Greensboro Fringe Festival 10th year celebrates

by YES! Weekly staff

by Eric Ginsburg In a bigger town it might be easier to get away with, but two independent theater companies performing the same weekend in a place like Greensboro spelled trouble, especially when both groups unknowingly planned to use the headline “An Evening of Short Plays.” Once the two realized the coincidence, schedules were rearranged. Somebody joked that if they threw everything together and called it a Fringe Festival, like those in other cities, everyone would benefit. And thus, 10 years ago the Greensboro Fringe Festival was born to debut original theater and dance performances by artists who couldn’t afford to rent space and to encourage a cross-pollination of each groups’ dedicated audience. “The advantage of a fringe festival, really in any city, is that it encourages people to step out of their comfort zone a little and see new work as it’s being developed,” said Stephen Hyers, managing director of the City Arts Drama Center who has been involved since the beginning. “We were competing with each other. It was just smarter for us… to pool our resources and market everybody together.“ In the beginning only a few groups — particularly American Distraction, the Informal Theater Company, and John Gamble Dance Theater — collaborated, but Fringe has grown and submissions come in from all over the place. There’s no application fee or charge to participate, and this year most of the events are free to the public with a suggested donation. “These independent dancers and choreographers don’t really have place to present their work,” said Todd Fisher of the Informal Theater Company, who has also been involved since day one. “It’s a stepping stone for a lot of artists.” Eventually Fisher and the others behind Fringe hope to raise enough funding to create a part-time position for somebody to organize, promote and grow the festival. Fisher said he frequently runs into people around the city who didn’t know Fringe existed and that generating awareness has been the biggest hurdle. “Todd Fisher does an enormous amount of work getting everything together,” Hyers said. “All and all this year is coming off more whimsical than past years — it is just going to be a lot of fun.” Beginning Jan. 26, this year’s festival will run through Feb. 11, with most pieces being performed three times giving the public multiple chances to catch each show. Kicking off the festival on the first night, this week’s Local Talent Crystal Bright crafted a play entitled Illuminating and Transcending the Shadow. The 2012 Fringe Festival also includes the NC Dance Festival Community Day with performances and classes, a series of plays written by three area high school students, comedians from New York and work by the Greensboro Playwrights Forum, Purrrlesque, Fly-By-Night Theatre and more. After the first few years of the festival, Fisher didn’t submit any of his own work, and quickly regretted it. Participating in the festival directly, and not just bringing it all together, is an essential part of why he keeps at it. “[The Fringe Festival] keeps my fingers in the pie in terms of what new work is being generated in our region and it also keeps me, as a playwright, creating at least one new piece every year,” Fisher said. The work in the Fringe Festival is all original, work that hasn’t been professionally produced before, providing the audience with a more raw and edgy experience and giving playwrights and choreographers an opportunity to experiment with new pieces and receive feedback. Frequently, as Fisher said, it is a springboard opportunity and people like Tommy Trull who has worked with the Playwrights Forum go on to get produced around the country. Kelly and Lindsey Do New York: A Non-Lesbian Love Story by Brian Clarey Comedy has its conventions: the pie in the face, the rubber chicken, the fat guy in the little coat. Another is the comedy duo, made popular by Abbot and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Burns and Allen and the like. But Kelly Wallace-Barnhill and Lindsey Gentile, a Manhattan-based comedy duo headed to town for their Fringe Festival gig this weekend, take the trope and turn it on its ear. “We like to say that we’re Lucy and Ethel meet Ren and Stimpy,” says Lindsey, “because we have the dynamic of the ladies, but we’re also disgusting in a lot of ways.” A quick scan through their YouTube canon affirms this. Billed as “Kelly and Lindsey,” their comedy can be salacious to outright raunchy, based in large part on the tribulations of young women looking for love in the city of New York. With fart jokes. And there’s a deadline: The goal is to find love before they turn 30, a milestone they may or may not have yet reached. “The other day I was saying to myself that I feel like I’m 28,” Kelly says. “So we’re both 28.” “She acts like a 14-year-old boy,” Lindsey says. “If you smell her gas and her body odor, you’d think she was a 14-year-old boy. So I think we’ve got a few good years left. “On [Kelly’s ] last birthday I wasn’t with her, which I still feel bad about” Lindsey continues. “I was texting her all day: ‘You’re gonna be okay.’ ‘You’re not gonna die alone.’ ‘Ana Nicole Smith didn’t get famous until she was 40.’” Their humor can be Seinfeldian in nature, mining nuggets from everyday life and exploiting pieces of found comedy in their live act. As often as not, the target of their mockery is each other. One of their finest bits sees them channeling their teenage selves as they read aloud from their old diaries. “We definitely make fun of ourselves a lot,” Kelly says. “You know, it’s only funny to make fun of other people if you’re making fun of yourselves, too.” The two met while studying improv comedy at the legendary Upright Citizens Brigade in Chelsea, a troupe whose alumni include Amy Poehler, Horatio Sanz and Adam McKay. That, they say, is where they fell in love. But not in a gay way. They threw in with a group of fellow graduates before peeling off and doing their own thing. “We started hosting a bunch of shows and we decided to write a play,” Kelly says. The work, Kelly and Lindsey Do New York: A Non-Lesbian Love Story, hits the Fringe Festival this weekend. “It’s the story of two young women trying to find love in New York City and trying to find their purpose,” Lindsey says. “We basically took our sketches and made them more theatrical for the stage. It runs about 45 minutes.” “No,” Kelly says. “It’s an hour. Are you planning on leaving early?”  The lion doesn’t sleep tonight by Jordan Green Lauren Jeffries, the stage manager for Die Capital! when lions reclaim the parade, was running ahead of her partner, director Connor McLean after a stage design meeting on a recent weekday evening. She arrived at the rehearsal space at Lyndon Street Art, picked up a broom and started sweeping. The UNC-Asheville alum, dressed in the sweatshirt of her alma mater, remarked that after graduating with a degree in theater she found herself disappointed with the “sing-song-y musicals” that passed for the form, adding, “Art should be thought-provoking.” McLean, who projects a utilitarian look with slightly unkempt blond hair and a carabiner at his waist, made his first foray into theater directing a production for local musician Crystal Bright at the Green Bean. A friend suggested he write his own show, and McLean recruited Jeffries to stage-manage the venture. She readily agreed, and One Life Productions was born. That play was Balvollus in 3D. McLean wrote Die Capital!, his second independent effort, to premiere at Fringe Festival. Todd Fisher, the festival director, asked him to secure a venue. A veteran of Greensboro activist politics for about 10 years, McLean thought Glenwood Coffee and Books, setting for many Occupy Greensboro meetings and general assemblies, would be a natural choice. “It’s a radical space,” he said, “and the play has a lot of radical themes.” Initially, he had planned to write one short play, but to fill out the program he took on a second original play. Following the two shorts, audiences will see what McLean characterizes as “a dramatic interpretation,” then two contemporary dance pieces by choreographer Amy Harrill, followed by McLean and friends playing music with film projected in the background. McLean shares Jeffries’ belief that theater should be more than art for art’s sake, that it should engage and challenge society while building a community. “I’m really tired of seeing shows about relationships or family problems,” McLean said. “The two extremes that I write about are absurdity — I don’t think I’ve written anything that doesn’t have a poop joke. “It has to be heightened and aware of the tragedy of society,” he continued, “which I consider to be capitalism, patriarchy and the hierarchical norms that we exist in.” Die Capitalism! certainly includes both elements. McLean said the title is meant to be “heightened and epic, and make fun of itself,” adding that lions are “the most epic creature.” Jeffries and McLean seem to be enjoying the creative freedom of economic subsistence. Jeffries lamented that fine-arts experiences are out of the budgets of many people, and local theater tends toward mediocrity and safety to avoid