All of the stuff in this post was inspired by things that happened on Saturday, November 23, 2013 & Sunday, November 24, 2013.
Great Expectations and Surprise Pleasures: The Weekend of Fringe
Let’s Hear it for the Bartenders
If you were in New Orleans on Saturday, November 26, you’ll remember just how skin-numbingly cold and dreary everything felt. All day. The weather was even enough to force the the couch in the Free-for-All area to disappear, although the fire pit was blessedly still present.
Always at their post, the cook and bartender greeted us with smiles and jokes. Because of the weather, we diverted from our normal choice1 of beverages to something hot.
“I’ve got coffee and hot chocolate,” the bartender said. “I’ve also got Bailey’s knockoff.”
And so we concocted a blend of all the above, and it wasn’t half bad, and it was certainly warm. All the while, we fought with the wind to keep the tent upright instead of crashing into either grill or firepit and giving Fringe-goers a show they didn’t pay money for.
Some Women See Things the Way They Are
And some of us just really like blanket forts.
If you’ve ever seen the Community episode where Troy and Abed construct a massive pillow fort, then you have some idea of what we discovered upon finding the venue space known as “The Aquarium” on Montegut Street. Even with the Fringe sign outside, seeing the makeshift tents and tunnels of blankets through the windows was enough to make us doubt we had found the right space. It wasn’t until the door opened and a voice asked, “You here for the show?” that we finally knew we were in the right place.
We walk in to find tickets being accepted from a race car bed, to see the walls decked with sheets, blankets, and paper-mache dinosaur heads. Even the performance space was festooned with sheets rising to the ceilings.
It’s rare to find a play that showcases only women actors, and for that alone, this one was a refreshing experience. It was also a nice change to find a good old-fashioned play: Characters in a space made up to be as realist as possible, given the blanket fort in which it was being performed, talking to one another. That said, the show was not without some flaws, namely in the area of utilizing its theatricality and props.2
Because the invitation had been extended to us, we did take a tour of the rest of the elaborate fort before exiting. That alone was worth price of admission.
Not Your Mama’s Puppets: Blue Book
There seems to be a trend: You may see one show at Fringe that has almost no audience, but you’ll always find at anothger that everyone you know seems to gravitate to on exactly the same night. On Saturday, that show was Blue Book, at Mudlark.
Even though we were among the first people to line up, the room already was packed with pre-paid customers. In hindsight, we should have made a better note of how word-of-mouth affects a Fringe crowd — more on this effect in a second.
After a tense minute, we squeezed into the space, now much different than when we saw possible star-of-the-fest Butcher Holler. In place of the haphazard seats creating a theatre-in-the-round were the familiar structured rows of a proscenium space. And yet, with the curtain being virtually no more than a couple of sheets over a wire and a band playing in the corner, it was far from being a “refined” space. This works to the play’s advantage.
The reputation of Mudlark’s puppet mastery precedes itself. Yet nothing quite compares you for watching puppets of all varieties performing singing, dancing, interacting, and naughtily portraying madams and johns as you receive a tongue-in-cheek history lesson about Storyville, New Orleans’ infamous red light district. The colorful past is reimagined in shadows, music, and wonderful voice acting, and the only flaw is that the experience comes to an end.
Happy Happenstance: Obscura
The original plan on Sunday was to cap off Fringe with the most-talked about show of the fest: Cabaret Macabre. But best laid plans and all that.
To be fair, one half of this writing team did suggest we leave early. In either case…well, remember when we said that there’s always one Fringe show that everyone decides to see on the same night? Blue Book was the kiddie league. As we pulled up to the Marigny Opera House, we entered the majors. In this case, the line wrapped along the side of the fence by the venue, down the block. So we trudged down, passing more people than the space could reasonably hold and the occasional pungent odor of weed. It wasn’t long before a representative came out to state that beyond a point — naturally a handful of people ahead of us — it was unlikely people would be able to get in.
It seemed our Fringe Fest was about to come to an early end, but the ever-incomparable Jim Fitzmorris swooped in to save the night. He led us over to Mardi Gras Zone, where the crowd was just starting to trickle in to see Obscura. Described as a magic show, this was originally not even a blip on our radar. It will be admitted here that the party described above had serious doubts about the show.
The space was simple. A table resided downstage right, with a few objects placed on it. Upstage, there was a screen. After a few moments, it became clear that the screen was not a poster, but a projection of the items on the table. Eventually, the space filled to packed capacity with every seat filled.
Our host appears. Sitting at the table, he takes out his phone and holds it under the camera. The image comes on screen. As we all watch, he shuts it off and glances at us, a smile tugging at his lip and a gleam in his eyes. The doubting member of the party is now won over.
Christian Cagigal is charismatic and engaging; he knows how best to weave a tale and keep us enjoyably distracted as he does his sleight of hand. Constantly telling us stories as he flips cards back and forth, on the table, off the table, it doesn’t matter if we’re not sure how he’s doing it. That’s not the point of magic anyway.
In terms of structure, Obscura is brilliantly precise. Cagigal uses a small pocket watch to remind us of the time. He already has his show planned to the last minute, knowing which tricks to use when and how long they take. A true magician in time-management, he makes sure there is no moment where we get twitchy or bored. He has us in the palm of his hand. In terms of gimmicks, they are simple but no less enjoyable. Each segment is carefully written on parchment, and while a music box tinkles music, he holds up the card and makes it float whimsically off-camera.
One year ago, we were both new to the Fringe experience, stumbling upon shows and making halting introductions. Now, a night of shows is also accompanied by a slew of friendly faces and endless conversation. Fringe might be a time of, like, artistic immersion.
But it’s also just a great time with friends.
Happy Fringe, yall.