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  • Writer's pictureChris Gibson

Fringe-in-a-Day 2022 - and what a day it was!

It is exactly one week since we launched the first ever event for what will become the Harrisburg International Fringe Festival - Fringe-in-a-Day. We set out to create an event that would do three things: introduce Harrisburg artists and audiences to the concept of Fringe, put those audiences and artists together for the first time, and raise some money.

Boy, did we kill it on the first two!

The Theme Reveal

The event started on Friday, August 12 at 8pm. We gathered 9 arts teams together with a daunting task: create an original performance art piece in 24-hours based on a given theme. We streamed the theme reveal live - you can watch it HERE. This was an opportunity to meet the artists themselves, learn about the kind of work that inspires them, and finally to reveal the theme. It's a good watch, trust me. These artists immediately embraced the spirit of the Fringe big-upping each other and sending crazy love and support to Robert Campbell, who many of them had studied under at the Capital Area School for the Arts (CASA). The theme was revealed just after 8pm - Utopia. You never saw a group of artists jump up and get to work so fast.

We asked the artists to post their progress as they worked, and the HBGFringe Instagram Story immediately started to blow up. Artists in the studio hovering over digital audio workstations, driving around the Burg in search of inspiration, and nesting into their personal spaces for reflection and self-care. The work had begun.

Same Each performing at Fringe-in-a-Day 2022
Same Each performing at Fringe-in-a-Day 2022

The Outdoor Stage

Next morning we launched the second wave of our Fringe invasion. We partnered with Millworks and Broad Street Market to take part in the Odd Ones Bazaar. We had an info booth, a kids Fringe tent with puppet making supplies and a puppet theater for performances, and of course, the Fringe Outdoor Stage. The event was an absolute blast - the weather was tolerable for the first time in a while, the breeze under the shady trees was terrific. We hosted musicians, poets and even a live advice column, while kids created their own puppet performances nearby.

The Show: Act 1

Now it was time for load-in at Gamut Theatre for the big event. We struggled with logistics and technical issues, but ultimately prevailed and got the show up on its feet (if maybe a few minutes late).

My co-host for the evening was the deliciously salty Aileen Cuisine. Aileen and I welcomed another local art hero, Stephen Michael Haas, to the stage. Throughout the evening SMH would work on his newest visual art piece as the performances rolled on.

First up was Nick Werner who created an original composition with lyrics which he performed live. His take on Utopia was that we as a society create thieves and then punish them. His utopian screed? “The Kings are Thieves, let's Punish Them!” Utopia infers Dystopia, a theme we would revisit as the night progressed.

The next group to perform was the Kaleidoscope Company led by Brhiannon Yumei-Tracy. A duo of dancers cavorted in a playful tug-of-war that hinted we were finally in our dreamed-of Utopia. Alas, as the dance progressed, the toys they played with turned deadly and proved yet again that Utopia was perhaps only a dream after all.

Now Regilyn Haywood took the stage and showed us all what “multidisciplinary” really means. Her piece started as a beautiful movement-based expression with projections and music, but at times it took her out into the audience itself to sit next to and make eye-contact with her spectators, putting the gaze back on them. Were we in Utopia - and if so, whose? Next she took to the piano and played a comforting motif while repeating the phrase - “you are right where you need to be”. Utopia at last.

Following Reg was Tara Toms and her group of dancers plus a musician on synth. Tara’s voice blended harmoniously with the digital music while two dancers, connected to Tara by umbilical ropes, explored each other’s space and created beautiful shapes with their bodies. I felt a sense of prenatal bliss, protected by the amniotic waves of sound and balance, Utopia revisited.

Finally Aileen Cuisine herself treated us to her vision of Utopia - with her cast as the lead in Funny Girl. After belting out a rousing rendition of “No One’s Gonna Rain on My Parade”, we sent the audience off to the bar with one important caveat: Act 1 was reserved for the family friendly material. Act 2 would not be for the faint of heart.

The Show: Act 2

The second act immediately transported us back to the Dystopia that is the flip-side of every Perfect Place. First Beat Productions created a black and white silent film that welcomed us to a society where silence was king. We were warned that “noise kills” and watched as police shushed anyone making any kind of noise including the unintentional - coughs, laughter - all silenced. Watching the film with us was a trio of musicians who began laying into an improvised aural feedback soundscape that stood out so far from the silence as to attract even the attention of the cops in the film - who quickly gave chase. The film actors scoured the town with high-tech toys that led them to our theatre, and as they broke through their two-dimensional world into ours they killed the noise and returned us to - serenity?

Next up was Lodi and his unnerving side-kick and hype man SlackJaw. These guys came up with three hip-hip tracks that were as polished and well performed as anything you’d expect to see on a festival stage. Lodi’s onstage persona is as compelling as it is evocative. You feel his anger, pain, joy and frustration as he carves his way through “Your Utopia” with his clown-faced sideman imploring you to “GET UP” and join them in their revelry.

How do you follow an explosive music set? With hard cutting dark comedy, that's how. Sean Adams created a dark reflection on our own world with his short play starring Maggie Haynes as an unsure everyman, Mike Casey as a threatening but petty billionaire and Tom Weaver as a dedicated if incredulous Man Friday. A good comedy has the audience experiencing tension that can only be released through laughter and this was a very good comedy. To write (and direct) a piece this poignant and legitimately funny in such a short time span is astounding. Just imagine what this team will do without the constraint of time, and you’ll be as excited about this city’s Fringe as I am.

Liz Curtis performs at Fringe-in-a-Day with help from audience member Alexandra Johnson
Liz Curtis performs at Fringe-in-a-Day with help from audience member Alexandra Johnson

Next up was Liz Curtis flexing her improvisational muscles through an absurd and hilarious structured premise. Aileen Cuisine introduced the act by taking a volunteer from the audience whose name started with an “A”. Little did the plucky Alexandra know she would be cast as Adam to Liz Curtis’ animal-skin-clad Eve. What followed was a very modern conversation about good, eveil, god and pasties that the audience ate up like manna from heaven. Utopia it was not, but that was the whole point.

Finally Chewdo Ju wrapped the evening up with two solo hip-hop tracks that were as smooth as silk. I say solo, knowing full well that Chewdo is supported by a massive crew (So Cool Productions) that act as his muses, his collaborators and support group all at once. I spoke with Chewdo about the style of music he likes to create and he said: I make music to play on late night drives with the windows down” and that is how he wrapped up the evening - late at night with the smooth road beneath us and the warm wind in our face as his chill performance stylings laid this epic event to rest.

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