For an underground-arts initiative, Pittsburgh Fringe had a decent first year. With stage performances by little-known artists in offbeat or improvised Shadyside venues, the 2014 festival drew about 1,000 and broke even financially, says Fringe founder Dan Stiker.
Stiker hopes to build on that success with the second Fringe, now relocated to a neighborhood where on-street parking is easier. The May 8-10 fest includes 75 performances of 25 individual productions. Most of them are spread across seven North Side venues, including: Max's Allegheny Tavern; City of Asylum's tent; the New Bohemian; and outsider-art landmark Randyland.
Because Fringe seeks to nurture performance talent, the festival remains uncurated: All applicants were accepted, Stiker says. (Most proceeds also go directly to the artists, who this year paid application and venue fees, Stiker says.)
The program is a mix of local and visiting talent; most shows run an hour or less. Based partly on last week's preview event, at Arnold's Tea Shop, here are some of the more intriguing works.
Three fringe-circuit favorites make their local debuts. Philadelphia-based Chris Davis — who's starred at Scotland's famed Edinburgh Fringe — performs Bortle 8, a solo show about "a search for darkness in an age of artificial light." Acclaimed, nationally touring St. Jimmy ("a perfected human being and everyday home cook") explores TV cooking personalities like Paula Deen as manifestations of the divine in The Food at Our Feet. And ManDamsel and FellaLady offer the "musical family comedy" Tales Too Tall for Trailers.
Local performers include: Jennifer Schaupp (writer) and Joanna Lowe (performer) serving up Woman in the Raw, a solo piece about self-perception and social media; Cup-A-Jo Productions' experimental-theater piece "Who is Bob Friendly?," exploring one character from multiple perspectives; the troupe Jongleur's improvised musical theater; and Kellee Van Aken and Cheryl Capezutti's puppet-theater work Songs from a Lost Civilization and Other Stories.
Offerings from local group StorySwap include "The Shades of Shel," Sean Miller's performance of poet Shel Silverstein's blue, rhyming 30-minute solo Hamlet. The fest also includes a staging of John Cameron Mitchell's cult-favorite rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
When moving between venues, watch out for The Traveling Salespeople of Fringe, a bit of interactive street theater from the group City of Play.