Providence’s Fringe Fest and its weird appeal
Andy Russ donned a space suit and sat down in front of a piano next to which a chair was positioned, holding a skeleton and, for some reason, Kermit the frog.
Blue and purple lights flooded the stage and Russ sang his rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” so slowly that at one point it appeared the performance was coming to an end as Russ took a dramatic break, letting several seconds pass between “I’m not the man” and “they think I’m at the House”.
What it all means is anyone’s guess, but the unconventional and the indefinable are what the Providence Fringe Festival is all about.
Russian is one of more than 300 artists participating in this year’s FringePVD, as billed.
The idea was born in 2014 when Josh Short, founder and artistic director of Wilbury Theater Groupand Michael Gennaro, then executive director of the Trinity Repertory Company, noticed the lack of a showcase for independent artists in the city.
But across the country and around the world, there are places for them. They are called “fringe festivals”. There is even a American Association of Fringe Festivalsof which Providence is a member, and yes, there are criteria for what qualifies as “marginal”.
According to the association, for an event to be fringe, it must be performing arts-focused, uncensored, original, easy to attend, and “fast-paced,” meaning the shows last about an hour each and the decorations are minimalist. . It also has to be a festival.
As Short recalled, the fringe’s first year was spent scouting for talent and then “cajoling and convincing” artists to perform.
“You were talking to a performing artist that I looked up to, and they were like, ‘Oh, you need to talk to this guy. He’s got a factory in Olneyville and he’s doing some really good stuff there, ‘and it snowballed like that,’ Short said.
Once again, for his height, little Rhody found himself among the heavyweights, with Providence joining a long list of other cities hosting “fringes”, from Washington to New York, San Diego, Atlanta and more.
Now the Providence Festival, presented by The Wilbury Theater Group and WaterFire Providencewent from fifty artists to hundreds.
This includes the Rhode Island Ukulele Armadaa group classified as “a cross between The Partridge Family and the mysteries of Scooby Doo”, and Teddy Lytle, who, with the help of his fiancée Bay McCulloch, is hosting a show called “Queen of Trauma”. Lytle described it as “more than a concert, less than a play”.
“It’s an epic solo punk-rock poem,” he said.
It’s probably better to see it than to let me try to describe it. With elements of music and storytelling, Lytle draws on his experiences with mental health and alcoholism issues to bring typically uncomfortable topics to light.
“Everyone has trauma in one way or another, and I try to give language, humor, music and feelings to this thing that I think we consider taboo” , did he declare.
For those interested in the fringe, Christine Treglia, Wilbury Theater Group’s front desk manager and an integral part of festival operations, says they “should come with an open mind and know they might see n’ any version of the performance that they’ve ever thought of, and you never know what you’re going to get, but it’s such a fun vibe.
“So get out of your comfort zone and give it a try.”
If you decide to go:
FringePVD will continue until July 30 at several stops in the city. Visit the festival website at fringepvd.org for a full calendar of events and venues.