With the introduction of Indianapolis’ first Fringe Festival, there are now seven in the U.S. (Canada has a whopping 25-plus, and Fringes exist around the world.) Indianapolis Fringe Festival board President Tom Battista says the timing was just right.
The city’s concept of Theatre City Indianapolis 2012 sparked discussion about what the city needed to offer both its performers and its audience, a discussion Battista was part of. When Kathleen Robbins approached Battista with her concept of bringing a Fringe Festival to Indianapolis, the idea fit perfectly with the ideas Theatre City 2012 had brought up. Plus, Battista, as a member of the Massachusetts Avenue Art & Streetscape Committee, knew that Mass. Ave. was the perfect location, with five theaters positioned within walking distance of each other.
Grants were obtained to renovate and upgrade participating theaters, plans were made and local, national and international performing groups were booked. Now, Aug. 19-28, Indianapolis will hold its first Fringe Festival.
Battista says that you can expect performances to run the gamut — from magicians, to comedy, to dance, to poetry, to full-scale productions — of cutting-edge, avant-garde theater. While many hope to attract the elusive 18- to 34-year-old demographic, Battista says the Fringe can be for the whole family — it can prompt discussion, get everyone involved.
Indianapolis’ festival has expanded to include a specifically family-friendly Kids’ Fringe; the Biergarten at the Rathskeller will act as the official Fringe hangout, Club Fringe; and the 4 Star Gallery will host Visual Fringe. Another unusual element: performances on Hups Hoopty (hupshoopty.com). The bus that usually takes people bar-hopping will convert into a moving performance space for the Fringe Festival.
Over 30 groups will perform one-hour shows, with 30 minutes between each. Shows will run during the week from approximately 3-11 p.m. and from noon-midnight on the weekends. A $3 badge is a one-time necessary purchase, and the tickets to each show have been capped at $10. Check out www.indyfringe.org or the pull-out section in this issue for detailed schedules. —Lisa Gauthier
Two Mufukas Some Sex and A Crab has one of the best titles appearing in the Fringe Festival roster. Arden Theatre Co. is presenting and Alan Shepard is directing; Shepard is also the writer and co-producer. Shepard wrote the play four years ago. “I added a few touches for the Fringe to spice it up a bit,” he says.
Shepard describes his show as a “nontraditional telling of Man’s search for identity — that will blow your fucking mind.”
Shepard is excited about the upcoming festival. “It allows a riskier show like this to be produced — and to get as much audience as possible. Most theaters won’t touch a show that’s meant to provoke people. I think theater should be challenging to an audience, and I hope that’s what this show will do.”
Arden, Shepard says, is “after doing new works that most people won’t do because of content, because they’re controversial, or because they’re just plain new.”
What kind of theater moves Shepard? “Stuff I have to think about — that I can’t leave. Something that’s life-changing. Theater should be different than movies or a baseball game.”
The only thing he would add: “I can’t wait to make people hate themselves.” —David Hoppe
Eric Karwisch, the writer and director of Red Dragon Theatre’s Fringe production of Little Hands, believes dragons have gotten a bad rap. “It seems that only in Western Europe are dragons negative,” he says. “Everywhere else they’re about birth and creation.”
This positive outlook is emblematic of Red Dragon’s approach to theater. Karwisch and his Red Dragon co-founder Tom Meunier are committed to producing work that reveals the positive nature of human beings. “There’s plenty of theater that focuses on what’s bad about us in order to try and instigate some change,” Karwisch says. “We decided to be more about birth, creation and the celebration of life.”
Little Hands uses a collage of different performance artforms to explore the creative human journey from its cave painting origins across a variety of cultures to the present day. Dave Ruark plays an everyman character whose odyssey takes him to China, Egypt, Greece and beyond. “It’s always interested me how different cultures and civilizations develop the same myth-stories and folklore to explain things — whether they’re 1,000 years apart or 10,000 miles apart,” says Karwisch, who describes the play as consisting of 40 percent scripted scenes, 40 percent dance and 20 percent original music.
