Fringe. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t a Fringer. I had never been that interested in the crapshoot of shows. When it came to witnessing a friend’s work, it always felt like too much hurly-burly to get to the venue, find parking, purchase the button, the ticket, and sit for an hour. Inevitably, I would love the show, hate the show, or be indifferent to it. But an hour had gone by and regardless of where I landed on the love/hate spectrum, I rarely felt satisfied.

I think that’s due to taking myself too seriously. Okay, I’ll admit it, I was just a little too snooty to really embrace the concept of Fringe. Or was it my perception of the concept of Fringe?

Anyway, two summers ago I blogged for Playlist and that shifted my view. In searching for pepper among a sea of salt, I met some incredible artists of color, who were making magic. MAGIC. Magic in one hour! One hour that belonged to them, in a space, with technical support, and few restrictions or rules. Where else was this possible? Where could artists of color, or any artist, find this much support to realize a dream, a possibility, or just an idea? Tonight, once again, I realize that the Fringe Festival is special because it makes room for joy, ambition, and failure.

JOY: “Let joy run rampant today and always!”

The above is a quote from the former email signature of a mentor of mine. Fringers take that quote to heart and run with it for 11 days.

I recently began teaching adult acting classes. Most of my students are settled in careers covering a wide variety of areas like law, wellness, education, dressage, etc. The one thing they all have in common is a passion to study acting. They attack warm-ups, beat shifts, theatrical games, and more, with a vibrant energy. That same passion for creativity and artistic exploration is rampant throughout the festival. Joyful shows bookended my evening at the Fringe.

At 5:30pm, I saw FISH STORIES at HUGE Theater. There really isn’t much to say about this show. The title tells you exactly what you are getting. It’s two guys sitting around, telling stories about fishing. It’s clear the two actors are having a blast onstage. The writing is natural and easygoing with references made to Daniel Boone, Walt Disney, and Ella Fitzgerald. If you fished (hah!) deep enough in the script you’d probably find some metaphors about life, patience, and economic class. My normal reaction to this play would be, Why? But at the Fringe: they had fun, and the audience had fun. What more can you ask for?

At 10:00pm, I finished the evening with DANCEBUMS at the Theatre Garage. These Dancebums carry their equipment, costumes, and hip-shaking groove everywhere they go. The piece is an electric mash-up of styles, music, and performance. All of the artists have a freedom of body that’s clearly rooted in discipline and precision. They began their collaborations in the garage of a communal house, so it’s a perfect transplant to the stage at the Theater Garage. It’s a tight ensemble, on a stage, throwing the best dance party in town. You get to see them in their natural element dreaming of pizza and flying. They are finding joy in body, breath, and ability.

I think dance performances at the Fringe are the best deal around. I have yet to see one I didn’t like and Dancebums flies to the top of the list.

AMBITION: “H, what’s the Fringe?”

So sayeth my housemate from Boston. He has sighted the marquee changes at the Theater Garage, down the street from our home. En route to the greenway he sees Intermedia’s Fringe posting. He is confused by the eclectic collections of people, outside of Rarig, passing out postcards. So he decides to ask his theatrical friend, “H, what’s the Fringe?” I pause, navigating the complex descriptions that fill my mind at the word Fringe, trying to find the best way to describe the Fringe Festival to my housemate, a housemate who is studying to get a PhD in Statistics. That’s right. Statistics. P. H. D. I keep it simple and… in numbers: “11 days, 169 one-hour shows, in 19 different places, 4 slots per 5 weekdays, 7 slots per 2 weekend days, $12 tickets.” I attempt to overwhelm him with numbers, but in fact, overwhelm myself. I realize then that, Caesar was ambitious…whoops…I mean Fringe is ambitious. And that is reason enough to love it! My 7:00pm & 8:30pm slot were filled with ambitious new work.

At 7:00pm, I attended ROCK BOTTOM at the Theatre Garage. This is a new play written by Kory LaQuess Pullam with a strong ensemble of five. (Disclosure: I know 4 of the 5.) The writing is captivating, and the acting is rock-solid. It’s a story of loss, anger, and the actions those emotions can fuel. It doesn’t surprise, but it is a tense one-hour ride. The actors weave a palpable tension throughout the piece. There is a kiss that makes the audience cringe; it will stress you out in all the right ways. There is some fun humor in there as well, although the biggest laughs last night came from a wandering door. Rock Bottom is the sort of Fringe show that leaves you wanting more. One hour just isn’t enough. That is the sort of ambition I’m talking about. To write it, cast it, and produce it all as the Underdog Theater Collective. With determination and nothing to lose, the underdog always wins.

At 8:30pm, I went to see Forgotten Goddess Productions’ BANG-BANG MISS AMERICAN PIE. This sharp play is the product of my former classmate and friend Cristina Castro. I had the opportunity to see this work in its early stages; so it was a top Fringe choice. Cristina’s writing reminds me that sometimes humor can convey truth better than tragedy.

Bang-Bang is an ambitious meeting of past and present. In this modern play, America has died and four of our brightest young minds must write her eulogy. As they struggle to write the perfect words, they each investigate their own understanding of America. Cristina perfectly captures what it’s like to be aware in a country that confounds its citizens as much as it inspires them. The cast is excellent and handles the bold, sometimes crude, language with expertise. It is a radical play, and it speaks to me on a host of different levels. But I wonder if it is a play limited in impact to the right age demographic? Who knows? I loved it, and I’ll leave you with a question from the play, “When was the first time you realized you were an American citizen?”

FAILURE: What makes a show a failure?

I think Fringe has a different definition of failure. For each show I saw this evening, I estimate ¼ of the house was filled. In a normal commercial venture, that might represent a failure, but at the Fringe it’s a compliment. As one of the gentlemen from Fish Stories said to the audience, “With 169 shows to choose from, we are just glad you chose ours.” You. Chose. Ours. With all the options out there, you chose to come and watch 60 minutes of stories about fish. So can a Fringe show really fail you, or do you fail the show? How hard did you try to understand? Did you really choose it? Or did you just roll the dice? Can one show at Fringe be failing, if the overall machine is still a success?

All I know is that the Fringe has got room and room enough for you to fail onstage or in the audience. Pick an ambitious schedule, find some joy, and make/witness failure in all its glory.

You got six days left before you have to wait another year. I’ll see you there!