Greetings Fellow Fringers!
I’d like to start off this article by stating that I don’t pretend to be an expert on a lot of things, but I do think that it is safe to claim that I am uniquely qualified to offer a critical lens on one fringe genre in particular: the parody. For one thing I live in a culture where exploiting a communal love and nostalgia for the sake of profit is beyond just accepted, it’s celebrated. Also I have spent the last few months working on a parody fringe show of my own, Tales from Cafe Inferno (*wink wink nudge nudge* I’m so subtle.), in which we attempt to make jokes about Dante’s Inferno, a text that is not only widely studied but also contains heavy religious themes, without royally ticking off everyone in the room. It turns out this is a very fine line to walk. As a result I have developed a set of fail safe rules that dictate exactly how to accomplish the challenging task of making fun of something that you love--a set of rules that i set out to test last night as i darted around the city intaking parodies on cultural movements, 18th century novels, and huge movie franchises.
The Rules Are As Follows*:
Prove your loyalty. Dealing with fans is kind of like dealing with a pack of wild animals; you have to rub yourself with their scent in order to show them you belong in their pack and are not there to hurt them. In this case the scent would be things like jokes and references only someone who truly loved the source material would understand. Once you have gained the audience’s trust, only then can you begin any kind of satirical commentary
Find some neutral ground. While we all love our fandoms and would fight to the death in their defense, there are always those aspects that even the most die-hard enthusiasts have to admit are grounds for criticism. They are the Jar Jar Binkses of our fandoms and while painful for those who have to endure their existence, they are the perfect place to start to carefully insert some non-offensive derisions.
Foster a sense of unity with your audience. When making fun of something, it’s an easy trap to try and point at it from a distance and laugh at it’s faults. Not only is this tactic mean but it’s completely missing the point of what a parody can accomplish. By opening up a subject from within it creates a place where fans can feel like they’re included on some kind of grand inside joke. The fact that we can all relate to these gags and the emotions and story behind them connects us all in a way that a group of strangers normally can’t be connected.
*I also have two caveats to add onto this list. Never ever, under any circumstances, do either of these things: 1) Make a fart joke of any kind, 2) Utilize the hit Disney song “let it go.” Trust me, whatever your planning, it’s been done.
So now that the rules are set, let’s see how my Friday at the Fringe measures up :
In true punk fashion this show has decided to take my little list of rules, completely twist them around, and then throw them back in my face. Instead of delving deep into the nuances of punk culture, the whole cast seemed to be representing one big stereotype based more off of what the movement looks like to an outsider then to someone who is actually part of it. Not only that but instead of befriending the audience we were effectively antagonized by the cast. They even had a minnesotan character who spent the whole play not fitting in, being made uncomfortable, and being chased around by the characters on stage.
The worst part of it all was despite completely ignoring my rules it was still totally working. The show was infuriatingly enjoyable! However, just when it seemed that Theater Novi Most was dead set on single-handedly undermining my entire article in the first performance of the night, they completely pulled the rug out from under me. The takeaway message of the play, as it turns out, is that, in the end, punk isn’t about what you wear, how you act, or how much eyeliner you have on. It’s about getting up and doing something simple because you want to. Maybe it has worth or maybe it doesn’t, but the point is that you did it. Suddenly all of us in that room, from the artists to the lawyers to anyone else who ever dreamed of doing something with their existence, were punks right along with them. The sense of loyalty, trust and community that I had been seeking was right in front of me the entire time, and I had just missed it.
And all this just in time for a final rock out session.
Now this is a show that knows how to follow directions. From the very beginning the cast set out to prove themselves Jane Austen fans worthy of being allowed to make fun of such a beloved author. For example, all of the personalities on stage were stock characters straight off the page with old favorites like the set of sisters (one silly and flirtatious, the other serious and sensible), the uptight and slightly mad aunt in charge of the family, and the socially awkward but sweet gentleman love interest.
They also quickly found neutral ground with the audience by allowing us to pick the last names of the characters and title of their improvised play, encouraging us to play off of some of the more common Austen tropes such as pretentious family titles (Pendleton and Stithithwathe in our case) and constant alliteration. The result was an audience who finally felt some pay off from being one of the few kids who didn’t Sparknotes their way through Pride and Prejudice in high school. The collective laughter made me feel all warm and fuzzy to be sharing space with a group of my kindred, English nerd spirits. And in the end, I am happy to say that this was one experience i would have to see again.
Now let me start off by saying right off the bat that this show has some nerve. As i mentioned before I have just two caveats when it comes to making parodies, and this show violated both of them. As a result I have to confess to you right now, Dear Readers, that last night I laughed at a fart joke. Not only that but I witnessed a “Let It Go” rewrite that didn’t make me want to blow my brains out! My entire worldview has been completely flipped on it’s head!
In all seriousness, though, this show reached some kind of higher level in parody brilliance. Their loyalty was proven by their use of lesser known characters, fandom inside jokes, and detailed plot points; they knew just the plot holes and embarrassing Christmas spin offs to jab at; and, by the end, the room of strangers I was in had been transformed into a group of my dearest geeky comrades. In fact, Go For Broke Productions pulled off a Star Wars adaptation so brilliant that I defy even the great and powerful Disney to top it with their new movie.
In the end I would say that my humble experiment proved successful. While Too Punk To Care may have tried to throw me off my trail I ended up connecting with three different rooms full of strangers in a way that only the fine art of satire can achieve. Now hopefully I can use this newly proven system to foster a similar response as I attempt to tastefully prance around a coffee shop in the fifth circle of hell tonight (at 10 pm, wink wink nudge nudge). Meanwhile I encourage all of you to seek out some parody-driven bonding based on the things you love most this Fringe, because from Dante to Death Star I guarantee we’ve got something for you.
Regardless, to all of you planning to enjoy some epic theater adventuring in the upcoming weeks: Keep Calm and Fringe On!