by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Jacksonville moved into some elite company in the theatre world with its first ever Fringe Festival presented by Players by the Sea. The original Fringe started in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947 and since then has spread to a number of cities in Europe and North American. In Florida, Orlando sponsored the first USA festival in 1991 and it is still going strong. (The Dual Critics covered the Orlando Festival for EU for about ten years, finally discontinuing going since there was so much theatre to cover in our immediate area.)
Players’ Festival offers fifteen very different shows of varying lengths that include theatre, cabaret, spoken word, film and performance art. Everything presented is an innovative work by very talented locals who welcome the opportunity to showcase creativity. Performances began on June 3, and will continue June 9, 10, and 11 with 8:00 pm and 10:00 pm shows on both the main stage and studio stage at Players.
We can thank Barbara Colaciello, Educational Director at Players, for this event. Several years ago she directed Al Letson’s play Griot: He Who Speaks the Sweet Word at the New York Fringe and felt it was time North Florida had its own festival.
Going to a Fringe is like going to a giant buffet with many choices, where you can select what you like most, or if you are adventurous, chose new things. During the opening weekend, the Dual Critics were able to sample a number of the Saturday evening and Sunday matinee shows. Here are our impressions.
We began our evening in the studio theatre with Breathing, playing.….being, a dance film choreographed, shot and edited by Tiffany Sullivan Fish. The film was short but filled with energy, and an excellent choice for an opening piece.
An excerpt from a Southern play, Cotton Alley by Olivia Gowan, followed. The short scene concerned a young girl Avery, who was dealing with the burial of her grandmother and the reappearance of her long lost mother.
The Burbs was a spoken word piece written and performed by local actor Jonathan Ross, telling us about growing up as a military kid first in the “burbs” of Milton, Florida and later in San Diego. Mr. Ross played the role of Son in the recent PBTS production of “Dividing the Estate.”
Next on the agenda was a short film conceived and directed by Emie Whitman Allen entitled “The Food Project.” Presented in a clever animated documentary style, it examined the various beliefs and attitudes of six characters toward food in a humorous way.
We moved to the main stage to experience David Girard’s creation called Starring Me. Displaying his talent as a poet/playwright/singer he presented a semi-autobiographical account of his life. The husband and wife musical duo, Tara and Reed Clendenden interacted with David in dialogue and song and provided instrumental background. We found it a very revealing and honest and well-performed look into the world of David Girard.
Saturday night ended with a lot of humor as we enjoyed our first look at Dr. Sketchy’s Jax. This unique approach to art is presented on a regular basis in Jacksonville at various venues, and is strictly adult entertainment. The concept is franchised, with over a hundred locations in various cities around the world. Each show offers audience members the opportunity to sketch beautiful burlesque models, and submit their work for judging. And since Dr. Sketchy’s is an anti-art School, originality counts as much as true artistic talent. Prizes included a gift certificate to a fabulous burrito restaurant. The story told by the marvelous Emcee Edward Mourningwood was very educational, well sort of. We met Cora Crane, Duval County’s most famous madam back in 1901, running her business downtown on Houston Street (the street is still here, about two blocks from the convention center). Aaron Marshall as musical director provided the lively guitar music and song. It was lots of fun. For more info, visit www.drsketchy.com.
We returned Sunday for a most eclectic menu of performances.
From time to time we hear complaints that cutting edge theatre doesn’t exist in Jacksonville. Those so complaining should be sure to see Sam Fisher’s Atten1on, performed by Sam’s real life brother, Nick Sacks, a Douglas Anderson student who has had a strong presence on local stages like The Alhambra, Theatre Jacksonville and Players by the Sea. He was joined by Claudia Weeks, a Douglas Anderson dance major making her debut as an actress. The two performers were made up like mimes and did not speak a single word. The story is that of the interactions of a young couple over a period of two days. She is a bored housewife; he is a robotic white-collar husband. The show is innovative, using cardboard boxes for a TV and a breakfast nook, and incorporating live-mix sound and dance into the action, and additionally, was extremely well acted.
I don’t know a bigger fan of William Shakespeare than actor/playwright Anthony Hodge. He conceived and directed what he calls Bardolatry. That term, he explained in the colorful playbill each patron received, refers to the excessive adulation of Shakespeare. As students of the Bard know, he borrowed from others for his plots, so Mr. Hodge has borrowed from Shakespeare, using lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard II, Measure for Measure, Romeo and Juliet and various sonnets. Anthony thus created a story about Puck the Sprite (Josh Taylor), a Fairy (Sommer Farhat), The Queen (Kelby Siddons), and the villain Angelo (Thomas Trauger) that was delightful and all done in less than half an hour, much, much shorter than any of Shakespeare’s plays!! This piece would be a wonderful primer for high school students just starting studies of the world’s most famous playwright.
The third performance Sunday was The Everyman Project written and performed by David Girard and Larry Knight. This was a spoken word poetry concept piece, with each performer writing his own script. This powerful piece was filled with music, lyricism and lots and lots of social commentary, leaving the audience hoping for a repeat performance at a future date, to fully absorb the material.
Closing out Sunday afternoon were two fine vocalists who combined their talents to present “Works in Progress. “ Aaron Marshall and Erik DeCicco have both established themselves as mainstays in local musical theatre circles, and together in this presentation, made a terrific team displaying their fabulous voices. They used a selection of songs to tell a story of love as never been told before. They included, as they described in their program, wall-shattering music from such artists as Joni Mitchell, Johnny Cash, The Doors, and many more. With Musical Director Bryant Miano on the keyboard, others in the band included James Nicholson on drums, Kyle Munford on guitar, and Sean Tillis on bass.
Two of the shows with multiple performers provided programs we found helpful, nothing elaborate but they did let us know who was who. For future festivals, we suggest that groups print up a simple sheet of paper with the names of the cast members, or at least post something on the wall in the lobby. We have seen it done both ways in Orlando.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM