Fringe Binge

Fort Lauderdale’s First Fringe Fest is a Success

By Mary Damiano

FringeProgramIt’s about time.

That was the overall sentiment at yesterday’s first ever Fort Lauderdale Fringe Festival, the new theatre event that presented 21 plays in 10 hours on the downtown campus of Broward College.

It’s also about time we have so much theatre to choose from in Fort Lauderdale right now. Outre Theatre just opened the musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at Broward Center’s New River Abdo Room, Island City Stage’s production of The Little Dog Laughed is on stage at Empire Stage, and today is the last day to catch Redwood Curtain produced by Primal Forces at Andrews Living Arts and Vita & Virginia at Thinking Cap Theatre’s beautiful new venue, The Vanguard. All of this theatre is within a 10-minute drive, and while this bounty is unusual in South Florida’s middle county, boy, is it ever welcome.

Back to yesterday’s adventure. My companion and I were in the mood for a theatre marathon, and though it was impossible to see everything at Fringe Fest, we did manage to see seven plays, a full third of the offerings. It certainly helped that every play started on time, and a few even ended a few minutes early. From an audience perspective the Fringe Festival ran with smooth precision.

Not everything we saw, in my opinion, was a gem, but we were treated to some terrific theatre.

My Personal Best of the Fest

RealitySucksReality Sucks: A man and a woman meet for the first time after seeing each other’s profiles online. This one featured funny, talented and gorgeous Carbonell Award nominee Vanessa Elise, also the Fringe Festival artistic manager. The play, by Sonia Cordoves, presents the lies we tell online in a funny way.

Open Hearts: In Miriam Kulick’s one-woman show, the writer/actress portrays seven different characters that 90-year-old Sadie encounters on her 90th birthday, including her Latin maintenance man, her daughter, her daughter’s British lesbian lover, and her rapper nephew.

Senseless: This sensuous piece illustrates the exhilaration, pain, passion and loss of falling in love through words, dance, acoustic guitar and song.   Francesca Toledo, Melissa Ann Hubicsak, Michelle Antelo and Randy Garcia collaborated behind the scenes and on stage, with poignant, intense and compelling results.

Reality Check: Marcela Paguaga portrays Kat Perez, a Kardashian super fan who thinks she’s been invited to an exclusive meet and greet with one of her idols, but discovers that it’s an intervention for her K-dash addiction. Paguaga is a dynamo, and reminded me of a young, unaccented Sofia Vergara. This piece could have been very one-note, but writer/performer Paguaga gave it real heart.

CaseyThe Wedding Warrior: This was easily my best of the fest. Casey Dressler’s solo show based on her experiences as a single, love-shy wedding coordinator in the Keys, is a gem. Dressler portrays more than a dozen characters, including a Cuban, weed-smoking cigar roller; a stern, detail-oriented mother-of-the-bride; a maid of honor with food issues; a low-key busboy; and a southernism-spouting hotel clerk. Using a wedding to reexamine her beliefs about love, life and relationships, Dressler’s play has heart, soul and lots and lots of laughs. If you ever get a chance to see it, go.

Tips for Next Year

Amp Up the Street Festival  More food trucks, more arts and crafts for sale, and more vendors in general. Every theatre in South Florida should have a booth at the street festival. This is a festival for theatregoers, so this is the place to give information about your upcoming season and get new butts in your sets. The Fringe Festival is a complement, not competition.

Set Limits  Some of the plays we saw were an hour long, and that was too much. A time limit of 40 minutes would keep things moving along and allow attendees to see more plays.

Stage Placement  There were three stages in two buildings, two in one building on the seventh and eleventh floor respectively, and one on the first floor in the other building. The first floor venue proved problematic because too much of the street fair noise filtered in. It was too obtrusive during a comedy like Reality Sucks, a comedy that generated lots of laughter, but it was a distraction during Senseless, a beautiful movement piece with its own acoustic guitar/singer accompaniment. Stages should all be on higher floors to eliminate noise.

Put More Info Online  A printable grid of the stages, plays and times available online would be a great tool in planning the day. More info about the festival in general would also be a great help.

From what I saw, the Fort Lauderdale Fringe Festival was a terrific success. Having it at a Broward College lends it instant credibility and accessibility. No matter what was going on behind the scenes, from an audience perspective, everything ran smoothly. There were plenty of volunteers to answer questions. The whole festival had an easy-going vibe that made for a very relaxing, fun day.

I’m already looking forward to writing the words Second Annual Fort Lauderdale Fringe Festival.

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