Friday, October 28, 2016

Thriving on the Fringe

Written by  Frankie Kujawa

5th Annual Charm City Fringe Festival Certain to Offend & Delight

The 5th annual Charm City Fringe Festival descends upon Baltimore this November bringing a multitude of entertaining acts reaching far beyond the typical standards of drama and comedy. Running from November 3rd to 13th, the festival will take place at venues across Hampden and Station North. “It’s a way for people to discover the next up-and-coming thing,” explains festival co-founder Zachary Michel. “It’s a place where you can explore those new and emerging artists who are coming to the city. They will eventually be the ‘movers and shakers’ down the road. They will be the freshest artists you can find.”

Founded in 2012, Charm City Fringe was the brainchild of Michel and co-founder Michael Brush. Fringe festivals date back to the first festival held in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947. A number of companies performed on the outskirts, or fringe, of the Edinburgh International Festival.

“Mike and I have been involved with the arts and have been friends since 8th grade,” Michel explains. “In college, we both took theater along with our individual majors. Upon graduating, I did a couple of fringe festivals, and got more into theater as I went on.” Michel further explains that it was in-between careers that their idea of a Baltimore-based Fringe festival was born. “We looked around and we thought about our friends who had moved to other cities with theater because they couldn’t find enough of it here in Baltimore.”

Spanning across ten different venues in 11 days, the festival infuses new artistry into the Baltimore cultural scene. “The Fringe Festival is a way for people, like our friends, to find work when you’re young and you don’t have the experiences or a big body of work. It’s such a cool way to give a start to a young artist.” Michel adds, “We found that there is a lot of theater in Baltimore, but it’s so hard to discover it all. It’s especially harder if you’re an outsider because there’s a lot that’s very below the surface. We wanted to give at least one to two weeks a year where you can’t miss this theater. We wanted to say ‘Boom! We are putting down 20 productions at once and if you miss it you’re missing something special.’”

Michel discusses that there are many new artists who will be joining the Charm City Fringe this year. “Collectively, we probably have our best pool of applicants that we’ve gotten in the last five years. This is the first year we have brought outside panel judges.” Michel explains. “We brought in seven people from the community. We reached far and wide as we could find to bring their insight into the applications and add some perspective. I’m excited to see how that’s going to have an impact on the end result, as well.”

Michel also boasts that many of these performances are not something that a theater goer may know, but audiences will be excited with what they see. “We have Piper Bidet: Bathroom Detective. It sounds fun and totally strange just based on the name alone. We have Sharing a Dance with You, which sounds dark and passionate. It’s like a dance show mixed with cooking and storytelling. The way it’s integrated is beyond my grasp to explain.” Michel adds, “A steam-powered punk, rock opera is also coming. It’s called Magnificent Machines & Astonishing Tales.”

Michel’s excitement radiates when he discusses Valerie David’s one-woman show. “Her show is called The Pink Hulk: One Woman’s Journey to Find the Superhero Within. She talks about her two-time battle with cancer and her life since then. I’m excited because we never really had that voice before. As a young male, I don’t know how much I can connect to it, personally, but I know that other people will and I’m excited for others to connect.”

Along with the success of the festival, Michel and Brush also hope that audiences will see the importance of Baltimore on the theater scene. “We want people from across the city, state, and country to know about Baltimore theater. Our mission is to start here and go beyond that. In the last year, we’ve had two artists that went on to perform at the international Fringe in Edinburgh, Scotland. We have a company making their first film. We had a company go on to the New York Fringe. We had an artist who is now putting out a book of short stories. We have these artists that are finding success beyond Fringe, and having people use us to grow and then move on. That helps everyone. We’re trying to build the community and we want to shine a light on Baltimore in that positive way.”

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