Asheville's always been edgy — on the edge of either a breakthrough or a nervous breakdown, or a bit of both. The theater, architecture, history, fashion, music and food is all a part of keeping this town weird. That there is a Fringe Festival is not what's odd, but that this first one, dreamed up by Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre artistic co-directors Susan and Giles Collard, didn't happen until 2003.
The first Asheville FringeArts Festival had 13 performance pieces at the BeBe Theatre. These included French dancer Severine Gaubert-Rousseau and movement-and sign-language artist Shiner Antiorio in collaboration with dancer Jenni Oldham; painter Tami-Lu Barry and dancer Joyce Nash in collaboration with her brother, saxophonist Daniel Nash; and Vendetta Creme, who returns this year.
This year's festival — the 10th — extends four days, covers three venues (one of which is mobile) and includes 23 acts. But it's not so much that the festival has grown, it's more about how the fringe arts (those without an obvious audience or venue, those that push the envelope in terms of media or subject matter) have, in the past decade, found space in Asheville beyond the annual festival.
Here's a look back over the past nine Fringe Fests by artists, organizers and audience members (in their own words), and a look forward at what the 10th annual Asheville FringeArts Festival has in store.
Giles Collard, festival co-creator, artist, venue host (BeBe Theatre), audience member
Fringiest moments: "Men dancing outside, fully dressed for a blizzard (it was freezing), with 12-foot-long four-by-fours and a fire twirler (even the police showed up to witness it); Jim's body being painted for three hours as he slowly moved around the BeBe stage once, then ran around in circles full speed at the end; a family, carefully eating McDonald’s food with crystal, porcelain and silverware as the ballerina waitress got fatter and fatter while a legion of waiters sung opera and cleaned everything with baby wipes. Too much fun."
Jenny Greer, artist
Looking back: “When I first moved to Asheville, I played and sung ‘Nothing But Flowers’ by Talking Heads while Jim Julien held up index cards with commentary on consumerism and ate a large vat of chocolate pudding, very slowly and casually with a spoon. In 2009, Jen and the Juice was asked to perform the opening ceremony and we went all out [with] cool costumes upcycled by Glo [Babcock] and a marionette I designed and made with Hobey Ford and Lisa Sturz. J.P. Hess played his homemade modified keytar with the band.”
Why Fringe? “I think art should be shocking and thought-provoking. It’s cool to have an event that encourages and nurtures the ‘weird.’ … A happy fetus puppet singing about how its mommy never gave it a chance to live in a happy cheery way in front of a crocheted background. A few girls in burnt up white wedding dresses curling and silently screaming in terror and and flopping around in pain. I found out later this was Butoh, and they were disturbingly beautifully acting out the pain of the women in India that are burned because they has sex before marriage. …There was a person who slimed around as a caterpillar then turned into a butterfly.”
Fringiest moment: An installation of a “large chicken coop with dead/naked chickens installation. Was there a lady in there covered in feathers? Was that at Fringe Fest? It was at John Payne's Wedge studio. Ah, I love Asheville. I'm glad my weird moments blur together.”
Peter Brezny, artist, videographer, audience
Fringiest moment: “Being bound and gagged on stage while my 'partner' encouraged audience members to spank me while [I was] wearing Speedos with ‘F••k Bush’ printed on them. Yep,
it was early 2005, and we were angry.”
This year: Brezny performs in an eight-minute piece written by Julian Vorus in which “three men primarily speaking as a single character describe the detrimental transformation and deteriorating condition of one's scrotum under unfortunate self-imposed circumstance.”
At BeBe Theatre
• Lonely Goat Dance Company from Brooklyn, N.Y., combines modern dance and comedy in a piece about bad dating decision and other mishaps.
• ACDT dancer and choreographer Alexis Miller performs a solo movement piece. Part of this year's Fringe Fest initiative is involve the audience and keep them moving throughout the BeBe Theatre, so part of Miller's dance will be performed in the theater's bathroom.
• Musician and storyteller Ash Devine teams up with puppeteer Nara Bauer for a narrative shadow puppet piece.
• Charlotte, N.C.-based Viscera Dance Theatre will perform two pieces about relationships and choices.
• Lisa Sturz and Red Herring Puppets will put on a political puppet piece, commenting on current socio-economic times.
• Wicked Geisha is a ritual dance theater that creates elaborate dance ceremonies with many mythological characters and effects.
• Megan Ransmeier and Lucas Baumann's movement piece is evocative Butoh that will have audience moving around the theater.
