Modern Day Vaudeville
Loincloths & beams, virginity poems with fishnets: FrenetiCore's Fringe Fest zooms past out there
Houston, are you ready for yet another fringe festival? If we can stand two Starbucks across the street from each other, why not have two fringe fests?
FrenetiCore's third annual Houston Fringe Festival gets underway Thursday and runs to September 1 at the Frenetic Theater. The folks at FrenetiCore aim to entertain, thrill and provoke, although not necessarily in that order, but quite possibly all on the same program.
FrenetiCore's chiefs, Rebecca French and Robert Thoth, run a diverse festival, with everything from film to dance to theater to hard-to-classify performance art-y stuff. Hybrid forms are welcome and most shows contain more than one discipline.
French finds performance opportunities lacking for independent artists. We all just can't afford to rent the Wortham to put on a show, but The indie Frenetic Theater provides a much needed performance venue for artists both up and coming and more established.
"One of the best moments of the 2009 Fringe for me was when my former director Richard Hubscher performed a gorgeous dance solo wearing a loincloth and a 20-foot-long, eight-by-eight beam on his shoulders," French says. "That kind of magical performance doesn't happen everywhere.
"We want to make sure that it can happen in Houston, and having Frenetic Theater as a venue puts us in an ideal position to produce the Fringe and provide this opportunity for other artists."
Frenetic Theater's 1,200-square-foot space now boasts seating for 100, a new sound system, theatrical lighting, a projection system and the biggie, wait for it, air-conditioning. An exhibition hall and dance studio can also be found under their cozy east end roof.
Unlike Bootown's Fringe Festival, this one is curated. Robert Boyd, of The Great God Pan is Dead blog fame, curates the visual arts component, while the performing arts is handled by a committee consisting of FrenetiCore board members, volunteers, and arts enthusiasts. The line-up is as eclectic as it gets.
French is passionate about the role her festival plays in the overall ecology of Houston's art scene.
"Festivals of all kinds are a crucial way for performers to get their work out there, meet other artists, and make a name for themselves," French says. "At the same time, the festival also presents work by artists who are already established in their own right, who just want to work on a new piece and be part of a fun, exciting festival.
"A few examples of that are Ray Hill, who is very well known in Houston for both his social activism and one-man theatrical shows, and CORE Performance Company, who are practically dance legends in Houston. As presenters, we try to provide the audience with a healthy mix of experimental arts veterans and fresh talent."
The festival offers a chance for artists to try out work still in the oven.
Brandy Robichau Holmes is taking her first directorial leap with Fitting Room, with an A-list ensemble including Amy Guerin, Sara Jo Dunstan, Karen Schlag, John Dunn, Cristina Madero and Tracie Thomason. Holmes is experimenting with a co-creative process where each actor will be contributing their own virginity stories along with text from Pablo Neruda's poems and excerpts of Nancy Friday's collection of sexual fantasies. Women try on different dresses, fishnets, and other fetish clothing as they reveal what motivates them to consider having sex.
"The Fringe offers me a chance to develop my work," Holmes says. "It's a place to be nurtured and play. I feel no pressure to present a polished or finished piece. If all goes well I may develop the piece into an evening length work."
Out-of-town guests are always a highlight. Kettye Voltz, artistic director of the New Orleans-based Tsumani Dance Company, first met French when she came down for the Dance on Camera Festival hosted by FrenitiCore. The two hit it off, became Facebook pals and an invite was in hand shortly afterward.
Voltz is a fringer herself, serving on New Orleans' festival jury. She cherishes the chance to get out of Dodge and have some new eyes on her work.
"It's great to be produced by FrenetiCore," she says. "The space is inspiring; it really feels like home."
Voltz is bringing one dance for camera work and two other dances, including her Banco Ballante and John Allen's athletic trio set to Philip Glass' relentless rhythms.
"It's full of risk-taking near miss partnering," she says. "The dancers reach out for each other but struggle to connect."
Other visiting artists include Austin's award-winning comedy troupe The Rat Girls, Atlanta's Zoetic Dance and Canada's circus dancers Moth/Sol L Luna. French dreams of starting of a fringe network as a kind of modern day vaudeville route.
"So we didn't exactly blanket the country with calls for entries, but we intend to do so in the future as our festival continues to grow," French says. "We'd like to help create a fringe circuit for the lower United States, so an artist or group could conceivably perform at our festival after the Phoenix Fringe, on the way to the New Orleans Fringe.
"The first fringe in Edinburgh, Scotland was a response to a bunch of theater groups being kept out of a mainstream festival and starting their own festival on the 'fringes' of the town. So we're committed to continuing the tradition of presenting and celebrating edgy, weird, and wild performances."
Dreams of oblivion in the trees A short film by louviere + vanessa featuring featuring Tsunami Dance Company: