Frequent SBW theater beat blog writer and man about Mass Avenue, Justin Brady offers the first of his ongoing daily take on this year’s IndyFringe festival. In this space, he reports on the previous night’s highlights, hits and misses, quips and quirks. He also posts photos, advice, raves and critiques, and any inside scoop he receives.
Going, Going, Gone! - August 23
Those of you procrastinators who have yet to get to the 2014 IndyFringe Festival, you have two day’s left and I am here to help. Before I reveal my favorites of the Fringe, though, I have two final Fringe offerings to share with you.
The Journey of the Kookaburra
This celebration of Fringe was filled with fun references for hardcore Fringe fans. The headdresses were spectacular and Tiffanie Bridges as the koala narrating the story was a delight. Unfortunately the choice to include different Fringe writers made for a disjointed and uneven script.
Bang Bang. You’re Dead.
Lead by talented high school students, this play compellingly takes you into the mind of teenager who is capable of committing a school shooting. Solid direction by Callie Burke and impactful music by Dave Pelsue added to show’s power without becoming overtly sentimental.
I’ve now seen 25 of the 64 shows the 2014 festival has to offer. In the competitive land of Fringe, my best of are the shows that first convinced me to sit in the audience and then delivered a highly polished, professional-quality production.
Best Local Talent
The Great Bike Race
My Name Is ...
Best Visiting Artists
The Secret Circus
Darwin vs Rednecks
If I Could Only Pick One Show:
Fruit Flies Like a Banana
For those prepping for a Fringe binge this weekend, many restaurants offer quick fix menus for Fringers, including Mass Ave Pub, FortyFive Degrees and Mass Ave Wine Shoppe. With Devour Downtown in full swing, the Avenue also provides the perfect date night for a long leisurely dinner and a Fringe show. Happy final days of Fringe!
A Sweet Respite - August 22
After a jam-packed few days of Fringing, last night I settled on one show that had been repeatedly recommended to me over the course of the week.
Each year there seems to be one under-the-radar visiting act that Fringe artists rally behind, and this year Petunia and Chickenappears to be the one. Inspired by the works of Willa Cather, Petunia and Chicken provides a soft retreat from more boisterous Fringe productions. Endearing performances by Carrie Brown and Karim Muasher create a sweet, folksy love story.
The remainder of my evening was spent sitting by the outdoor stage of the Fringe Beer Tent on the corner of Mass Ave. and St. Clair, while listening to lively bluegrass music by the Whipstitch Sallies. The Beer Tent is a great place for people-watching and eavesdropping on Fringe performers who are there discussing shows.
Hidden away at the Beer Tent may very well be Indy's best kept secret for those with a sweet tooth -- Jazzy Doris' Pies. If you are on Mass Ave. you owe it to yourself to buy a pie or one of the many other dreamy-looking baked goods from Jazzy Doris. Three dollars has never been so well spent.
Instinctively, last night I couldn't resist spreading the pie love around the performers gathered at the tent. I have a strange history of handing out free food at Fringe events. Frequent Fringe performer Claire Wilcher recounts meeting me handing out McDonald's double cheeseburgers from a grocery cart at a Fringe after party, and I once surprised a line at the Phoenix by passing out popsicles. My pie test-taste group of starving artists raved about the Kentucky bourbon pie and blueberry sour cream crumble, while I ate a delectable slice of sweet potato pie.
Whether Jazzy D's desserts make the perfect ending to one of your dining experiences on the avenue or just a sweet memory of a delightful night of theater, she's part of the IndyFringe experience you won't want to miss.
I'll Take It Dry, Please - August 21
"This is how you want to spend your time?"
I was a little taken aback when the question was muttered to me, when I requested a ticket to one of the Fringe's more serious offerings that wasn't selling well.
In a time when the world is sorting through many troubling issues, escaping to laughter can be a nice reprieve, but it's also wonderful knowing that theater can provide a place for contemplating such issues. I am amazed by the many performers at different life stages bravely using the Fringe to explore life's complexities.
Let me also debunk a popular myth. Just because a play tackles a serious issue, doesn't mean it is depressing. In Darwin vs Rednecks, Stewart Huff's ferocious comic skills move at a speed of lightening and will upend your thoughts on education, religion and art -- if you can stop laughing long enough to hear him. Young comedian Cody Melcher is a less accomplished performer, but uses comedy to share tough stories of growing up gay in Texas in Ghosts Are Frightening and Instructive.
