On the Fringe

As July hits the midway mark, the RI summer theater season starts to think Fringe. On the heels of PVDFest, Olneyville takes center stage with the Wilbury Theatre Group-sponsored FringePVD, taking place July 23 – 27. This year marks the sixth appearance of RI’s answer to Edinburgh and New York with a festival that celebrates both emerging and established performing artists. Creating ties between artists, audiences, businesses and local organizations, FringePVD is a once-a-year chance to produce and experience work that can challenge the senses and sensibilities (while still providing plenty of family-friendly fun). Some artists try new pieces while others seek to hone and improve existing work. An alternately overwhelming and satisfyingly immersive experience, FringePVD has established itself as one of the must-see occasions in and around PVD.

This year’s flagship event is The Olneyville Expo, billed as “A Celebration of Olneyville, Past, Present, and Future.” Created by Darcie Dennigan, Jesse Hawley and James Stanley, the Expo is presented by Wilbury, in collaboration with Providence’s Department of Arts, Culture, and Tourism and additional support from WaterFire Providence, TROOP, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and The Rhode Island Foundation Community Grant program. A theatrical event in the 19th century “Chautauqua” tradition of artistic variety, ethics and education, the Expo gathers community groups, historians, ecologists, storytellers, artists, performers, engineers and artisans to create a collaborative portrait of the Olneyville neighborhood where Wilbury now makes its home. Starting at Donigian Park (228 Valley Street), the Expo will happen over three nights (July 25 – 27, 7 – 9pm).

Wilbury artistic director Josh Short is quick to praise the efforts and collaborative spirit of “dozens of community organizations, including DOT-supplied driverless cars … a little bit of everything,” he says. “It’s hard to point out any one performance or event [although he does name drop Being for the Other, presented by international theater collective B4 the Other Creations, as well as Crate, presented by Jed Hancock-Brainerd and Casey Seymour Kim the same duo that brought us the impeccable Idle in the summer of 2015].” Short also points out the Wednesday night Fringe Artists Panel Discussion (sponsored by The Dramatists Guild) with playwrights and other writers as a unique event that couldn’t happen anywhere else.

“There’s also Family Fringe, of course,” he says. “We have lots of partners there, with the YMCA, a bounce house, free ice cream, mask making workshops and a parade sponsored by the City of Providence.” The closing party (July 27 at 9:30pm) will be hosted by Matthew Lawrence of Law and Order Party, with music by Unkle Thirsty and a variety of other Fringe artist performances. There, Lawrence will host the #FringePVDAwards, where social media-nominated oddities (ie, “Best Use of a Cantaloupe,” “Sweatiest Show,” “Most Mournful Use of a Rhinoceros”) are hand-picked and presented.

When pressed to say how this year’s Fringe has developed over the past several years, Short points out the nature of the festival’s core location. “The entire team has worked on delivering this on a bigger scale, with the addition of the Expo, and making it bigger, more interesting and engaging the community. This time, we’ve looked for ways to be more inclusive and, particularly, to be bilingual wherever we can. Our social media and marketing have been bilingual and the Expo will have live translation (both English to Spanish and vice versa). Gentrification of Olneyville is a big issue going way back, and we want to have a conversation about how this affects the largely Latinx community in a non-confrontational way.”

Kicking off with an Opening Night party at the Wilbury space on Monday, July 22 (40 Sonoma Court), FringePVD runs Tuesday, July 23 through Saturday, July 27. Notable performances include:

The multi-media musical theater piece Letters from the Affair by The Afro-Semitic Experience. Based on a series of letters written by the Impressionist painters Camille Pissarro and Edgar Degas. These letters are framed to tell a little-known story from the end of the 19th century about the relationship between these two founding members of the French Impressionist Art movement. The story centers on their friendship as artists and how it deteriorated and then completely ended because of their differing views regarding the Dreyfus affair. ​

Pretty Bird, presented by Dugway Proving Ground Theater. A darkly comic theatrical melange about the precariousness of putting all your eggs in one basket. The production is the East Coast premiere of a new play by RI native Lily Mathews. 

ActingPolitical’s newest thought-provoking piece, Headspace is an interactive show investigating mental health, self-care and the pernicious happiness industry. The production gives audience members permission to complain, cry and be sad.

The Chronic Single’s Handbook provides an unflinching look at how men feel about sex, love, marriage and massage parlors. Described as “Eat, Pray, Love meets The Forty-Year-Old Virgin,” the story begins in Boston and goes astray in Greece, South Africa and Asia. Sweet, innocent and a touch raunchy with adult situations, adult language and more adult situations. The one-man show is presented by Somerville, Mass, native Randy Ross.

What happens in an arena occupied by two secret champions? Is it possible to discover kindness and community? Or are we all just killing time and each other? Crate is a new creation by the local artists (Jed Hancock-Brainerd and Casey Seymour Kim) who brought you the award-winning and unnerving satire Idle.

Being for the Other, presented by B4 the Other Creations is an immersive theatrical experience where audiences are guided through physical, emotional, individual and group efforts as they deep dive into quintessential play exploration exercises. Being For The Other offers up the idea of what it means to “hold space” for “the other.” For both actors and audience alike, this devised production rewinds time to that of the playground.

The above listing is just a brief sample of what can be found at the 2019 FringePVD festival. See opposite page or visit fringepvd.org for a complete and updpated listing of times, locations and pricing. Your town, your festival … on the fringe.

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