My second and last day of Pittsburgh Fringe Festival started rather late in the Sunday afternoon. All three of my assigned shows Sunday were all at Young Men’s Republican Club, a smoky sports bar with a performing space in the basement. Needless to say the scene and the atmosphere are rather different, but the art and the fringe spirit stay the same. So without further ado, let’s “dive” right into it!
Presented by Moquette Volante, the first show of the day, Four Voices…One Story, took a sharp turn from all the classic school plays or comedy improv Saturday and truly showed me the experimental side of the fringe spectrum. Written and directed by Kristin Ward, it tells the classic fairy tale of Cinderella but through the visions, contexts, and voices of four different women who come from different cultural and ethnic background: Kenya, Italy, Czech Republic, and India. As the four beautiful actresses standing together all proudly wearing their own special ethnic dresses and lifting those timeless words from the book but each with its unique focal point and flavor, the stage presentation alone is already the strongest statement of the artist.
Director Ms. Ward said that this is a story about the heroine’s journey, about transformation. But as four different versions and interpretations intertwined together a bigger theme of beauty and diversity started to become clearer and clearer. Some versions of the story interestingly included some pretty dark twists and turns–definitely not your classic “happily ever after” Disney journey. But in the end the impact is still moving and powerful. Tech wise besides your usual Fringe Festival minimal lighting change, there is also an accompanying percussionist using different tempo, rhythms, and forces to represent each time line and each princess’ figure and personal journey. But if you ask me, the true “tech” support of this show would be the most fundamental and simplistic technology we have: human voice–simple but full of emotions. The constantly changing dynamic between four actresses on stage through position changes and hand gesture is another highlight of the show. And together, four story lines turned into one beautiful bouquet before the audience’ eyes with amazing color and depth.
Before we go on and talk about any further details of the second show which later turned out to be one of my personal favorites of the festival, I want to tell you all a little anecdote. So there I was, standing in line getting my tickets checked out by the volunteers for the second show, suddenly a gentleman in his 40s/50s wearing ripped jeans and a plaid shirt approached me and said, “Hey you know, I heard the guy in the next show is crazy, like CRAZY!” Now you have to remember that we are in the basement of a dive bar. So naturally I froze for a second and said, “Ahh, okay?”. And then he said, “Hahaha just kidding, that’s me!”
Anyway that’s how I met the host of the one-man show, It’s Who You Know, Chambers Stevens, and if one day I would do a show like his by pulling names of the people I’ve met in my life out of a box and telling a story of how I met him or her, that’s how I’d tell that story.
So there you go. It’s Who You Know is a show about stories, told by a master story-teller. From listening to Judy Garland’s granddaughter singing, to encountering the “homeless” Jonny Depp, all of the stories are randomly picked out of the box but at the same time carefully arranged, teased, and tailored in a dramatic order. And with the casual setting of the performing space and an intimate lighting, all characters gradually come to life and become a reflection of the story teller’s own life journey. Through the 60-minute run Mr. Stevens has told stories that made the audience laugh, think, learn, and most importantly, connect. Not a single second during the show did the audience (myself included) not feel engaging with the stories and memories replaying on stage. And in the end, we were already wanting for more.
My final show of this Fringe Festival is Always B Sharp, a musical improv group with great energy and a sharp talent. Leading by the pianist and music director James Rushin, the crew on stage would take any word suggestions from the audience and turn it into a song. On Sunday night for warm up one of the games during the show was “World’s Worst Employee”, meaning that the audience would suggest an occupation and the actors will act or “sing” out a scene about how the world’s worst employee of this job would behave. In the second half of the show a full length musical based on two suggestions “Pomegranate” and “Jordan” were made on the spot filled with solos and group numbers, ballads and up-tempos, even an improvised lighting change of one of the Festival volunteers! It was the perfect way to say goodnight to another wonderful day full of theater and arts, and all in all it was just great great fun.
Just like that, my first Pittsburgh Fringe experience officially concluded with a big finish. Beautiful stories and wonderful music. What more could you ask for? It’s been truly a thrill sharing an intense but art-full weekend with so many talented artists, volunteers, and audiences from all over the city (and country!) The Festival once again reminded all of us of why we love Pittsburgh and its vibrant cultural scene so dearly, and I simply cannot wait for the many more Fringe Festivals to come!