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‘Where one door closes, an explosion somewhere else creates a window’ - PortFringe goes digital for 2021

June 7, 2021
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PORTLAND – One of the state’s most beloved cultural events is back after a one-year break, albeit in a different form.

PortFringe, the Portland-based fringe theatre festival, was forced to take last summer off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. They made the decision to come back this summer, marking their 10th year, but with so much uncertainty still swirling, they opted to try something different.

Instead of a collection of live performances, they’d move to film.

The result is “Fringe-on-Film,” a collection of 21 short films created for the festival. Some of the artists are longtime PortFringe participants, while others are first-timers. But all have fully embraced the chaotic creativity that is fringe.

These 21 films have been divided into seven programs of three films each. PortFringe will be hosting virtual watch parties for each slate, with each of the seven receiving four screenings in all. It’s an assemblage of all the wild weirdness that we’ve come to expect from PortFringe, but this time, instead of traveling to one of the many venues that have hosted the festival in the past, you can enjoy the work from the comfort of your own home.

It’s not the ideal situation, of course – like so many other artists, the powers that be at PortFringe would like nothing more than to return to a world filled with live performance. But for now, this is the next best thing.

While the shared social events will be taking place from June 11-19, fear not - if you're unavailable to see these pieces at one of the virtual watch parties, there will be an on-demand period stretching from June 20-30, with pay-what-you-can ticketing. You'll have plenty of opportunity to see some or all of this wonderful work.

Tara McDonough and James Patefield are two of the forces behind PortFringe; the pair was kind enough to make time to answer a few of our questions about the festival, the pivot to film and the never-say-die spirit of Fringe.

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The Maine Edge: How did you arrive at the decision to make this year’s PortFringe a film-driven event?

Tara McDonough: When it became clear that an in-person festival was not in the cards, we talked A LOT about what we *could* do. And we decided to trust in the creativity of the Fringe community and embrace our digital options.

James Patefield: Exactly – we knew that health guidance and recommendations would continue to shift and be uncertain, and we didn’t want to put artists, audience members, or ourselves through that confusion and uncertainty. We also had success with two excellent pop-up Fringe-on-film events, that helped us figure out what a Fringe-on-film festival might look like.

TME: What was the curation process like? Did you do the same lottery entry system as you have in previous years?

TM: Essentially the same lottery system, though we reserved a certain percentage of spots for BIPOC artists.We also invited artists who had been selected for the (cancelled) PF2020 festival to shift their participation to 2021 instead.

JP: Exactly right! We had around 10 artists opt to carry over their selection in PF 2020, and then held a lottery for the additional 11 spots, with the note that Tara mentioned about prioritizing BIPOC artists.

The exciting thing about these Fringe-on-film events is that it did allow us to curate a little more than we usually do in terms of the pairings. Because each Fringe event is an hour-long combination of three films, it offered a unique way to think about how these films and artists could complement each other. In curating these 21 films into 7 events, we tried to balance themes, local and non-local artists, length and topic in terms of the audience that each show may draw.

TME: Did the pivot to video lead to submissions from a wider range of artists, either in terms of physical distance or artistic ethos?

TM: As we’ve seen over the past year, the massive digital pivot has actually opened up some opportunities for collaboration and participation. Though the majority of our PF artists this year are locals, it’s been super-easy for folks “from away” to participate -- without the hassle of booking plane tickets and finding local accommodation. We’ve also had some formerly-local folks who are living in other parts of the country be able to jump in and join us this year, which has been nice as we celebrate our 10th birthday.

JP: The other thing is artistic ethos--I have been so impressed and delighted, time and time again, by the ability of so many artists to pivot and remake their visions. For so many Fringe artists, that has meant pivoting from theatrical performance to film, and the results have been extraordinary. Having Fringe in this format has also opened the door to so many more artists to get involved, whether they come from film or other backgrounds. Long term, I think it also changes what Fringe can be--and I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see more multi-media explorations after this, which is exciting!

TME: How long was the process to assemble the slate? The 21 films are divided into seven different programs - how did you decide which pieces to screen together?

TM: Once the artists had submitted their films, the committee watched the entries and tried to group them thematically or stylistically -- and some just by gut. It’s kind of amazing how well it worked out!

JP: Oops, I already answered a bit of this above, sorry! The whole process took us about a week or two--of course, we’ve been working with the artists via regular check-ins to help them through the process since they were selected. Another great thing that has formed out of the pandemic was this ability to have regular check-ins on zoom and to connect more artists that way even earlier.

