I took in five shows Saturday, starting with the 2 p.m. performance of "Rules & Regulations" at Writers & Books. Barring something monumental happening tomorrow, this will likely stand as my favorite show of Fringe 2012. The multidisciplinary piece featured an original essay written and read by Caedra Scott-Flaherty, music by Rick Scott (who works under the name rachMiel), and dancing/choreography by Lauren Hale Biniaris. The rules in the title could were taped to the walls of the performance space. Each performer had his or her own list of 10 that influence that influence their work -- and which they sometimes break, including in this piece. The regulations were 10 requirements listed in the program that each performer had to keep in mind while working individually on their own parts of the piece.
That's the truly fascinating part of "Rules & Regulations," and something the audience didn't find out until the Q&A session following the performance. The writing, dancing, and music that made up the whole were all created separately, without direct knowledge of what the other two members of the trio were doing. You could have fooled me. Maybe there's some weird cosmic force involved -- the coincidences that surround this piece are pretty astonishing -- but all three artistic threads worked together seamlessly. It's even more incredible given that the three performers had never met together until this week, and scrapped their original presentation plans on Friday.
As it was produced on Saturday afternoon, the show focused primarily on Scott-Flaherty's written piece, which relays an incredibly personal story, but one that anyone can relate to given the questions that she had to answer and the resulting thought process and doubts. Scott-Flaherty's writing is so strong, so emotionally connected that the nearly full audience was absorbed for the entirety of her nearly hour-long story. It was beautiful, insightful, thought-provoking -- I wouldn't change a word.
While the story was the focal point of the presentation, what was going on around it was also interesting. Hale Biniaris's dancing moved between lyrical expressiveness and athletic power. She said that while she had prepared a repertoire of specific movements to convey certain ideas, there was an improvisational element to her piece, and on several occasions it vibed intensely with beats in Scott-Flaherty's story. Meanwhile, Scott's score, which was heavily influenced by electronic and ambient sounds, provided an aural backdrop, and again in several critical moments synched up perfectly with Flaherty-Scott's words. There was a moment about halfway through where the music started to overwhelm everything else going on stage, but even that was part of the piece: Regulation No. 8 stated, "Near the middle, let it feel very wrong." The ending, in which all three art forms merged brilliantly, was sublime.
Later that afternoon I caught part of a set by music group Dear Dexter at Java's. It was a mix of originals and cover tunes that fell somewhere in the pop/rock spectrum, delivered with growly vocals. It sounded fine, but I only stayed for about 20 minutes. I sucked down my smoothie and felt guilty about taking up a seat at the increasingly packed coffeehouse, so off I went.
Speaking of packed, the Geva Nexstage was approaching capacity for "Traveling with a Broken Compass." This one-woman show by Rochester-based arts instructor/performer Linda Starkweather was engaging from start to finish, kicking off with Starkweather dressed in Shakespearean garb to deliver an original prologue written entirely in verse, and wrapping up with an audience-participation sing-along about how badly we've screwed up the world. The show is highly political, leaning way to the left -- it would be easy to spot any hardcore conservatives in the audience, as their heads would probably be popping off their bodies around the halfway marker. Still, Starkweather's message is ultimately optimistic, and she herself is such a magnetic, likable performer. She covers a lot of territory but the whole thing flowed seamlessly, incorporating great video bits and songs (Starkweather isn't the most gifted vocalist, but she can write a hell of a comedy song). Another auspicious Fringe entry by local talent.(NOTE: "Traveling with a Broken Compass" will also play Sunday, September 23, 1:30-2:30 p.m. at the Geva Nextstage. Tickets cost $15.)
"Compass" ran over time, so I was about 10 minutes late for the start of Unleashed! Improv Presents: "You Never Know, featuring PuppetProv, the Musical" at the TheaterROCS Stage at Xerox Auditorium. Since I was tardy I missed the origins of the concept, but I was able to catch up quick enough. Members of the talented Unleashed! troupe took to the stage with puppets a la "Avenue Q," and along with two musicians, improvised not just comedy, but also a narrative, and whole songs, right on the spot. That's impressive. As with all improv, some portions of the show worked better than others. Unleashed! does long-form improv, so the story -- about a town named Slimy Butte, which is in fact on a slippery butte and home to apparently just five residents -- ran the entirety of the show. Some good laughs and some smart comedy (I couldn't help but be tickled at the confusion between "gamble" and "gambol") that made numerous meta references to the Fringe Festival itself.
Just prior to the 10 p.m. start time for "Threading," the lobby bookstore at Writers & Books was absolutely packed, the majority of the crowd college students (or at least college-aged). Once the audience was allowed into the theater, the venue had to bring in more chairs to seat everyone. I want to stop and let that sink in. Writers & Books -- nowhere near any of the actual universities in this town -- was filled to beyond capacity at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night with college students. That is a strong statement about the success of this new festival.
Another strong statement: that it included this piece, an original work by UR student Kelsey Burritt, staged by UR's sole student-run theater company, The Opposite of People. The play takes the Fates from Greek myth (you know, the three women -- maiden, mother, and crone -- who dictate mortals' lives via thread and looms) and puts them in a modern setting, conducting their life-defining work in a Manhattan office building, dealing with corporate demigods (literally).
I'm a sucker for Greek mythology, and I love it when people play with its themes in more contemporary ways, so I was already inclined to like this. But I was surprised at just how well executed the production was, given that it's a volunteer-based student troupe. All of the actors in the show do excellent work, and Burritt's play is well structured and entertaining; she has a real gift for dialogue. Jessica Chinelli's direction made the most of the limited props and tricky stage area. The only bit of advice I would give is to rethink the "memory jumping" sequence. Eventually I got what was happening there, but there has to be a clearer way to communicate the concept. (NOTE: "Threading" will also be performed Sunday, September 23, 3-4 p.m. at Writers & Books. Admission is free.)
For the final day of Rochester Fringe I only have one show on my docket: "Love at First Waltz" at RAPA. How are you planning to finish the festival?