Unfortunately for me, I’ll be unable to attend a whole plethora of sure-to-be-intriguing shows this weekend such as Right Brain Performancelab’s "The Elephant in the Room," The 11th Hour Ensemble’s "Alice," and The Offcenter’s “Waiting for Godot." But fortunately for me, it’s because I will be holed-up in the booth of the newest addition to the Exit Theatreplex -- The Studio -- where I’ve been running lights for a whole plethora of shows ranging from confessional monologues to sketch comedy to a whacked-out whodunit set in Super-Duper Mega-Marine Coaster World. Is that a bowl of free pretzels in my hand? It must be Fringe Festival season again in San Francisco.
SF Fringe is uncurated and uncensored, it’s fair to say that not every show is road-tested and audience-approved. Caveat Emptor, ticket-holders. But fans of local theatre companies past and present such as Art Street Theatre, Black Box Theatre, Lunatique Fantastique, Thrillpeddlers, Killing My Lobster, Thunderbird Theatre, Cutting Ball, Crowded Fire, Mugwumpin’, Banana Bag and Bodice, Foolsfury, Ripe Theatre, Performers Under Stress, Pi Clowns, SF Buffoons, Dark Porch Theatre, Boxcar Theatre (and many more!) should know that all of the above have been featured at the San Francisco Fringe -- and in fact, more than half of these companies debuted at the Fringe. By providing an anything-goes, low-cost production crucible for local, national, and even a few international performers, the San Francisco Fringe Festival makes it possible for previously unknown companies with a clear artistic vision to get a boost up to the next stage (pardon the pun) of their development. Armed with buzz, some of these companies go on to solid artistic success. Some disappear without a whimper. Regardless, everyone gets a fair shake.
True, a 10-year veteran of the SF Fringe, I’d had no idea there were such things as honest-to-god Fringe Festival rock stars until I went to Edinburgh and to Montreal and saw them for myself—performers who tour the Fringe circuit every year, and actually make a living at it, or at least build a solid international reputation. The San Francisco Fringe is a lot more self-contained, but in terms of getting in on the ground floor of the next big thing in Bay Area theatre, the festival will always be your best bet to be able to say "I saw them when."
One thing our Fringe has been somewhat remiss with in the past has been providing interim entertainment for patrons and performers with down time. The EXIT (Fringe homebase) is addressing that very issue with a rotating roster of three separate showcases in the theatre’s café. An evening of Fringe singer-songwriters (Thu/16 @ 8:30 p.m.), the "Fringe Potpourri" of jugglers, magicians, and their ilk, on Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 3 p.m.-5 p.m., and most exciting of all, a late-night improv talk show "Last Call" hosted by Cora Values (Sean Owens), which features Fringe performers such as Fred Blanco (aka Cesar Chavez) and Megan Liley (“Grafitti Highway”) this past weekend. (See Cora again this weekend: (Fri17, Sat/18 @ 10:30 p.m.) Secrets are revealed, banter exchanged, and juicy fringe gossip is plundered for its levity factor. Cora is both sweet and savvy—like apple pie with an attendant wedge of Wisconsin-sharp, and her show already feels like a festival tradition. Just like the free pretzels, but saltier, and fresher.