Balancing the scales at Indy Fringe 

The Fringe play keeping men in the basement

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Callie Burk Hartz is on a mission to help women take over comedy.

Alright, not take over entirely, but she has spent her time this year as artistic director for Wisdom Tooth Theatre bringing up plays where women are the lead. Which is why Wisdom Tooth’s The Boy in the Basement is such a good fit for them at Indy Fringe.

“This is one of my favorite shows to do because it focuses on the female roles as being comedic,” says Burk Hartz. “Versus, ‘Here’s some funny guys with the one funny female friend.’ So the women are actually empowered in this and they can see the big picture of it all. Not that this show has a victim, but the sort of victim is the guy they tie up in the basement.”

When the semi-romance story appeared in Indy Fringe in 2010, Wisdom Tooth sold out every show but one. Burk Hartz acquired the rights to the script from a friend of hers in New York, who was the original playwright. When the show was first performed it debuted at the New York Fringe in 2008. It won the Encore Award, meaning it got to stay on stage for another week after the festival closed. It continued to sell out for every show.

Burk Hartz plans on making this show significantly different from years past. For one, the set is entirely two-dimensional “to make it feel like a live comic book.”

“It’s like comic book meets a romance novel,” says Burk Hartz. “So we decided to go with that feel of a live comic book, and even more with the acting this time. Like ‘Yonks, who done it Batman’ kind of style.”

This cast list is bringing a new light to the show as well. Known performers like Ryan Ruckman (from Fat Pig), ComedySportz performers and “a total no-name (Allison Womack) who is the weirdest person I know and is amazing,” laughs Burk Hartz.

“[They bring] a totally different energy to a fantastic script,” she says. “They have brought a new light to the characters in a totally different way. I am in no way trying to recreate the old show, but let this cast make it their own. Their own personalities are shining through and making some really great choices.

“After our first read-through I knew it was going to be great again,” says Burk Hartz.

It’s got to be good karma when you find an embroidered backpack at Salvation Army with one of the character’s names on it — which Burk Hartz did.

“You know it’s a good cast when after rehearsal for the show you aren’t worried, you are just excited for the show,” says Burk Hartz. She added an anecdote of knowing she’s completely at ease with the cast when in rehearsal she can show them the stick figure drawings of sex positions she wants them to do, and they just nod their heads, smile and are ready to roll.

For Burk Hartz, what really makes the show really sing is the raw, un-gendered humor that comes from the four women who lead the show.

“I honestly just love that, again, the women are the funny part,” says Burk Hartz. “They aren’t just the dumb blonde or quirky or whatever. The women are super, super funny.

“The strength in the comedy is you don’t think about the genders in it all,” says Burk Hartz. “… I am empowered to empower other women to be funny.”

The decision was one that Burk Hartz made after being frustrated with the lack of female comedy roles, writers and comedians.

“I guess honestly, working in the comedy industry in New York, L.A. and Indianapolis, you don’t see a lot of female standup, [when you do] they are telling jokes like guys instead of being funny themselves,” says Burk Hartz. “But also if you look at the world of cinema, television and theater, there are way more women doing it than men. For whatever reason most of the writers still are men, and they write 10 roles and seven are for men, but only 10 men audition and 30 women audition. I want to balance the scales.”

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Emily Taylor

Emily Taylor

Emily is the arts editor at NUVO, where she covers everything from visual art to comedy. In fact she is probably at a theater production right now. Before joining the ranks here, she worked for Indianapolis Monthly and Gannett. You can find her thoughts about Indy scattered throughout the NUVO arts section and... more

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