offending the sensibilities of their patrons. McLean recoiled from his theater training experience at the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico, where professional competition seemed to eclipse camaraderie and fun. In an interview, he presented himself as anti-professionalist, but in rehearsal he offered exquisite and gentle critiques to his actors. Actors Pete Turner, Maureen Olsen, Donald Gaye and Tal Fish gathered in a circle to warm up before rehearsing the scenes for “James the Lion.” McLean had described the piece as “darker and more twisted,” while the other short is “more comedic and fast-paced.” “Get out all that negativity,” McLean urged, as the actors put their hands in the air and shook their bodies. “Let’s go, negativity.” Then, as if to tweak the darkness, McLean added, “Do you have health insurance?” “James the Lion” concerns a serial killer — played by Turner — wracked by inadequacies while fancying himself a lion in his self-righteous crusade to punish the “hunters” that destroy animals without conscience. Preparing to rehearse a dream sequence scene involving Turner and Olsen, McLean told the actors: “If you have any questions about the lines, just ask me because they all have a purpose.” Afterwards, he reminded them that the dialogue isn’t supposed to add up. “If this were a movie, it would have some very weird stuff going on in the background — Salvador Dali clocks melting, elephants coming out of lions mouths,” he said. “Very weird stuff, you know what I mean?” McLean projected his voice over the din of activity down the hall in an artist’s space from whence the sound of heavy steel scraping the floor could be heard. The fantastic imaginary images played across the drab green concrete floor and rusted corrugated metal walls. Art can flourish under adverse circumstances. The sexy side of Fringe The First Annual Purrrlesque! Follies Showcase Charity Burlesque Festival By Lenise Willis With her corset laced tight, her breasts aloft and luscious, the woman onstage seductively slips a strap down her shoulder. As the audience stirs, thinking this woman is an object for its pleasure, the woman, her seductive eyes cut, smirks. She knows a secret — she is the one in control. She is empowered. Heating up this year’s Greensboro Fringe Festival is Purrrlesque!, a local troupe of burlesque dancers, along with guest talent from across the country. Their show in Triad Stage’s UpStage Cabaret Feb. 3 and 4 will showcase nearly 50 performers, who will use their powers of seduction, along with their humor, wit and other skills like singing, to hold the audience captive. “[The Fringe Festival] is important and vital to our community and the arts, and we appreciate the opportunity to perform on stages that we wouldn’t normally be able to afford,” said Debbie Griffin, AKA Peaches de Vine, a Purrrlesque! performer. “It gives us the opportunity to teach and inform the community about who we are and what burlesque dancing is really about because there are a lot of misconceptions.” This is the fourth year that Purrrlesque! has participated in the Fringe Festival, but this year’s show is their first Follies Showcase Charity, in which all of the performance proceeds will be donated to the local Sherri Denese Jackson Foundation for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. The charity was chosen to reflect the show’s theme of empowerment. “I find [burlesque] empowering,” Griffin said. “I’ve always been a curvier woman, but I like the way I look. I wanted to find a way to express my beauty.” “We tend to lose ourselves and our identity in what we do — as mothers, as wives, as workers,” continued Griffin, who by day is a fulltime data analyst and mother. “Every woman should have a vehicle to express themselves and keep their identity as a woman. Don’t lose those things that make you you.” Though many see burlesque as a raunchy strip tease that objectifies women, these dancers see it a little differently. It isn’t simply about shedding layers. It’s about men and women expressing themselves through their body, music and the art of tease as a way of telling a story. “We wanted to make sure the art stayed alive in its true form, the way that we see it as an empowerment source,” said Sky Bradshaw, AKA Tiger RoxXx, a Purrrlesque! performer and the lead organizer of the event. “We do run across people that say it isn’t an art form just because the shedding of clothing is involved. I really and truly do believe it’s an art form because it is an expression of your bliss where your body is your art medium.” Bradshaw and Griffin mentioned that finding a