“The Fringe Festival is an exciting, wild ride of experiences,” says festival organizer and performer Jim Julien. From abstract-movement theater to original Claymation to puppetry set to poetry, the Fringe Festival puts edgy, out-of-the ordinary and often shocking performance art in the spotlight. Now in its seventh year, the festival continues to challenge local artists by encouraging them to stretch the boundaries of their artistic expression through collaboration and cross-genre experimentation.
The goal of the festival is to generate surprising and unpredictable works of art for a mature, “culturally adventurous audience willing to take chances on artists,” says Julien. “Because of the nature of the material that we work with in the Fringe—[such as] nudity, raw language, bizarre conceptual things—it is an adult experience.”
The first fringe festival dates back to 1947, where, in Edinburgh, Scotland, a post-World War II international theater movement erupted. The festival got started when eight uninvited theater companies showed up at the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival to showcase their more alternative works of theater. These companies banded together and began performing in basements, garages and various odd locations throughout the city.
In Asheville, the four-day Fringe marathon will feature roughly 16 performance-art pieces presented by more than 30 local and regional artists. Performances will take place at the BeBe Theatre and on the LaZoom bus, which will function as a mobile venue, stopping at various locations throughout Asheville. One of the many destination points on the LaZoom’s route will be the Flood Gallery, where aerial artists have prepared a Fringe-inspired performance.
At the BeBe Theatre, Spyce, a local artist, will perform an “erotic cabaret piece” featuring an original song-and-dance routine. As intermission entertainment, she will preview sex toys in the lobby. And artist Gabrielle Pickard of No Dance Theatre will perform a piece featuring contact microphones taped to her body. As Pickard’s number unfolds, a tapestry of sound will fill the theater.
Kathy Meyers, a founding member of the local dance company Moving Women, will present a 20-minute group piece with the dancers of Moving Women and guests at the BeBe Theatre in collaboration with Dustin Spagnola, a local visual artist. The text-based movement piece involves “body graffiti” and explores the theme of communication and connection between people, says Meyers. “The thing I love [about this piece] is that I don’t have to stay within any parameters—those get blown apart—and you’re allowed to follow [the creative] impulse, wherever it goes.” Meyers also hopes that the audience will “experience something that doesn’t fit into a box about what theater, dance or performance art is.”
This year, many artists chose to create works especially for the mobile venue. “One of the cool things about the LaZoom bus is that the stage is kind of a runway, and I like the idea of the performers actually walking through the bus, interacting with the audience,” says Julien, who will be performing a puppetry piece inspired by a poem written by Jillian Weise. “She wrote a piece about little finches that live in caves behind the Iguazu Falls—one of the largest waterfalls in the world [located between Brazil and Argentina],” says Julien. “The poem is called Tiny & Courageous Finches, and it’s about the inner lives of two finches named Bitto and Marcel.”
Holding up a delicate puppet shaped like a flying bird, Julien offers an introduction: “This is Marcel, the more stoic of the two finches.” Weise’s poem will be read aloud as Julien creates a visual narrative with his beautiful handmade puppets.
Adding a sinister twist to the festival, a performance described as the “the evil stepchild of No Shame Theater and the Fringe Festival” will be staged at the BeBe Theatre as a late-night showcase. Rock Saber, a collaborative theater piece written by Asheville local Julian Vorus, follows the trials and tribulations of a heavy-metal/rock band called The Grey Goose Is Dead. All audience members will have to sign a mandatory waiver prior to seeing the show. As the press release explains: “Rock Saber is sometimes odious, and even vile, but it promises to be a spectacle the likes of which Asheville is certainly not used to seeing.”
Whether you are new to the Asheville Fringe Festival or a seasoned participant, this wild, eccentric and colorful event is a not-to-be-missed Asheville experience.
who: The Asheville Fringe Festival
what: A four-day marathon of strange and original performance art
where: The BeBe Theatre and the LaZoom Bus
when: Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Jan. 22-24, at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee on Sunday, Jan. 25 at 3 p.m. Rock Saber will be performed Thursday through Saturday at 10 p.m. ($12 Fringe Festival admission; $20 for Fringe Freak Pass; $2 to see the late-night performance of Rock Saber with a Fringe Festival ticket stub/$5 without a stub. www.ashevillefringe.org or 254-2621)