There are many beautiful things that happen during the Rochester Fringe Festival, but one of my favorite parts is the heightened vulnerability that emerges in the theater community. Theater is already a vulnerable art form, but with every show there are budgets to consider, boards who must approve show runs, and difficult casting decisions to be made.
Because Fringe is only 10 days long and financially accessible, local companies can (and do) let their hair down. It's OK -- expected, even -- to test a wild new concept or workshop a rough script. It's applauded when an earnest community member produces a show in a venue normally reserved for theatrical companies.
"Nothing is Written" and "The Rainbow Fish," which both debuted at the Fringe on Saturday, embody the best of that heightened vulnerability -- though in different ways.
"Nothing is Written," which played on Saturday morning on the TheatreROCS stage, is a collection of vignettes by local playwright E.F. Milligan. Even if I did not have it on good authority that the playwright in question was still in her teens, I may have suspected based upon the average age of the cast.
"Nothing is Written" spans history in five short scenes, each one linked somehow to the written word. One scene, in particular, is reminiscent of the 1962 film, "Lawrence of Arabia" -- and the title "Nothing is Written" seems to be pulled from a famous quote delivered by the film character Sherif Ali: "Truly, for some men nothing is written unless they write it."
Though the cast was primarily young and inexperienced, there were a few convincing, touching moments during the 60-minute show, particularly the scene about a young man who's attempting to rob the home of an elderly immigrant widow. The writing, likewise, will mature, but with her flair for poetic prose, Milligan shows great promise. I can't wait to see what she does next year.
Unfortunately, "Nothing is Written" will not be performed again during this year's Fringe.
"The Rainbow Fish" played at 5 p.m. Saturday to a nearly sold-out crowd at Blackfriars Theatre. The audience was full of excited youngsters who knew the story, as this show is a brand new musical based on the popular children's book by Marcus Pfister.
It's a bit of a passion project for Rochester-based artist Alec Powell, who adapted the book, wrote the lyrics and music, directed, and choreographed. He wasn't in the cast, though, instead using eight local actors to portray myriad underwater characters.
Rainbow, played by Emily Putnam (last seen in Pittsford Musicals' "Next to Normal"), is a beautiful, silvery fish admired by all she meets. But she's new to this part of the ocean and has some important lessons to learn about sharing and kindness. Her journey leads her to a Wise Octopus (played by vocal powerhouse Laura Marron), a school of enthusiastic, brightly colored fish (played by Kimberly Reinagel, Kate Shannon, Lauren MacDonough, Colin Pazik, and Raul Torres), and the withdrawn, less popular Little Blue (played by Mandy Hassett).
The cast is seasoned, the songs are catchy, and the music -- performed by onstage band Megan Resig, Daniel Lauritzson, and Erik Stabnau -- is well composed and executed, though it sometimes drowned out the quieter singers (no one was wearing a mic, from what I could tell).
But the best litmus test, perhaps, is how engaged the kids in the audience remained, from toddlers to elementary school age. Their tiny, whispered opinions on what the Rainbow Fish should do throughout the show suggested they were very much enjoying the story. (One little girl behind me kept proclaiming that "Rainbow should share her silver gills," much to my delight and her father's chagrin.)
"The Rainbow Fish" is presented by Spectrum Creative Arts, a Pittsford-based arts programming center for all ages and skill levels, and plays one more time on Wednesday, September 23, at 7 p.m. "The Rainbow Fish" will likely have a production life after the Fringe -- but even if it doesn't, something tells me Alec Powell will have another show in the works soon.