Scranton to host inagural Fringe Festival from October 1 through October 4
SCRANTON — The first Fringe Festival occurred in Edinburg, Scotland in 1947. A number of theaters that were left out of the inaugural Edinburg International Festival decided to run concurrent shows that took advantage of the influx of theatergoers by offering a festival alternative.
Today, the alternative has become a festival itself—the 2014 edition of Edinburg Festival Fringe featured 3,193 shows performed over a 25-day span, and a number of similar festivals have popped up in arts-minded communities around the world. One of the latest locations to join the Fringe family is Scranton, which will host its inaugural Fringe Festival from Oct. 1 through Oct. 4.
“I felt Scranton not only needed one but would be such a prime region for one,” said Scranton Fringe co-founder and Executive Director Conor O’Brien. “I felt it would do Scranton a lot of good and I felt Scranton would give the Fringe community a lot of great work. Scranton has such a rich performing arts history.”
Elizabeth Bohan, associate director and O’Brien’s Scranton Fringe co-founder, echoed her partner’s reasoning for bringing Fringe to their native Scranton.
“From my perspective, the closing of venues like The Vintage Theater left a hole that needs to be filled. There’s a huge base for this.”
Scranton Fringe Festival received just under 100 submissions from artists who wanted to take part in the first year of the event. The festival hopefuls included local acts, performers from a number of different states and Fringe veterans who tour the events like a circuit. O’Brien and Bohan employed a jury system to select festival participants, but they weren’t very picky—O’Brien said the spirit of Fringe is freedom and inclusion, so the only thing the co-founders let limit their choices was logistics.
“We didn’t jury it in the sense of judging the shows,” Bohan said. “We held a jury in the sense of, ‘where are we going to put you?’ Since this is our first year, we didn’t really have the locations for photographs or for film. There were people who applied that we couldn’t utilize and we told them to apply next year. We’ll try to expand.”
O’Brien and Bohan received enough applications to fill 12 venues in downtown Scranton with four day’s worth of performing arts content.
Wilkes-Barre comedian Elliott Elliott first became enamored with the craft after watching Johnny Carson as a child. Elliott will host his own talk show, “Stand Up! Sit Down! Stand Up!,” at 10 p.m. on Oct. 3 at Ale Mary’s. The name of his show is a derivative of its format—a comedian will perform a short stand up set then sit down with Elliot for a brief interview. The process will then repeat itself until the crowd is treated to three short sets and three brief interviews.
“I had a really hard time choosing who I wanted to be my guests,” Elliott said. “Russell Austin is a very funny dude from Jim Thorpe with a ton of great stories and observations. He also has one of the best laughs ever. Ted Hebert is a hilarious guy from Lake Ariel. He has what I guess you’d call a “nerdy” perspective. Lastly, Check Out Joe is an amazing comedian from Wilkes-Barre. He got hit with a bench and played capture the flag in the movie ‘Wet Hot American Summer.’”
Fringe Festivals often act as a proving ground of sorts. The relatively low cost of running at a Fringe Festival compared to renting a theater space allows creators and performers to stage their works in front of patrons and receive real-time feedback from their observations and their audience. This is the first time Elliott is performing “Stand Up! Sit Down! Stand Up!” and when he heard about the event through the local arts community he thought the Scranton Fringe Festival sounded like the perfect place for the show’s premiere.
Another local performer, Brian Reese of Clarks Summit, will take The Forage Space’s stage at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Oct. 3 and 6:30 p.m. Oct. 4 to deliver Will Eno’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated monologue “Thom Pain (based on nothing).”
“It’s a one-act, one-man show that’s very much inspired by Samuel Beckett’s dark humor,” Reese said. “It’s a sort of meditation on the human condition and what it means to be a human being in these times. The play is one man’s reflection on growing up, on falling in love and all the joys and the heartbreaks that happen along the way.
The play is meant to illicit audience response. The character Thom Pain is aware of the audience and he engages them—he’s trying to make them uncomfortable and consider their own lives by telling stories about his. Reese called it a wonderfully poetic piece of writing that inspires him, and he hopes to transfer some of that sentiment to the audience through his portrayal of Pain.
“They can expect to laugh—it’s very funny,” Reese said. “They might cry—it’s also very sad. Hopefully they’ll be moved. Hopefully they’ll leave the theater thinking. It’s not just a piece of fluff or something to entertain people for an hour.”
O’Brien and Bohan are receiving support from the local arts community for their inaugural endeavor and local businesses are stepping up too. Scranton Fringe is selling $5 buttons at Lackawanna County Gerrity’s locations and a number of businesses in downtown Scranton that will cut the usual $10 entry fee for each Scranton Fringe performance down to $7. The button will also give its holder discounts at downtown Scranton businesses like Adezzo, Ale Mary’s, Arts Seen Gallery, Duffy Accessories, The Keys and Terra Preta through the end of 2015.
The co-founders are hoping that, given a successful 2015, they can make a few changes before Scranton Fringe 2016. A permanent office space tops the list—the two have been using a space in the Ritz building owned by Attorney Scott Schermerhorn, but they’d like to have a dedicated headquarters that’ll give them more of a presence in the community.
They’d also like to have a marketing budget so they can reach more members of the community. They’ve caught the eye of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s performing arts scene and they’ve used their contacts in the Fringe community (O’Brien has performed at past Fringe events, including Pittsburgh Fringe 2014, where he received the award for best actor), but they’d like to reach further in the all-inclusive spirit of Fringe.
O’Brien is passionate about the history of the performing arts in Scranton. Now, he and Bohan are putting Scranton on a list of cities from around the globe that are on the performing arts Fringe. On Oct. 1 through Oct. 4, Scranton becomes the third city in Pennsylvania behind Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to host a Fringe Festival. O’Brien and Bohan feel it deserves the distinction. A collection of local and national acts are preparing to take part in the occasion.
In the spirit of Edinburg, they’re inviting you to join them.
Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArts
IF YOU GO:
What: Scranton Fringe Festival
Where: A dozen venues in downtown Scranton area
When: Oct. 1 - Oct. 4
Cost: Each show is $10, or $7 with the purchase of a $5 Fringe button that’s available at participating local retailers, including all Lackawanna County Gerrity’s locations
For more information, including performance schedule, box office hours and a list of venues, visit ScrantonFringe.org or download the Scranton Fringe app