2011 Fringe Review

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Note: a shorter version of this article will be published in the September 2011 issue of KC Stage Magazine.

For six out of the seven years of the KC Fringe Festival’s existence, KC Stage Magazine has partnered with the Festival, offering up a fringe.kcstage.com website solely dedicated to the Fringe, offering show listings, reviews of shows, top-rated Fringe shows, and the chance to rate and review shows yourself.

This year’s partnership had over 200 reviews posted for the various shows produced at the Festival. Of the 115 entries (with 367 performances), 65 of those productions received at least one review on the fringe.kcstage.com website. There were approximately 70 different reviewers, including people from Minnesota, Iowa, Arkansas, and even California, and four of the reviewers are current KC Stage subscribers. You can see all of the reviews, along with photos from this year’s Fringe, on the fringe.kcstage.com website.

Rabid_Reviewer wrote, “This seemed to be the best attended Fringe so far. I thought throughout the week, morale was high but energy was low, especially dealing with the heat.”

The top-rated show of the Fringe was “Violet Dreams & Unlisted Melodies”, and there were two reviews posted on it. stageaficionado posted, “With titles like ‘to set at stillness the underside of’, you may struggle to connect the movement to it, but even as abstract art, the company executes well, with emotion, precision, strength, and grace.” Meanwhile, vanfanivan wrote, “The music was mesmerizing, the dancers talented. But you come away not sure what just happened to you. This was definitely one of the most unique things I’ve seen.”

The two shows that tied for most reviewed were “Hexing Hitler” and “The Rocky & Bullwinkle Horror Picture Show Parody”, with 11 reviews each, and also were both reviewed by The Kansas City Star‘s Bob Trussell and The Pitch‘s Grace Suh.

“Hexing Hitler” generated one of the widest variety of reviews. KeeganLampert posting, “the very end completely ignores all that had taken place prior and attempts to convey some powerful theme or message, but it falls flat in its quest. In layman’s terms, the ending needs quite a lot of work.” Meanwhile, Rabid_Reviewer wrote, “This is the tightest performance I’ve seen at the Fringe so far this year. The direction and acting is excellent.”

On the other hand, most of the reviews for “The Rocky & Bullwinkle Horror Picture Show Parody” were mostly on the positive side. “I have to give kudos to the writer of this parody,” wrote reviewer aStrassle. “To be able to turn a suggestive, offensive cult classic movie into an even MORE suggestive, offensive musical parody to the characters of Rocky and Bullwinkle captivated me.” Reviewer JLin wrote, “While I commend Eubank and Doss and their efforts to include every song from Rocky Horror Picture Show, I felt that the show ran long and that a few songs toward the end were disjointed and unnecessary.”

“Hamlet Vs. Zombies”. Photo by Richard Sutton

And if you think reviewers hit only shows put on local groups, the next two most-reviewed shows were both visitors to the Kansas City area, “Jesus, Shakespeare, and Lincoln Walk into a Bar” and “Hamlet Versus Zombies”.

KCUR’s coverage focused on the two one-person shows (both out of towners as well) by transgendered performers, “No Gender Left Behind” by Rebecca Kling and “Evolution” by Roman Rimer.

“No Gender Left Behind” had three reviews posted on our website, including one by myself. Kling had been fired from a teaching position because she would create “uncomfortable conversations” with the students. “The one-woman show is her thought-provoking exploration of gender conforming behavior,” I wrote, “delving into what it really means to be a woman or a man.” Meanwhile, Rabid Reviewer wrote, “This is a highly entertaining and thought-provoking lecture juxtaposing excerpts of various laws, videos, and personal stories about gender bias.”

“Evolution” had two reviews posted. Reviewer alanskoalas posted, “It is story telling of the character’s transition, through a road trip, from female to male. A nice transgender play. This was a true life story of the performer himself.” Meanwhile, sakuragirl posted, “Rimer’s very casual way of speech was somewhat disappointing. Although it was easy to understand him, I kept wondering if he was working from an outline or a shaky script.”

Reviewer WatchNWrite commented, “I am always surprised by the extremes in quality at the Fringe Festival. A danger always exists in going to productions because even the well-publicized shows can look and feel thrown together. On the other hand, I was fully impressed this year to an extent that I never have been in years past; and the show which greatly influenced that opinion was the show ‘This’ presented at The Living Room. Given the wide array of talents, specialties, and gimmick shows, I was relieved to sit there and just watch great acting to an awesome script. It’s shows like this that keep me going back to the Fringe hoping to feel glad to be involved in the arts.”

