Based on the small cast’s many humorous performances and the funny one-and-two-handedness of the 2021 Fringe Fest program, you’d think its founder-curator Nick Stuccio needed a laugh. “More than ever, yes,” he said in a pre-festival conversation about the wealth of comedy skit events and stand-up comedy lectures.
Just click on the “Comedy & Improvisation” tab by festival genre, now until the end of October 3, and the list of comedic events is as long and succulent as it is diverse, daring – and, of course, hilarious. , with a Fringe-y turn. This includes “Thank You, Places: An Improvised Musical” on September 22 and “Not Yet Rated: An Improvised Movie” at the Theater Exile, on September 27 “Latinx 2044: A Hispanic Heritage Month Comedy Special” with Che Guerrero from Philly, at Digital Fringe’s current offering, ‘The Wasp’s Nest’ from Paper Doll Ensemble.
When it comes to comedy Fringe, it’s best to talk to Zach Blackwood, FringeArts artistic producer and Crossroads Comedy Theater founder Mike Marbach.
For Marbach’s part, and that of Crossroads Comedy – an on-stage and digital home for comic book shows and pop culture podcasts – the events at the Theater Exile for Fringe are concentrated, with several comedy showcases grouped together in Unique cellular “hubs”.
Is there a style of comedy – sketch, stand-up, lecture, or educational event – that Marbach turns to in his curation for Fringe?
“What we have done is already more the low than your average comedy shows, ”Marbach notes. “Some of our shows in Fringe 2021 are events we’ve been hosting for years, such as ‘Study Hall: Comedy Inspired by Lectures’. Crossroads shows are already fringe-y when you consider our level of improvisation. This is what alternative comedy was built on. “
FringeArt’s Blackwood sees “alternative comedy” everywhere he looks in Philadelphia – in the work of Dadaist pop artist / comedian Rose Luardo to Whit MacLaughlin’s oddly humorous Fringe Fest poem / lecture “707 Hazardous Moves”.
Responsible for FringeArts HQ’s Hand-to-Hand circus events as well as its Blue Heaven comedy festival, Blackwood focused on the 2021 Fringe Fest live show schedule.
“For me, the challenge of going live this year was that there was weariness with a fully digital program,” he says. “Last year the virtual domain was cool. And it’s always exciting with so many new ways to contextualize work, digitally. But there’s no pre-show or follow-up with virtual programming – you shut down your laptop at the end of a show and suddenly you’re on your own. There is no community, numerically, as there is with performing arts. Once we mitigated risk and safety, we knew a live festival was in order. Fringe shows that it requires openness and the presence of people.
Fringe’s 25th anniversary in 2021 also prompted Blackwood to ensure that longtime festival veterans were heard as much as the new voices of contemporary performance artists, and that intimacy was as prevalent as the events of “grande area”. “Plus there’s the cool factor of the Fringe,” says Blackwood. “When you’re proud to present the ‘next thing’ or ‘what’s new’ you’re always pushing yourself. “
Seeking to protect audiences without protecting his art, Blackwood credits Crossroads Comedy for keeping the flame burning for some wild comedic moments during Fringe that modulate between live on stage, digital, stand-up, skits, podcasts and lectures. Blackwood also shouts the circus-focused and ‘Healing +’ event Only Bones on October 1-2 from immersive comedic theater master (and famous single intern for Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon) Mike Lemme, as part of his 2021 tour of outraged art festivals.
“There’s a lot of work going on in this festival which is extremely funny even when it may not seem like it should be, like with MacLaughlin discussing being shot and losing his mother,” says Blackwood. “It’s hard to define contemporary comedy and performance in Philly through FringeArts and Crossroads. Because it’s not always about making you feel good.
“Comedy is a powerful medium by which we often deal with trauma. And we’ve all been through several strange and traumatic years at this point. We laugh because we’ve all been so wrong. So, it was fantastic to see the comic artists of Fringe crystallize that and describe how we got over it. “