TME: In what ways do you feel that these works stay true to the spirit of fringe in general and PortFringe in particular?

TM: Any art right now feels like a revolution -- an act of defiance . Fringe is weird and wonderful and unexpected, artists sharing their vision of the world with audiences who want to be changed. That is as true of this year’s PortFringe events as it has been for the last ten years.

JP: Tara said it so well! I think so much of Fringe is about making art in unexpected places and situations, and well--nothing gets more unexpected than the past year and a half. Exploring new ways of storytelling in a way that is accessible, yet decidedly not mainstream, also feels very true to the PortFringe ethos. And so many of the films are so beautifully and handily done.

TME: Do you think that PortFringe may maintain a video component going forward, even when in-person performance is back?

TM: I hope so! I love live performance - so much! - and I’m sure that will always be a part of PortFringe. But the way the PF21 artists embraced the challenge of making their art and telling their stories in a whole new way has been really heartening. PortFringe is always evolving - I can definitely see trying to keep that film component in future years!

JP: Absolutely! As with so much else, everybody’s been talking about how we can’t necessarily “go back to the way things were,” right? I think we’ve seen this in so many different artistic settings, and I think we welcome a way to engage with even more people in a hopefully even more accessible way. And though we’ve had some Fringe pieces that involve both film and live performance in the past, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot more of it in the future--people have really grown some skills!

TME: What are you hoping that audiences take away from these pieces?

TM: Goonies never say die! Just kidding. But I do think we’re sending a message that art will survive whatever the world throws at it. Close one door and the next thing you know, artists will be exploding out another one (sometimes where you didn’t even know there WAS a door!).

JP: Tara hit it on the nose with the Goonies, I’ll say--it’s that weird art isn’t dead, and that there are so many artists out there with new visions and new ideas to contribute. To complicate the metaphor further, I would say where one door closes, an explosion somewhere else creates a window. And that is a heartening thing.

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Fringe-on-Film Offerings

The following is a breakdown of the 21 filmed pieces that will be shown as part of PortFringe. The films are arranged by the seven sections into which they’ve been grouped for showing, with brief descriptions as well as times and dates for each section’s watch party.

(More information about these films and the artists who created them can be found at www.portfringe.com.)

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PF-21 Festival Event #1

Deepest Regrets – Khalil LeSaldo

Show Description: A love letter to all the weddings that we didn’t make.

About the Artist: Khalil is a Mainer who is currently teaching at UNC Chapel Hill, where he is pursuing an Acting MFA. He is a cofounder of PortFringe fans 2Sheets Theater Company, and a company member at Playmakers Theater.

The Reveal – Catherine Siller

Show Description: Who would you be if the gender binary didn’t exist – if you were never taught how to be a boy or a girl? This multimedia dance show celebrates nonconformity. Performers wrestle with the pink and blue detritus of a gender reveal party and swim in the sea of gender identity as they explore the grief, joy, and freedom that come from living beyond the binary.

About the Artists: Catherine Siller is an artist, performer, technological illusionist, permaculture enthusiast, and kitten parent currently living in Boston, MA. She has performed nationally and internationally and has shown her videos at the Boston Short Film Festival, Boston Cyberarts Gallery, and Boston’s Area Code Art Fair. Her work playfully challenges gender norms and stereotypes.

Feet: A Short, Sass-Quatchy, Mental Health Musical – Polyphonic Theatre Ensemble

Show Description: You’re sad, you’re alone, you’re singing about it outside where anyone or anything can hear you. Who will come and dispense important resources and information about getting your mental health back on track? That’s right: FEET, a North Eastern Bigfoot.

About the Artist: Polyphonic Theatre Ensemble is a non-profit theatre company that is committed to making quality theatre, placing a high value on local artists and amplifying voices that may otherwise go unheard. Check out their pandemic-created podcast: “I Hate Musicals” on Apple and Spotify!

Dates/Times:

June 12, 2:00 p.m.

June 13, 6:30 p.m.

June 16, 6:30 p.m.

June 19, 3:00 p.m.

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PF-21 Festival Event #2

Holocaust Storyteller Chapter One: The Hero of Our Story – Russell Kaback

Show Description: ”Hamilton” meets “Maus” in this one-man staged musical reading.  With touches of rock, jazz, reggae and Judaic music, Russell Kaback tells the story of his grandfather’s life in a Polish town, and the fate of its inhabitants when the Nazis showed up.

About the Artist: Russell Kaback is a writer, performer, musician and educator, originally from Montreal and currently living near Portland.

