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An unconventional evening at The Grand with “On the Fringe”

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ELLSWORTH – Two nights of something a little different will be hitting the stage in Ellsworth this weekend.

The Grand in Ellsworth is presenting an evening of short plays they’re calling “On the Fringe” on May 18 and 19. The bill features two plays – “House of Yes,” written by Wendy MacLeod and directed by Angela Bonacasa, and “Cold Summer,” written and directed by Georgia Williamina Zildjian; the show starts at 7 p.m. both nights. Tickets are $15 and available at the box office or via grandonline.org.

“House of Yes” is a project that comes by way of the Orono-based True North Theatre. It’s an intense and blackly comic story of what can happen when family ties bind too tightly. Amy Charles, Tyler Costigan, Aimee Gerow, Jasmine Ireland and Garrett Moyer star. Zildjian’s “Cold Summer” is a staged reading built around a retelling of ancient maritime myth and the depths of sororal love. Zildjian performs in this one as well, alongside Ireland and Orion Fellis.

It’s certainly something of a departure in terms of theatrical fare. These aren’t necessarily the kinds of shows that tend to land on area stages. It’s right there in the evening’s title – “On the Fringe.” It’s a move away from the mainstream, for sure.

One champion of this fringe-y effort is Nick Turner, executive director of The Grand. He was kind enough to share his thoughts on On the Fringe and his reasons for moving forward with such a project, as well as production processes both current and potentially future. 

“We are dedicated to expanding live theater, whether something originating with us, booking other artists or taking patrons to Boston to see something that is not available to us,” said Turner. “In this case, we also wanted to ​feature pieces either too short alone for a full evening and/or out of the mainstream or "on the fringe" - challenging, interesting, mature and unique works. Even new works, especially by Maine unknown or emerging playwrights.”

This event marks the initial attempt to put something like this together, but according to Turner, they are also working with some real advantages this first go-round – not least of which were a pair of short pieces looking for a place to perform.

​“This first time will probably be the easiest because the folks from True North already had a piece they really wanted to do – “The House of Yes” - and knew it couldn't be one of their ‘normal’ offerings and a short piece (although a movie was made from it),” he said. “‘Cold Summer’ was shared with me by Georgia Zildjian, a Castine resident and one of our Summer Intensives directors and teachers. It's wonderfully creative and engaging and... on the fringe.”

The idea of presenting work that is a bit more off the beaten path is one that Turner feels strongly about.

“There are so many flat out engaging, off the wall, creative and delightful pieces by known and unknown writers out there, a theater could do just these types of works and never run out,” Turner said. “I think of Beckett, Mamet, Shepherd, Ives, Churchill and so many more. Not to mention great writers in Maine and New England. There's a real brilliant creative freedom in the form.”

It seems that the plan going forward is to continue exploring this path with regards to the sorts of offerings that will be on hand at The Grand. Turner hopes to bring an occasionally different dynamic to complement their already-wide-ranging fare.

“We do plan on this kind of programming and more including new works, readings and variations like a puppet festival and more works for young audiences,” he said. “I'd like to expand programming that draws people of all ages as audience and creators.”

One of those creators – one with deep connections to the area and to The Grand itself – is Zildjian.

“Georgia Zildjian is a talented early career writer, actor and creator ​from Castine and ‘Cold Summer’ is infused with the power of the ocean and its lore,” said Turner. “For more, come to the plays and read the director's notes... and see it.”

“On the Fringe” presents an opportunity to engage with interesting, unconventional work. If all goes well, it could be the first of many such evenings – and our area’s theatrical scene would be the better for it. That’s not to say we haven’t seen any daring work, but there’s always room for more. Being challenged can be entertaining if done well.

(“On the Fringe” takes place at The Grand in Ellsworth on May 18 and 19. Performances are at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 and are available at The Grand box office, located at 165 Main Street, by calling (207) 667-9500 or by visiting www.grandonline.org.)

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