How brave are you? When was the last time you did something that wasn’t a sure thing? If you’ve been feeling a little humdrum about your entertainment options lately, there is a weird and crazy beacon of theater returning to Providence this summer to shake things up.
The Providence Fringe Festival is probably one of the most exciting things that happens in the city all year. I worked the doors at last year’s Fringe and witnessed an infestation of artists from all over the country descend on Providence to show us what they’ve got. Musicians, puppeteers, actors, dancers, magicians and everything in between. It’s a chance for American theater at large to meet Providence and for us to boast some of our own homegrown talent in return.
FringePVD, The Providence Fringe Festival, or just Fringe, started in 2014 and the event has roughly doubled in size since its inception. This year, there are 200 performances all told. Fifty-plus groups of performers are participating, composed of about 150 artists. Eleven venues. About half of the acts are from elsewhere in the country. Those are pretty impressive stats.
The event has been designed in such a way that you can optimize your experience not just in terms of seeing a lot of shows, but in experiencing Providence itself. Most of the venues are in a cluster downtown and are within walking distance of one another. There are 15 minutes in between each show so you can scoot around the city without the crippling anxiety of missing the first scene. Thanks to the totally chill theatrical advocates at places like Aurora, AS220, The Dean Hotel, RISD and the Matthewson Street Black Box, there’s a network of venues to hop around, stop for a drink, maybe a meal and see three or four shows in one night for like, no money.
Did I mention a good portion of the Fringe is free? Or like, $10? That helps. In fact, all of the proceeds from Fringe go directly back to the artists. Neither the venues nor FringePVD collect from the performances.
So what do you see? How do you start?
Festival Director Kate Kataja advises that you “see the stuff that first jumps out at you and then go see things that make you go, ‘I don’t get what that is.’ Go see THAT.”
There is some weird shit that happens at Fringe. There is some awesome stuff, but there is some totally uncensored, very questionable shit as well. And why not? “There’s a gap between traditional theater space and people who are performing in living rooms,” Kate told me. “And both those things are great.”
Even the most ill-conceived pieces of theater are, in a way, great. Where else could you see some of this stuff but Fringe? The balance between the good and the bad is sort of the point.
At a glance, the lineup this year has some definite stand-outs and some where there’s just no telling.
For me, I’m looking at Darlings, the story of Peter Pan as told by the parents of the Darling children. Brien Lang has written a musical called The My Way Murders based on killings over Frank Sinatra karaoke in the Philippines (look this up, it’s crazy). Also, Julia Bartoletti’s Bard the Band is an all Shakespearean musical experience that sounds as nerdy as it is entertaining. And did I mention there’s an Oregon Trail play? There’s an Oregon Trail play. Ruts! The Oregon Trail Experience is probably at the top of my wish list this year.
I have the feeling that something’s about to happen in the Providence theater scene and Fringe could not have come along at a better time. Theater is, ultimately, broad and multifaceted with no one right way to do it. There’s no one music. There’s no one sculpture or one literature. There are genres, subsets and niches that comprise theater just as in all art. FringePVD celebrates that like no other event in the city. Theater in Providence is becoming bold, uninhibited. People are trying things and the prevailing attitude in the scene seems to be, “Why the not?” Fringe is evidence of that not only in the gnarly content showcased, but in the sheer fact that Josh Short and the Wilbury Group wanted Providence to have a fringe festival and they fucking made it happen.
This could become a landmark event for Providence if we treat it like one. I honestly think that’s all it will take. We have great spaces for theater staffed by hard-working and talented people (looking at you, Aurora) and an inexhaustible crop of homegrown theater pieces to perform. From the delightfully quirky to the flat out bizarre, FringePVD offers something unlike any other event in the city. If you’re brave enough.
FringePVD takes places at various venues throughout the city July 26 through 30. Go to fringepvd.org for more info.