Hauntology! – Ella Mock

Show Description: Someone’s got a case of the ghosts, and the only solution is a DIY exorcism. An exploration of the ghost story, but like, what is a ghost anyway?

About the Artist: Ella Mock is a theatre-maker, intimacy choreographer, and consent educator currently based out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Their most recent dalliance with PortFringe was The Skunk Cycle with 2 Sheets Theatre Co.They love a good ghost story.

Selkie – Erica Murphy

Show Description: A selkie seal woman discovers the possibility of a new life with a local fisherman, but her heart is torn between the land and sea.

About the Artists: Erica Murphy is a movement theater artist and recent graduate of L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris. Murphy and the Sifters Co. are based in Portland, Maine.

Dates/Times:

June 12, 3:30 p.m.

June 13, 5:00 p.m.

June 16, 8:00 p.m.

June 19, 12:00 p.m.

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PF-21 Festival Event #3

The Yip of Cthulhu – Maximum Verbosity

Show Description: A disturbed scholar becomes obsessed with awakening a slumbering terror from the ocean floor – but it may be another beast altogether that drives him to the brink of madness.

About the Artist: phillip andrew bennett low is a Chinese-American playwright and poet, storyteller and mime, theatre critic and libertarian activist. His solo performances have won acclaim from Minneapolis to Atlanta, New York to LA – even as far as Melbourne, Australia. He has published two humor collections, Indecision Now! and Get Thee Behind Me, Santa.

Brother from the Great Beyond – A Kurkendaal-Barrett Production

Show Description: Les has to talk to his brother but it’s way more complicated than sending a text because his brother has passed away. How is Les going to solve this issue ? And what does his brother have to say?

Late Conversations – Purple Crayon

Show Description: Two sisters meet for a much needed talk. One of them has been dead for thirty years.

About the Artists: Purple Crayon is a Portland-based collaborative that exists to launch short-term creative ventures.

Dates/Times:

June 12, 5:00 p.m.

June 13, 3:30 p.m.

June 17, 8:00 p.m.

June 19, 6:00 p.m.

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PF-21 Festival Event #4

I Say It All Can Happen – Narcissa Gold/Pop Killed Culture Productions

Show Description: A wry and raw performance as an artist struggles with the creative process and an inner monologue of unrelenting scrutiny of the world and her attempt to find a place in it. It’s a story anyone who has tried to create something will relate to: from the passion for a new idea to the crippling self doubt that lurks behind that joy. In the end, it’s possibility that usually triumphs: I Say It All Can Happen.

Yippee Skippy! – Inventing Trees

Show Description: Follow a pair of bored young interstellar explorers “borrowing” their parents’ space craft as they learn a new skill to help reshape life as we know it. (Not based on a true story).

About the Artists: Inventing Trees is the performing and visual arts troupe peddling stuff that used to live inside the dreamworld as described currently by a bunch of (mostly) introverts that make up stories on the edge of the woods and sheepishly bring them out to play.

Penny – The Conduit – Kelly Nesbit & Mad Composer Lab

Show Description: Penny is a conduit who speaks to this American moment by expressing our collective grief and despair, yet exemplifies the unquenchable hope that lies deeper in the human heart. Death, mourning during covid, and healing are overt themes of this piece, as exemplified by Penny’s awkward yet earnest commitment to meditation, nature worship, and conversations with a radically different kind of deity. We also witness the artist seek solace in the transformation of becoming Penny all while struggling to be performative, for a myriad of existential reasons, during a pandemic.

About the Artists:
Kelly Nesbitt (Portland, OR) is a multi-disciplinary performance artist, midlife warrior, and frontline worker who plays at the intersection of humor and healing. Mad Composer Lab (Portland, OR / Joshua Tree, CA) is an innovative and versatile composer whose imaginative music captures beauty, bursts of melodic and rhythmic energy.

Dates/Times:

June 12, 6:30 p.m.

June 15, 8:00 p.m.

June 18, 6:30 p.m.

June 19, 4:30 p.m.

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PF-21 Festival Event #5

American Altars – Dana Fadel

Show Description: Food box ephemera, photographs, and other offerings to the magnet gods.

About the Artist: Dana Fadel is from New Gloucester, ME.

Mr. Robert’s Friendly Apocalypse – Glynnis Nadel & Jason Henry Simon-Bierenbaum

Show Description: The show must go on! In this spoof of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,’ not even the apocalypse can stop the beloved children’s show host, Mr. Robert, from spreading joy and knowledge!

