What the Fringe? An exploration of discomfort through art

4 minute read
Gunnar Montana's 'Basement' brings horror to Fringe Festival. (Photo by Kate Raines.)
Gunnar Montana's 'Basement' brings horror to Fringe Festival. (Photo by Kate Raines.)

This year, one of my goals has been to go way out of my comfort zone on purpose. If something gives me the impulse of what the fork, or something along those lines, I don’t analyze the impulse any further than that. I’ve conditioned myself to see that impulse as an opportunity to truly stumble across something new, something farfetched, and all things that are ‘not for me.’

Fringe Festival is a perfect opportunity for that.

The cat killed curiosity

How many of us went through the Fringe catalog and raised an eyebrow at many of the shows? Either the description was vague or the subject matter felt so odd that it couldn’t possibly be of personal interest. What to say to that? Perfect! What might be deemed ‘esoteric’ or ‘just plain weird’ is what I want. Some of us theatergoers can get comfortable with our choices, and then we create pretenses based on our tastes, and then what happens?

We stop growing. Which means we stop being curious and adventurous, and life is too short to become stagnant by choice.

The Fringe Festival is an excellent chance to have fun—or not have fun, because not every experience has to be ‘the best.’ It’s still an experience, and that’s what counts here!

I’ve compiled a list of shows that made me go What the Fringe!? that I definitely want to make time for. Hopefully, you’ll check some of these out, too, or maybe even put your own list together, and we can exchange thoughts later. I’m planning to write a follow-up at the end of the festival, discovering more about the performances themselves and render a little more fluency in what it means to be uncomfortable.

Basement from Gunnar Montana has the makings of classic guttural horror and terror. And as someone who grew up loving horror flicks and books and video games (I knew Child’s Play by heart when I was in kindergarten and played Fatal Frame II alone by myself at night with surround-sound speakers in college), I also kind of grew out of them because—well, I came to know what to expect. It’s been a minute since I’ve experienced some horror that turned my expectations upside down. Outside of Jordan Peele’s Us and Get Out and Paco Plaza’s Veronica, horror has generally played it safe. Gunnar Montana might give us the unexpected here. Or might not. Who knows?

Sometimes playing it safe isn’t bad. Trying to be avant-garde or original can lead to trying too hard. Being original isn’t easy.

Party at DeeDee’s, however, has a synopsis that left me scratching my head big time: “A towering coyote has been birthed from the well within this planet and declared that the Earth will cease to be. One week before the end of everything, DeeDee is throwing a party in her terrible South Philly apartment.”

This sounds like an incongruent scrunch of an idea and I can’t wait to see it.

'Operation: Wawa Road Trip' may be proof that Wawa is better than Sheetz. (Photo by Terry Brennan.)
'Operation: Wawa Road Trip' may be proof that Wawa is better than Sheetz. (Photo by Terry Brennan.)

Speaking of weirder things, Madeline Rabin’s Sprout! A Full Length Not-A-Ballet tells the story of lonely accordion lovers, alligator brass bands, and a sprout who’s seeking answers after losing one of its leaves. Seems like an existential quest about what it means to not be human. Which is great because this "being a human" thing is overrated.

One of the blessings in human life, though, has been the gift of Wawa. I love Wawa as much as the next person, and once upon a time it was a beacon for me on many nights after those long shifts at restaurant jobs when all the other kitchens and were closed and I needed something. But to spread my father’s ashes in the Wawa parking lot? Nonsense! Operation: Wawa Road Trip is a tale that promises “soda cave wisdom, tunnel wizards, and a disgusting hoagie legacy.” It doesn’t get much more Philly than that.

I don’t know at all what to expect of Know Thyself, which is billing itself as a philosophy game. I can’t claim to be a philosophy expert, and I sure do suck at trivia, so putting me into an ‘immersive game-theater salon’ like this could be a disaster waiting to happen. But we could all use a little voluntary chaos in our lives, right? This comes from IKantKoan, a theater and game-design company, two things you don’t normally see together.

I’m not saying I’ve got high expectations, but I’m curious to know how Molly Ward’s Brand New Pieta is going to handle its storytelling: ‘one performer navigates seven characters’ in a story about survival that considers solitary urban existence in lieu of a public death of a stranger. Multiple points of view, one person playing several characters—I’m always skeptical of things like this. And I should probably change that.

Fringe Festival 2019, I’m looking forward to you expanding my horizons.

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