Pittsburgh Fringe Festival goes online today – here's what to expect | Community Profile | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh Fringe Festival goes online today – here's what to expect

click to enlarge Pittsburgh Fringe Festival goes online today – here's what to expect
David Rodgers
Peter Michael Marino of Desperately Seeking the Exit: Online LIVE
Theatergoers value the excitement of a live experience, something that COVID-19 has made impossible for the foreseeable future. This extends to the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival, an annual showcase that gives aspiring playwrights and performers a chance to bring their visions to life. To keep its mission going, the event has moved online with a full lineup of original plays.

The event kicks off today at 6 p.m. with a prerecorded presentation of the multimedia poetry recital Do You See What I Hear? by Mario Moroni and James Glasgow, followed by several live performances, as well as virtual happy hour. The event continues through May 3.

The online option comes a month after the festival canceled its live event planned for April 2-5.

"We decided to move the festival online to continue our mission to give artists an avenue for their work, and to bring artists and audiences together,” says Fringe executive director Xela Batchelder.

In addition to getting their work to the public, the festival will also give 100% of all ticket money and donations to the artists.

Batchelder adds that they are trying to make the event more communal by encouraging viewers to participate in virtual watch parties of shows over platforms like Zoom. She believes this will allow live performers to still hear and see audience members.

“I'm really excited about this because in this format artists can hear the audience's reactions and gain that necessary energy from a live audience, and audiences can get a sense of community and laughing with other people while attending the show together,” says Batchelder.

Among the festival highlight is Desperately Seeking the Exit: Online LIVE, an award-winning show by actor/playwright Peter Michael Marino about his real-life failed musical based on the Madonna film Desperately Seeking Susan (it closed a month after opening on London's West End). The Pittsburgh-based Brawling Bard Theater will also make their Zoom premiere of The Compleat Guide to Murder and Mayhem by Will Shakespear.

Also included is When Jesus Divorced Me by Pittsburgh-based actor Laura Irene Young. The show, which won the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival award for best script in 2019, is based on Young's bizarre real-life experience of being married and then divorced from an actor who worked at a Christian tourist attraction.

“He played Jesus and he cheated on me with an actor who played Mary Magdalene,” says Young.

She says the show covers how she “emotionally dealt with the devastation of that kind of loss,” adding, “Even though the show starts at my divorce, it is about the long journey back to self-love, all done through a little bit of humor and ukulele songs.”

In regards to performing the show live online, she believes the intimate format of her singing ukelele songs around a campfire will still translate.

“Even though we don’t have the vicinity, I believe the conversational, simplistic nature of it allows it to translate well virtually, especially since that is where we are having our conversations now," she says.

In addition to the plays, there will also be a group exhibit for visual artists, as well as an exhibit for Charlie Wallace, who originally produced art for the canceled original live festival.

Batchelder admits that because Pittsburgh is one of the first fringe festivals to go online, she expects it “won't be super smooth.” As part of a global network of fringe festivals, she hopes they can lead by example and inspire other festivals to take the leap to online.

“I’m so excited to give our local, national and international fringe artists a means to connect with our local Pittsburgh audience and to help bring the artists’ stories, music, dances, artwork, or fun lighthearted jokes and laughter into the living rooms of our quarantined audiences," Batchelder says. "We need these connections with people and art more than ever today.”