When your Italian teacher sweetie dons a pink tie with the words "Barbie" written on it, that could be a good sign it's time to move on. That particular boyfriend and other romances gone bad inspired Jennifer Doctorovich's Lemon Drops, which premieres Thursday at Boheme as part of BooTown's third annual Houston Fringe Festival. (other Fringe events start tonight).
According to Doctorovich, horrendous breakups make good theater.
"I know bad dates have been done a lot, but I have a different hook, in that I am interested in that moment you know a relationship is over and it's time to leave; the spell is broken and you get that cringing quality," she says. "It's fictional, but somewhat related to my own dating history.
"We are so busy falling in love we don't take the time to know who that person really is because we are lulled into a false sense of security."
Doctorovich is part of a cadre of local and out-of-town artists proud to be presenting their work at the Festival this year.
They say you can judge a city's arts spunk by the health of its fringe festival. OK, maybe I said that. But it's true, there's a delicate ecology in the arts; nurturing the artsy edges feeds the cultural stream. We need places for artists to get their feet wet, try out new ideas, succeed, fail and experiment.
I wrote about the need for incubation of new art a few weeks ago. It's crucial to raise the next generation of writers, actors and choreographers, otherwise I will be writing about bath towels.
Emily Hynds, BooTown's smart and savvy director, agrees. "Some of our founding members had been to fringe festivals," Hynds says. "It fits so well with our collaborative aesthetic."
She's right, it does. The vibe at BooTown is relaxed and welcoming, with an emphasis on theater as a social and accessible art.
The Festival is open to artists at any stage of development. It's completely noncurated, which means all an artist needs to do is apply.
"Houston lacks outlets to get new work produced. Finding the venue and marketing is often the hardest part of putting on a show. We fill that need," Hynds says. "Our venues welcome the Fringe Festers. They bring a crowd, so it's mutually beneficial."
You are not likely to see a straight up musical in a straight up theater with the BooTown name on it.
"Our focus is to do totally original theater pieces in non-theatrical venues. I know it sounds cheesy, but we want to have fun ourselves," she says. "We like to work in bars where people can hang out before the show, have some entertainment and continue to hang out some more." BooTown may be most known for Grown-Up Story Time, where anyone can submit a story, which will be read by a local actor.
The popular event goes down the third Tuesday of every month at Rudyard's and returns in July.
This year BooTown opened the Festival to dance artists, which entailed finding spaces with suitable floors.
"Why not open it up to dance? " Hynds says. "There's such a strong dance presence in the city. It was a struggle to make those dance connections, but this year we made it a priority."
Luckily, the local community opened their hearts and studios. The Houston Metropolitan Dance Center and Hope Center are participating venues this season. The Met Dance Company, China Cat Productions, the Colombian Orchid Ballet and Code f.a.d. Company make up the dance portion.
Autumn Mist Belk, artistic director of Code f.a.d., stumbled upon the Fringe Festival when looking for a place to perform outside of their home base in Raleigh, N.C.
"This is a great way to test out the show," Belk says. "It helps me know where to go next." Belk describes Fashion Briefs, a premiere based on the lives and work of eight fashion designers, as upbeat and funny.
For a writer like Doctorovich, the festival fills a needed niche. She plans to develop Lemon Drops into a one-woman show for Mildred's Umbrella Museum of Dysfunction series in December. Having a place to try it out in front of an audience is a crucial step in her process.
"Every city needs a fringe fest. We have to continue to embrace creativity and give opportunities to new talent," she says.
Yep, they're both called the Houston Fringe Festival. We are just a fringe-y city.