Starting today, experience three long weekends of new, edgy plays and dance, as part of the 18th annual Greensboro Fringe Festival.
The festival will bring 10 eclectic works over 12 days to the Steven D. Hyers Theatre in the Greensboro Cultural Center and the Caldcleugh Multicultural Arts Center.
Each work will be performed twice — and one four times — during the festival, which runs through Feb. 2.
The festival enables emerging performance artists to showcase their new work in a professional environment and continue to build their fan base.
More than 100 N.C. artists work in front of and behind the curtain.
“We just want Greensboro to come out and support these young artists and give them a reason to stay here and keep working,” said Todd Fisher, the festival’s longtime executive director.
Fisher also leads The Drama Center of City Arts and Events, the festival’s sponsor.
The festival typically attracts nearly 1,000 audience members.
“The thing I love about 18 years of the Fringe, is that I never quite know what I am going to see until the audience sits down and those lights go up,” Fisher said. “Things change. Theater is live. It’s a living organism, and it’s exciting. And I hope Greensboro finds it that way, too.”
The festival will open tonight with “Bags of Skin,” 2020 winner of the annual New Play Project and Mark Gilbert Award. The play will be performed daily through Sunday.
Its author is Pete Turner, a Greensboro resident, actor, playwright and children’s librarian at the Greensboro Public Library.
He is a member of the Greensboro Playwrights’ Forum, a program of The Drama Center and sponsor of the New Play Project.
“It was nice to have a local writer win that prize this year,” said Fisher, who will direct the play.
Fisher describes the 90-minute play as a “very dark comedy.”
The characters participate in a group therapy session for those with physical and/or emotional disabilities.
And as in any group therapy session, personalities start to clash.
In the span of just three therapy sessions, who could possibly convince a man born with one hand that a divine being exists? Does a man with dwarfism, a woman with a twisted spine or another woman whose own DNA is destroying her from the inside have a chance? Or will the one-handed man pull the others into his own dark abyss?
“It is an interesting take on how society views disabilities and the disabled,” Fisher said, “and also some introspective soul-searching from an able person’s perspective on the (Americans with Disabilities Act) and how society, even with this big wave of inclusion, still sees people as different from us or different from me.”
The festival continues on Jan. 24 at Caldcleugh Multicultural Arts Center with “Stuck,” a one-man, family-friendly musical written by and featuring Carlos Heredia. This marks Heredia’s third time in the Fringe Festival.
At the same time, the Hyers Studio Theatre will host solo dance works by Renay Aumiller Dance, Anna Edwards, Cass Simmons, Jackie Burnett and Michael Rank.
Jan. 25 will offer four performances between the Hyers theater and Caldcleugh.
“We did the schedule so that you can come see a dance concert (at the Hyers theater) and then drive three minutes to Caldcleugh and see a play,” Fisher said.
Two of them pair a short play with a one-act play: “The Stupidist Argument in Human History” by Larry Bliss of the Triangle area, paired with “If That’s Not Cheating” by Cindy Argiento of Winston-Salem; and “But That’s Another Story” by Jackie Sanders with “The Assault(s),” by Marilyn Barner Anselmi.
“It was a great opportunity to provide more exposure or give those artists an opportunity to cross their audiences a little bit,” Fisher said.
Audiences might notice a few small changes in this year’s festival.
The festival board received applications from out-of-state performers, but ran out of room to include them, Fisher said.
After two years, Kid Fringe for the younger set did not return.
“We did not get any submissions geared toward kids, so we tabled it for this year,” Fisher said.
A decade ago, the festival had increased performances from two to three, to give media more time to review them and audiences to respond.
But with fewer reviews being written, festival organizers cut back performances of most works to two.
On the other hand, that might lead to larger audiences at each performance, Fisher said.
As much as he has enjoyed overseeing the Fringe Festival, it soon will be time to hand it over to someone else, Fisher said.
During his tenure, his post has been strictly volunteer, with most money from audience donations going back to the festival’s performing artists.
He hopes to have a new director in place by the 20th annual festival.
“It’s time for somebody hopefully younger with some new innovative ideas that can take the Fringe to, hopefully, another level,” he said. “If not, maintaining it at the level it is, is fine too.”