Indy Fringe part 4 (plus teens)

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Last night I only made it to one Indy Fringe show, due to my misreading of the program (my fault, not the designers). This led to the last minute pick of “The Stetson Manifesto,” presented by Lebenon, Indiana’s Happy Holler Productions.

The story concerns Catfish, an aging cowboy fighting a system that now demands the replacement of his beloved Stetson with an equestrian helment. His efforts to keep things the same are resisted by a never-believable corporate type. Caught in between is a smarter-than-he-seems younger employee.

It’s encouraging to see a sincere, scripted play in the Fringe mix. But the old-school-cowboy-whose-time-has-past story is familiar to anyone who has seen a western in the past quarter century. Here, there’s an effort to freshen it up (excuse me) with some “American Pie” scatalogical action, but the result is neither revealing or compelling.

A part of the Indy Fringe that doesn’t get much attention is FringeNext, which runs concurrent to the main fest. Housed this year at IndyFringe’s own theater across College Ave, it offers teens a chance to Mickey and Judy their own shows.

For a sampling, I sent critic Katherine Harry. Yes, she’s my daughter. And she’s also a journalist in training who edits Pike High School’s newspaper and recently landed a story on the national website JVibe (see it here).

Here are her thoughts on a trio of FringeNext shows.

Young Actors Theater’s stereotypical “Check Please 2” played out like a long, drawn out, not funny ComedySportz sketch. The premise: a just-broken up couple goes on a series of dates. After several long, awful encounters with others, the pair declares the the dating pool just too “weird.”While the main characters were well-developed and seemingly well-researched, they were almost unbearable to watch. And while between-scene music blasted, what seemed like dozens of others danced awkwardly and moved about to fill time.

With minimal story and an obvious conclusion, “Check Please 2” left its audience members as confused and regretful as its characters.

“Mean Girls” met “Rugrats” in “The Secret Life of Girls” presented by the Second Story Playhouse Players. The multi-media mix of text and e-mail projections successfully made clear the overwhelming presence of technology in teenage lives, but the promising visuals couldn’t overcome the performance. Six teenage females screaming at the top of their lungs in a small theater is never a good idea. The less-than-fluid dialogue was stiff and unemotional, except when any character utilized a curse word.

Despite the loose ends (fringes perhaps?), “Every Story Has a Song” featured students from the International School expressing themselves boldly and deliberately. Leaving creative power to the students to choose their own monologues and songs, the result was passionate performances. The final song, a two-student rendition of “For Good” from “Wicked,” lit up the stage and the, unfortunately, almost empty room.

The monologues didn’t quite connect, but that left interpretation up to the audience, a freedom so seldom achieved by high school performers. The only tragedy in “Every Story Has a Song” was the minimal audience.

Here’s hoping that more young artists participate in next year’s FringeNext. This is a great opportunity being offered to students in Indy and more should take advantage of it.

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