• Local costumer and designer Organic Armor crafts intricate decorative accessories, from headgear to corsets and wings. Dancer Claire Dima performs as a warrior archetype using the costume pieces.
Looking back: "I'd witnessed [Fringe Festivals] in New York, Los Angeles and a few other cities. Each festival has its own flavor, and here it's very dance-oriented. As a musical comedian who is not that much of a dancer, I had to figure out a way to add my own 'spice.' That first year I did so by creating the Fringe's very own theme song, based on the music to ‘Fame.’"
Fringiest moment: "Last year we created an interactive experience of the filming of a TV show about fashion shows where we joined the models and designers 'backstage.' It all took place at an actual design studio in the River Arts District, where people played exaggerated characters of themselves. It was so much fun that I found myself talking as 'Spyce Rivahs, Confashional's fabulous host,' for days."
Jim Julien, artist, managing director, audience member
Looking back: "Over the last 10 years, I have been so amazed and (occasionally puzzled, vexed) by the wealth of talent and experimentation in this community. Artists like Kathy Meyers Leiner, Julie Becton Gillum, John Crutchfield, Julian Vorus, Lisa Sturz and Madison Cripps are my heroes because they are always pushing the boundaries of performance. … As a Fringe audience member, I want to be surprised and challenged by the work and every year, something mind blowing and unexpected walks through the door."
Fringiest moment: "Last year, a electronic DIY musician from Spartanburg, Thomas Boettner, came in with a old suitcase filled with effects boxes and handmade electronic equipment and blew me away with a fierce set of ambient noise. He set the air on musical fire. It was jaw-dropping."
At Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center
• Veteran Asheville drum circle participant Freedom will provide a percussion thread through the BMCM+AC show.
• Dashiell Lewis and his group have planned an experimental music and painting mixed-media experience.
• Local artists Whimzik perform "top of head puppetry" in which various characters are played by puppets that sit on top of the puppeteers' heads.
• Tap dancer Joe Mohar's piece will involve other performers and audience participation.
• Local artists Amanda Levesque and Tom Kilby make up Interweave. Their improv performance examines how physically challenged people move.
• A group of young hip-hop dancers from Asheville's Urban Arts Institute make up Eternity Elite Dance Crew.
• Lindsey Kelley is a local dancer and storyteller. She has choreographed a piece with her brother that deals with family.
Jennifer Lauzon, venue host (LaZoom tour bus)
Looking back: “The bus has been a moving stage since 2007. There have been captivating, strange, beautiful and fringy acts upon it.”
Lisa Sturz, artist with Red Herring Puppets
Fringiest moment: "Last year I performed a 10-minute shadow play called 'Beesting' using overhead projectors. The show won the Fringe award for breaking boundaries between personal and public expression." (Sturz notes, "'Beesting' was conceived while the author was undergoing chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. Her personal struggle becomes a metaphor for society and the environmental contamination of our planet.")
Outstanding memory: "I like seeing Julie [Becton Gillum] push the limits with her Butoh dance. A woman of advancing years bare-breasted and painted white, but showing restraint, control and inner beauty."
This year's performance: "I am partnering with Mark Blessington, Rebecca Williams and Jerry Pope. We are doing a piece with oversized masks and hand puppets that offers historical insight into the current economic crisis and the sentiments of the Occupy movement."
On the LaZoom Bus
• UNC-Asheville group Human Energy Field creates exotic ambient sounds.
• Moving Women will collaborate with several artists to creating a space for the audience to move through.
• Cripps Puppets installs a Toybox Theatre featuring hundreds of toys, altered through circuit bending.
• Claire Elizabeth Barratt serves as emcee on the Lazoom bus.
• ACDT performer and choreographer Lola York has created a video titled "Nest."
• Aerialists Heather Poole and Alex Berkow perform aerial lifts.
• Julian Vorus, Peter Brezny and Sean David Robinson have teamed up on a performance piece that is largely secret except for its reported usage of fluids.
• Julie Becton Gillum and Sarah Baird have collaborated on an interactive and traveling Butoh piece.
• Kelly Barrow and Aaron Price perform as cabaret duo Vendetta Creme.
• Jim Julien has created a shadow puppet story about swallowing.
— Alli Marshall can be reached at email@example.com.
what: Asheville FingeArts Festival
where: BeBe Theatre, Black Mountain College Museum+Arts Center and on the Lazoom Tours bus
when: Thursday-Sunday, Jan. 19-22. $12 general/$10 students and seniors for each show. $25 for an all-access Fringe Freak Pass, which includes the closing party at Bobo Gallery. Complete schedule at www.ashevillefringe.org.