If you love live theatre as much as I do, you want to see EVERYTHING, including all 56 shows in the 2012 Indianapolis Fringe Theatre Festival also known as Indy Fringe.
But after fringe-ing for five years I know that there is a limit to the number of stories and creative manifestations of artistic visions that I can absorb in ten days – let alone write about them – without being reduced to a quivering pile of brain jelly. I’m taking ten days’ vacation from my day job for this and I’m buying all of my tickets rather than accepting a media pass, so I won’t be able to take more time off or pay for a spa vacation to recover from Fringe-ing.
So…I need a plan for doing the Fringe. Maybe you do, too?
There are several possibilities:
The Favorite Venue Plan
The Fringe artists would probably be appalled at this suggestion, but if you don’t have a particular show that you’re dying to see, why not consider planting yourself at the venue that feels most comfortable to you and just see everything there? There is a nice mix of shows offered at each place and you’ll be able to relax and people-watch or write in your journal in between shows rather than scrambling around.
The things that make me feel comfortable are a) clean, working restrooms with more than one stall, b) theatre chairs that are not bolted to the floor so that no one has to be squashed and people can easily adjust to see around each other, c) effective crowd control, and d) hassle-free parking.
The Cook Theater in the Indiana Landmark Center at 12th and Central is the only venue that is not really within easy walking distance of the other Indy Fringe venues. However, it was BEAUTIFULLY renovated last year and is worth the short car trip or long walk just to look around. It also has the nicest women’s restrooms. (I haven’t seen the men’s restrooms there. ‘Sorry.) It has a small free parking lot but there is also free parking on the street, unlike on Mass. Ave. The seating is chairs that have been arranged in loose rows (not bolted to the ground) in front of the raised stage. I confess that it is my favorite Fringe venue for sheer comfort and beauty.
ComedySportz is the most centrally-located of the Fringe venues on Massachusetts Avenue (“Mass Ave”.) It has a tiny raised stage so you’ll be able to see even from the back, unless the performers decide to do their show sitting down on the floor. Don’t laugh: I’ve seen – or not seen – that happen more than once. I’ve also seen a show at CSz where the performers moved all the tables back and performed in the middle of them, but that was only once and it worked well because the performers made it work. Anyway, CSz seats are easily movable and usually arranged around tables so you have a place to put your beer or hot pretzel or whatever, which is nice if the staff is offering food service. On the other hand, CSz has only one toilet. On the OTHER hand, the CSz performance space is saturated with humor from its year-round win-win comedy competitions, so the vibe there is fearless and good.
The Indy Fringe Theatre Building is set back a little bit from the intersection of College and Mass Ave. Like the Phoenix and the Cook, this building is a renovated church. There is only one toilet (labeled “loo” the last time I was there) but the chairs are movable, the stage is raised, and this is probably the venue that best lends itself to a self-controlling crowd. The sidewalk stretches out in two directions but it is easy for everyone to see how to join one line or other. It is also the venue closest to the Best Chocolate Shop in Town and the new Indy Reads Books store – both farther down on Mass Ave.
The other four Fringe venues are actually combined into two venues: the two stages at the Phoenix Theatre, which is just north of Mass Ave (cross the street at YATS restaurant and walk a short block), and the two stages at Theatre on the Square (TOTS), which is on Mass Ave a little farther in the direction of the Circle, sort of across the street from Aesop’s Tables restaurant and across from this year’s temporary Fringe headquarters.
The good thing about Fringe-ing at the Phoenix or at TOTS is that if one show sells out in any given time slot, you can probably get in to see the other show at that venue. The bad thing about Fringe-ing at either of these two theatres is that they will be very, very crowded, especially the second weekend.
However, they both have more than one stall in their women’s restrooms.
Phoenix’s main stage and TOTS’ main stage both have seats bolted down in raked (incrementally raised) rows. Both of their second stages have cabaret-style seating: movable chairs arranged around little tables, on one or two levels.
Parking will probably be a little bit of a challenge for all but the Cook, so leave a little extra time to get to your chosen theatre and remember to feed the meter or give it your credit card number if you plan to stay all day.
None of the Fringe theatres earn any money from hosting Fringe shows. In fact, they lose money because they are “dark” – not showing their own shows – during the Fringe. They do it, I think, in the hopes of introducing their spaces to new audiences and because their owners are generous people.
None of the venues have had consistently great crowd control in years past because it depends on who is there from the theatre or from the Indy Fringe organization and whether or not they think to say, “Please form the line to the right” or whatever. If Bryan Fonseca is at the Phoenix, he does a good job of good-humoredly taking charge. Maybe he will spread the word to everyone else.
(Addendum: I wrote most of this post yesterday afternoon but didn’t post it because it wasn’t ready by the time I had to leave to see a show. When I went to the first night of Fringe shows last night, the volunteer ushers had already been instructed how to direct the foot traffic. Yay!)
In the meantime, if you want to sample more than one venue but you get claustrophobic in crowds, as I do, you may want to consider:
The Beat the Crowds Plan aka The No-Brainer Plan
There is no way to predict which sleepers will hit and become everyone’s “must-see” this year. However, I do predict that the following six shows will sell out, possibly the first weekend, simply because they have such a large fan base and/or extensive marketing going in.
- “The Best of Super Soul” – Dance Kaleidoscope – professional quality dancing and choreography at a fraction of the price you usually pay for DK’s shows.
- “BOT” – Q Artistry – A robot story from the creative mind of Ben Asaykwee and others. Ben brought us “Strike! the Musical” about bowling pins at last year’s Indy Fringe.
- “CaborGAY!” – The Indianapolis Men’s Chorus – I know the least about this “fan favorite” going in, but I’ve heard a lot of buzz about it already and it sounds like fun to me!
- “Going…Going…Gone” – One of a kind improv storytelling shaped by the Indianapolis Business Journal’s arts editor Lou Harry and co-writer John Thomas, and new (professional) actors every performance.
- “Phil van Hest: Public Nudity” – Smart, adults-only stand-up comedy by a guy that has bonded so well with Indy Fringe audiences over the years that last fall he moved here from California to live and start his family.
- “Schoolhouse Wrong To! Even More Wronger” – Three Dollar Bill Comedy – from the outrageously funny people that brought us the first “Schoolhouse Wrong” musical at last year’s Indy Fringe.
(Addendum: Several of these shows sold out last night! Their first night! And I realized that a seventh show should be added to this plan: “465 Sex Drive…a musical.” I tried to see it at the 10:30 slot last night and was turned away. )
If any of these shows is a “must see” for you, or if you would like to see all six (seven), I recommend that you plan to see them either the first weekend or during the week rather than the second weekend of the festival. Also plan to get there early and be ready to stand in line. The Fringe only sells half of the tickets to each show online, so don’t despair if a show seems sold out. Go to the theatre 30 minutes before show time and ask about availability.
Alternatively, you could just skip these six (seven) shows simply because “everyone” will be seeing them. Below are a few more ways to explore the wealth that is Fringe.
The Circuit Rider Plan aka the Welcome, Visiting Artists! Plan
Some performers put their names in for more than one Fringe festival around the country, or even around the world. I am not tapped in to “Fringe circuit” news and gossip, except only very peripherally, but I know that performers compare notes about their experiences at different festivals. This makes me hope that Indianapolis audiences will be kind to them and open to what they’ve brought for us, especially if they have travelled far to get here.
But more than that, I love that Fringe gives us the chance to see performers from far away at a very affordable ticket price. Then, after they have become “ours” I love hearing about “our” travelling artists showing up at other fringe festivals.
I was delighted, for example, to see a tweet recently from The Birdmann (@Birdmannia – from Australia, at the Indy Fringe in 2008) that said he is performing at the Edmonton Fringe in Canada this year. I was also delighted to see a video in my Facebook feed a few days ago in which Clown at Work Brent McCoy (from Vermont, at the Indy Fringe in 2008 and 2009) and his wife are interviewed by someone at the original Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, where they performed this year. These are just two of many examples.
I also love that sometimes Fringe shows that originated here in Indianapolis with Indianapolis artists travel to the other festivals. Last year’s “The Boy in the Basement,” for example, is enjoying good houses and positive reviews at the Boulder Fringe right now.
Based on what I can read in the Indy Fringe program, this year’s Indy Fringe has two shows with performers from outside the United States:
- “Colaboracao: the Intersection of Street Dance and Contemporary Movement” – a dance collaboration between people from Brazil and our own Butler University.
- “SimpliCity” – a “3rd world comedy” show from Bogota, Columbia.