charity to support was surprisingly difficult. Many organizations actually turned down their offer. “I think many people turned us down because of the nature of what we do,” Griffin said. “We’re still in the Bible Belt and so there are some who are willing to turn down money for the sake of what they believe is right or wrong, and they believe that what we do is wrong.” “There is so much more to burlesque and usually people that are skeptical of it have only seen one aspect of it,” Bradshaw added. “They haven’t seen the whole plethora of what can be done. “The follies that we have put together have many, many styles for them to see exactly what the art form is really about. We have side-shows, we have magicians and illusionists, along with the basic art of tease.” In addition to next Friday and Saturday’s performances, the troupe will also host a pre-party at the Blind Tiger next Thursday. The pre-party will include a Purrrlesque performance of about two hours, plus a few local, top-flight bands after 10. All shows and the pre-party are $15 each and run 8-10 p.m. This weekend through noon Feb. 5, the group will also have a silent auction at Design Archives, 344 S. Elm St., with all proceeds also going to SDJF. For more information on the auction and shows visit Also on the website is a list of burlesque workshops, ranging from $20-$35. The workshops, taught throughout the day next Saturday, are open to the public and teach a variety of burlesque techniques, from stripping to applying makeup. Virginia Freeman Dupont by Eric Ginsburg Somehow despite everything on her plate, Virginia Freeman Dupont found a way to create and submit two dance pieces that will be part of this year’s Fringe Festival, even while performing in a separate piece by John Gamble Dance Theater. Dupont stays busy year-round as the director of the ballet program and the performing company at Burlington Academy of Dance and Art, dancing professionally with John Gamble and the Jan Van Dyke Dance Group in Greensboro, and teaching dance as an adjunct at UNCG. Now she is also the choreographer for Fly By Night Theatre, and her piece, “A Bird Circuit on a Short Wire,” will be performed separately but as part of their show in this year’s Fringe Jan. 28-30. With original music by Philip Anderson and costumes by Karl Green, the 15-minute contemporary ballet piece has been re-crafted since she choreographed it in the spring, including fewer — and mostly new — dancers. “It’s got many layers, but the main thing is [that] it juxtaposes technology and nature,” Dupont said. “My work tends to be a lot of movement. It’s very physical and athletic.” Her newest piece, sun. mound. civility. eternity. Immortality. (Promise of Rest), will be one of the four works featured as part of On the Edge: New Dance Works by the John Gamble Dance Theater on Feb. 2-4. Emily Dickenson’s poetry is woven into the piece, which features a variety of music sources and four dancers. “It plays with humanity,” said Dupont, who described it as contemporary modern dance. “What came to me was the connect and disconnect that we have with our own bodies in relationship to other people as well as society.” Dupont has performed in most of the Fringe Festivals over the last decade, though she has only submitted her work for three non-consecutive years. When she moved to Greensboro as a 17-year-old to attend UNCG in 1992, she was already passionate about dance, and briefly considered a double-major in drama. Dupont quickly started dancing for the Greensboro Ballet and has stayed in town ever since. Dupont and her husband, an actor who is also performing in the Fringe, are close to the dedicated group that pulls the festival together every year, which may be part of the reason she considers Greensboro to be a community of artists. Before the Fringe Festival began, she can remember a number of similar efforts that attempted to provide space for playwrights and choreographers to practice and perform their work, but said most were short-lived. As far as she is concerned, the Fringe Festival has succeeded as a vehicle for artists to show their work and creating an accessible way for audiences to be exposed to new — and affordable — local creations. The consistency and steady rate of growth of the festival has benefited artists like Dupont and the larger community, she said. “It’s really the most current performing art out there on the local scene,” Dupont said. “It is incredible to see the number of artists that are involved this year and throughout the 10 years of the Fringe. Wherever they go from here… I feel confident that they’re on the right track.”