Meanwhile, Robert Trussell covered the Fringe with a number of articles, combining reviews and commentary about the Festival itself. “The KC Fringe Festival is, among other things, a place where playwrights and theater artists can take big creative risks,” wrote Trussell in the article “Fringe Festival first-day offerings run gamut” in The Kansas City Star. “The principal risk, of course, is that they simply fail.”

Trussell later expanded on what the purpose of the Fringe was, and the very definition of experimental theatre, in his article “Fringe Fest’s guerrilla roots found in ‘gorilla’ theater”. “‘Experimental,’ of course, is a term that can be freely exchanged with ‘alternative,’ ‘guerrilla,’ ‘crazed’ and ‘in your face,'” Trussell writes. He continues later, “‘Experimental’ can mean different things to different people. It can mean a radical new interpretation of a classic. It could be a brand-new play told in an unconventional way. It could be artists stepping out of their traditional roles. And it could mean actors in gorilla suits reciting Shakespeare.”

The Pitch‘s Grace Suh continued the commentary on the Fringe in her reviews of six of the productions. “Fringe is all about low-stakes experimentation,” she wrote in her article “Fringe offers samples to every taste”, reviewing six different productions. “It lets performer and audience take risks together. So I was prepared for hits and misses.”

Rebecca Kling. Photo by Richard Sutton

This year, KC Stage also partnered with the KC Cappies, a program “through which high school theater and journalism students are trained as critics, attend shows at other schools, write reviews, and publish those reviews.” Since KC Stage only has online reviews, we weren’t sure how best to collaborate with this program, and this year we asked for a few names to receive media badges with the goal of being a reviewer on behalf of KC Stage. Reviewer aStrassle was one of the people who participated, and he wrote afterwards, “It was nice though to be able to see different styles of theatrical performing. It also gave me the opportunity to freely write reviews about the shows. Though I did feel my reviews were not up to par to how I really would liked, it was an interesting writing experience. Overall, I enjoyed what I saw.”

There was also the typical issue of the burlesque shows being sold out way in advance with lines around the corner, even so far as getting someone using the KC Stage review system to complain about it. The person had issues not only with the concept of the pre-paid tickets, but with the fact that the venue seemed to be oversold.

Overall, I had an outstanding time at this year’s Fringe, even though I may not have enjoyed all of the 19 shows I went and saw. One of the shows, Helios Fire Tribe, was cancelled – and there didn’t seem to be any notice on the website or at the location to indicate that, which was a bit of a problem. (And the other fire show, Rhythmic Flames, started late and had a not-so-great juggler warming up the crowd for 20 minutes. I never did get to see a fire show this year.) Also, on the one night I had scheduled to see the nightly “Late Night With Skip & Dave”, the first Saturday of Fringe, it was scheduled to start at 10:30 pm, but 11 pm rolled around and they were still getting set up and ready. Since I had a busy day of reviewing the next day, I had to bow out of what sounded like a fun show.

Kudos to the various swag offered at this year’s Fringe. From a Hitler voodoo doll to a red clown nose to a blow up penis, many of the companies got very creative with the items both sold and given away at the various performances. And while many of the shows did have DVDs or CD soundtracks available, it was the ones I really enjoyed that didn’t – so something to think about for next year’s groups.

My one complaint is that it seemed like there were a lot ruder people. From the Fringe volunteer wanting to confiscate my camera (as opposed to just letting me know that no photography was allowed) to the people showing up 10 minutes late with tickets they purchased online and demanding the good seats, it seemed like civility on both sides was strained many times throughout the Festival. Reviewer J.Lin noted, “I did notice an oddly large number of patrons mistreating the volunteers and was very surprised at their rude behavior.”

Reviewer sakuragirl wrote, “In regards to the festival’s work and organization, the volunteers I met were friendly and helpful. I really appreciated the location of Fringe 411 at Crown Center, with their large, colorful signs. Traveling-wise, I enjoyed not running into heavy traffic when going from theatre to theatre. Perhaps it was the time of day, or the popularity of the productions I saw, but I had no trouble driving to each location and finding a place to park. In addition, the venues were near places I loved to shop and eat at – a definite plus when I had time to kill.”

An editorial by The Kansas City Star cheered the Festival as a whole. “Kansas Citians, and this city’s leaders, should pay attention to the growing and impressive 11-day Kansas City Fringe Festival. It’s everything dreamed of in an arts festival, offering visual arts, theater, music, fashion and performance.”

For the seventh year, the Fringe has come and gone – and we’re eager to see how it will grow next year.