For Karwisch, the Fringe requirement that shows run no longer than one hour helped him to distill what otherwise might have been an enormous amount of material. “Having that hour limitation really made me fine-tune the show down to the essence of the story … it’s been a wonderful challenge to go through this process.” —DH
“We discovered commitment and passion,” says Nicole Gatzimos, artistic director of NoExit, of her young company’s first production, The Sound of a Voice and House of Sleeping Beauties, last September. “I’m still catching up with everything I learned.”
NoExit is back for Indy Fringe with an original production, A., inspired by Sophocles’ classic Antigone. Combining dance, drama, multimedia and personal narrative, Gatzimos says that A. represents a creative leap. “I think NoExit’s starting to find our own voice … it’s a nice cross between theater and dance.”
For A., Gatzimos and her collaborator, Ronald Gilliam, worked to deconstruct and respond to Sophocles’ text. The result is a production that explores how and why people mourn. “We really enjoy learning about other cultures and having them included in our productions,” Gatzimos says. “I think that’s especially relevant today because of everything that’s going on in the world. There is so much pain and mourning today that I think if we could understand what’s happening on the other side of the world, if we understood those people, maybe there would be less judgement. Maybe there would be less fighting. Maybe there would be less mourning.”
Gatzimos and Gilliam have enlisted an ensemble of New York-based dancers with strong backgrounds in physical theater for A. These performers have also contributed stories based on their own experiences. “What we want to do is take the personal experiences performers are carrying and make it more personal for everyone,” Gatzimos says. “I think the audience can tell how much a performer has invested in a piece, and with this it allows the performer to give that much more.” —DH
When Jennifer Sutton returned to Indianapolis from London, where she received her MA in dance performance from the Laban academy, as she puts it: “I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do.”
But the North Central graduate was churning with ideas for a multimedia project that would speak to her contemporaries — and to the kids following in their footsteps. “I’ve always wanted to do something incorporating my peers and my friends from high school,” Sutton says. “They’re all very diverse and doing different things.”
Sutton decided to travel across the country, filming her cohorts in their various occupations. The film would then become part of a live dance and spoken word performance that Sutton calls Confusion.
This hour-long production is geared to “anyone and everyone” Sutton says. But it is also intended to give high school students “hope and direction.” Sutton explains, “Most of my closest friends are from high school. I want to reach that age group and bridge some of that age gap and give them something they can connect to.”
Sutton grew up in the Indianapolis dance scene, performing with Gregory Hancock, Theater of Inclusion, Butler University and Ballet Internationale. “I’m very familiar with the Indianapolis dance scene,” she says, “and I’m glad to bring something new to that.” By something new, Sutton means “a contemporary dance element … I learned a lot about movement for movement’s sake in England. There’s not a lot of that here yet.”
In addition to movement, Confusion will feature film, original music and visual art. “Confusion is a universal theme,” Sutton says. “It happens to everyone. If you leave confused, that’s OK. If it makes you want to come back and see it again, that’s great.” —DH
Jeffrey Barnes is the playwright, director and sole actor in Remember Who Made You, a job description that he jokingly refers to as “dangerous.” The play is a collection of monologues giving various perspectives of issues surrounding homosexuality and Christianity. Though it explores the myths, fears and joys of being gay and Christian, it speaks to a wide range of experiences to which audience members from any faith background or sexual orientation can relate.
Barnes has been performing the show since October 2004 at colleges, GLBT conferences and churches throughout the Midwest. For the Fringe Festival, he will be making some minor tweaks. He says, “I chose to bring my play to the festival because I feel it is extremely topical right now and affects a large portion of our society. These are issues that need to be discussed ... and what better way to begin those discussions than through theater? Seeing a play allows the audience to see things from a different perspective and allows them to identify with the characters. Often that objective distance makes it more comfortable to begin to deal with the issues.”
