After two years of sustaining its offbeat “Kinda Weird. Like You” Cincinnati Fringe Festival traditions with mostly virtual presentations, the 19th-annual Cincy Fringe returns June 3-18 with live, in-person, indoor productions. Artists from 15 U.S. states, Washington D.C., and Australia will be performing for two weeks on Know Theatre’s Jackson Street stage in Over-the-Rhine, as well as on classroom stages in the nearby Art Academy of Cincinnati.
To give the festival a jolt of new energy, Know Theatre hired Katie Hartman as its Fringe producer. Along with Nick Ryan, the Brooklyn-based singer, songwriter, actor and improviser is known to Cincinnati audiences as one of the Coldharts. Starting in 2014, they entertained rabid Cincy Fringe fans with a series of fearlessly dark shows: The Legend of White Woman Creek, Edgar Allan, Eddie Poe, and The Unrepentant Necrophile. They characterized their works as “devised music theatre inspired by the American Gothic.”
How did Hartman evolve from performer to producer? She tells CityBeat that when the pandemic halted performances in early 2020, she was initially grateful for a break from the Coldharts’ arduous touring schedule.
“When everything stopped and we were forced to quarantine, I didn’t feel the need to create anything new. I had an opportunity to reorient myself with my body, my practice, my life as a theater artist,” Hartman says. “I really got to prioritize what were the most important things. It became important to figure out how to help other people, to make it easier for other artists.”
Like many, Hartman found herself at a crossroads during the COVID-19 pandemic and talked through options with a friend.
“I said, ‘If I had the chance, I’d really like to do something like produce the Cincinnati Fringe Festival. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. I don’t want to make my own festival. I really want to build something great in a place where it’s already established, where I can see how improvements could be made,’” she remembers.
Four days later, Hartman received an email survey from Cincy Fringe organizers that mentioned a search for a new producer. Believing she wrote the fastest application letter ever, Hartman immediately responded, “Have you found this person yet? Because I want to apply.”
“It’s my dream job!” she says. “I feel so privileged to be working for an organization that so many people are so excited about and so ready to put in the time and energy. The team that I work with is so passionate, just a joy to work with.”
Hartman doesn’t live in Cincinnati. “I am an artist, and I come from that perspective. One of the elements I’m hoping to bring to the festival is a more inclusive atmosphere.”
To make the festival’s legendary after-parties more inviting, she’s moving them from Know Theatre’s underground bar to the outdoor parking lot just north of the theater with its vibrant “Looking Good” mural. It will become a beer garden with daily free programming on an outdoor stage. On weekends, parents and kids can be part of a workshop, or adults can let the children play while they go into the theater to see a grown-up show.
“We’re going to have lots of all-age friendly things,” Hartman says.
“It’s important to me that everybody feels welcome at the Cincinnati Fringe, regardless of your background, your ability, what you can bring to the table. Everybody has something to offer,” she continues. “I want everyone to be able to enjoy the festival whether they can pay to see a show in an indoor venue or if they would just like to enjoy our outdoor stage. All are welcome!”
During the two-week festival, there are 38 ticketed events, delivering 177 performances in total. See all listings at CincyFringe.com.
In alphabetical order below, find 12 Cincy Fringe shows to consider.
The Barn Identity is by storyteller and Cincy Fringe veteran Erika Kate MacDonald, who created this entertaining solo show based on her obsession with collapsing barns. She’ll be joined by another Fringe favorite, guitarist and singer Paul Strickland. MacDonald is a touring theater-maker whose original works have been featured Off-Broadway and honored repeatedly at fringe festivals across the United States and Canada.
Be My Thief by Mac Rogers from Queens is a twisty solo thriller about a man who believes a duplicate has replaced his wife. The tale explores themes of post-pandemic anxiety, predatory capitalism and the debate over returning to the workplace in person. Rogers is a past Cincy Fringe award winner, and his Gideon Media has produced popular podcast thrillers.
