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Through the looking glass with ‘Pop-Up Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’

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PORTLAND – The folks at PortFringe are offering up a different sort of look at a literary classic.

PortFringe – Maine’s fringe theatre festival – has done a Pop-Up performance as a fundraiser each year for the past five years. Their latest, forced by circumstances to change from a live performance to a filmed video collaboration, is now streaming via the PortFringe website at www.portfringe.com.

How does a Pop-Up performance work, you ask? It’s simple.

The powers that be at PortFringe choose a work – the first three years were Shakespeare plays (“Hamlet,” “Macbeth” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”), while last year’s event used “The Odyssey.” For this year, the chosen work was Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” The piece is divided up into chunks, with each chunk distributed to a different individual or group (chosen via lottery) to interpret however they choose.

The requirements, such as they are, are simple:

  1.     Use at least one line of original text.
  2.     Keep within a designated time limit (usually around 10 minutes).
  3.     Tell the story.

And that’s it. Then, the assorted companies/individuals assemble in one spot to put the pieces together, resulting in an entertaining and utterly unique shared collaborative interpretation of a classic text.

For this year, the plan was to use “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” Twelve different groups and individual artists were given a section of the story to recreate and adapt as they saw fit, with the plan to bring them together for a celebratory fundraising performance.

Of course, 2020 had other ideas. This year’s event was scheduled for late March; as with most other happenings from that time, it was indefinitely postponed. Circumstances led them to pivot, moving from an in-person performance to a collaborative digital event. The groups involved were asked to craft a filmed piece rather than a live one; each of those pieces was then submitted to PortFringe to be assembled into a single unit.

And now – it’s here.

Streaming through November 22, the video can be found at www.portfringe.com/wonderland. For a recommended ticket price of $15-$25, depending on how many will be viewing the video (note that the pricing is via the honor system – be a good person and cough up the proper cash), you can see for yourself how the bizarre circumstances have impacted this already-fundamentally-weird happening.

This is where I note that I myself am involved with this project. I participated in the first two Pop-Ups – “Hamlet” and “Macbeth” – and while other creative endeavors precluded me from taking part in the next two collaborations, I was very excited to be on-board for this latest version of Pop-Up. As one of the only representatives from this part of the state, I take great pride in what I bring to the table as far as Pop-Up is concerned; while I was obviously saddened by the necessity of altering the trajectory of the project for this year, there was no way that I was going to miss out again.

Now, “Pop-Up Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” features primarily artists from the greater Portland area. It’s an interesting array of segments that these various groups have assembled. The opening segment is an absurd and quite funny card game where all the players are famous rabbits; that one is a team-up between PortFringe veteran groups MTWTFSS Theatre Company and Finyette Productions. There’s a pretty phenomenal “A-Team” parody, only with puppets; that from Two Red Hens Productions. There are a couple of striking animations and a handful of Zoom riffs. It’s a stitched-together combination of different talents and perspectives, more Mary Shelley than Lewis Carroll as far as structure – in a good way. But as different as these pieces are from one another, they share one big common trait – they are all WEIRD.

(For what it’s worth, my segment – tenth out of 12 – involves a deep dive into numerological interpretation of the Lobster Quadrille that leads to, among other things, discerning the physical location of the Lost Continent of Atlantis. Like I said – weird.)

Now, this format wasn’t PortFringe’s original intent. Nor was it what was originally envisioned by the myriad participants. But so much about the arts right now – and life in general, really – is finding ways to adapt. True to the DIY, let’s-put-on-a-show passion of fringe festivals everywhere, PortFringe found a way to turn a lost opportunity into a second chance.

So give “Pop-Up Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” a look. It’s an opportunity to see a strange and shaggy take on a classic tale, one that features a wealth of talented artists … plus yours truly.

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 November 2020 12:22

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