When I watched My Name Is... I was more moved by the stories of Veterans suffering from PTSD than I expected. These issues don't seem like a good fit for a musical, but with the multitalented Ben Asaykwee belting the roof off the Fringe Theatre, it's impossible not to get chills.
At first I squirmed at the idea of a post-show talk-back with the veterans that inspired the show, but it was incredible hearing the three veterans talk about how therapeutic the experience with the show has been.
In What a Pain, a performer wearing the most fabulous sparkling, sequined top shares gut-wrenching stories of his trials with chronic pain. His performance leaves something to be desired, but his stories are honest and relatable to anyone in this situation. Likewise, Acceptance Beyond Race borders on amateur compared to many of the Fringe offerings, but nestled into the show are some great nuggets that gave me new insights into race issues.
Search through the program and you will likely find an issue that relates to your life. I've discussed several other issue-oriented shows previously on the blog and I am still looking forward to seeing UnMasked, which tackles alcohol addiction and Bang, Bang. You're Dead, which takes on high school shootings.
In response to the question at the beginning, my answer is decisively yes, this is how I want to spend time. And I encourage you to see or make whatever art of your choosing, in whatever way is cathartic to you. And don't be ashamed for doing so.
Song and Laughs - August 20
Enter the Bro Zone
Defiance Comedy's boy band Brozone already has a gaggle of groupies from the shows that run at White Rabbit Cabaret. For fans and first-timers their Fringe show provides a mix of new material and the bands greatest hits. In true sitcom style the members of Brozone get up to some silly shenanigans, but the satirical music garners audiences' uncontrollable laughter. As per any good boy band, by the end everyone will have a different favorite bro.
As Beau Heartbreaker, Selina Jenkin's irresistibly blends comedy, music and storytelling to bring this tale of a traveling farmer to life. Between making you laugh and enchanting you with beautiful music, Beau Heartbreaker slips in a powerful little message on equality. I highly recommend spending an hour with this visitor from down under.
For more musical comedy fun buy your tickets early if you want to catch Indiana! A Hoosiercal Musical! by the always popular Three Dollar Bill Comedy. Every show has sold out so far. I am told that this year's tribute to Indiana includes loving odes to our state's Sunday alchol ban and "The Region."
Another annual musical crowd-pleaser I've yet to catch this year is Cabargay III: The Cabargayest! If you love a good show tune, then The Indianapolis Men's Chorus won't disappoint.
More from Beau Heartbreaker, courtesy of WFYI's production team:
Always a Giver - August 19
Managing 11 days of performance with a new show every hour is no small task. In fact, it takes more than 3,500 volunteer hours to make the festival happen. Monday night was volunteer appreciation night, giving most the volunteers the night off to see shows for free. IndyFringe staff and board members ran the box office. I joined in on the volunteer fun at the Phoenix Theatre.
As the theatre captains, Kelsee Hankins and Roy Jones make sure things run smoothly each day at the venue. Kelsee has volunteered with the festival for five years, and Roy has volunteered for seven years. Although IndyFringe Executive Director Pauline Moffat will tell you Roy has supplied an invaluable service to her since before that - as her hair stylist.
I had the cushiest of cushy volunteer jobs for the night. As house manager, I welcomed everyone to theater, took tickets and sat and enjoyed the show. One of the perks of this position was watching shows I might not otherwise have seen. The Phoenix Basile Theatre has been sponsored by Storytelling Arts of Indiana for several years now. Storytellers have an incredible way of taking life's moments and sharing them in imaginative and profound ways.
An example is Exposure: Dancing
At age 51, Diane Black, a lawyer by trade, sashays out in her lingerie bravely performing her first Fringe show as a means of expressing the vulnerabilities everyone faces -- even if typically most people perceive you as strong and successful.
Out of the Doghouse, Into the Heart
Sally Perkins charmingly shares anecdotes of the three poodles she has raised. These tales are a hit among dog lovers.
Not A Destination
Jeremy Schaefer expertly weaves stories of childhood with lessons learned while traveling in his 20s in a commanding performance.