For the festival, original music will be performed by local singer/songwriter Dave Frauman, and Aug. 21, 23 and 24 performances will be interpreted in ASL.
Barnes says of being a part of the festival, “I have felt for a long time that Indianapolis needed something like this and I am thrilled to be a part of such an exciting, ground-breaking event.” —LG
One of the Fringe Festival’s greatest advantages is its openness to new work. This means audiences have the chance to experience works of art inspired by current events — while those events are still in the news.
Allah’s Fool, by the Indy Peace Players, certainly belongs in this ripped-from-headlines category. The play, by retired IUPUI political science scholar Pat McGeever, deals with conditions reported in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. “It aims to give Americans an opportunity to think about the reality we read about in a very politicized fashion in the paper,” McGeever says. “What’s it like to hear people screaming? What do doctors do when faced with some stark choices? What happens to human relationships in that kind of a setting?”
McGeever originally wrote two plays on this subject, which were both performed at the Midwest Peace Summit last March. The works have been combined and reworked for a cast of six for the Fringe Festival.
Allah’s Fool has also provided an opportunity for McGeever and his son, Tim, to work together. Tim McGeever is a former student of the Juilliard School and has worked as an actor in New York for the past 10 years. He is directing this production.
“We’re not trying to dazzle the audience,” Tim McGeever says. “It’s much more about allowing the audience to hear the play and provide an elegant staging for that.”
Tim McGeever is excited about coming home to Indianapolis, collaborating with his father — and participating in the city’s first Fringe Festival. “It’s a gathering of creative energy.” —DH
Penn Gillette, master of magic as performance art, once described Taylor Martin this way: “There’s a lot of kings in magic, but you really are the queen.”
Martin, who honed his improvisational skills with the legendary Del Close at Chicago’s Second City, has been performing his distinctive blend of comedy and magic as a solo artist for over 45 years. Martin’s cross-dressing character, Andrea Merlyn, combines stand-up with mind-boggling sleight-of-hand. For Martin, an Indianapolis native, the Fringe Festival is an ideal setting to show off his genre-bending skills. “I’ve got so many people that don’t know what to do with my show and that’s what makes the Fringe an opportunity. People can come in and say, ‘Hey, that would work in my space.’”
In addition to his cross-dressing character, “the glamorous Andrea Merlyn,” Martin is also known for his colonial magic shows, in which he takes audiences back to the 1700s.
Martin likens his work to the scientific concept of chaos dynamics. “The lines between disciplines in science are disappearing,” he says. “It’s the same with entertainment: You have to be able to do everything.” —DH
“I was itching to do a show,” says Brian Hartz, co-founder with Scot Greenwell, of Rough Magic Productions. Hartz, who cut his theatrical teeth with the near-legendary Bloomington Playwrights Project, had returned to Indianapolis with an original script, Romeo and Juliet: A Crime Story, that he was eager to produce. He and Greenwell brought it to life at the Wheeler Art Center in 2003 and Rough Magic was born.
The show was a word-of-mouth success, but keeping Rough Magic afloat was tough. The company took a hiatus in 2004. Now, thanks to the Indianapolis Fringe Festival, Rough Magic is back with another original script, The Jockey Short by local writer Eric Pfeffinger. “It’s a racial satire,” says Hartz, who is directing the piece, “dealing with a situation in which some well-meaning liberals are forced to confront the race issue everyone knows is there but doesn’t want to talk about.”
Hartz says The Jockey Short is “blunt and absurd” and “hinges on a big surprise.”
He adds, “The same people who are watching Chappelle’s Show on Comedy Central and loving it are the kind of people who ought to come and see the show we’re doing for the Fringe Festival.”
Hartz believes the Fringe is not only a great opportunity for Rough Magic to get back on its feet, but a fine fit for a work like The Jockey Short: “The Fringe encourages work that’s a little off-the-wall. The Fringe gives us a license to go wild.” —DH
Chris Saunders wrote and is producing and directing his play Tuesday Night. “Because of the unconventional time length, the minimalist set and the avant garde nature of the piece, it is ideal for the Fringe Festival,” he says.
The play is about Rose and Jack and the remains of their dysfunctional marriage. The setting is off-beat from the start, as the couple is bound to two chairs from the beginning of the show.
Saunders performed in a Fringe Festival in 2001 in New York City. Because of this experience, he believes he’s familiar with the mission and the vibe of the event. “But being a native Hoosier, I can’t conceal that my excitement is more personal with this year’s event.”
Saunders sees the festival offering challenges as well as opportunities. “Persuading ticket buyers to attend theater is hard enough. But original pieces? Even more of a challenge. But I think among those passionate about the art and supportive of fresh voices, it will be an opportunity to discover new talent in theater, much of it local. I think those attending multiple shows will not be disappointed.” —LG
Girls by Margaret Murray, the Indianapolis Art Theatre’s entry in the Fringe Festival, locks on to a timeless, if recently discovered social condition: the quarter-life crisis.
“I’ve been having lots of conversations with friends in their 20s,” recounts Murray, who also appears in the production with Bridgette O’Connor and Leah Winkler, “and they were all asking questions coming back to this idea. Now we’re out of school — we’ve done this thing we were told to do — now what?”
Marc Szewczyk, founder of Indianapolis Art Theatre and girls’ producer, says that he could relate to the script, even though he’s a man in his 30s. “It was interesting to me that Margaret was able to do something that would be very specifically about women, yet you could tie into it, no matter who you were. There are universal qualities to it that come very easily.”
For Szewczyk and Murray, this Indy Fringe collaboration is an extension of work they did together as theater majors at Butler University. After graduating in 2003, Murray returned to her home in Chicago. Szewczyk stayed in Indianapolis and formed Indianapolis Art Theatre, which recently had its inaugural show with Eighteen at the former LAMP gallery. Szewczyk’s long-term plan is to build a permanent company of artists who can work together on a daily basis in order to achieve “artistic excellence in contemporary productions of contemporary plays.”
Murray says she hopes this Fringe Festival production can serve as a springboard for Szewczyk’s project. “He’s dedicated to the process of collaboration and creating something out of nothing,” she says. “Starting with an idea rather than with scripts that have already been written.” —DH
Based on a true story, Medal of Honor Rag, which is being produced by Theatre Non Nobis, is about a Vietnam veteran named D.J. who has returned from the war with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. D.J. was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic efforts in Vietnam. Disillusioned, despondent and depressed, he has seen countless psychiatrists since his return from the war and he reacts to his newest doctor with hostility and suspicion.
TNN is continuing their new reputation as a hard issues company with this show, after producing Keely & Du earlier this year.
Director Jennifer Loia Alexander says of being in the Fringe Festival: “I think it’s a great way to bring new and challenging theater to the Indianapolis area. It’s interesting to watch something new like this festival develop, and the different definitions theater companies give to the term ‘fringe.’”
Alexander says that one of the bonuses to having limitations in staging is that “It gets you to distill everything down and focus on what is really the basis of the piece ... find the core of the story you want to tell. In that way, it is freeing and lets us really send a strong message in the acting and not in all of the ‘smoke and mirrors’ we can add to the show.”
An interesting tidbit about the show: The play is based on the true story of Dwight Johnson, an African-American soldier from Detroit who received his Medal of Honor in a ceremony at the White House in 1968. In the same ceremony, Indiana native Sammy L. Davis received his medal; Davis was the man whose medal was stolen in July (but was found and returned). —LG
“It’s not a musical, but a dark comedy with music,” Leigh Mabry White of Peoples Playhouse says of the eccentrically titled Mr. Spacky the Man Who is Continually Chased by Wolves. An original play by Indianapolis playwright Emily Schwartz, Mr. Spacky features its own rock band. The band serves as a kind of chorus, narrating the story of what happens in a war-torn country that could be anywhere 100 years ago. “It’s dark,” says Mabry White, “but it’s something you could bring a 10-year-old to.”
