Pittsburgh Fringe Festival offers three days of performances

| Thursday, May 8, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

After beginning with a pair of warm-up acts last weekend, what's billed as the first Pittsburgh Fringe Festival gets under way May 9 with a three-day flood of two dozen productions — many with multiple performances — taking place in eight locations in and near Shadyside.

The festival is the brainchild of Dan Stiker, who had enjoyed attending and performing at the New York International Fringe Festival and missed its excitement when he moved back to Pittsburgh.

“It's the kind of theater I want to be a part of,” he says.

Like Striker, some may have developed a taste for fringe festivals by attending the best known ones in New York City or Edinburgh, Scotland, or those in smaller U.S. cities such as Minneapolis, San Diego, Cincinnati and Asheville, N.C., or those in farther flung locales including Singapore, Budapest and Melbourne.

According to the U.S. Association of Fringe Festivals, the original opened in 1947 in Edinburgh as an alternative to the Edinburgh International Festival. It operated at the same time in smaller, less-formal venues close by — or on the fringe of — the larger, more formal festival of traditional music, dance and theater offerings.

Fringe festivals assemble an uncensored, unjuried smorgasbord of performing arts where every and any genre is welcome.

“You have to be ready to expect anything both as an audience member and as a performer,” Stiker says.

For this first festival, Stiker got 44 applicants.

In keeping with the spirit of fringe festivals, the 24 shows for the Pittsburgh festival were literally pulled out of a hat, although some weight was given to include groups from the area.

The mix of performances includes:

• “I Am Woman,” a contemporary dance work by Murphy/Smith Dance Collection

• A one hour, 20 minute production of Shakespeare's “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” created by Footlight Players Next Gen Shakespeare, an educationally based youth theater company composed of students ages 7 to 18

• Allegheny River Rats Shanty Choir, a gender-bending, nontraditional group with a repertoire of songs about the good and bad sides of seafaring life

• ComedySportz, a nationally known improv group

• Stephen Pellegrino's one-man show, “The Accordion Monologues”

If many of the companies and works are unfamiliar, that's because adventure and risk-taking are a large part of the fringe festival ethos.

It's hard to resist a performance titled “Fork Full of Noodles — Live,” which offers live political satire, even if you've never heard of the video series it's based on.

“What I like about the fringe is that you don't know exactly what you are putting in front of an audience,” Stiker says. “But the audience will tell you if it's an OK show or not.”

Those who need to know more information than is provided in a title can turn to the festival website, which offers photos and descriptions of each of the productions.

Tickets can be purchased through the website, though Stiker expects most tickets will be purchased at the door just before the performance. Stiker wants to encourage people to take a chance on the unknown, so he has kept the price low — $12 per performance, though you also need to purchase a $3 festival button.

Having made that investment, Stiker expects people will opt to see more than one show during the three-day festival.

Most performances run about 90 minutes, and some are much shorter. Some buildings have more than one performance space, and all the venues are within the Shadyside area. That makes it easier to see multiple performances or talk with other festivalgoers about which shows are a must-see event.

“You could see six, maybe seven shows total during the weekend,” Stiker says.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808, acarter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ATCarter_Trib.

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