By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Two bellwethers of the creative city's performance calendar are an alternative music festival and a theater fringe festival. MidPoint Music filled the first of the criteria with its 2002 debut and a bigger return in 2003.
Now, the first Cincinnati Fringe Festival, playing May 12-23, has set its 30-act lineup of theater, music, dance, installation art and work not so easy to categorize in three small, nonestablishment venues within walking distance of Fountain Square: the black box at the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, the empty retail space in Sycamore Place at St. Xavier Park and onstage at host organization Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival's CSF Studio.
The majority of the talent is local, but the schedule includes the Cincinnati premiere of Shopping and ... from Los Angeles, a one-man show from Minneapolis and three theater companies commuting from Columbus.
At the end of 12 days, muses Fringe producing director Jason Bruffy, "I want to have shown Cincinnati a glimpse of live performance in its rawest form, given audiences a glimpse of the potential future of performance arts. On May 24, I want Cincinnati to already be missing us and be waiting for 2005."
The idea of a fringe festival originally came to Bruffy two years ago. It then "simmered for a year" and evolved.
Artists, Bruffy says with quickly focusing passion, "Have to affect their community - and there's no better community to do it in." Bruffy knew he wasn't out there alone - young urban advocates Cincinnati Tomorrow released its 40-plus-page plan for the city at precisely the same time.
"It's artists obligation to comment on the social and political direction of the city and country we live in, of the world we exist in," Bruffy says. "That's harder to do in an institution."
Working with $25,000 in seed money from corporate grants and individual donations, Bruffy sent out the call to artists last summer, with the intention of having local artists dominate the schedule. "Cincinnati has a growing underground and these artists need exposure."
The two dozen local performing companies and individual artists will still be new to most audiences, Bruffy observes, since until now they've been presenting their work largely out of the public eye. "It's work Cincinnati needs to see but doesn't know exists - Performance Time Art, Tara Guilfoil. Our artists have been doing this kind of work for a long time."
Some work will be original to the festival, other pieces have been performed in Cincinnati and elsewhere. There will be performances every evening, Bruffy promises, with daylong scheduling on weekends.
One outcome of fringe festivals across North America, Bruffy says, is more theater year-round. Bruffy hopes that artists come out of the fringe "being reminded that you don't need a (formal) theater (for performing art), all you need is an audience."
Fringe passes will go on sale March 19 at a festival pre-party from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Rosenthal Center. Single tickets will go on sale April 21, when performance dates and locations will be announced.
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