By Caleigh Boniger
Pittsburgh Fringe Festival is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get. Every year there is always a healthy mix of improvisation, comedy, dance, and storytelling, and this year’s Fringe proved no exception. There is a little something for everyone, and I do mean everyone.
My single day of the festival began with Dance Gallery by Geoffrey Steele and Anna Harsh. Steele and Harsh, along with four other dancers, provide a glimpse into a dance workshop and how they can start to put together choreography using improvisation based off of artwork around them. The group chooses a piece hanging in the gallery space of the venue and then they ask the audience to come up and think of a word that they associate with that piece. They then choose a couple of words and use them to guide their movements. During what they call the “Alphabet Game,” they spell out words with their bodies, but not just in the obvious YMCA style. They trace letters in the air or contort to make shapes that echo them, and at first it is almost easy to see what they are spelling, but then you start to get lost in the grace and power of the movement. Even more compelling are the dances they invent using “Sit, Stand, or Kneel.” They create a wonderful piece based off of artwork that is the shadow of a clothesline. Their flurry of activity using light scarves captures the sense of a sunlit day and wind catching the clothes as they are being hung to dry. This group of dancers, who have not worked with each other for very long, work well together and make the audience welcome while showing them how art inspires more art.
The next two shows follow the stories of people, well some of them are not quite people, trying to follow their dreams. Velvet Determination, written and performed by Cynthia Shaw and directed by Page Clements, follows Ms. Shaw’s journey from a young girl in Colorado with a love of music to a young woman pursuing her goals to go to the Manhattan School of Music. Shaw as the sole performer earnestly tells her story, full of a quiet energy, interspersing her narrative with snippets of piano playing. She introduces us to the many people who had a part in inspiring her, some of whom are performers one may not know unless a part of the piano scene, and describes her anxieties over being a worthy pianist. Shaw sometimes plays a little too quickly to really display her skill, but she clearly knows her way around the keys, and she shows us what a little perseverance can accomplish.
Flying Fish by Puppets in Performance deals with even more impossible dreams from a pretty unusual cast of characters: a group of sea creatures. Using a beautifully crafted set of puppets, created by Darlene Fedele Thompson and gabriel gryffen, Puppets in Performance tells the story of Sori the flying fish (Krissy Penn), who learns how to fly, really fly, and wants to use her new skills to make it to the moon. Her friend Casper the crab (Michael Stanek) sticks by her and encourages her, even if their other friends Bruno the sea turtle (Eric Earl Eleam) and Hoover the sea slug (Al Toohey), who seems to steal the show at times, do not have as much faith in her. Through catchy songs and playful dance, Flying Fish explores the importance of big dreams, but also the greater importance of good friendships.
The day ended with what sounds like a discouraging show, but was full of laughs, A Complete Waste of Time, by Steve Chang. Chang, a stand-up comedian, starts out his show by quizzing his audience and cracking a few jokes through conversation, and then moves into stories about a handful of outrageous life experiences. He still keeps a back and forth with the crowd, but he uses it more for transition than to create his bits. I’ll try not to spoil too much of the fun, but I think my biggest take away from his adventures is to stay the hell away from ayahuasca. Chang keeps reiterating throughout that everything is a waste of time, but one can’t help but feel that his stories belie that notion. At the very least, life provides fodder for entertainment, and there is always a need for entertainment. Although a word to the wise – his show may not be for you if you are delicate of sensibility. He earns his R rating, but the laughs he generates makes for a good end to a hectic day.
Cayleigh Boniger has a Bachelor’s in English from Clarion University, but she has a deep appreciation for arts across the spectrum. While getting her degree, she participated as a critic at the Region 2 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Cleveland, and went on to participate at the national festival in D.C. When not at her day job, she is reading, writing, and obsessing over Shakespeare (but Macbeth in particular). She may also be rewatching The Good Place or Schitt’s Creek.
Categories: Archived Reviews