It took us four years and four writers to finally get the book right on Altar Boyz. The guy who finally got hit the soul sensor on the head was Kevin Del Aguila, and I found him at The New York International Fringe Festival.
But how? With over 200 shows to see in this year's festival alone, how do you find the good stuff?
Fringe festivals can be the most cluttered environment for show shopping in the world. It's like panning for gold . . . in the Atlantic Ocean . . . with a bottomless bucket.
The year I stumbled on Kevin's play I remember picking up the Fringe Guide, and going through it like it was a Sky Mall catalog during a delay at LaGuardia. I went through the guide show by show by show, circled what jumped out at me, then tried to find times to fit them all in.
Since most of the fringe shows are unknowns, the descriptions, titles, and so on are pretty dang important to catalog shoppers like me. This year, I thought I'd repeat my exercise of going through the Fringe Guide and let you know the top 10 shows that stood out to me, and why.
Here we go:
This list is in alpha order, which means I have to start with a show that begins with a number. And so does the Fringe catalog. This show stood out because of the infamous Chorus Line principle (ACL famously changed its name from Chorus Line to A Chorus Line in order to be listed first in the ABCs in the NY Times. BTW, depending on the publication, one of my shows is either called THE Awesome 80s Prom or just Awesome 80s Prom). When you're listed first, people take more time and pay more attention: first borns, first wives, first "times", everything. I'm sure the authors of this show didn't start the title of their show with a number for this reason, but it made me read the description with a lot more care than the show on page 47. For more info, visit: www.elixirproductions.org.
Another numbered title jumped out at me, but not because of its digits. It jumped out because of the quotes that the previous productions have received: "Truly fabulous-disgustingly hysterical," "Masterwork of black humor," "Might beat the boys to hell by laughing yourself to death!" Frankly, I don't recognized all of the sources, but at this level, it doesn't matter. A minority of fringe shows have been seen before. If you can demonstrate that you've gotten your show up, AND that people publicly said they liked it in such a passionate way as some of the critics did for 666, then you will stand out. Even if the show isn't something I'd want to produce (666 is a wordless comedy about four death row convicts about to meet their final reward), I'm definitely intrigued by the artists. The creators of Blue Man Group did stuff before Blue Man Group, if you know what I mean, and some of it was weirder than this. For more info, visit: www.666comedy.com.
3. A CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN'S GUIDE TO A SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE
The description for this show begins, "Set against the backdrop of the late 1950s and told in the style of the social guidance films of that era . . . " You know what's cool about that? I know what that is! Sometimes Fringe shows can feel like going to a Shoney's buffet . . . blindfolded. The more you can frame the show with your description, the better, and this show did that perfectly. I feel like I know what I am going to see. Take that smart descript. of their inherently theatrical concept and add it to a very commercial subject that almost 50% of the population are interested in, and you've got my attention. For more info, visit: www.themarriageplay.com.
4. ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S BIG GAY DANCE PARTY
I skipped over this one originally, because it sounded like the Producers took a page out of the obvious "How To Get Attention For Your Fringe Show" manual by using a wacko title to peak curiosity. These producers also took another page out, however. Right after the listing for Lincoln, there was a full page ad for the show, that stood out like, well, Abe Lincoln at a big gay dance party (he was a tall man, you know, and he wore a hat, had a big beard and freed the slaves). That big ad certainly got my attention. "What kind of fringe show has a budget for a full page," I wondered. More importantly, the ad also trumpeted the fact that Lincolnwon a Best Play award from the Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, something I missed because I never even read the description in the listing, having been turned off by the title. Now, I don't know who the BAYTCC is, but any award makes any show sound better. And the ad forced me to learn more. I won't be going to show, but I bet a lot of people will. For more, info visit: www.abrahamlincolnsbiggaydanceparty.com or www.thelongestdomainnameinhistory.com (sorry, guys, couldn't resist).
5. BABY WANTS CANDY THE IMPROVISED MUSICAL
If you've never seen an improvised musical, I recommend it. And if I can't see it from my favorite musical Improv Team, The Nuclear Family (which has shows coming up in LA, by the way), then Baby Wants Candy is next. So putting my fascination with this genre aside, why did this show stand out? Because Baby Wants Candy has been around the block. They have a history, and a respected one. Anyone that can keep producing entertainment year after year instead of trading it in for a real estate license has to be doing something right. For more info, visit: www.babywantscandy.com.
6. HOW NOW DOW JONES
The Fringe is all about new stuff, right? Wrong. Here's something that stands out just because it's old! How Now Dow Jones is a revised version of a 1968 (same year as Hair (see below), ironically!) musical comedy. Could it be the next Chicago? Doubt it, but it does have some poignant relevancy, since it the stock market plays a big part in the plot. And no one is thinking about the stock market these days, right? For more info, visit: www.hownowdowjones.com.
It used to be that popular music was the same music heard on Broadway stages. Nowadays, it takes a while for the music of the day to appear in a play. Hair is called the first rock musical by many, including this gal, and it didn't open on Bway until 1968, almost 20 years after the birth of rock 'n roll. The next genre that will hit a Broadway stage? Hip-hop. And a harder hip-hop than Heights. And I'll tell you a little secret that's just between you, me and the rest of the blogosphere . . . I want to be the Producer of the first hip-hop musical on Broadway (Yep, I was even crazy enough to inquire about the rights to 8 Mile (not available, fyi). Watch this scene, wouldn't you . . . (it's a musical Rocky!) That's why Penumbra, a one man hip-hop musical by Fascious, got my attention. This guy is on the right multi-track. For more info, visit: www.fascious.com.
8. TEAROOM TANGO
Tearoom opens the (bathroom) door on a world many people haven't seen before. This show-me-a-subculture tactic is a smart way to grab attention, especially when the subject is sex. Add in nudity and "parental discretion" warnings, and anyone, I don't care if they are straight, gay, or asexual, has to wonder what is going on during Tearoom. For more info, visit: www.mercuryplayerstheatre.com.
9. TRUTH VALUES: ONE GIRL'S ROMP THROUGH MIT'S MALE MATH MAZE
I like true stories. This country likes true stories. All thanks to what I call the "lean forward factor". Truth Values is a true story about an underdog, and this country also loves underdogs (partly because this country WAS an underdog). It's about a woman pursuing her PhD at MIT. It's got a Good Will Hunting meets Legally Blonde type of feel, from what I can tell. We'll see what makes this one different. For more info, visit: www.unexpectedtheatre.org.
A musical about student council elections? Since we don't have an adaptation of Election (yet), this sounds like a commercially promising production to me. Promising premise aside, Vote has also attracted some top-notch Broadway talent with Rachelle Rak teaching the dance steps, and a cast including Deidre Goodwin alongside everyone's favorite reality show winner, Bailey Hanks. Recognizable names help you stand out and lend credibility, on Broadway, off-Broadway and yes, at The Fringe.
So there's my list of the top ten shows that stood out for me in this year's 63 page Fringe Festival catalog (honorable mentions go to: Terranova, And She Said, He Said, I Say Yes, M, Crossings, and Sorority Queen in a Mobile Home). I won't see all of them, but there was something unique about the presentation of each one that that made them memorable.
But memorable doesn't always mean good.
See, the funny thing is that although it may seem like hard work to stand out amongst a field of over 200 shows, that's actually the easy part.
Because once you get someone's attention, you have to deliver.
It takes a courageous and confident kid to raise his hand higher than the others, but it takes a brilliant kid to have the right answer.
Good fringe, everybody!
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