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PortFringe’s Pop-Up ‘Inferno’ a hell of a good time

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PORTLAND – Maine’s premier fringe festival weirdoes are at it again, offering up a uniquely collaborative take on a literary classic.

The PortFringe Festival has once again unleashed its annual Pop-Up experience on the world with its latest iteration, an adaptation of Dante’s “Inferno.” This filmed collaboration involving a dozen different groups and individual artists is available for streaming at the PortFringe website (www.portfringe.com/inferno) through April 15. Tickets are pay-what-you-can, though it’s worth mentioning that this is PortFringe’s primary fundraiser, so be generous if you can.

Previous installments have included three Shakespeare plays – “Hamlet,” “Macbeth” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – and two other classics in “The Odyssey” and “Alice in Wonderland.”

So how does it work? Simple. The powers that be at PortFringe select the work to be adapted. Said work is then divided into chunks, with each chunk distributed to a different group or individual artist (chosen by random lottery) to interpret as they see fit. Those interpretations must follow just a few rules:

Use at least one line of original text. Keep within a designated time limit. Tell the story.

And that’s pretty much it. The wildly disparate and inevitably weird pieces are assembled and the show is presented as part of PortFringe’s largest annual fundraising push.

Now, the first four Pop-Ups were in-person affairs, but the circumstances of the pandemic led to last year’s “Alice in Wonderland” pivoting to a filmed project – the shutdown hit just a couple of weeks before Pop-Up was scheduled.

“Inferno” has also been a filmed outing, but rather than adapting works written for live performance to film, it was always intended for the medium, allowing for a good deal more flexibility and creativity to the artists involved. And by setting a time limit of just four minutes for each piece, the burden on each section was lightened.

(This is where I disclose that I have participated in a number of Pop-Up performances over the years, including this one. It is a worthwhile and exciting expression of creative energy that has never failed to be a rewarding and satisfying experience.)

Here’s a list of the artists and groups that participated in Pop-Up “Inferno.”

  1.     FrostHEAVE! (Augusta)
  2.     Fitzwilliam (Mineola, NY)
  3.     Always Happens! Productions (Portland)
  4.     Shakespeare and Shenanigans (Portland)
  5.     Tandem Theatre Collective (Portland)
  6.     Brynn Lewallen, with members of Polyphonic Theatre Ensemble (Portland)
  7.     Allen Adams (Bangor)
  8.     Chimera Theatre Collective (Scarborough)
  9.     Generation Z (Portland)
  10.   Dumpster Fire Productions (Portland)
  11.   Apparatus Movement Arts (Portland)
  12.   Mackenzie O’Connor (Portland)

It’s an impressive collection of talent, featuring actors, dancers, musicians, writers, filmmakers and all manner of other creatives. Every single person involved brought their own unique abilities to the table. And true to the spirit of fringe … it got WEIRD.

I hesitate to say too much, simply because it will be so much better if you don’t quite know what to expect. And I can say that with confidence, because one of the great things about all of this is that we all worked in a vacuum – none of us had any exposure to the work of the others until we came together to view the final product via a virtual viewing party.

There are some fantastic musical numbers – for instance, one guy managed to put together a sea shanty in four-part harmony BY HIMSELF and there’s an absolutely scathing ukulele-strumming burn of Jeff Bezos. One person subverted TikTok and another group drew inspiration from “The Twilight Zone.” There’s a delightful look at Hell’s less-than-impressive security team and several awe-inspiring movement moments. And on and on – wild stylistic veering from scene to scene, all in service to unspooling Dante’s remarkable tale.

For what it’s worth, my own segment – inspired by Hell’s Fifth Circle of Wrath – was a continuation of a character that I’d brought to my previous two Pop-Up outings. Think of him as a delightful mélange of Alex Jones and the “Ancient Aliens” guy, only with a ton more self-awareness and a lot less racism. It’s all about spinning outlandish theories – in this case, that Dante’s work was actually a coded message condemning actions taken against his secret twin, another famed figure from history whose identity I won’t divulge here. You’ll have to see it for yourself.

I can’t stress enough how wonderful it is to work with so many different and passionate artists all at once (even if we’re all on our own islands until the very end). Being part of such an elaborate collaboration – the Socratic ideal of the “exquisite corpse” – has been a phenomenal experience for me every time out. It’s strange work and challenging work – work that’s not for everyone – but if anything I’ve written has intrigued you, you’ll probably enjoy yourselves.

And so, I say to each and every one of you, with all due respect – go to hell.

Last modified on Tuesday, 06 April 2021 14:03

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