Performing on the Fringe

Looking to experience the inside of a brain, have a drink with Jesus, hang out with an AI in a post-apocalyptic world, become trapped in Vogue magazine advertisement, attend a kid’s birthday party and see a metal opera, all in a period of five days? Probably not, as the possibility likely never crossed your mind. Such is the spirit of Fringe PVD, one of the biggest theater festivals around to celebrate the avant-garde, the imagination-bending and the downright weird, where you can experience all of the aforementioned scenarios and many more.

The original Fringe Festival got its start in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947, when a group of artists performed on the fringes of a larger festival in which they were not invited to participate. It was essentially the anti-prom of the performing arts world. Thus, the term “fringe theater” came to be used to describe experimental, small-scale performances — anything on an Off-Off-Broadway level or equivalent. Seventy years later, Fringe Festivals are a worldwide phenomenon.

Fringe PVD, the Providence Fringe Festival, started in 2014 and has grown significantly in size with each iteration. It was established by the Wilbury Theatre Group, which is known for its particularly adventurous theater. This year, more than 300 individual artists from both the Providence area and around the country are set to partake in performing a wide array of experimental new works. Performances will be held at multiple venues around downtown Providence, both traditional and non-traditional, including the new WaterFire Arts Center. Each show is generally around an hour long, and there is ample time to get from one venue to another without missing anything. Add to that the low to non-existent cost — and that all proceeds go directly to the artists — and not only is it feasible to see a ton of shows, there is no excuse not to.

In addition to the five nights of shows (see schedule in the middle of this issue), there will be an opening party the night before, which will include preview performances, presenting a good chance to pick out which shows pique your interest. The final day of Fringe will be Family Fringe Day, including games, workshops and children’s performances. While a lot of the performances during the week might not be kid-friendly, this will be a chance to get the whole family involved in the festivities.

Unlike other theater festivals, Fringe Festivals choose their works not by jury, but by lottery. There is no censorship: Anything can happen, and that’s part of what makes it so unique — and so important. Innovation in the arts needs to happen somewhere, and for one week a year, it happens right here for anyone to bear witness. Not everything will be the next hit show, but that’s part of the experience. It allows for honest, unfiltered artistic expression — something that very rarely happens in mainstream theater. Fringe is about supporting artists and artistry in its purest form.

Given the wide variety of shows on offer this year, there is bound to be something for everyone. If you’re a Shakespeare buff, there are multiple reworkings of Shakespeare, including R&J Redux, a barebones adaptation of Romeo and Juliet that focuses solely on the trajectory of their relationship; The Shakespeare Time-Traveling SpeakEasy, which uses multiple genres of music to examine the influence of Shakespeare; and Henry & Roy, which interweaves the voices of seven different Shakespeare characters with accounts of D-Day.

For musical lovers out there, there’s Queen Boudicca: A Metal Opera (see story at Motifri.com/ ) and The Revel, the latter of which will be performed by the Wilbury Theatre Group. Other intriguing-sounding options include Ada, Soon, which is about a girl left with only a copy of The Tempest and an AI for company after the apocalypse, and in the subarachnoid cistern, which takes place in the brain of someone about to undergo neurosurgery — kind of like a more scientific, adult equivalent of Pixar’s Inside Out.

Fringe presents its attendees with the challenge of trying something new and stretching the limits of their imagination. You are encouraged to not only see shows that pique your interests, but also shows you might not normally consider — things that seem too far out there. It’s a theater event truly like no other, provided you’re up to the challenge.

FringePVD takes place at multiple venues around Providence July 24 through 29. For more information, visit fringepvd.org. See our center spread for a full schedule.

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