Talk Amongst Yourselves - August 18
Sunday I sat with fellow dance enthusiast Christina Lear for an afternoon of dance and we compared notes and chatted after each show. Below is a bit of those conversations
Justin Brady: We've seen many Dance Kaleidoscope shows, but this is the first with the dancers each choreographing a piece.
Christina Lear: I loved the format. Each piece revealed part of that dancer's individual personality. My favorite was Mariel Greenlee's XXO. It was very different than anything you usually see at Dance Kaleidoscope. Mariel is one of the most graceful dancers, so it was a great surprise to see her hip-hop dance style.
JB: I enjoyed Epidemic by Justin Sears-Watson. All of the artists choose specific themes -- his powerfully expressed the effects of drug addiction through dance. I hope they continue to try this format for the Fringe.
JB: Different Trains is returning to the Fringe and choreographed by Melli Hoppe. Before Different Trains, the group performed, I Saw The Girl Of My Dreams On The Subway Tonight choreographed by Tommy Lewey.
CL: I love that Tommy's choreography told a very distinct love story. The surprise ending makes the entire piece work. Out of the group Tommy was the strongest performer. The other performers were not as strong of dancers, which made Different Trains less effective.
JB: I saw the original Different Trains performance in 2008 and was blown away by it. This performance did feel lackluster in comparison. Where as Tommy's Subway piece worked because it felt more like storytelling using movement rather than dance. I loved the Rufus Wrainright soundtrack.
JB: We weren't sure how the third dance show in a row would hold up, but I really enjoyed this performance by Motus Dance Theatre. I think it was on par with Dance Kaleidoscope. Different company members choreographed the numbers, but it was very cohesive. The dancing and music had an edge to it. I always love watching Deborah Sylvia and her choreography.
CL: Given that these women don't do this professionally, I was impressed with how physically strong they were. My favorite was Ashley Benninghoff's choreography. Motus consistently does a great job on creating short pieces that are really well executed.
JB: I have to end by saying how blown away I am by the number of talented choreographers with distinct styles we saw today in all three groups.
The Family-Friendly Fringe Picks - August 17
Whether you are a kid at heart or a really hip parent looking for some alternative options for your young ones, these four options fit the bill for Fringers of all ages. Warning: All four shows encourage audience participation and may result in an abundance of happiness.
The Secret Circus
If you want to smile for an entire hour, this spy-themed variety show is for you. Fringe favorite Brent McCoy has returned to IndyFringe with his hit solo show The Real McCoy, but here he is joined by his exceptionally charismatic wife Maya.
Fruit Flies Like A
Banana -- 21 Things They Won't Teach You At Julliard
Put aside any preconceptions of what a trio of highly skilled instrumentalists' concert should entail. Then enter a joyous hour of nonstop, wildly energetic whimsy paired with stunning music. Or just go to discover how musicians ice skate.
Act A Foo Improv
The nature of improv comedy results in a lot of hit or miss sketches. While that is no different with Act a Foo, I couldn't resist giving into the silly, ridiculous fun of this good-natured crew. Laughter is contagious after all.
Alice Vs. Wonderland
The always-innovative NoExit Performance stages the classic Alice in Wonderland story as an old-school video game. Some of the storytelling gets lost in this ambitious show, but it is hard not to admire the many highly imaginative details.
I want to extend a special thanks to Dan Axler, longtime Fringe photographer extraordinaire, for capturing the beauty and mayhem of the Fringe for the past 10 years and sharing his photos for use here.
Fringe Binge Take Two - August 16
Lou Sanz - Neverending Storage
When Australian comedian Lou Sanz previously visited IndyFringe, she was sharing stories of her regrettable decisions as she lived them. Now a few years older and wiser, she can reflect on those missteps with clarity. The central poor life choice the show revolves around is a storage unit she bought after a bad relationship ended. For nine years Lou avoided the storage unit while collecting appalling ex-boyfriends. She found it easier to pay a monthly fee than to confront her past. Lou wins the audience over with her dry wit, quirky charm, and an unapologetic willingness to share her mistakes.
Those making a detour from Gen Con will love Shadow Ape Theatre Company’s new show delving into troupes of gaming. The play features Rob Johansen as Mitch a nerdy middle-aged gamer walled up in his basement, where his vintage book-loving wife Con, played by Constance Macy, must compete for his attention. Jen Johansen in a fierce costume deftly portrays Queen Jenavieve, Rob’s latest gaming character. In a battle for Mitch’s attention, Con forms an unexpected bond with Jenavieve. Local playwright Bennet Ayres’ shrewd script balances humor and tension to create complex characters for three of Indy’s most respected actors.
Indy Fringe Beer Tent
For a break from Fringe shows, head to the beer tent on the corner of Mass Ave. and College for a selection of craft beers and free live performances. Saturday night, ListenIN presents music from local bands Blue Moon Revue, Peter and the Kings, Von Stranz, Night Babies, Tanner Standridge, and Bonesetters starting at 7 p.m. On Sunday starting at 2 p.m., sit outside and enjoy Blues with a Twist featuring Ken Shelton and Paul Henry. While you are there try the Fringe Saison, the official Flat 12 brew custom created in honor of IndyFringe.
Day 2, 3 Shows, Unlimited Laughs - August 15
I laughed my way through the first night of Fringe viewing with three distinctly different comedies.
Four Humors' Lolita: A Three-Man Show
A three-man cast mines laughs from the audiences through absurd characterizations, clever staging and a classic pop soundtrack in this parody of the movie Lolita by Stanley Kubrick. For my taste, too many of those laughs are too easily earned -- early on much of the comedy came from seeing hairy men play women. However, surprisingly the unconventional chemistry between Ryan Lear as the professor Humbert Humbert and Brant Miller’s Lolita somehow managed to draw me into this miscalculated seduction. Like any parody, seeing the original will add extra laughs, but is not essential.
The Great Bike Race
Watching the Great Bike Race might be among the most delightful Fringe offerings this year. In this ensemble comedy the antics of the 1904 Tour de France unfold amongst scheming rivalries, love affairs and unabashed cheating. Zach Neiditch’s clever script and strong direction allows each of the outstanding eight-member cast a moment to be the star and the supporting players. Crafty video sequences by Zach Rosing and music by Paige Scott add to the mayhem on stage.
Fat Kid Chronicles: Growing Up on the "PLUS" side of Cute
Eryn Bowser exudes charisma and charm in telling her personal story of growing up as fat kid. The show works best when she uses her strong comedic abilities to create relatable anecdotes in a fresh way. My favorite moment was when she belts out an REM song about drug addiction that as a naive 9-year-old she thought of as a love song to Chicken McNuggets. The script at times is heavy-handed, but the show’s story of accepting your body image clearly resonated with much of the audience.
Sneak Peeks & Must Sees - August 14
If you ever thought the IndyFringe festival didn't have a show for you, think again. The 10th annual edition kicked off last night with a preview performance of two-minute sneak peeks at most of the festival's genre-breaking options. Many audience members went in looking to narrow down their list of must-see shows and walked away with an even longer list.
eclectic subject matter in this year's Fringe festival includes:
- Secret spies that travel by unicycle (Find it here)
- Veterans living with PSTD (Find it here)
- The challenges of a girl growing-up plus sized (Find it here)
- A death metal podcast for kids (Find it here)
- 60-year-old lady detectives (Find it here)
- A stimulating look at different Creation stories (Find it here)
- Life in the Midwest through a comedian's perspective (Find it here)
- Dog training, complete with poodle talent on stage (Find it here)
- The writings of Willa Cather (Find it here)
- An improvised version of Game of Thrones (Find it here)
The audience for the Fringe remains as wide and varied as its lineup of shows. If last night is any indication, you might even end up at a performance sitting next to Mayor Greg Ballard. Aptly for the Fringe, the Mayor opened the festival after ceremoniously marching in accompanied by the Flintstone's theme song, which was performed by the Pork & Beans Brass Band. Adding his own brand of kitsch, Ballard wore the sash he received during Jimmy Fallon's Super Bowl taping in Indy back in 2012. The Mayor admitted he couldn't resist checking out the quirky festival offerings.
To kick off the first night of performances, all tickets bought online are two-for-one. But hurry to get this special offer as online ticket sales end two hours before each show.
I will be reporting back from the festival daily, sharing my take on the shows I conquer, buzz on the streets, and any tidbits from performers I can gather. Check back daily for my latest post and follow along on my adventures on twitter @jfbrady.