The New Orleans Fringe Festival presents all manner of unusual shows, from circus arts and physical theater to mashups of singing, comedy, dance, aerialists, magic, burlesque and more. But the event increasingly features familiar faces as it — and New Orleans — gain a reputation for generating theater. Former Brooklyn-based theater artist Jennifer Sargent brought shows to the New Orleans Fringe Festival in 2009 and 2012 and moved here in August, hoping to develop devised-theater pieces with local artists.
"There is a lot of devised work [in New Orleans]," Sargent says. "That way of creating theater is labor-intensive, time-intensive and space-intensive and all those things are getting more expensive in New York. So I am looking for a place where I can work the way I want to work creating theater. There is an ensemble spirit here and an ability to commit to projects for a longer creation process."
Sargent presents her show For the Sins I Can Remember at this year's festival, and other returning artists with new shows include mime/magician/physical illusionist Matthew "Poki" McCorkle with Palindrome, playwright Matthew Hancock with My Horse's Name Is Loneliness and San Francisco-based solo performer David Kleinberg with Hey, Hey LBJ!
The festival also is a good platform for local theater companies to reach audiences. Reprises of recent and currently running shows include ArtSpot Productions and Soulographie's Maria Kizito, an account of a Rwandan nun's participation in the nation's 1994 genocide; The Elm Theatre's new work by former New Orleanian Christina Quintana, Enter Your Sleep; Goat in the Road Productions' Numb, about the development of anesthesia; Oxblood, New Noise's outdoor production about siblings grappling with the destruction of their family farm; and others.
In addition to the usual diverse array of theater offerings, there's a revamped parade, a family area and a hub with show previews, food, drinks and more.
The curated portion of the festival features hour-long shows at venues clustered in the Faubourg Marigny, plus Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center and The Building (1427 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.) in Central City. (There is free shuttle service from the hub at Architect's Alley to Central City from roughly 4:30 p.m. to midnight.) An additional 50-plus shows are part of the festival's Bring Your Own Venue (BYOV) portion, and it includes runs of shows by local theater groups, comedy at The New Movement and shows staged independently by groups from out of town. Visit the festival website for a full list of shows and schedule.
On Saturday, the Procession of the Personal Saints replaces the former social aid and pleasure club-style parade. It features lesser-known Catholic saints, as well as other personally claimed Saints — Saint Breesus (named for New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees) perhaps being the most familiar. The parade gathers in Markey Park at noon and departs with a marching band at 2 p.m. Saturday.
There are family-friendly activities and performances in the yard of the Marigny Opera House (725 St. Ferdinand St.) from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Performances include music, dance, storytelling and Fringe shows.
The festival hub in Architect's Alley adjoins the Mardi Gras Zone warehouse space, an official fringe venue, and it features a bar, food, show flyers and information and a place to compare notes with other festivalgoers.
Below are some of the highlights of the festival's offerings.
(Almost Definitely) Questionable Acts
7 p.m. Thu.-Fri., 5 p.m. Sat., 11 p.m. Sun.; Art Klub, 519 Elysian Fields Ave.
The New York-based duo of CB Goodman and Josh Rice created a fast-paced, physical theatrical piece in which they are actors who meet onstage and become a series of odd couples. It's difficult to discern whether they are a romantic couple or just actors in a series of offbeat vignettes. It's a vigorous physical comedy with some nudity, and the disparate characters they play include Sacco and Vanzetti, the Italian immigrants who, in an era of anti-immigrant and anti-communist hysteria, were falsely accused of murder and executed in Massachusetts. Other couples include famous criminals and celebrities.
For the Sins I Can Remember
9 p.m. Wed., 5 p.m. Fri., 11 p.m. Sat., 9 p.m. Sun.; Marigny Opera House, 725 St. Ferdinand St.
Jennifer Sargent first performed at the New Orleans Fringe Festival in Canarsie Suite in 2009. The vaudevillian-style physical comedy featured two turn-of-the-century women who ventured to Alaska as entertainers but who, as female travelers, were sometimes presumed to be prostitutes. Sargent directs For the Sins I Can Remember, a piece she devised with her company Vagabond Inventions, and it was originally inspired by research she did for Canarsie Suite. The piece includes clowning and physical theater, but it is a more serious and abstract drama about a Victorian-era woman who arrives in purgatory and is put on trial by angels for choosing prostitution over other forms of labor (factory work and back-breaking cleaning work). The piece is based on the letters of Maimie Pinzer, a married woman who worked as a prostitute, and Sargent also researched New Orleans' red-light district Storyville while developing the drama. It explores idealized love, morality and commoditized femininity.