Mabry White launched Peoples Playhouse two years ago with a pair of intense productions, Two Rooms and Shopping and Fucking. “We do heavy material,” she says, which is why she’s looking forward to the change of pace afforded by Mr. Spacky — and the Fringe Festival. “I’m looking at the Fringe as a time to have a great time, to meet performers from other places, and as a showcase for some great talent.”
Mabry White adds that she’s looking forward to using the Fringe as a way of catching up with many of the other new theater groups taking off in Indianapolis. “Doing shows, there’s not enough time or money to see everything I would like to. This [the festival] puts a lot of companies I would like to see around town at a price level and in a place where I can see them. It’s a really great opportunity for audiences.”
Mabry White thinks the city’s theater explosion is finally being recognized and she’s glad Peoples Playhouse is part of the action. “We want to draw the people out of the suburbs, give them a good reason to come down and check out the arts district.” —DH
Bill Skaggs is one member of Indy-Prov Sketchy Comedy, a troupe of 16 players known for their audience-inspired improvisational jams and situational sketches.
Indy-Prov got its start two years ago thanks to a class in improvisation conducted by David Brunoehler. The class concluded with a showcase for friends and family that went so well the performers decided to form a group. The Funny Bone picked them up on a regular basis and a string of bookings in restaurants and clubs followed. Indy-Prov now holds down a gig on the first and third Fridays of every month at the Talbott Street nightclub.
“You never know what you’re going to get with us,” says Skaggs (who doubles as NUVO’s promotions manager). “It may be G-rated, it could be PG-13, or R. But we also work on doing sketches as well. Our humor is a combination of very witty improv with very well-articulated and planned sketch comedy.”
The members of the group represent a gamut of backgrounds, from one member who has performed at Chicago’s Second City to a real estate agent with no previous comedic experience. But, Skaggs says, all the members of Indy-Prov share the exhilaration of live performance — going on stage without the proverbial net. “It’s terrifying, but at the same time it’s very therapeutic. When you put yourself out there and you don’t know what you’re going to say, or what you’re going to do, you really have to put your trust in the audience. They’re going to take care of you. If they give us great suggestions, we’ll give them great scenes.” —DH
Ganas Theatre Productions will produce A Midsummer Night of Fairies and Asses, written and directed by Shawn Whistler. The original script is a world premiere.
A send-up with a homosexual twist of one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays, Whistler says he chose the show for the Fringe because, “Given the recent political climate surrounding the gay marriage debate in the state of Indiana as well as nationally, I felt that the Fringe Festival would be a great way to debut a show offering tongue-in-cheek humor regarding socio-political themes. Also, it’s a wonderful opportunity to disregard the reverence our culture has for William Shakespeare!”
Whistler is excited about the emergence of this new festival. “It’s phenomenal that our city is welcoming an international festival for theater. Given the emergence of so many new theater companies in Indianapolis, it is a great way to showcase local talent beside national and international companies.”
The hardest part of the festival? “The time constraint of 60 minutes somewhat limits play selection. Plus, sharing space amongst performance groups with only a 15-minute period for set-up and tear down limits set and scenery options.” But Whistler feels the exposure the small companies will get out of the experience makes it all worthwhile. —LG
The Fringe isn’t just a festival, it’s a party, too. An opening night party takes place at American Cabaret Theatre from 4-5:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 19. Many Fringe performers will be on hand to perform. Best of all, this party is free and open to everyone.
There will also be a closing party on Sunday, Aug. 28 at the Biergarten at the Rathskeller in the Athenaeum. Jennie DeVoe will be performing and anyone wearing a festival “Backer Button” gets in free.
Speaking of the Biergarten: Throughout the Fringe Festival, it will serve as Club Fringe, open every night ’til late.