Bent Compass by Neil Brookshire from Egg Harbor, Wisconsin, is a one-man show based on interviews with a friend who became an Army medic. It details deployment and combat experiences in Iraq and how war can shape a person’s concept of what’s normal. It also deals with trauma, mental health, recovery and relationships.
Changing My Major to Joan by Boris Dansberry from Philadelphia (originally from Newport, Kentucky) is inspired by the spirit of Joan of Arc. This eclectic presentation — described as a “trans medieval PPT concert” — explores the trials and tribulations of queer experience using humor, Nirvana, masks, George Bernard Shaw, beans and Friedrich Schiller with live music by local powerhouse Jess Lamb and The Factory.
Charlotte Van Helsing Befriends a Vampire, a Crow, and (Possibly) Her Father by Emily Borst (a graduate of Northern Kentucky University’s musical theater program) is about a young woman who discovers that growing up might be a little more than she bargained for as she navigates family secrets and expectations.
Destiny, USA by Laura Anne Harris from Vancouver, Washington is a solo show based on Harris’s 2016 experience as a relay operator for deaf or hard-of-hearing people after the presidential election. Residing in Donald Trump’s America, she explores the hidden humanity of the American people. The show uses closed-captioned video performances by three deaf actors.
Father, Daughter & Holy Toast is by Barbara Brady from San Francisco (after more than 20 years in Cincinnati). This is a humorous solo show about being middle-aged, divorced and living in her childhood home with her eccentric elderly father, who uses scientific workarounds to keep it together. What must be sacrificed — father’s dignity or daughter’s independence? Brady has performed at Fringes in Orlando and Great Salt Lake.
Jinkies! by Queen City Flash from Cincinnati is a follow-up to a 2019 hit. This is the thrilling next adventure in the life of a meddlesome teen detective and her dog. Director Bridget Leak and playwright Trey Tatum specialize in bold stories, irreverently told. This one answers the question, “What if the Hardy Boys wanted to burn this shit down?”
Laertes Word by James Word from St. Louis is a premiere. Fans of podcast This American Life might recall “Act V,” about a production of an act of Hamlet in a Missouri prison. Word played Laertes, and it changed his trajectory. He learned he’d been acting all his life; he just didn’t know it. Today Word is a storyteller helping people understand that it’s never too late to change. “Crime is easy,” he says. “Hamlet is hard.” This is his show’s premiere.
Sadec 1965: A Love Story is by Flora Le from Washington, D.C.. Learning that her estranged father has cancer, Le goes on a six-week motorcycle trip through Vietnam to seek answers. It’s characterized as Motorcycle Diaries meets Eat, Pray, Love. Le’s painful life experiences enable her to create beautiful stories of resilience, forgiveness, personal transcendence, and love.
Texas Annie: The Legend of the Moan Ranger by Cincinnatians Jennifer Howd and Maggie Perrino is a campy musical is based on an actual Texas law banning the sale of sex toys. Overturned by a court of appeals, the law still exists: you can legally own more guns than sex toys in the Lone Star State. The show imagines the adventures of a renegade dildo runner. Think Rocky Horror meets John Waters.
Wuthering: A Musical on the Moors by Cincinnatians Hannah Gregory and Caitlin McWethy is a folk musical adaptation of Emily Brontë’s novel in which Cathy and Heathcliff live life like wild, uncontainable Roman candles. Gregory and McWethy’s previous Fringe endeavors were award-winners Descent: a Murder Ballad and The Belle and Boone Helm.
Fringe fans also should keep an eye out for special one-time events, including True Theatre (June 16), an evening of behind-the-scenes monologues sharing what it’s like to be a Fringe performer. Additionally, Kevin James Thornton, a storyteller and a past Cincy Fringe favorite, will deliver a pair of evening performances (June 11-12) with material drawn from his immense TikTok following that’s earned him more than a billion views.
The Cincy Fringe Festival is June 3-18 at Know Theatre (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine) and in the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Single tickets start at $16, with options to further support artists. Passes are available. Information: cincyfringe.com.
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