Giant. Sam Shepard, man of theater, stepped across on July 27. Playwright, actor, teacher, wild man - in all his guises, he brought a new vocabulary into American theater. I hope his work keeps appearing on our stages for years and years.
New Jersey Fringe Festival is back! It's this weekend (Aug. 4-6). Last year, the genius conspiracy at the Eagle Theatre, along with their hometown of Hammonton, created the world's first-ever New Jersey Fringe, and here it comes again: 15 productions at 13 venues, much more music, street entertainment, pop-up art exhibits, and food. A $39 all-access wristband gets you into all the shows.
A while back, Ed Corsi, cofounder (with Jim Donio and Ted Wioncek III) of the fest and co-artistic director at the Eagle, discovered there had never been a fringe fest in New Jersey. They applied, got the name - and, goodness, the crazy turnout! "We got thousands of people," he says, "Shamong, Medford, Cherry Hill. It's becoming a thing. As time goes by, we hope to expand it in future years to two weeks."
Productions this year include Tribe of Fools' much-praised School Play; J. Hernandez and Amanda Schoonover's The Best of Me, a true tale of Ricardo Lopez, stalker of Iceland's Björk; The Confession of Jeffrey Dahmer, an appetizing piece written and starring Josh Hitchens; and Abandoned By Choice, by hometown Hammonton playwright/musician Samantha Hitman and her band, Tiny Rocks.
I'd not been aware of Lopez until Hernandez told me: Hours and hours of videotapes (all on YouTube) in which Lopez narrates his obsession and activities. Hernandez says, "What turned me on to the Fringe was seeing Amanda doing The It Girl there last year. She told me, 'Those folks out there are hungry for this stuff. They want their theater. After they see one show, they want to see another.' "
The fantastically delightful Hitman loves being the first Hammonton native to perform at the festival: "I can walk to my venue from my house in three minutes." She describes Abandoned By Choice as "a quirky, music-based show, like a cabaret, about love and relationships, which lets the audience determine where the show goes." She plays ukulele in her band, "and we have a toy piano, a melodica - very nonthreatening instruments. I hope the audience feels strength and solidarity through the ups and downs of love, family, and relationships. I hope everybody leaves with a unique reason to love themselves again, a reason they may have forgotten."
Bye-bye, GayFest. It's the Great Disappearing Theater Festival. This summer, GayFest would have turned seven. I started looking for it last week, but no dice. I remembered high points such as Daniel Talbott's Slipping, at the inaugural GayFest in 2011; The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later the next year; and Kathleen Warnock's Some Are People in 2014. Alas, GayFest has departed. Artistic director Rich Rubin writes, "I've moved [with Quince Productions, which produced GayFest] to Northern California. So Quince Productions won't be doing GayFest!" Alas! Hope someone picks up the idea soon.
Can't Wait to See:
Tommy and Me (Theatre Exile / FringeArts, Aug. 3-20). Missed it last time. Not again!