Sunday, May 9, 2004

Columbus troupes enter the Fringe

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Alternative theater companies from Columbus will be front and center at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival.

BlueForms Theatre Group earned a lot of fans when it made its first Cincinnati appearance last fall with alternative company the Performance Gallery, which operates in Columbia Tusculum.

The "fellowship of artists" returns with The Pursuit of Happiness and its favorite subject: "How do we live in the world? What does it mean to be happy?" ruminates artistic director Matt Slaybaugh.

BlueForms was born in 2002, when nationally acclaimed director Anne Bogart "gave me a good talking to," laughs Slaybaugh. "She said, 'Do it or don't' and 'It takes a lot of courage.' " So he did.

Hand-Dog Theatre Company and Women's Explosive Theatre Company (WETCo.) are two other new companies that have decided the Cincinnati Fringe Festival is worth the commute.

WETCo. will bring a company of 11 for its original, See Kate Run, all about a twentysomething woman juggling a bad job and a boring boyfriend.

OSU plays big role

A big part of the Columbus activity can be explained in three words: Ohio State University.

Hand-Dog's executive producer, Kekoa Kaluhiokalani, is an OSU grad and course coordinator for the intro to theater course Theatre 100. He not only is involved with Hand-Dog, he makes sure students are encouraged to go to theater around the area, including WETCo.

WETCo. was founded this year as a senior honors project by six theater majors, says co-producer Allyson Morgan.

"We saw this huge lack of directing and playwriting and roles for women in their twenties," Morgan says. "We'd get cast in these teeny-tiny parts, and never given a chance to direct.

"It wasn't there, so we decided to create it for ourselves." The original plan was to write and produce a show as a senior thesis project. Then they thought: Why not do an entire season? "Because everyone wanted to do everything," Morgan says.

Wave is cresting

While Columbus has been home to alternative companies for a decade, "There does seem to be a bigger wave than usual," says Michael Grossberg, theater critic for the Columbus Dispatch.

"Rather than leaving for New York or Chicago, many young adults appear to want to stay in the area and pursue theater projects after graduating from Ohio State University, Otterbein College, Ohio Wesleyan University, other central Ohio colleges and universities and even Ohio University in Athens," says Grossberg.

"The universities have a lot to do with it," says Slaybaugh, "The Wexner Center (based on the OSU campus) has a lot to do with it - it brings in a lot of alternative theater."

Slaybaugh says BlueForms is interested in "horizontal" rather than "vertical" growth, which means touring to cities regionally fits their plans perfectly.

"We'll definitely be joining Performance Gallery again," he says, "it was all hugs and kisses."

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