The Arts

Greensboro Fringe Festival tells our artists’ stories

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Ten years ago, when more than 30 souls were slain on the campus of Virginia Tech, an artist took notice of their untold story. “But it soon became clear that incident didn’t want to be written about, at least by me,” said award-winning playwright David Brendan Hopes. Instead, what was born out of the tragedy was a lyrical play, Night Music, about boyhood friends, connections, and the tough decisions that must be made while coming of age.

Meanwhile, the tale of a 2,000-year-old British Celtic queen inspired two women, from two different continents to find their voice and their strength, and bring to life the stories of ancient and modern warrior women.

Inspiration for beautiful art can come from almost anywhere. What these performances have in common is that they’re both the inspired creations of local artists who will be featured in this year’s 15th annual Greensboro Fringe Festival. And both have something to say.

Night Music, Jan. 19-21

Written as a memory play, similar to the style of The Glass Menagerie, Night Music encapsulates Hopes’ experiences as a young boy.

“My experiences on camping trips as a Boy Scout helped with the particulars of what one is hearing in a forest at night,” Hopes said. “Essentially, the play begins with two boys talking in their sleeping bags, and grows—organically, I hope—from there.”

It is a comedy with lyrical undertones, he says, in which the characters explain their lives to themselves by looking at certain incidents from the past.

The play is not only being featured in the Fringe Festival, but it also won the 23rd North Carolina New Play Project presented by The Drama Center of City Arts.

Queen B, Jan. 26-28

For creators Sarah Beth Nelson and Judith Valerie, it was Queen Boudicca herself, who led a great uprising against the Romans occupying Britain, that introduced the two and put in motion the creation of Queen B, a storytelling performance.

The program opens with the historical story of the queen and transitions into the two storytellers’ personal stories and how Boudicca’s strength thus lives on even 2,000 years later.

Valerie grew up in England and first encountered Boudicca through her statue in London. She was struck by her strong pose, riding a chariot with her whip in hand.

“I had only ever seen women cooking and cleaning, knitting and teaching,” Valerie said. “The queen in the statue looked so powerful and it made me stand up taller.”

In fact, seeing that statue of Queen Boudicca inspired Valerie to defend herself against an abusive parent and end a cycle of family violence.

Meanwhile, Nelson first read about Boudicca during her studies as a Latin major when she took a class translating passages by the Roman historian Tacitus, who told of Boudicca’s rebellion.

Later on, when Nelson lived in Norwich, United Kingdom with her husband, near where Boudicca was originally from, she became enthralled with her life and wanted to tell her story, but as Boudicca herself so that she could pass on her strong voice.

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“Being where Boudicca had been had a deeper effect on me than I realized at first,” Nelson said. That’s why in the program she’s chosen to include her own story, too, about how she found strength in Boudicca’s story at a time when she felt weak.

The two met and shared their stories through the North Carolina Storytelling Guild website, which is where their artistic collaboration began. Valerie says the process of developing this story has helped her gradually heal from the shame and fear survivors often experience.

“Our stories may inspire others to explore avenues of artistic expression within a safe community,” Nelson said. “We hope to help others recover their voices, courage, and sense of dignity.”

It is messages like these that Hopes says makes the fringe festival so vital to the community.

The festival, which was conceptualized by director, actor, dancer and writer Todd Fisher in late 2002, not only gives a free platform for artists to share their vision, but also enhances the community with new and exciting productions.

“Fringe Festivals are vitally important, not the least because they are fun,” Hopes said. “They’re far more important for the community than for the actual participants. They show what comes next, uncover the seeds of new societies before anything is rooted or full grown. When people go to the Fringe in Greensboro they will be seeing, ‘the accepted wisdom of their children.’ They will be seeing the future. The actors and musicians and playwrights will, I know, delight in showing the way.”

Wanna go? The 2017 Greensboro Fringe Festival features more than a dozen productions, from dance performances to new plays. The festival runs Jan. 19-Feb. 6. For more information and tickets visit greensborofringefestival.org or call 336-549-7431. Performances take place in the Stephen D. Hyers theatre and new Van Dyke Performance Space, both within the Greensboro Cultural Center, 200 N. Davie St.
To donate to the festival, which is in a $3,500 deficit, go to the Save the GSO Fringe GoFundMe campaign page.

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