Prior to attending the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Nonetheless, I was sure intrigued to find out, especially seeing the words, “experimental performance art,” pop up so often in my online search for the weekend long event. The first show I attended was Northsoutheastwest. Developed through the “exquisite corpse model” by the Beautiful Cadaver Project, this piece was written by six different playwrights who aimed to explore their personal experiences, their relationships with Pittsburgh, and how the two intersect. The playwrights did not know how exactly their co-artists were going about the process during the writing process, but from what I saw, they drew it all together, quite beautifully, into one cohesive and fully developed show.
While focusing on the various stories of each different character, a complex story line was maintained. The plot that unfolded was not only relatable on a Pittsburgh level, but also on a very personal level. Being from Pittsburgh myself, I was able to picture all of the places mentioned and all the good-spirited jokes about “yinzers” warmed my heart in a special place. These Pittsburgh references created vivid imagery in my mind, which added immensely to my engagement in the performance. I felt myself nodding my head in agreement to most all the commentary about Pittsburgh’s rapid transformation into “the most livable city,” and how that affects those of us who grew up in “the Steel City.” Whether familiar with Pittsburgh or not, the personal experiences of love, friendship, change, anger, and loss were executed on stage with passion and commitment. This was the perfect opening to my Pittsburgh Fringe festival experience!
After a little gap in the afternoon, I headed back to see It’s Who You Know at the YMRC. This was a drastically different type of show than what I had seen earlier, which, by the way, was one of my favorite aspects of the Fringe Festival; so much variety!!! Chambers Stevens, a successful acting coach from Los Angeles, created this one man show around the ancient art of storytelling. Initially sharing a vibrant recollection of his family and how their tales inspired his fascination with storytelling, Chambers captivated me right away by granting us audience members a window into his own life. As the show went on, he would pull a celebrity’s name out of a box and proceed to share the story of his personal experience with them. Living in LA for 25 years, he had met some pretty amazing characters, from Johnny Depp and Jake Gyllenhaal to Micky Rooney. His exuberant energy and joyful expression were apparent right off the bat. I swear I didn’t stop laughing until I left.
What I think made his breaking of the fourth wall so successful, beyond the humor, was that he wasn’t merely telling us about celebrity’s and how cool it was to meet them— he was really telling us about himself and his life in the theater industry. By centering his stories around various celebrities, Chambers held the attention of the audience, not to mention he kept the laughs coming. Imagining any celebrity in a personal, normal-person, real-life setting as opposed to the typical stardom we associate them with is sort of bizarre, and definitely captivating. But the person I found myself really wanting to find out more about was Chambers, himself and how he kept these experiences with him—how he maybe let these interactions influence his life. I found it inspiring, as a performer myself, to be told stories by a successful and talented, but also humble and relatable man.
Soon after It’s Who You Know ended, I settled in to see Four Voices… One Story from Moquette Volante, a beautiful intertwining of four different culture’s versions of the story known to us here in the U.S. as Cinderella. I found myself captivated not only by their story telling out loud, but also their story telling through movement. Specifically, the actress who told the Indian version of Cinderella, utilized such grace and beauty in adding traditional Indian movement to the words she was speaking. The juxtaposition between the simplicity of telling a story, blended with the more complex idea of how the world’s separate cultures culminate in so many ways, created a message that stuck with me. This performance exemplified the utter importance of realizing and embracing the distinctions and differences of every culture, while still being able to see how we all unite as human beings.