LOU’S VIEWS: Indy Fringe for first-timers

By now, you’ve probably at least heard about the Indy Fringe festival, the annual summer event that continues to grow even as it continues to baffle the uninitiated.

That bafflement is understandable, given Fringe’s free-wheeling nature. Whereas most arts companies have someone at the helm to determine what gets seen and what doesn’t, Fringe Executive Director Pauline Moffat has nothing whatsoever to say about the content of the shows she presents. If a show’s producers pay its entry fee on time, it’s part of the festival, be it a stand-up comedy act, a cabaret concert, an original play, or a guy portraying Abe Lincoln. (Full disclosure: I’m also one of those producers who paid my fees to stage shows. But I won’t mention them here.)

So how do you “do” Fringe?

Depends on the kind of person you are.

“I’m a planner type.” Then grab a copy of the Indy Fringe program or look through the offerings online (www.indyfringe.org). Pick out a few shows that strike you as potentially worth $10 and an hour of your time.

“I like to be spontaneous.” Then just head down to the Mass Ave area where the shows start every hour and a half from 1:30-10:30 p.m. on weekends and 6-10:30 p.m. on weekdays at eight venues.

“I just want to go to the really good stuff.” That’s tougher. Your masterpiece might be another person’s yawner. But you can gauge the hits and flops by talking to folks who’ve seen shows, by seeing what’s being said on Twitter (#Fringe13), and by listening to bloggers and reviewers (Nuvo’s comprehensive review section comes out Aug. 21.)

“That’s all well and good, Lou, but will you recommend something already?” While I haven’t seen any of this year’s shows as of press time, I think it’s a safe bet that you’ll laugh at Three Dollar Bill Comedy’s “We May Very Well Be Sued: A Dalt Wisney Tribute,” enjoy the musical craziness of The Fourth Wall’s “Fruit Flies Like Bananas,” and dig some of Indy’s leading actors in an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Welcome to the Monkey House” stories.

“Hey, those are all local groups. I want to see performers I otherwise can’t see in Indy.” The program outlines those coming in from out of town, many of whom make the rounds to fringe fests around the country. This year, they include West Virginia’s “The Billy Willy Show” about a faded cowboy star, Atlanta’s “Dr. Conundrum’s Cabaret of Miracles” magic show, and a Minneapolis company offering a new adaptation of “Medea.” I can’t vouch for any of them, but applaud your adventurous nature and/or sense of Hoosier hospitality.

“Will the hottest shows sell out before I get there?” Fringe shows do often sell out. However, only half of seats for a given performance can be presold, to ensure that the other half goes to those in the line.

“Between shows, will I be bombarded by desperate performers shoving fliers into my hands trying to get me to their productions?” Yes. Deal with it. And remember that if a performer handing you a flier makes you cringe during a 20-second street encounter, you probably don’t want to spend an hour at his show. You’ll also find street entertainers along Mass Ave to enjoy during downtime. And there’s the Beer Tent, too, with a free outdoor stage.

“You said there’s no gatekeeper deciding who gets in and who doesn’t. Can a festival be built without artistic standards?” Apparently, yes, given the popularity of fringe fests around the world and the fact that Indy’s version is now in its ninth season. The theory is that, free of a gatekeeper, artists will create what they want to create—and that freedom breeds exciting productions. And it actually sometimes works that way.

“What’s it going to cost me?” First, $5 for a backer button, which is a one-time requirement. Then, $10 per show for adults, $8 for students, and $5 for kids under 12. A fiver pass gets you five shows for the price of four. The button money goes to the festival, while the ticket price goes to the show. Both can be picked up at any participating theater. Cash only at the individual theaters, but you can use plastic at the Art Bank (811 Massachusetts Ave.) or at the Babeca Theatre.

“I’ve heard of the Phoenix Theatre, Theatre on the Square, and most of the other venues. But what’s this Babeca Theatre of which you speak?” The Babeca is a 90-seat space created just for the Fringe at 919 N. East St. It’s a short walk from the bulk of the theaters, but you can also hop a shuttle at Mass and St. Clair Street that will take you there and to the Cook Theatre at the Indiana Landmarks Center.

“Where do I park?” There’s lots of free parking around the Babeca and the Cook. Things aren’t bad around Mass Ave, either, if you stay north of St. Clair. If not, prepare to feed the meter between shows and be thankful you aren’t in Chicago.

“What about food?” The biggest shocker for Fringe returnees will be the loss of the Mass Ave Yats, which for years was the perfect place to grab a hearty bite between shows (It should be back at a new location in November, which doesn’t help you for Fringe).

Mass Ave offers other options, of course, particularly for those who aren’t trying to catch a show for every time slot. Forty-five Degrees, Mass Ave Pub and others will be offering special menus to accommodate fringers. Food trucks tend to be discouraged in favor of local eateries.

“What happens if I’m late for a show?” You won’t get in.•


This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming arts and entertainment events to lharry@ibj.com.

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