Ok. Day two of the Pittsburgh Fringe is under our collective belts. Do we feel inspired? Do we feel a rejuvenated sense of appreciation for those working and creating on the edges of our performance community? Do we ever want to go back to seeing the same old high budget irrelevant downtown musical from like 80 years ago? Do we care that watching multiple fringe performances sometimes makes us feel like so much flotsam and jetsam in an ocean? How far can an oceanic drifting metaphor take us, and what are the consequences? Let’s explore together.
In nautical terms, flotsam and jetsam have distinct definitions and for us differing consequences. Flotsam is essentially accidental junk in the water due to a shipwreck. Jetsam is intentional junk in the water that was jettisoned (eh?) from a vessel. Jetsam implies choice, flotsam has the implication of a consequence of an accident. To complicate our metaphor, both flotsam and jetsam, at least in my amateur assessment, experience the same essential elements of the water. The current, the temperature, the seagull, are the same to both. But what does it mean to be intentionally set adrift in warm water, with the gulls, as opposed to being set accidentally adrift in warm water, with the gulls? The thread of our metaphor in the context of this amateur theater review, I suppose, concerns this intentionality. If the performance is a ship and I am the cargo, one of three things will likely happen; 1. We land together safely (intentional), 2. I’m thrown overboard by a deft and knowledgeable crew conscious of what that means (also intentional, with potentially differing existential jetsam-like experiences), or 3. We wreck and I am set adrift in a meaningless sea (clearly not intentional, I am flotsam). With that in mind, let’s continue.
My mid-day series of viewings once again kept me in the smoky rooms of the Lyceum. Yesterday, my heart went out to the performers in the basement, today I understand that the feelings of assault are shared by all. Turns out noise travels in all directions, and the upstairs has the bar to contend with.
The first show of the day was Shakespeare Annotated created by the Pittsburgh based Brawling Bard Theater. It should come as no surprise at this point that theater is nerdy, and we are all nerds for liking it. I proclaim my nerdy-ness loudly and for all to hear. Rooftop shouting and all. But, those who pursue a Shakespearean course are a special and sweet kind of nerdy, and this performance is truly a product of this tack. It is awesomely, self referentially nerdy, full of historical and combat-related footnotes and argumentative asides concerning accurate portrayal, definition, and pronunciation all for the purpose audience enlightenment. The structure is simple, and the boat is sound. We sail through multiple scenes from a variety of plays written by the Bard as well as an interrupting sonnet or two. The shows cast spiral out of control, regain their footing, spiral again, but through each step we feel safe and in familiar territory. As Cargo, I know where and when we will land. I am assured that I am in good hands and all I need to do is enjoy the trip.
After enjoying the Bard, and gaining a quick breath of fresh air (you know…), I am, as cargo, deposited into the hold of Ian Insect’s multimedia sketch creation It sounded like a good Idea In My Dreams. This production carries the audience through multiple steps of smart and highly writery sketch…can we safely say, comedy? I did laugh, but I also feel like calling it simply comedy doesn’t do it justice. Whenever I see a show that is structured as multiple, unrelated scenes my brain yearns to find a common thread. I find it in the show’s deep love for language and detailed and subtle thought. It is a comedy show for wordsmiths and amateur philosophers and I think works best if you have a good attention to detail. The cast is large, but the focus is often on Ian who moves deftly between solo performer and controlled group supporter. The sketches cast you overboard and let you drift in a sea of absurd jokes, complicated language/thought games, and physical gags. The videos in the performance deserve special attention. They are often the home of the best and most subtle physical comedy of the show. And, I do want to send a special shout out to Tamera Siegert as the usher. Those piercing looks, and just the right amount of audience abuse. I am jetsam. I don’t arrive at a specific destination as I have been thrown into the sea, but I understand and appreciate the intention behind my circumstance.
Finally we arrive at Straw, Mud and Old Boards. If the path of my metaphor isn’t yet obvious to you let me reveal it now. In this show I am flotsam. I am unintentionally set adrift, and I don’t quite know why or how. I really wanted to be good cargo, I really did. One thing is clear, the co-creators of the show, The Daring Douglasses, know their craft. They are fire-eaters, nail bed layers, and nail in the nose pounders. They know, and clearly, love the tradition of the sideshow. I love the tradition of the sideshow. And in that work tradition is important. These are not your next door neighbor poi swinging hippies and burners. The Douglasses have something historically important to tell us about the work they do, where it comes from, and why we should care. So then, why do they spend the entire show detailing often mundane and poorly paced stories from the road? Why talk about the fear of meeting white Alabamians for the first time? And why set the narrative stage of a co-produced show as one half of the co holding forth and at time belittling the other half for no real purpose? Like i said, I wanted to like them. I wanted to be good and willing cargo. I would absolutely see them conduct their actual craft, but I’d advise them to dump their stuff-that-happened-on-the-road schtick overboard.
The Fifth Annual Pittsburgh Fringe Festival ends today, April 8th, but for more information click here.