Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Tale of Two Fringes, Part 1: San Diego Edition

For those who don't know (and I assume there are a few members of the Amazonian Pirahã tribe who don't know), my musical Aisle Six recently made it into two Fringe Festivals.

 Q. Are you saying "French" or "Fringe"?  
A. Yes.

Q. Okay, so what is the "Fringe"?  
A. I'm glad you asked. The term "Fringe" comes from the Latin fringum (first use, year XIII), which can be used two ways (not at once, and not while pregnant or nursing). One of its uses was to indicate bodily harm, as in, "I hear Grumio the serf got a boo-boo on his fringum." The other meaning was, "Theater that will one day be performed on the Lower East Side, though God only knows why you'd want to go there, since it's the year XIII and there are no decent tacquerias." This is the meaning of Fringe that we preserve today. Plus now we have decent tacquerias.

Actually, the first of my two Fringes took place not on the Lower East Side, but rather in San Diego, California, which has had good tacquerias since the Precambrian Era. This is pretty darned impressive when you consider there weren't even any humans yet.*

The San Diego Fringe Festival was new to its city** this summer, joining the ranks of other cherished San Diego traditions, most notably:

 1. The Comic-Con, an annual event during which the San Diego Convention Center emits clouds of ecstatic nerd testosterone so powerful their fumes fell bison in Yellowstone, and
2. The yuk-a-minute gag of airplanes flying so low they routinely land on your head and kill you. This is a practical joke by the fun-loving San Diego-based air personnel, intended to liven up the "laid-back" atmosphere, and/or cull the herd.

But in all seriousness, the first thing you notice in San Diego, in between ducking and covering, is the kindness. San Diegans, as a general rule, are gifted with a warmheartedness so sincere, so profound, that it can only be caused by large quantities of drugs.

No! Just kidding.*** My point is, whatever the cause, San Diegans tend to be full of happy, positive energy. You take the first read-through of my play. I wish you could have been a fly on the wall. I appeared on Skype from Maine, while the rest gathered in a room in San Diego, alternating between reading and dissolving in laughter. It was the most fun read-through I've ever done - and not just because I never had to leave my bed.

So - as I ask myself upon any unexpected event, good or bad - what the heck happened? These people didn't already know each other, weren't friends seeking to have a good time around friends. The norm among strangers is diffidence and tightness - especially when those strangers are asked to do an awkwardly soul-bearing thing like read a play aloud. Yet instead, every single one of my San Diego actors came in ready to rock and roll, as if absorbing the positive energy from each other, then expelling it with interest. I'd never seen anything like it, but I hope I will again.

What's more, it continued like that. From the first rehearsal to the last performance, the whole production experience was filled with such intense, heartfelt positivity that it could only have been fueled by drugs.

No! Sorry. Only joking.**** Didn't mean that. Whatever the reason, the cast took on the play as their very own and made it soar. They provided Aisle Six with the kick-start it needed, the launching pad for its future success wherever it goes. And I can't thank them enough.

I think theatrical experiences like mine at the San Diego Fringe come along only once in a blue moon. I've had maybe one other like it, where the cast came in with open minds, fitting together, bouncing off one another's personalities and individual energies, totally in tune with each other and the piece. What this does is elevate the piece, giving it new and often unexpected life, raising the bar for every production to come. There's no greater gift this cast could have given Aisle Six. There's no greater gift they could have given me.

Except, of course, for some of their drugs.

* Though as you can imagine, the service was lousy.
** San Diego.
*** Maybe.
**** I think.