Modern Vaudeville: Nights on the Fringe
As part of its mission to spotlight young and independent artists not only during the annual Fringe Festival, but also at other events in the off-season, Charm City Fringe presented Nights on the Fringe at Baltimore Theatre Project on July 8th and 9th. Billed as a modern vaudeville experience, this two-night event included 14 acts ranging from dance to theatre to acrobatics and film.
The artists featured on Night I were Derick Ebert (Baltimore’s 2015 Poet Laureate), Bmore Than Dance (Hip Hop Dance), Schroeder Cherry (Puppetry), Jim Dandy (Sideshow), Maryland Film Festival (Short Film), Club Sandwich (Acrobatics), and Erasable Inc. (Improv). I was unable to attend Night 1, but people were still talking about the fantastic dancers from Bmore Than Dance even the next day.
Arriving at Baltimore Theatre Project on Night II, I felt the festival-like atmosphere immediately. Outside the venue, a stilt-walker greeted patrons and pedestrians on Preston Street while an accordion-player entertained the gathering of event-goers in line for the venue to open. Nights on the Fringe was hosted by WYPR’s Aaron Henkin and Gin & Jokes’ Umar Khan, who engaged in witty banter and introduced each act before they took the stage. Khan also performed a set of solo stand up comedy midway through the program. During the change-overs between acts, the house band, Slanted Sound, entertained the audience and filled the gaps that might otherwise have made the transitions feel like boring lulls in the action.
Performing on Night II were In the Dark Circus Arts (Aerial Circus Arts), A Fool’s Paradise (2015 Fringe Audience Choice winner), The Ballet Theatre of Maryland (Classical Ballet), Emily Schubert (Puppetry), Interrobang Theatre Company (2014 Pick of the Fringe winner), and Acrobacular Spectacular with Eric N. Sipes (Acrobatics). There was also an amusing short film from the 2016 Maryland Film Festival’s Animated Shorts program called Glove. It had to do with the true story of glove that has been floating in space since 1965 when it got away from the astronaut it belonged to.
All the acts were quite good, though I do have some favorites. In the Dark Circus Arts impressed me with a David Bowie-themed routine of ground-level work like rolling and spinning around the stage inside a giant hoop and also graceful aerial work on trapeze and flowing aerial silks hung from the high above the stage. Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s performance of a piece they called Primal Dream was truly beautiful.
My top choice of the night, though, was A Fool’s Paradise – a small troupe of actors performing Shakespeare-on-demand. They had taped slips of paper with different scenes from Shakespeare’s plays under all the seats in the theater and audience members shouted out their scenes, which the actors promptly performed. It was fast-paced and fun, but not just silly like some quick Shakespeare. Sure, there was a modernized scene of the MacBeth witches that ended with them taking a selfie with a tourist, but there were also serious scenes. Company member Lisa Hodsoll’s performance of Marc Antony’s “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech from Julius Caesar was one of the more moving renditions I’ve heard in any context.
Charm City Fringe Festival’s Nights on the Fringe was a wonderful introduction to a number of artists I had somehow managed to not yet encounter in the Baltimore performing arts scene. It achieved its goal of highlighting new and independent artists and definitely whetted my palate for the Charm City Fringe Festival. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to see some of these performers again at the Festival in November.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, plus a 15-minute intermission.