Confession: I'm biased. I love Fringe — or, anyway, the idea of it. I love the festival's motley collision of invention and audacity. Now I just have to learn to love its scale.
This thing just gets bigger. In its eighth season, that means a program of 80-plus local, regional and national theater, dance, art, music, film, magic, stand-up, performance-art and burlesque acts. Choosing a manageable itinerary from that something-for-everyone slate, with venues scattered around midtown and downtown, is almost cruelly vexing. There's no way to see everything, and coordinating my initial picks with the schedule (in its final form at kcfringe.org) is its own challenge.
That's not a complaint, and this year all it took for my bias to kick in again were the first words spoken by the host of the opening-night preview (held for the first time at Kansas City Rep's Spencer Theatre, on the UMKC campus). "It's the most awesome thing that happens in Kansas City all year," Lucky DeLuxe said. Hyperbole? Sure. True? Maybe!
That party (the evening of July 19) was billed as a chance to see snippets of the various offerings, but the festive audience that filled the Spencer would have been ready to fringe even without a peek. Part of the excitement, after all, comes from not knowing what to expect. Some Fringe pieces are still getting worked out, and others — not always for the better — have been well-tested. Some are performed by their creators, and some have been cast.
With a limited number of performances over 10 days and the competition of so many choices, performers and creators have little opportunity to build an audience. Every site displays promotional cards for other Fringe shows, and volunteers (or the artists themselves) pass out more in the hopes of encouraging attendance. If you take that bait, you won't keep to your list — and you probably shouldn't anyway. Something always ends up sounding more interesting.
When Fringe officially began last Friday, July 20, I'd already pondered and second-guessed myself before settling on two shows: Tack Driver at Crown Center's Off Center Theatre (2450 Grand) and Lies, Phalluses and Fairytales at the Unicorn (3828 Main).
That doesn't sound like a long night, but consider the geographic challenges. Crown Center has a lot going on: LegoLand, the aquarium, the Screenland movie theater and, on Friday nights, a free 9 p.m. film at Crown Center Square. So: parking. I needed a space close to the exit for a quick departure so I could be in midtown for the next play. (All shows start on time, and sellouts aren't uncommon, especially when the venue is small or curiosity is high.)
Tack Driver drew a good crowd for its first performance, perhaps owing to the names involved. For one, KC Rep producing director Jerry Genochio was making his debut as a playwright. I'd seen a few minutes of Tack Driver at the preview — after which, he announced on Friday, he had added 40 new pages. He told the Friday audience that this was the form his play would take for the rest of the festival. Kyle Hatley, associate artistic director at the Rep, and Matthew Rapport had rehearsed the revised script for the first time just a few hours before this night's debut, he said, and would have pages in hand for part of the show.
Very discreetly, they did — and they still gave deft, sensitive performances. (They played brothers meeting up at a remote farmhouse to take care of some, shall we say, family business.) Is Genochio's a perfect script? Well, how could it be? But I found it absorbing, and if Genochio keeps tinkering, I'll gladly see it again.