“Will film kill off the the theater?” This question, often asked in existential anxiety by theatermakers at an undersold performance, may be the wrong one. That seems to be the message from Capital Fringe’s first ever self-produced program, FringePOP, an acronym for Performance Over Projection. This ambitious project rejects the premise of the opening question by melding film and theater and asks anew: “How can theater and film highlight each other’s singular qualities?”
What emerges (at least in this first night of pieces called the “Public Track”) from FringePOP’s answer to this question is a conglomeration of 8 tonally disparate shorts.
Half of these are very good, if somewhat typical, Indie film: sometimes abstract, always earnest, and each open-ended in the way that usually tickles the fancy of an art house crowd. Given their international feel and good-but-not-perfect (maybe intentionally) quality, I wouldn’t be surprised to see these shorts buffering more famous fare at the AFI Silver Spring.
But the other 4 make interesting attempts at delivering on FringePOP’s title promise of mixed media performance, with an onstage livecasting camera and scene-setting background that gives these mashups the hyperlocal feel of being grown from the cracks in Fringe’s Trinidad neighborhood sidewalk.
Below, you can find 8 ranked mini-reviews for each of the shorts, but there are some important things about the project as a whole that bear mentioning. First, FringePOP feels much more like a film event than a theater event. Though smoking is not allowed inside and the on-tap Prosecco is not to be missed, the vibe of the room has an arty espresso and cigarettes vibe going on.
closes October 9, 2016
Details and tickets
I felt super hip attending this project, which is not often something I feel when going to the “normal” theater. If you too are hip, fellow kids, like someone who prefers “film” and “cinema” to movies and flicks, FringePOP is definitely the place for you.
In the vein of the Indie feel of the content, the container requires some expectations management. You aren’t going to get the in the dark, alone with the film feeling of the average movie theater, so don’t expect that. The canned lights and black box space are built to serve the stage more than the rather miniature screen.
The seating tries to serve both, but winds up helping neither. Though it’s unintuitive, sit in the bank of chairs opposite the entrance for the most complete view of the stage and screen. Otherwise the lilliputian screen may be blocked by someone with a head as large as mine.
Most importantly, though the short films in FringePOP Public track are generally of higher quality than the plays, the plays of FringePOP Public are far more interesting. The short films are foreign, not just in the sense of where they are made, but also divorced from the gritty, street-level theater.
While, of course, everyone would rather have high quality work, the final product will be more singular and more organic if, in future iterations, the short films are dropped and the theater with film gains focus. That road is undoubtedly more difficult to hoe, but the theater is only easy for those who don’t attend it or make it. It’s either that, or fully commit to a true short film festival. That would be interesting in its own right, but, at least in its current form, the combination weakens both.
The most important takeaway from FringePOP as a whole is that this experiment is worth continuing. This series represents a bit of a new direction for Fringe outside the theatre and music festivals, and that direction is both worthwhile and unique in this city.
Enough with the big picture! On with the nitty gritty!
- Escalators Become Stairs by H. Paul Moon. (Short Film)
I hate to put a local film-maker on the caboose of this train, but it is unquestionably the most problematic of the pieces. This recording of a site-specific performance of Walt Whitman’s The Wound Dresser at the Dupont Circle Metro (where some words from the poem are inscribed on the semi-cylindrical maw of the Metro) simply doesn’t pass the Watch test. Combine that with mixing issues and significant repetition and the film becomes quite deadly, though I wonder if the actual performance was more interesting.
- Roof of Heaven by Robert Kangas, directed by Renana Fox. Featuring Frank Britton, Reginald Richard and Genevieve James. (10 minute play)
I love me a Frank Britton monologue, and his principal character of a Daredevil-esque blind man was very moving in parts. Kangas pulls some nice linguistic tricks out and this 3 person cast makes those choices sing. But, plot-wise, this peek under the hood of gas station hangabouts loitered too long. More than that, Roof of Heaven had the least interesting application of the live-streaming camera, and that’s why it lingers at the bottom of the pack.
- Split End by Eddie Shieh (Short Film)
Despite being perhaps the most inventively shot of the films, Split End was plagued by technical difficulties. Unreadable subtitles, huge swings in sound quality and volume, plus a poorly-considered plot made this film difficult to watch. Shieh finds an interesting rhythm here, and he excels at storytelling without words, but the film needs more heart to be successful.
- Scout’s Honor by Ken Preuss. Directed by Nick Martin. Featuring Andrew Flurer, Brian Norrington, Nathan Alston and Rebecca Ballinger. (10 minute play)
This is the Fringe-iest offering of the night, complete with wacky premise, a touch of overacting, and a fun ending that usefully incorporates the onstage camera. Scout’s Honor is farce, through and through, and your enjoyment of it is quite dependent on your enjoyment of that genre.
- Klara and the Park Bench by Elizabeth Jordan, directed by Nick Martin. Featuring Alani Kravitz, Andrew Flurer, Bryan Norrington, and Rebecca Ballinger. (10 minute play)
This tale of a homeless woman and her possessions may hit the hardest of all of these pieces. The plight of the homeless, the chaos and brutal edge of their lives are all on display here, which is especially poignant for DC. The motivation of Klara’s movement from one action to another was a bit confusing, and while I understand that confusion may be integral to creating a mental distance between the audience and her, that distance was too far for me. Klara and the Park Bench did deliver on the promise of being moving, I just think that it could have delivered with more force.
- The Ring Thing by Fredrike Jehn (short film).
This tricky comedy of misunderstanding over an engagement ring shows the most professional touches of any other piece. The cinematography is clean as a whistle, and Jehn uses the camera to capture subtlety of expression that gives this film some significant depth. She definitely knows the rhythms that make audience members cringe then bark with laughter. Sometimes her logic was too fast for me (I missed why certain events happened), and I’d like to see touches that made The Ring Thing distinctive, rather than just clinically sharp. Overall, any film festival should be proud to have this piece in it.
- The Poets by Sean Gannet (short film)
This pairing of poets, one intensely intimate and one breathlessly awkward, has a unique comic voice that I could listen to again and again, and a sweet resolution that shows the highest writing skill among all of these pieces. Gannet’s filming is remarkable theatrical, in that it imbues his characters with life and enhances their acting choices. Each of them have depth and personality, a combo which is unique among the films shown here. As a director, he plays with perspective in a tight space enjoyably, showing a quick mind behind the camera. This film made me want to see more of Gannet’s work.
- Talking Trash by Emma Choi, directed by Renana Fox. Featuring Frank Britton, Christine Callsen and Reginald Richard.
This sad and funny story of a woman recovering from a visit to her estranged mother by chatting with an orange peel takes a second to warm up, but when it does, it has the best heights of any piece in this track. Hands down the best onstage camera work happens here, in a way that is both surprising and joyful. Christine Callsen shows some next level chops in being the serious eye that makes this comedy hurricane work. Best of all, Talking Trash has the highest ceiling of all of these pieces. With some extra technical love, I could call this one of the better 10 Minute Plays I’ve seen.