” to appreciate it. (I’m sorry I don’t know that actor’s name.) Also, the appearance of that particular character in that place and time in “Bill and Erin” makes sense as a part of the whole even as it surprises. Other references might be just confusing to audience members that don’t have the right insider background.
However, I also think that the “Huh? WTF?! Am I missing something or is this part just bizarre?” response is what Matt Roland’s fans, including me, relish about all of his plays.
There are several examples of funny meta-writing in the “Bill and Erin” script, too, which I think is another Roland trademark. Characters make references to the fact that they are in a play, on a stage, or whatever, and then go back to living in the play.
The clever, clever staging makes impressive use of the teeny-tiny ComedySportz space and therefore becomes almost another character in the story.
Both Bill and Erin have beautiful singing voices, and we get to hear them sing a bit in this piece. Erin’s singing voice, in particular, always surprises and then delights me with its distinctiveness whenever I hear it.
The Appeal – When I was waiting in line for another show, a stranger told me that he likes live theatre best when he knows someone in the show. “It’s fun to see them become someone else for a little while,” he said. If you know any of the actors in this show, even if you only know them from other shows, I bet you will love them in this show. If you are already a Matthew Roland fan, I bet you will enjoy this script. If you don’t know any of these artists, the appeal of this show is probably its politically incorrect, tongue-in-cheek bawdiness and its quirkiness. (Did I mention there is an invisible homeless guy in it?)
The Audience – Language and content make this for adults only, and probably only for adults that are not easily offended and who don’t need to have every thread in their art tied off neatly.
Here is that little street jam video I promised you:
And now I’m off to another show. The 2010 Indy Fringe Theatre Festival continues in six venues on and around Massachusetts Avenue in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana (USA) through Sunday, August 29, 2010. For a show schedule and more information about any of this year’s 48 IndyFringe shows, please visit www.indyfringe.org.
‘See you at the theatres!