Friday, February 17, 2017

Nine Fronterafest Shows I've Done

Fronterafest began in 1993 at Hyde Park Theatre. Fronterafest is five weeks of alternative, new, offbeat and just plain off-the-wall fringe theatre. Fronterafest is produced in collaboration with Scriptworks, a group dedicated to supporting emerging playwrights and developing new dramatic works.

I usually participate in the short fringe, which is for plays that are 25 minutes or less in length. Each week of Fronterafest short fringe, up to 20 performances happen at Hyde Park Theatre with up to five different plays each night from Tuesday through Friday. Each Saturday of Fronterafest, the five "best of week" shows perform again. Four of the "best of week" shows are selected by a jury of judges with the fifth show selected by audience vote. At the end of four weeks, out of the up to 80 short performances, ten shows are selected by the jury of judges as the "best of fest". Each "best of fest" show performs twice more during the final festival week. There are also five "wild card" shows selected to perform once more during the final week of Fronterafest. The "wild card" shows are performances selected by the technical crew of Fronterafest as shows that they feel the jury of judges overlooked, and that deserve an encore performance. Incidentally, "wild-card" is usually my favorite night of the festival. 

Thus far, I always perform shows written and directed by my super-talented friend, Max Langert. Max possesses a talent for ferreting out the absurdity in the mundanities of daily life. His shows typically have an element of surprise or simmering doom. Whether it's a bear attack at a picnic, a destructive meteor on the way, a stabby diner in a restaurant full of mean servers or a soulmate emerging from the audience to steal your heart, Max's shows keep the audience on their toes. 

2001: I started performing at Fronterafest, back when I was practically an infant. Fugue for Five Waiters won best of fest. I got to work with a talented and diverse cast of five players. The experience was intense, emotional and fun, similar to my summer camp experiences as an adolescent.

2002: Treason by the Fax Machine won best of fest. The title says it all in this tale of corporate hell. I got to work with another great cast. 

Max moved back to New York City for a while. I was doing terrible murder mystery dinner theatre almost every week, sometimes a few times a week starting in 2002 and up through 2009. Around 2009, the Great Recession meant that people no longer spent $40 to $65 per person for dinner and a (usually lame) murder mystery show. Thankfully, Max moved back to Austin before the dinner mystery show work completely dried up.

2006: Because of My Beautiful Spirit was a one-woman show about a sweet, but unhinged lady searching for love and stalking her celebrity crush. I was on stage alone for eleven minutes spinning the tale. I'm proud of what Max wrote and of my performance. I guess it didn't resonate, because there was just the one performance. No best of week, much less best of fest. It stung a bit. I felt like I let Max down. Chad was busy traveling for work and unable to see this show that happened only once. I made the mistake of assuming that past performance indicated future performance. The other shows I did made best of fest, so this one should too. Yeah, not so much.

2007: Brand Loyalty won best of fest. This show featured a focus group study gone very, very wrong. We were back!

2008: You're Happier Than You Think: Recalibrating Your Emotional Scale was a long fringe show. Long fringe shows are allowed to be up to 90 minutes in length, and are panel-jury selected for production. We were guaranteed four performances. I made a giant squid for this show that was set on a cruise ship. The giant squid served as that signature-Max embodiment of the simmering danger. Another actress and I had to run outside off-stage near the end of each show and douse ourselves with a bucket of cold water to look as if we'd fallen off of the ship. All performances were in late January with most of our shows happening at night, so it was pretty flipping cold. This show was at the Blue Theatre which is sadly no longer around.

I went off for a few years to pursue television and film work. Max kept making theatre, some of which I was delighted to see.

2012: The Requirements won best of fest. I emerged from the audience as Max gave a PowerPoint presentation on his requirements for a relationship partner. Ultimately, my character got rejected by Max's character for not reading The Economist. The audience loved the surprise and absurdity. 

I went off for a few years to work in retail visuals and merchandising. My work schedule was punishing. Max was still making theatre. I still made time for a few dinner mystery shows, because they paid well, but my heart wasn't in it. 

2015: Tom and Liz Go on a Picnic was a musical about a treacherous love triangle that featured a bear attack. We won best of week, but not best of fest. Working on this show coincided with a soul-sucking day job. I'm so glad I had a creative outlet to alleviate some of my day job misery.

2016: Reasons You Should Stay was another one of Max's PowerPoint presentation shows with not one, not two, but three people popping out of the audience as Max's  character's disgruntled ex-lovers. I thought this show was so fun, but, um... we had just the one performance.

2017: Your Neighborhood Association won best of fest! This show is ripped straight from your neighborhood listserv with peacocks, property assessments, parking spots, broken washing machines and a destructive meteor headed straight for your block. I'm honored to work with a talented cast. Our final performance is tonight to a sold-out house. 

Whatever your creative outlet may be, keep doing it! If you've stepped away from creative endeavors for a while, come back!