There are several shows from elsewhere in the United States:
- Boulder, CO – “Summerpocalypse”
- Chicago, IL – “Dandelion Chains”
- Chicago, IL – “Storms Beneath Her Skin”
- Cincinnati, OH – “Don’t Cross the Streams: the Cease and Desist Musical”
- Colorado Springs, CO – “Iris and Rose – Wild and Thorny”
- Frankfort, KY – “Feed Your Nightmares”
- Howard, IL – “Go to Hell”
- Las Vegas, CA – “Bonnie Bitch’s OBEY! Comedy Hypnosis Show”
- Long Beach, CA – “Brad Hinshaw, You Ruin Everything”
- Minneapolis, MN – “Daycare Ditties”
- New York, New York – “Joe’s Café”
- San Francisco, CA – “Breaking Rank”
- South Paris, ME – “The Fabulous Problemas”
- Texas – “Just Amazing: TRIGG Watson”
- Winterville, GA – “Donating Sperm to My Sister’s Wife”
And there are a few shows from elsewhere in Indiana:
- Anderson, IN – “Where Is My Mind”
- Anderson, IN – “The Last Nickel”
- Bloomington, IN – “And I Am Not Making This Up”
- Bloomington, IN – “The Blizzard Sells Out! 60 Minutes, 30 Plays”
- Bloomington, IN – “Lady Bits”
- Carmel, IN – “These Shining Lives”
- Parker City, IN – “Cabaret Absinthe: A Theatre du Grand Guignol”
It might be fun to have a geography-based Fringe plan.
The Favorite Kind of Show Plan
Another approach is to plan your Fringe-ing based on the type of show you prefer. If you know you love magic shows, for example, you could plan to see all of this year’s Fringe magic shows. Alternately, if you know you always go to the magic shows, this year you might plan to see at least one dance show, too, to go outside your comfort zone a bit.
Here is one sorting of the 56 shows into genres (there are several other possibilities):
Plays and/or comedy with two or more cast members:
- “Aquarium” – written by Sharla Steiman and produced by The Arden Theatre Union. The cast includes Lisa Ermel, Jaddy Ciucci, and Georgeanna Smith. Arden is Ty Stover’s production company so I think this show might have been directed by him, too. (8/20/12 – I moved this show from the “unknown” category up here to the “plays” category after I received cast info from Lisa Ermel. Thanks, Lisa!)
- “The Blizzard Sells Out: 60 Minutes, 30 Plays” – written by various playwrights, produced and performed by the Bloomington Playwrights Project.
- “Do Re Me Fa So Latino” – written and performed by Kristopher Owens and Carlos Portillo; produced by Yes Theatre Co.
- “Creatures of the Night,” written by Ben Ayres, produced by Prairie Ditch Productions. (Addendum – I saw this show first last night, my first show of this year’s Indy Fringe, and it set the bar HIGH. Oh, it is so funny and weird and good! It’s about friendship and eternity and werewolves and science, and the two actors – Scot Greenwell and Robert Neal – are exquisitely funny under the directionn of Jim Tillett.)
- “The Fabulous Problemas” – written and performed by Daniel Orrantia, Amanda Huotari, and Aaron Tucker; directed by Davis Robinson; produced by Celebration Barn Theater.
- “facebook me” – written by Katie Cappiello and Meg McInerney; produced by Young Actors Theatre and The Arts Effect All-Girl Theater Co.
- “G-D” – “a collaborative performance” by Theatre Non Nobis. Includes work by Darren Chittick, Jenni White, Michael Todd Swinford, Casey O’Leary, Mary Armstrong-Smith, Sondra E. Hayes, and Janet Veal-Drummond.
- “Going…Going…Gone” – written by Lou Harry and John Thomas; produced by Two First Name Productions.
- “Imagine That” – written (and directed?) by Janice Hibbard; produced by JEH Productions. Cast includes B J Bovin, Stacey “Jack” Johnson, Danielle Carnagua, Lisa Marie Smith, and Shawn D. Evans.
- “JFK vs the Undead” – Written by J. Nicholas Shoemaker. I think he also wrote the “Teen Jesus” that I so loved in Indy Fringe 2010.
- “Lady Bits” – written by Emily Goodson. Two performers?
- “The Last Nickel” – written by Jack Shepard, produced by Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project.
- “Singular Sensations” – written by Robert W. Berry, directed by Cheryl Fesmire, produced by A Wing and a Prayer Productions. Four actors at an acting workshop perform unrelated monologues and scenes to show off their range.
- “Summerpocalypse” – Long form comedy improv presented by Left Right TIM
- “These Shining Lives” – written by Melanie Marnich, produced by a group from Carmel High School.
Musicals with two or more cast members:
- “465: Sex Drive…a musical” – Music by Lynn Lupold; lyrics by Lynn Lupold and Ron Spencer; book by Kenny Shepard, Ty Stover and Sharla Steiman. Produced by Red Boat Productions, LLC. Cast includes Erin Cohenour, Matthew Goodrich, Danny Kingston, Amanda Lawson, Laura Lockwood, and Clay Mabbit.
- “BOT” – Written by Ben Asaykwee, Carrie Morgan, and Ryan Powell, produced by Q Artistry.
- “Don’t Cross the Stream: The Cease and Desist Musical” – Book, lyrics & music by Mike Hall and Joshua Steele; additional music by Steve Milloy; directed by Mike Sherman; musical direction by Steve Miloy.
- “Schoolhouse Wrong To! Even More Wronger” – written, performed, and produced by the members of Three Dollar Bill Comedy.
- “Souvenir” – playwright Stephen Temperley, produced by Footlite Musicals.
- “The Best of Super Soul” – Choreographed by David Hochoy, performed by members of Dance Kaleidoscope.
- “Colaboracao: the Intersection of Street Dance and Contemporary Movement” – Choreographed by The Performing Artists and Dance Colleagues of Indiana/Brazil Dance Exchange, DANCEPartners; accompaniment by Wlliam Engle, pianist, and Brett Terrell, guitarist, from Butler University. Includes music of Sergio and Odair Assad, Ernesto Nazareth and Orlando Cotto. Sponsored by Indiana Partners of the Americas and Rio Grande do Sul Partners of the Americas.
- “Purrr-lesque” – Written by Katie Angel, performed by members of Angel Burlesque.
Opera and Other Singing:
- “CabarGAY!” – Show tunes performed by the Indianapolis Men’s Chorus
- “Joe’s Café” – a music revue of “he experience of ordinary American people” written by Rupert Wates, performed by him and his friends.
- “Iris’n’Rose – Wild and Thorny” – Two sisters lead a “traditional pub sing.”
- “Cinderella: A Far-Fetched Fairy Tale Opera” – The Steele Project
- “Maya: Illusions” – Intimate Opera of Indianapolis
Magic and Mind-Reading:
- “Bonnie Bitch’s OBEY! Comedy Hypnosis Show” – Written and produced by Steve Daly.
- “Illusionistory: The History of Mystery” – performed by members of Taylor Martin’s Indy Magic Monthly
- “Just Amazing: TRIGG Watson”
- “We’ve Got Powers” – written and performed by The Power Couple: Jason Adams and Erin Adams.
Hard to Categorize:
- “The Blue Monkey Sideshow presents ‘New Blue’” – a variety of kinds of acts in one show
- “Born to Be Wild” – something family-friendly about animals? Written by Bryan Starchman, presented by Assorted Fruits and Vegetables.
- “Cabaret Absinthe: A Theatre du Grand Guignol” – “a gothic horror show” – something out of an Anne Rice novel? Anyway, I’m not sure if it a musical or a collection of vignettes or what. Written by Darrin Murrell; produced by Main Street Artists.
- “Dracula: The Panto” – a “family-friendly comedy-musical parody” of the Dracula story? Written by Lucy and Thomas Cardwell, produced by Eclectic Pond Theatre Company.
- “Sirens: Chasing the Sun” – Produced by Twilight Productions (Amy Pettinella’s production company), performed by “Kri and Hettie” – two women who both sing and perform poetry. I met Indianapolis poet Chi Sherman at a conference last week and she said this was the one IndyFringe show she was going to make time to see this year.
- “Sunset Limited” – based on a Cormac McCarthy story but performed by a dance troupe? Produced by the Indianapolis Urban Theater and Dance Company, which recently presented a production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” so maybe this belongs in the “plays” category above. From my Facebook feed I learned that the cast includes Jeff Roby and Kevin Johnson.
Maybe a fun plan would be to see just the shows that I can not imagine at all.
The One-Person Shows Plan
I enjoy all of the above categories of show from time to time, but I’m a sucker for the largest Fringe category: the one-person shows. I know, I know: some audience members see them as a cop-out and some artists choose to develop them simply as a way to manage the costs of putting on a Fringe show.
