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Preview: New Orleans Fringe Festival

Will Coviello dissects the 76 shows that comprise this year's Fringe


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The New Orleans Fringe Festival has moved its Fringe Tent hub (and box office) from an open field on Press Street to a lot tucked behind Mardi Gras Zone. But the ever-growing festival will be harder to avoid than find when it begins Wednesday, Nov. 20.

  "We've grown to 76 shows this year," says Executive Director Kristen Evans. "That's from 67 last year."

  The alternative theater and arts festival ( includes both jury-selected shows at Festival-managed venues in Faubourg Marigny and Bywater and "bring your own venue" (BYOV) shows at spots all over the city, including many established theaters. When the festival filled all its BYOV slots, it invited other applicants to mount their shows and take advantage of Fringe audiences, and groups have come from as far away as San Francisco to do so.

  The festival features dramas, musicals, circus arts, freak show acts, vaudevillian slapstick, dance, puppetry, toy theater, comedy, interactive shows and all sorts of genre mashups by locals and groups from across the continent, including Seattle, Montreal, Canada, and New York. BYOV shows include local groups using the festival as a platform to reach new audiences. The New Movement comedy theater was accepted to include some of its performances in the festival. The Elm Theatre mounted a successful run of The Adventures of Butt Boy and Tigger in spring and it is remounting the show for Fringe audiences.

  Other Fringe events also are expanding their presence in Bywater and Marigny. The annual Fringe parade is Saturday, and this year there are five performance spots set up along the route where spectators can enjoy free performances in addition to the parade. There also are free previews of Fringe shows from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at the Fringe Tent. The hub includes the festival box office, fliers for shows and activities and a lounge area. There is food stand set up by Mardi Gras Zone as well as a beer vendor.

  The Yard Art Tour is a growing Fringe event. There are 34 locations this year, including a mystery location that participants can find by solving a riddle. It's a self-guided exploration of the neighborhood, and sites range from a professional installation by James Michalopoulos to a decorated cat door. The self-guided tour is like a Pokemon-themed scavenger hunt. At each site, participants can collect a card, and 10 cards are good for a free beer at the Fringe Tent; 25 cards can be traded for a Fringe T-shirt.

  Family Fringe has its own festival site on the lawn of the Marigny Opera House. Programming is designed around an inventors theme. Dubbed "Makersland." It's open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and there are hands-on demonstrations about building things as well as storytelling, a magic show, dance and more.

  Below are some of the highlights of the Fringe shows. Attendees must buy a festival button for $3, and individual shows cost $8. Visit the website for schedule and details.

50 Heartbreaks (I'm Still in Love With YoUkraine)

(9 p.m. Thu., 5 p.m. Fri., 7 p.m. Sat., 9 p.m. Sun.; Old Firehouse, 718 Mandeville St.)

  Having been smitten with Ukrainian folk songs, Seattle artist Jenna Bean Veatch began developing 50 Heartbreaks with a Ukrainian-American artist who subsequently became pregnant and dropped out of the performance. Nadia Tarnawsky, another Ukrainian-American artist from Seattle, told Veatch that all Ukrainian stories about the nation's suffering under Joseph Stalin and Soviet rule are the same. They finished the piece combining Ukrainian folk ballads, American 1960s breakup songs, dance and stop-motion video. It's a bittersweet and at times funny piece about loss, both personal and shared by a nation.


(9 p.m. Thu., 5 p.m. Fri., 7 p.m. Sat., 11 p.m. Sun.; Mardi Gras Zone, Architect Street. near St. Ferdinand Street)

  The experimental theater group Gogol Annex, a collective featuring performers from New York and Toronto, Canada, debuts its story about antebellum New Orleans at the New Orleans Fringe. The story features the explosive interactions of a murderous prostitute, a notorious riverboat gambler and a maniacal opera singer in a piece that is part period drama, part performance art.

Blue Book

(11 p.m. Wed., 9 p.m. Thu. & Fri., 3 p.m. & 11 p.m. Sat., 5 p.m. & 9 p.m. Sun.; The Mudlark Public Theatre, 1200 Port St.)

  The Mudlark Puppeteers animate Storyville with marionette, rod and shadow puppets that bring madam Lulu White, crib girls, johns and jazz men to life. The piece explores the seamy underworld and the way famous madams became queens of the demimonde. Recommended for mature audiences.

Butcher Holler Here We Come

(9 p.m. Wed., 11 p.m. Thu., 7 p.m. Fri., 5 p.m. & 9 p.m. Sat., 1 p.m. & 7 p.m. Sun.; The Mudlark Public Theatre, 1200 Port St.)