About the Artists: From the great city of Philadelphia, where bad things happen, Glynnis Nadel and Jason Henry Simon-Bierenbaum collaborate to bring dark yet joyful humor to life. Pairing their joint writing and theater backgrounds, this is their first video production together.

Shadows of my Family – Jim Julien

Show Description: Shadows of My Family is the story of a hog farmer out of his element, automotive perfection, a South American dictator in crisis and an enchanting French tutor. You know, like all family stories that start in Indiana do.

About the Artists: Jim Julien has been a performance artist, puppeteer and Fringe fan for many years. He has performed in the Asheville, St. Louis, Nashville (Sideshow) and Shenandoah Fringe festivals. His evil puppet lair is located in Drexel Hill, PA.

Dates/Times:

June 12, 8:00 p.m.

June 14, 6:30 p.m.

June 18, 8:00 p.m.

June 19, 9:00 p.m.

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PF-21 Festival Event #6

The Devil You Know, or “Don’t” – Shakespeare and Shenanigans

Show Description: What is real? You’d be surprised. Magic is real. Hell is real, and maybe, just maybe, the gods and monsters of old are real. A short tale of magical realism, where old friends (or are they enemies?) push, pull, and finally fall.

About the Artists: Shakespeare and Shenanigans started in March 2020 as a short-term quarantine project. They now have a dedicated company of actors ready to jump into whatever crazy shenanigans their intrepid directors can come up with.

Arthur to Guinevere at Almsbury – Eric Darrow Worthley

Show Description: King Arthur reaches out to the exiled Guinevere as his story comes to an end.

About the Artist: Eric Darrow Worthley is a Portland-based actor, director, writer and producer.

Mostly Sunny with Highs in the 90s – Storm Warnings Repertory Theatre

Show Description: On a hot and sunny summer day in Naples Florida a middle-age woman is reunited with her adult son. The last time the two saw each other the boy was only 10, when his mom went out to get the proverbial pack of cigarettes and never returned. Tormented by the thoughts of his mother’s absence and looking for answers, he confronts her on the sandy beaches of the Gulf coast.

About the Artists: Storm Warnings Repertory Theatre is dedicated to new work by accomplished playwrights. Located in Portland Maine, the company is now in its sixth year. This show features Elizabeth Freeman and Callum MacDonald (actual mother and son). It is written by Paul Dervis and was edited for PortFringe by Elizabeth Freeman. Directed by Paul Dervis and Elizabeth Freeman.

Dates/Times:

June 13, 2:00 p.m.

June 14, 8:00 p.m.

June 17, 6:30 p.m.

June 19, 1:30 p.m.

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PF-21 Festival Event #7

Story Gauntlet – Chimera Theatre Collective

Show Description: Seven storytellers assemble to tell you a story, but with one catch: each member of the gauntlet can only watch the previous retelling of the story one time before they must retell it to the next person. This virtual, video, storytelling telephone leaves each story forever changed by the fear, anxiety, and fickle memories of those who tell it.

About the Artists: Forged in 2015, Chimera Theatre Collective is a Portland-based theatre collective that takes the theatrical road less traveled as often as possible. For Story Gauntlet, we assembled some of our favorite artists from Atlanta, New York City, and Northern New England to suffer immense anxiety for your (virtual) theatrical enjoyment.

It Got So Small – A Teeny Little Movie – Tekannis Productions

Show Description:
Come inside. Yes, there’s something wrong with the electrical. If you don’t like cats, I don’t know what to tell you.

About the Artist: Christine Marshall is a Maine-based film and theatre artist, teacher, audiobook narrator, and PortFringe proponent. She was devoted to LAND OF THE GIANTS as a child, and could absolutely fashion a table from a thimble, and kill a house spider using a needle as a sword.

The Bichon Frise and Shetland Variety Hour – Memoriam Development

Show Description: After a brief stint being holed up at home due to a one year apocalypse, Memoriam Development returns to the fringe scene with their new show, The Bichon Frise and Shetland Variety Hour! Their minds addled from lack of human contact, 365 day seasonal depression, QAnon, and lots of alcohol, our brave actors/writers have put together a show that highlights their multiple talents (or so they think).

About the Artists: Memoriam Development is a collective of creators gathered together in order to make great original content for stage, screen, and pod. Founded in 2016 in the Chicago Suburbs, Memoriam has been Fringing since its inception.

Dates/Times:

June 13, 8:00 p.m.

June 15, 6:30 p.m.

June 18, 9:30 p.m.

June 19, 7:30 p.m.

Last modified on Wednesday, 09 June 2021 08:43

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