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Looking for offbeat entertainment: It's Fringe time

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 19, 2013 - In bigger cities with more experience with these festivals, those who hear the word “fringe” know to expect something that is a little off the beaten path, a little eccentric, a little different.

That should also be the case with this year’s second annual St. Lou Fringe Festival.

The twists were evident on June 16, when minutes-long snippets were presented. Those minutes will become full blown performance during the five-day festival, during which 30 performing groups will grace Midtown with theater, art, dance and music from Thursday, June 20 to Monday, June 24.

Bid 'Good Morrow' to my little friend

One of the acts that got laughs in preview was “Montana: A Shakespearean Scarface,” an Out Of The Ashes Theatre production that combines gangster film with comedy in an unexpected way.


“It’s a pretty Fringe-y show,” said Robert Mitchell, the director. “everybody has seen ‘Scarface,’ and so ... I think this is a show that everybody will get. We were really trying to find the balance between Shakespeare and still keep it ‘Scarface’ at the same time. … We got a really great reception here today.”

Mitchell got the idea to turn ‘Scarface’ Shakespearean after successfully directing “Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather” for the Non-Prophet Theatre Company. After deciding that it was time for "Scarface," he submitted the idea for the Fringe Festival, knowing he would have to write a script were it accepted.

As it turned out, the three-week process of writing the script was “so fun and it was so easy,” Mitchell said.

“Every line has to be in iambic pentameter. Every scene has to end with a rhymed couplet. All the Shakespearean rules, I was, like, I got to do them all if I’m going do this,” he said. “So, literally, I sat and watched the movie with the captions on and I was stopping between every line and going, ‘OK, how can I fit this into iambic pentameter?’”

Once the words had been penned, Mitchell’s next step was pulling together a cast. One “no-brainer” was Joe Hanrahan, who plays a number of characters and dies several times onstage.

Mitchell and Hanrahan have known each other for about 25 years, although they have not gotten the chance to work together that often.

“One reason I did this — it’s a short time frame kind of thing, and kind of concentrated, but I trusted [Mitchell] to pull it off,” Hanrahan said.

Hanrahan’s longtime interest in "Scarface" was another reason to pursue the piece.

“I choose shows to do that I want to do, that I’m passionate about doing. And this one, I’m glad I’m passionate about the movie,” he said. “But I’m [also] just glad to have the chance to work with some of these folks, none of them I knew except for [Mitchell]. It’s always good to throw yourself into a situation and see what happens.”

“Montana: A Shakespearean Scarface” runs Friday through Sunday at Satori.

'Move!' in many ways

Another preview piece that got a good response from the audience was by Ashley Tate, owner of the Ashleyliane Dance Company. The piece, called “MOVE!” will be an hour-long set featuring hip-hop, tap, jazz, contemporary, freestyle and improv dance.

“My senior company is all adults and they all work full time or have other jobs outside of dance. … It’s kind of nontraditional,” Tate said. “I like it that way because they all have some outside experiences to bring to the table. … We have teachers and counselors and physical therapists and everything else going on. It’s a different mindset to bring to our art.”

Tate got the idea for her dance company when she returned home to St. Louis in 2004 and could not find a school that would allow her to continue dancing as an adult.

“[I] didn’t think it would last very long, thought it was going to be more of a social group, [and it] turned into a professional company,” she said.

She hopes that “MOVE!” will inspire adult audience members to pursue dance classes.

“You don’t necessarily have to start dance at a certain age,” Tate said. “We always love adults who are scared to take class.”

“MOVE!” will be presented Friday and Saturday at Satori. The Ashleyliane Dance Company will also be performing with The Goddessey Project.

New partnerships, new offerings

Em Piro, executive director of St. Lou Fringe, said she is excited about are the number of opportunities this year’s artists will have to connect with one another. Two new partnerships -- with Pride St. Louis and the Loud Label, a local music label -- are making this happen.

The partnership with Pride means four performing groups — selected by Fringe patron votes — will perform again the following weekend on the main stages of Pride downtown. 

St. Lou Fringe’s partnership with the Loud Label created in a three-month concert series leading up to the festival.

“We book local performers and [the Loud Label books] local independent musicians, and we challenge them to make a show together. They have a beautiful venue that it’s performed at,” Piro said.

Piro is interested in pursuing opportunities like this in the future.

“That’s a niche I’m very excited about working with: identifying talent in the city and then orchestrating a little bit more, like, ‘You and you: Talk. And see what happens,’” she said. “I’m really pumped about the potential that we have there.”

Along with artists connecting with each other, Piro hopes the Fringe Festival allows for artists to connect with audience members and audience members to connect with each other. All these connections contribute to Piro’s grander vision of creating an arts community.

“I’m not from St. Louis originally, and it struck me when I moved here and I saw this thriving arts community and these really impassioned patrons, but I didn’t always see them having opportunities to connect,” Piro said. “This is a chance … for us to all gather in this central point as a community. With us being a city of neighborhoods, we don’t have many opportunities to do that.”

To help make this possible, new additions to this year’s festival include after parties and Fringe Family, a program that features an interactive arts experience and the opportunity to see family-friendly performances afterward.

For each aspect of the festival, from its developments since last year to its performing groups, Piro and other performers seem excited about what these five days will offer.

“The only way to understand fringe is to come and experience it,” Piro said.

Chelsea Embree is a Beacon intern.

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