Thoughts on Seattle Fringe Festival 2012

Last weekend, I attended the Seattle Fringe Festival 2012. I saw four productions, two of which were good, two of which were not. From what I’ve learned from different people who either attended the Seattle Fringe in the past or have been to other Fringe festivals, it’s always a risk. A Fringe festival is about gaining momentum, taking chances as an audience member (but only sacrificing about an hour of your time and $10), and then spreading the word as you know more. Advertising and marketing doesn’t really work unless the artists have already picked up momentum from performing in other locations. I only knew half of the artists I saw and had reason to believe their work would be good. For the other half of the performances, I took a chance based on the descriptions. I thought I would like them, I was wrong. I finally understand what everyone’s been saying all along: summary marketing proves to be ineffective and word-of-mouth is really the best form of advertising. Seattle’s Fringe Festival was timed to hit the end of the Canadian Fringe Festival circuit, which wasn’t really in its favor. For the Seattle theatre season, it came along at an awkward in-between stage: many summer shows closed at the end of August and other shows are in the middle of their rehearsals. End of the summer is a time when the theatre practitioners who know what the Fringe festival is are already involved in their own shows or need a well-deserved break.

In addition to being produced during a weird time, the selection process was lottery-based. For this first attempt to get back into the Fringe circuit (The previous Seattle Fringe Festival collapsed in 2003) the selection process could not be adjudicated. I attended the lottery process, hoping my company would be picked, but kind of thankful that it wasn’t. From what I heard, newbies to the Fringe were in a mad scramble to find production teams, casts, and other requirements of self-producing. The lottery process also led to a random assortment of productions that could not be vetted before they arrived in Seattle (even some of the local ones, which were produced by total unknowns). With the four productions I saw, I was able to make a judgement on what type of production best serves a Fringe production. The venues had some capabilities, but finding the staff to create that kind of magic was not readily available. Production values had to be cheap and on the fly. Overall, I am glad I attended. I saw some good theatre, thoroughly enjoyed my company (I attended with Ms. Courtney Meaker and Mr. Mark Brewster), and the alcohol flowed freely.

Connecticut by Stacy D. Flood

Full disclosure: I had read parts of this play before I saw it. I took Playwriting Class at ACT with Mr. Flood twice. He has been working on this play for a very long time. He actively sought out advice and support from his connections within the theatre community and his production showed the results of his hard work. I had never fully gleaned the exact plot from the snippets I had heard in class, but seeing everything together was eye opening and exceeded my expectations. Flood has a knack for revealing nuanced plot in a way that most others would trample on. The play was nearly all exposition, as we consistently learned new information, but the background info slowly became the focus of the play. I loved learning little bits from each character until the full story was revealed at the end. Unfortunately the play suffered from the lack of female characters and the overall direction for the play. While I was very invested in the men’s stories and relationships, the female characters were utilitarian and underdeveloped. Two out of the three female characters often came onstage to complain about something; I’d like to see what Flood could do with more women in his work. In addition, a director for this play perhaps only needed more time to dive into the nuanced reveals of Flood’s script, but the production I saw was lacking in a coherent vision. The actors seemed to flounder frequently, unsure of how to connect. Despite all this, the excellent script saved the performance.

Good Fortune by Kimberly Dark

Initially I really liked this piece after I saw it. It incorporated tarot cards, story-telling, and a lovely and kind woman to guide it all. However, immediately after it I had several ideas of how to improve the production. The “tarot” cards were actually images designed by artists and projected on a screen. The fact that they weren’t traditional images added to the mystery and allure of the production but the images were too small to discern. The audience chooses cards that relate to stories that Dark tells as part of her performance, making each production unique. Her introductory speaking style was vastly different from her story telling style, which was slightly robotic. And, there were not enough stories. The pieces were about 10 minutes long (5 cards), which made it difficult to maintain interest. Perhaps this piece is a good example of Fringe: minimal production values and lesser quality with lots of room for improvement if only the support were there.

’33: A Kabarett by Bremner Duthie

I thought I would enjoy this piece from the description I read in the Fringe brochure. It’s about a man who is left in an abandoned cabaret club after the Nazis raid it. He is compelled to do one last performance, playing all of the parts. Unfortunately, I found the performance style alienating and disruptive. The story was obvious from the summary in the program but not always from the performance itself. The actor’s objective of “reluctance to perform” proved to be difficult to surpass as an actual performer. It also didn’t help maintain interest in the show. I wanted more connection with the performer as an audience member. Perhaps the meta narrative could have been crafted more to involve the audience in the production, because despite really wanting to care, I had no interest in the character’s plight.

Kitty Poole by Becky Poole

More disclosure: I hosted Becky for part of her stay here in Seattle. She is a former Annex company member and when I mentioned her name to any of my colleagues, everyone was excited. She is well-loved and adored, so I had much to look forward to with her production. Becky Poole has crafted an adorable character, a six-year old performance artist, who takes you on a journey through her interpretations of performance art. There are homages to famous artists, musical saw playing, audience participation, and clever jokes and improvisation. From the moment you enter the room, there was a glimmer in Poole’s eye that we were invited to a very special joke so we got to engage with both character and performer. She was a great guide, creating a wonderful feeling of comfort and ease even if you were absolutely lost by her references. I thoroughly enjoyed Kitty Poole because it felt like what a Fringe show should be. A well-written and performed solo show with low production values and a great atmosphere. I left the theatre feeling overjoyed and excited about art and pleased to have been privy to such a grand show.

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