Hey, Hey LBJ!
5 p.m. Wed., 7 p.m. Thu.-Sun.; Marigny Theatre, 2240 St. Claude Ave.
David Kleinberg was assigned to be an "information specialist" when he was drafted by the U.S. Army and sent to serve in the Vietnam War. There he reported on the war for the Army's newspaper for soldiers, and his show is an account of his experiences with the Army's 25th Infantry Division in an area northwest of Saigon. He shot 8 mm footage of his unit burning down a village, and it's part of his show, which starts with video of one of President Lyndon Johnson's speeches supporting the war. Kleinberg animates fellow soldiers, as well as Bob Hope and Nancy Sinatra.
Kleinberg started doing standup comedy after he left a job working for the San Francisco Chronicle and then focused on solo theater. He performed an autobiographical piece, The Voice: One Man's Journey Into Sex Addiction and Recovery, at the New Orleans Fringe in 2011. He premiered Hey, Hey, LBJ! in Washington, D.C., in June.
7 p.m. Wed., 5 p.m. Fri., 7 p.m. Sat., 5 p.m. Sun.; Old Ironworks, 612 Piety St.
The aerial theater company Paper Doll Militia presents two pieces. Crossroads is an aerial ballet performed on billowing ribbons by a troupe of six, and it explores notions of facing difficult choices and leaping into the unknown. Unchained is a more visually and physically harsh duet performed on chains, and it addresses issues of control and oppression. (Both pieces are appropriate for all ages.) Paper Doll Militia formed in 2006 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and after years of touring, remaining founders Rain Anya and Sarah Bebe Holmes are about to relocate to Los Angeles. Its performances combine graceful circus arts with large-scale props and devised riggings.
My Horse's Name is Loneliness
9 p.m. Wed., 11 p.m. Thu., 7 p.m. Fri., 1 p.m. & 9 p.m. Sat.; The Purification Plant, 1500 Montegut St.
Playwright Matthew Hancock's first work in the New Orleans Fringe Festival was the spaghetti Western spoof My Aim is True in 2011. He and members of New York-based company Aztec Economy have since presented two other shows at Fringe, including last year's drama set in the aftermath of a coal mine collapse, Butcher Holler Here We Come. His new work, My Horse's Name is Loneliness picks up the story of the killer in My Aim Is True immediately after that play ends. While that work featured the anti-hero gunslinging his way through a town full of oddballs and ne'er-do-wells, here he stumbles into a good-hearted little town, based on The Andy Griffith Show's Mayberry. The comedy is a battle of evil will versus good neighbors.
The Other Mozart
6 pm. & 10 p.m. Wed.; 4 p.m. & 8 p.m. Thu.; 7 p.m. & 11 p.m. Fri.; 3 p.m. & 7 p.m. Sat.; 2 p.m. & 6 p.m. Sun.; Wonderland, 3405 Royal St.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had a sister who also was a musical prodigy, and their parents allowed her to perform as a young woman. But as she got older, they feared a public reputation might make it difficult for her to marry. There are no surviving compositions by Nannerl Mozart, and this one-woman show tries to imagine her music and life amid the social constraints imposed on her. The show features music by Amadeus and original compositions, some played on the household objects symbolic of her stifling social environment, such as teacups and fans.
7 p.m. Thu.-Fri., 5 p.m. Sat., 11 p.m. Sun.; Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.
Matthew McCorkle has performed two circus arts and physical illusion shows at Fringe, including the popular show Trash Rabbit in 2012. He's formed a new group, The Incredible Incredible, with Justin Therrien of the Bellingham, Washington artist center Lookout Arts Quarry, a haven for theater and circus arts. Their show Palindrome features two oddball, nearly identical men who are each other's imaginary friends, who meet for the first time. The wordless show features mime, illusions, some magic, and there's offbeat musical accompaniment on a variety of found-object instruments.
They Don't Eat Corn Here
7 p.m. Wed., 11 p.m. Fri., 9 p.m. Sat., 7 p.m. Sun.; Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.
Eating unfamiliar foods or yearning for familiar ones is a visceral way to notice one is in a different land. Reese Johanson's solo show is a treatise on the desire to travel, search for truths, identity and purpose and observe the ways places and customs are changed by immigration, tourism and other global connections. The piece combines storytelling, music and some technical surprises to explore quests for identity, meaning and contentment.
Johanson is the founder of Artist Inc., which has produced large ensemble pieces at Art Klub. This solo piece is easier to travel with, she says.