Summer in New York City wouldn’t be complete without the New York International Fringe Festival — also known as FringeNYC — which is returning for a 16th year, running August 10-26. Billed as the largest multi-arts festival in North America, this year’s programming features close to 200 shows in 20 venues in Lower Manhattan.
Among the hottest tickets this year is Tail! Spin!, which has already sold out its entire run at the festival. This world premiere from Mario Correa takes a look at recent sex scandals that brought down politicians Mark Sanford, Anthony Wiener, Mark Foley, and Larry Craig through a mash-up of interviews, secret e-mails, texts, and tweets.
Comedian and CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Mo Rocca, known for his satiric wit, seems like ideal casting for the project. Explaining what drew him to the show, Rocca states, “For years I’ve tried to create my own sex scandal, but I’m just not cut out for it. I’ll have to settle for pretending to be in one.”
Rocca and his fellow castmates (which include Rachel Dratch, Sean Dugan, Dan Hodapp, and Nate Smith) play multiple roles — from the politicians themselves, to their paramours and members of the media. The actor’s favorite part to play is Today show host Matt Lauer. “He’s simply the best,” says Rocca. “Just playing him might help my interviewing skills. We work for different networks — so this isn’t sucking up.”
Another show inspired by real life is Our Lady, a solo performance by James Fluhr. The piece involves a suicidal gay teen, and has its roots firmly entrenched in Fluhr’s own life — particularly an incident in which his father saw him in drag. However, the writer/performer states, “I would never want the audience to sit through my autobiography; I want them to experience my imagination that has been affected by aspects of my life.”
To that end, he has created his title character as a kind of savior figure…with sequins. “Our Lady believes it only gets better if you fight for it,” says Fluhr, echoing the nationwide anti-bullying campaign that reaches out to LGBTQ youth. “Her character even affects me while I’m performing the show,” he continues. “She reminds me of my worth as a person and my right to live.”
Jake Holmes has had a long and varied career that ranges from creating some of the most famous jingles ever written (including the army anthem, “Be All That You Can Be”) to doing musical sketch comedy with Joan Rivers and penning songs recorded by the likes of Harry Belafonte and Frank Sinatra. Now his work will be seen at the Fringe in Story Time with Mr. Buttermen.
“The show is built around the theme of adult fairy tales,” says Holmes. “But it’s really about the characters working through their problems. Buttermen is trying to help them by telling stories; it’s sort of a glorified AA. These are all people who are struggling to survive and basically there are certain things they have to work on to help themselves.”
Buttermen’s advice may be a little unconventional. The stories he tells includes “The Girl Who Cried Rape” and “Petey the Impotent Rabbit,” as well as Holmes’ own contributions to this anthology project, “Pigmailman” and “Monsters Under the Bed.”
Holmes, who originated the role of Buttermen when the show debuted at La MaMa in 2011, won’t be acting in the piece this time around. “I got too old for the part,” he jokes. “Actually, I’m much happier being on the other side of it watching this stuff that I’ve written. We’ll see what happens. I think we’re going to have a bigger and better production this time.”
Elizabeth Claire Taylor, the author and star of Finding Elizabeth Taylor, embraces the fact that she shares her name with one of the world’s most legendary stars. “The show is framed by Elizabeth Taylor’s life but is really about mine — my life with her name and all the ways in which I have tried to live up to her, intentionally or not.”
The piece addresses issues of body image and self-esteem, tracing its author’s journey to becoming a successful plus-size model. “Having been through what I have, I know that my name is a gift to share the message of positive body-image and eating disorder awareness in order to prevent another generation of young women and men hating their bodies,” says Taylor.
Finding Elizabeth Taylor made its New York debut at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity last year, winning the award for Outstanding Solo Show. However, Taylor has made several changes since then, and is excited to be playing the Fringe. “I feel it is a huge marker in a New York City actor’s professional career,” she says. “And I’m thrilled to be part of such an amazing community of dedicated, passionate artists.”
“Mother Eve’s Secret Garden of Sensual Sisterhood tells the story of a guru who runs an exclusive self-help boot camp for women,” says choreographer Ashley Wren Collins. The show began as a web series, complete with musical numbers in each episode. Short live performances followed, and now the show has morphed into a full-length musical comedy.
“It can be campy and gut-splittingly hilarious,” says Collins. “But just when you think you can’t take any more laughter, we catch you off-guard with some moving, lump-in-your-throat type ballads and moments.”
As the Mother Eve company has prepped for the show, they have ventured to get the word out in unique ways. “We did a street campaign in Union Square, giving people sex quizzes in our characters,” says Collins. “One of our actresses wore a giant pink va-jay-jay costume that got her plenty of Saturday afternoon attention. Oh, what we will do in the name of theater!”
One of the odder-sounding shows at the Fringe this year is LOLpera, which features a libretto made completely out of Internet meme captions involving cats. “It all began with the meme, ‘Astrocat Will Play for You the Symphony of Space,’ says co-creator Ellen Warkentine. “Which clearly inspires that question — what exactly does the symphony of space sound like?”
Warkentine, who wrote the music, states that the show’s musical styles “are quite varied but most are borrowing from operatic tropes; grand, sweeping melodic. A little Wagner, a little Weill, Gilbert and Sullivan, Carmina Burana. We also reference some early 90’s R&B for good measure.”
As for why this show seems right for the Fringe, Warkentine comments that it’s a good fit because “it’s cheeky, quirky, and unique. And epic. LOLpera is an experience you will never forget. If you come with low expectations, we will ‘splode’ them for you.”