What it takes to pull together a Fringe musical 

A look into the production, preparation, and plants that are bringing Zach Rosing's IndyFringe show "Holy Ficus" to life

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Editors note: This year we decided to do something a little different with our Fringe coverage. These features are all stories from behind the scenes at IndyFringe. We will still be reviewing every single Fringe show, and those reviews will be available online immediately after each show wraps up. Tag #NUVOarts in your posts and we will include yours as well. 

Following last year's successful run of The Great Bike Race, Producer Zach Rosing, writer/director Zack Neiditch and songwriter Paige Scott have teamed up again for Holy Ficus; the love story about a man named Rod, "a sweet simple soul," searches through Heaven and Hell for his love Martha with nods to Dante's The Divine Comedy.

Also, Martha happens to be a ficus.

Neiditch said the idea is one he has been wanting to do for a while, but this musical version he is working on with Scott and Rosing is different than his original vision.

"The great thing about the process of writing a show for Fringe is you have the most creative license of probably anything you will work on," says Neiditch.

While they didn't want to give too much away, the three said the show does have some similarities with other musicals in general.

"For instance, we have a big number where people are singing as they are walking down the street, and other people just happen to join in," says Neiditch. The sound is also similar to modern musical theater, such as Avenue Q.

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The show's creators also say they don't take the subject matter too seriously.

"The story is pretty dumb," says Rosing, "but it's a good kind of dumb. That makes the music pretty unexpected. There's a nice construct of the songs and the story."

"I also wanted to have a few songs that could stand out on their own," adds Paige.

After the tree was flourishing, the script was proofread; next came the search for the right cast.

Luckily, Neiditch says, actors enjoy working on IndyFringe shows. Plus, the timing of mid-August works well with most of their schedules because it is between seasons for many theaters. They also wanted to work with certain actors, such as Tim Hunt, who plays the lead role of Rod, and others they've worked with before, including Betsy Norton and Scott Keith who worked with all three of the them on last Fall's Rocky Horror Picture Show.

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As for the ficus, Rosing says Martha has been living in his basement and "is kind of a diva." They also hope she, um — the plant — will have opportunities to make cameos throughout the festival.

Fringe shows face numerous challenges when it comes to time. Actors, musicians, puppeteers, and magicians get only one hour to perform, plus there is an abbreviated amount of time to put together a Fringe show. The creators of Holy Ficus planned to rehearse for three weeks leading up to the show's opening, when a regular theatrical performance could take at least a couple months of preparation. However, the director and producer had rehearsals scheduled with the cast for almost every day of those three weeks, and, for a one-hour play, they say that isn't unreasonable.

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There is also less access to the theater spaces prior to and during the festival. Rosing says that each show has up to two hours of "tech time," the time it takes to figure out the lighting and sound cues for a show. Each act also only has 15 minutes to set up before each show, and 15 minutes to tear down.

However, the creators of Holy Ficus say they don't want the time crunch to equate to lower production values. Neiditch says they wanted the show to be a "legitimate musical production, including choreography," and they will have a recording of musicians for the songs that accompany the cast, even though they are performing on a mostly bare stage.

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They also have an advantage in using their own original material for the show. "Because it's our own, we can chip it down," says Neiditch.

"And expand, if needed," adds Scott.

Scott, Neiditch, and Rosing also all look forward to seeing other shows at the festival, including acting groups from other cities they've seen before, and performances by other local actors and directors. As participants, they will have performer passes that will let them see other shows for free."One of my favorite parts of IndyFringe is seeing other performances and networking with other performers," says Neiditch. "It's so cool to be able to meet all the people who come in from out of town."

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None of them has attended other Fringe festivals, a list of which, including Chicago, Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Atlanta, is on the website for the U.S. Association of Fringe Festivals. However, they have talked to some of the other performers who've had shows at other Fringe festivals around the country.

One thing Neiditch says he consistently hears is that the out-of-town performers appreciate that IndyFringe venues are so close together, making it fairly easy to get from show to show. This is not always the case, such as in New York City, where the venues are spread out much more than in Indianapolis.

As for taking their shows on the road, Neiditch says it wouldn't be practical as last year's The Great Bike Race and Holy Ficus have a larger cast than many of their Fringe counterparts. However, they have considered expanding The Great Bike Race into a larger show for a local stage, and might also consider expanding Holy Ficus.

As for their performances of Holy Ficus coming up, Neiditch says, "I just like to make people smile and laugh and feel an emotional connection with the characters."

"It's validation of our creative efforts when the audience reacts," adds Rosing.

As for the music and lyrics, Scott adds, "As a composer, I try to always outdo myself with each project. I think I'm getting better as I gain experience and expertise."

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