St Lou Fringe opens with zombies, a Russian twist and new strategy | St. Louis Public Radio

St Lou Fringe opens with zombies, a Russian twist and new strategy

Aug 16, 2017

The 2017 St Lou Fringe festival of performing arts opens Thursday with a new menu of choices. For example, paying for one show will get you a free “Meatball” on the side.

“Meatball Séance,” to be exact. That’s the name of one of two dozen non-highlighted productions this year. When you buy a ticket to one of the three main performances — “A Song for Vanya,” “Snow White” and Ashleyliane Dance Company’s “Evolution” — you get a voucher for “Meatball” or other non-headliners including “Liberals vs Zombies vs Conservatives,” one of two zombie-themed shows this year.

The buy-one-get-one idea is one example of how Matthew Kerns, the new Fringe director, is putting his stamp on the festival that was founded by Em Piro in 2012.

“My whole philosophy is like, people are going to be ... ‘Well I'm here, I saw this, I got a free ticket. I may as well,’” Kerns said.  “That's my goal  ... so that they will take a chance on something.” 

‘St. Louis is really a test ground’

Previous St Lou Fringe events were made up of acts that won their spots through a lottery system. Kerns didn’t do away with the lottery system altogether; this year’s Fringe includes a sampling of lottery shows along with the trio of main shows and a few invited guests.

Gheremi Clay stars as Vanya and Alicia Reve Like as Yelena in A Song for Vanya.
Credit Provided | St. Lou Fringe

Headliner “A Song for Vanya” is a twist on Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” with African-American actors the unlikely stars of the classic Russian tale.

This “Vanya” takes place half a world away from the African-American experience. Like the play that inspired it, this musical is about family disruption and the loss of home, but it's set in modern times.

“The stories, the struggles, are synonymous with every culture,” Kerns said.

It was Kerns’ idea to cast local black actors in a historical tale of Russian woe.

“The opportunity for African-American actors to play these roles is limited,” Kerns said. “We really believe that this piece of work lends itself to being told through the lens of an African-American cast.”

“A Song for Vanya” debuted 10 years ago in Bakersfield, California.  Kerns said the producers were interested in seeing how the story would resonate with a different audience.

“They're bringing it to the Midwest to see what Midwest audiences think about it,” Kerns said. “St. Louis is really a test ground for it.”

‘It’s how workshop happens’

Seventy years ago, the Edinburgh Fringe launched the idea of alternative performing arts in the United Kingdom. Over time, the concept caught on and led to such festivals around the United States. Their mission is to present emerging shows that might otherwise never get an audience.

This is the first year that director Matthew Kerns has been fully in charge of St Lou Fringe.
Credit File | Provided |Matthew Kerns

“It's how workshop happens; it's how some of the best art that we know has started,” Kerns said.

The play, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” about two minor characters from “Hamlet” was born at a Fringe event. So was “Jerry Springer: the Opera,” presented in St. Louis by New Line Theater in 2015.

A St Lou Fringe showing of “The Life and Times of Patricia Prewitt” by Elizabeth Townsend led to a statewide tour of that performance, about a Missouri inmate convicted of killing her husband.

“Fringe is the place where you plant the seed,” Kerns said. “It sprouts and then it goes from there. “

If you go:

St Lou Fringe

When: Aug. 17-26

Where: Grandel Theatre, Kranzberg Arts Center, Duet Gallery, Strauss Park

Admission: $15-$25, in person or online. Productions that come free with headliner purchase cost $15 if you buy tickets specifically for them.

Follow Nancy on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL