Charm City Fringe’s Nights on the Fringe Festival
by Sage Viscovi
An accordionist plays a perfect melody on the sidewalks of West Preston. A young boy in leopard-print tights shouts, “You look beautiful!” to a stiltwalker donned in patriotic attire from across the street. Such sights are only to be expected at Nights on the Fringe – a two-day vaudeville production put on by Baltimore’s very-own Charm City Fringe, an off centered independent theatre nonprofit that showcases and celebrates the performing arts.
Now in its second year, this year’s Nights on the Fringe was produced as a mini-festival to act as a predecessor to the annual large-scale Charm City Fringe Festival that will occur in November. Both evenings were completely volunteer-run, and I was lucky to be invited to Saturday’s packed show.
Fringe cofounders Zachary Michel and Michael Brush
The Slanted Sound served as house band at the Baltimore Theatre Project, and thumped out funky jazz tunes as Fringe cofounders Zachary Michel and Michael Brush opened the show. Soon after their warm welcome, they invited WYPR producer Aaron Henkin and local comedian Umar Khan up onstage to serve as co-hosts.
Co-hosts Aaron Henkin and Umar Khan in the “Circle of Trust”
The two went back and forth with witty banter that I mentally compared to Saturday Night Live, as they discussed the “circle of trust” ring in the center of the room that created a so-called safe space. Henkin also made a brief shout-out to his wife, Jessica, who is a producer and host for Stoop Storytelling and occasionally performs with Baltimore Improv Group.
In the Dark Circus Arts
The first act of this fringed night was In The Dark Circus Arts, consisting of a partner team that performed swift and flawless tricks for the awe-inspired audience. The female performer started out with a music-box number while working the aforementioned “circle of trust” ring. Her transitions were impeccable, and her spinning movements were amphibious in nature (increased by her glistening sequin costume) leaving my eyes glued on her action.
Then, her male partner performed a trapeze act that was positively wicked in mood by comparison. The portion was set to a deep EDM track, and his changing speeds showcased his unparalleled flexibility. It was almost pornographic to watch, and his haunting finish stunned me. The woman returned for the final part of the act, involving a light-blue hanging silk as she climbed to what I can only describe as “David Bowie through a Don Hertzfeldt audio filter.” Her motions were cat-like, tangling herself in perfect choreography.
A Fool’s Paradise
A Fool’s Paradise, a comedic group famous for their “30 Shakespeare Scenes in 60 Minutes” show that they will be performing at the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival next month. Appearing onstage in matching uniforms and red clown noses, they started with a screeching interpretation of quotes from Macbeth, and then began an interactive game that was both fast-paced and highly professional.
Each audience member was slipped a card under his or her seat describing a scene from a Shakespeare play, which were then chosen at random for the group to recite out loud. Watching their nutty antics made me want to hang out with them in real life. As far as drama goes, they proved to have a good flow between varying scenes chosen almost entirely by chance. They ended their high-energy act with a good ol’ slapstick pie in the face.
Ballet Theatre of Maryland
Finishing off the first half was the Ballet Theatre of Maryland, who dazzled the audience in purple and black unitards. Their first dance entitled “Here Without You” is part of a series by the company called “Collage”. The piece was rebellious and agile, with plenty of wide lunges and embraces.
The second dance, entitled “Loser” from the same series, was a commentary on relationship abuse, and started with audible panting and bright lamps on either side of the stage. With the addition of two male dancers in pink and black, the dancers created a live-action mirror effect onstage through choreographed repetition. After a highly emotional performance (the woman who sat next to me was in tears), the dance also ended with heavier audible panting as the bright lamps faded out.
Both dances were set to the Vitamin String Quartet’s covers of 3 Doors Down songs, which I failed to note at first until I started reciting the lyrics in my head.
The final dance entitled “Medicine Wheel of Life” came from another series called “Primal Dreams”, but alas: their CD was temporarily misplaced, and the dancers were forced to perform it after the intermission. This benefitted them in some ways; what it lost in sweaty energy it gained in demonstrating the most synchronicity and technical skill of the three pieces.
Kicking off the second act was an animated piece from the Maryland Film Festival entitled “Glove” by Alexa Lim Haas and Bernardo Britto. The short film is the true story of a glove that’s been floating forever in space since 1965, and combined beautiful watercolor animation with humorous philosophy, as if Wes Anderson decided to make a two-dimensional cartoon. It made me question the universe as it closed with a looping GIF of the actual glove sailing our galaxy.
Host Umar Khan returned to the stage at the film’s conclusion with a stand-up act involving deliberate remarks about dating, kids, and white women on Tinder – all the while jokingly inquiring me out loud to not to mention his brash statements in this article (whoops!).
Emily Schubert as “The Bag Lady”
Afterwards a puppetry performance by Emily Schubert and friends entitled “An Evening With A Bag Lady” featured a set consisting of a large armchair, fireplace, and several quirky knickknacks. Schubert shuffled onstage robed in vintage knitwear and a large papier-mâché old woman character mask and danced to classic swing as she unloaded her various bags and her beyond-adorable cat puppet companion kept her company.
The scene soon became grimmer, however, as a shadow puppet memory of the bag lady’s lover perishing in a car crash was displayed in the fireplace projection. The speechless narration was like observing a living silent movie, which put the emphasis more on intimacy than anything else.
Next were veterans to the Charm City Fringe Festival, Interrobang Theatre Company, with a one-act play I’ve already seen called “Pretty Like Normal”. This time around somehow was a lot truer to the uncertainty of teenage adolescence, and I questioned if the script had been edited since my last viewing as Laura (Erin Hanratty) came off as less timid than before. Additionally, Pizza Crust’s monologue also felt more purposeful a second time. (For my full Interrobang review from last May, click here.)
Kelly Marburger and Eric Sipes
To conclude the evening’s events, “acroyoga” couple Kelly Marburger and Eric Sipes performed a routine entitled “Centripetal”. Although this physical act was much slower compared to the speed of previous duets, this decelerated performance emphasized a palpable sense of trust between the pair. Their stone-cold concentration bored deep into my soul, and I found my own knees buckling just watching their contorting stunts.
At the end of the show, I left feeling wowed and globally satisfied, with my faith in Baltimore’s performing arts community restored and recharged. Congratulations to Charm City Fringe on another successful event, and here’s to more outstanding performances in the future. I’m glad to have been a part of it!
Author Sage Viscovi is a recent MICA graduate and regular contributor for BmoreArt.
Photos by Arianna Valle