  The New York-based collective Aztec Economy returns for the third year. Two years ago it staged a hilarious spaghetti Western, My Aim is True, about a maniacal gunslinger and a tumbleweed town full of genre stock characters. Last year, the group presented the less conventional piece Helpless Doorknobs, a poetic tableau of Edward Gorey characters caught in an absurd murder mystery. This year's show is a suspenseful drama about miners stuck in a collapsed mine with dwindling supplies of food, air and patience.

Cabaret Macabre

(9 p.m. Thu., 5 p.m. Fri., 7 p.m. Sat., 9 p.m. Sun.; Marigny Opera House, 725 St. Ferdinand St.)

  Washington D.C.'s Happenstance Theater launched its original Cabaret Macabre when a Maryland theater invited it to create a Halloween show four years ago. The members drew on Edward Gorey characters to create funny and macabre parlor dramas. The vignette "Dangerous Croquet" was an instant hit, and a different short piece involving enraged mallet-wielding Victorians is included in every installment. Other vignettes include "The Late Patron," about a rude opera fan, and "Curious Cousins," about clueless detectives.

City of Bones

(9 p.m. Wed. & Fri., 11 p.m. Sat., 7 p.m. Sun.; Mardi Gras Zone, Architect Street at St. Ferdinand Street)

  Partially inspired by the works of playwright August Wilson, this one-man show combines theatre, dance, spoken word, song and video projections to explore the lives of black men throughout American history. It's presented by Nashua, N.H.'s Nashua Theatre Guild.

Emma's Parlor

(9 p.m. Thu., 5 p.m. Fri., 7 p.m. Sat., 9 p.m. Sun.; Backyard Ballroom, 3519 St. Claude Ave.)

  The quote "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution," is often attributed to Russian emigre and renowned anarchist and populist Emma Goldman, but some scholars say it's a paraphrase of her writing that she wouldn't be a nun in a cloister movement. She advocated free love and access to birth control, questioned marriage and patriotism, and was tried for sedition during World War I. This toy theater and puppetry piece by Philadelphia theater group Stadium Praxis is based on historian Howard Zinn's play Emma and celebrates her free and vibrant spirit.


(7 p.m. Wed. & Fri., 9 p.m. Sat., 11 p.m. Sun.; Marigny Opera House, 725 St. Ferdinand St.)

  Willow is in charge of an ad campaign to "Keep marriage gay," but then she meets an "ungay" waiter and begins to question her engagement to a prim teacher from a proper lesbian family. Marigny Opera House co-owner Scott King wrote the score to this musical satire in which evangelical lesbian conservatives rule the nation, and "ungays" fight for the right to marry.


(7 p.m. Wed., 11 p.m. Fri., 5 p.m. Sat., 7 p.m. Sun.; Den of Muses, Architect Street at Port Street)

  San Francisco aerialist duo Rachel Strickland and Meredith Starnes re-examine the Greek myth of Icarus, whose desire to fly resulted in his death. They have backgrounds in classical dance and trapeze, and in this show they soar on ropes and hoops in a show about flight and free spirits.

Keebles Family Cabaret

(7 p.m. Wed. & Fri., 9 p.m. Sat., 11 p.m. Sun.; Backyard Ballroom, 3519 St. Claude Ave.)

  This vaudevillian show is about a mother-daughter performing duo, and it stars an actual mother-daughter pair. Aimee German returns to the festival after performing in the slapstick drama Canarsie Suite in 2009. Her mother, Brenda German King, was once a backup singer for Dr. John, and she joined her daughter to create this show after sitting in on piano during intermission's at German's New York engagements. The show combines country music, clowning, vaudevillian slapstick and some raunchy wordplay as the family tries to make it in show business.

Negras Quilombolas

(9 p.m. Thu., 5 p.m. Fri., 7 p.m. Sat., 5 p.m. Sun.; Den of Muses, Architect Street at Port Street)

  This dance-based piece by New Orleans group As Candaces features the vibrant Afro-Brazilian dance and music of eastern Brazil. The piece tells the story of the female warrior Dandara and is performed to live percussion. The performance is kid-friendly.

The Rendez-Vous

(7 p.m. Thu. & Fri., 9 p.m. Sat., 11 p.m. Sun.; Den of Muses, Architect Street at Port St.)

  An alumnus of Cirque du Soleil and other modern circus troupes, Montreal's Krin Haglund created a one-woman circus cabaret, which combines clowning, aerial stunts, acrobatics on a Cyr wheel, a jazzy score and costuming and references to decadent Roaring '20s costumes and dance. 


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