(Last year, each production company paid $500 just to claim a spot in the Indy Fringe. It may have been more this year. That doesn’t include any of the costs of making the actual show, such as costumes, set pieces, rehearsal space rental, script development, etc. Just to break even on entrance fees alone, each Fringe show has to have ten paying audience members – not reviewers or fellow performers there on comps – in each of its five performances.)(8/20/12 – ‘Sorry: each show gets SIX performances. However, Indy Fringe offers audience members the chance to buy “fiver passes” – five tickets for the price of four, or $40 – which means “fiver” audience members only give $8 to each show. All of which means that each show needs…well, I’ll leave the math up to the artists. (laughing) But you get the idea.)
However, I admire the courage and creativity it takes to be the only one up there on stage, with no other actors to serve as buffer between you and the audience. It’s the kind of performing that I have done most, so I’m probably biased. But in any case, I love the purity of it. I love the mutually-respectful intimacy of a one-person show that is both well crafted and well performed in front of an open-hearted audience. I also love the variety of storytelling that is possible within this one category of show.
Here are the one-person shows (I think they are all one-person shows) offered in this year’s Indy Fringe:
- “After Paul McCartney” – written by David Hoppe, performed by Rob Johansen.
- “And I Am Not Making This Up” – written and performed by Nell Weatherwax.
- “Brad Hinshaw, You Ruin Everything” – written and performed by Brad Hinshaw.
- “Breaking Rank” – written and performed by Howard Petrick.
- “Dandelion Chains” – written and performed by Shanna Shrum.
- “Day Care Ditties” – written and performed by Leah Isaacson.
- “Donating Sperm to My Sister’s Wife” – written and performed by Stewart Huff.
- “Feed Your Nightmares” – researched and performed by storyteller Mary Hamilton.
- “Go to Hell” – written and performed by storyteller Jim May.
- “I am Peter Pan” – devised and directed by Michael Burke, produced by NoExit Performance, performed by Ryan Powell.
- “Is That Your Reel Hair?” – written and performed by vocalist Tiffanie Bridges.
- “Phil Van Hest: Public Nudity” – written and performed by Phil Van Hest.
- “A Real Modern Family: From Hipster to Dipster” – written and performed by Scott Long
- “Screw You, I’m Nancy Drew” – written by Kim McCann, produced by Sarsparilla Shook Productions.
- “SimpliCity” – written by Carolos Monte, produced by Montercermundo.
- “Storms Beneath Her Skin” – written and performed by Rebecca Kling.
- “Victory?!” – written and performed by Judy Lombardo.
- “Where Is My Mind?” – written and produced by Schedule C Productions, performed by Jackie Strait.
Another possibility is to sort out the “family friendly” shows and the “mature content” and follow one or the other of those tracks. Or both! Another possibility is to sort out the shows featuring people you know personally from the rest of the shows. (My friend Mary Hamilton’s “Feed Your Nightmares” would be in that category for me, for example. Addendum: I enjoyed it very much last night, too!) Another possibility is to sort out the shows that had their premieres other places but you missed seeing them then. (Footlite’s “Souvenir” is an example.)
I bet you can think of other categories.
The Ultimate Risk-Taker Plan aka the Robby Plan
My friend Robby Slaughter’s method is to not read anything about any Fringe shows ahead of time, nor to plan anything. He and his wife just show up on Massachusetts Avenue whenever they have some time free during the Fringe. They walk into the theatre closest to wherever they found parking and see whatever show is about to go on there.
Robby says they have done it this way from the beginning. (This is the Indy Fringe’s 8th year.) They have seen some duds but they have also seen some real treasures, shows they probably would never have considered if they had read about them ahead of time. Over time, the treasures outweigh the duds and Robby and his wife always get the excitement and pleasure of adventuring.
The No Promises Plan aka Hope’s Plan
I have a plan that is a mish-mash of all the above plans. I am not going to show my plan to anyone and I may or may not stick to it. I like having a plan so that when I veer from it, I know what I’m giving up.
Towards the end of the festival in 2009, for example, I had planned to see local playwright Matthew Roland’s “Another Classic of Western Literature” a second time, but then I found myself on the bench in front of Starbucks talking in a very relaxed way with visiting playwright Dan Bernitt.
At some point in that conversation I let the curtain time slip by, trusting that where I was was the right place for me to be in that moment.
And it was.
May all our Fringe-ing this year be relaxed and satisfying, too.
‘See you at the theatres!
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com (@IndyTheatre)
(8-19-12 – Okay, I _think_ I’ve got all of the shows in here somewhere. Thank you for your patience!)
©2012 Hope Baugh