Outside a small theater in New York City's East Village, on Aug. 18, a lined formed down the block to see PigPen Theatre Co.'s The Mountain Song at the 15th annual New York International Fringe Festival. Some didn't even have a ticket, but stood in the rain, hoping for no-shows. Waiting for the doors to open, you could hear the eager chatter about the show and its stars, seven 2011 graduates of Carnegie Mellon University's School of Drama.
Coming into the festival, there were high expectations for the group. Last year, its production of The Nightmare Story won the Overall Excellence in a Production award, besting 1,200 other shows. And it exposed New York audiences to PigPen's trademark style, which is inspired by the members' love of folklore. Mountain Song, the fourth show they've written together, tells the tale of a father who embarks on a journey to attend his daughter's wedding without even knowing where it's taking place. To illustrate the story, the company uses light, puppetry and catchy, original folk songs played with live instrumentation.
PigPen (www.pigpentheatre.com) calls both its stories and its storytelling style unifying.
"They could be stories that have been passed on from generation to generation. They reach all demographics and force everyone to use their imagination in the exact same way," says Ryan Melia, PigPen's guitar, banjo and fiddle player.
It all began four years ago, when Melia, Alex Falberg, Ben Ferguson, Curtis Gillen, Matt Nuernberger, Arya Shahi and Dan Weschler were put in the same acting class. They banded together and produced a piece for CMU's Playground Festival, a yearly event showcasing independent student work. Since then they've developed a loyal following and have gone on to perform in Chicago, Martha's Vineyard and Boston.
The guys also began thinking about life after graduation. With the success of Mountain Song and their previous productions, they decided to pack their bags and move to the Big Apple in early August. Even so, they admit they are a bit homesick, especially for Shadyside's Pittsburgh Deli Company.
Now that they have secured apartments, however, the next challenge is finding steady work. Still, they feel they are well on their way.
"We're already building momentum. We're building home. We're building a community," says Falberg, PigPen's piano and banjo player. "We are creating projects together over and over again and changing and learning together."