The Pittsburgh Fringe Festival is an ambitious grassroots undertaking. Since 2014, it’s been a showcase for storytellers, theater troupes, musicians, and others from around the country and beyond, largely in borrowed and repurposed venues like coffeehouses, churches and even the back rooms of bars.
Depending on the year, patrons in Shadyside, the North Side and Bloomfield/Garfield would walk from venue to venue over the course of an evening -- just as audiences do for Fringe festivals around the world.
What would have been the seventh annual Pittsburgh Fringe was canceled, along with most other in-person arts events here, because of the coronavirus pandemic. The only substitute possible at the moment, the Pittsburgh Virtual Fringe, begins Friday night.
The three-day online showcase, organized by executive director Xela Batchelder, is scaled back, but it will still feature about 20 acts from Pittsburgh, New York, and Mexico, and they’ll all be watchable from home via Facebook, YouTube or Zoom.
While a few performances are pre-recorded, most will be live. Highlights include “Desperately Seeking the Exit,” New York City-based actor Peter Michael Marino’s comedic monologue about writing a stage musical version of the film “Desperately Seeking Susan” that flopped on London’s fabled West End. And Pittsburgh-based Brawling Bard Theater offers the premiere of “The Compleat Guide to Murder and Mayhem by Will Shakespear.”
Pre-recorded shows include a Facebook watch-party for DANA Movement Ensemble’s “Folkdances of a Nucleic Village.” Pittsburgh-based choreographer Nick M. Daniels says the contemporary work for five dancers has a post-apocalyptic feel.
“It goes from five minutes before something bad happens, and it goes right into five minutes after something bad has happened,” said Daniels, whose own project, the annual Pittsburgh Dance Week, had to go virtual itself in April.
Daniels said he first conceived of the show about 20 years ago, and has performed many versions of it since. (The version to be watch-partied Friday was videotaped at the Father Ryan Arts Center, in McKees Rocks, in 2018.) But he says in the midst of the coronavirus shutdown, it has a post-apocalyptic feel that seems current. Let’s just say gas masks are involved.
“My dancers say that I premonitioned all this, this stuff that’s going on!” he said, laughing.
Other Virtual offerings include: Gibsonia-based Nick Navari performing selections from “Local Singles,” his original chamber musical; “When Jesus Divorced Me,” Sewickley-based Fringe veteran Laura Young’s autobiographical monologue about her relationship with a theme-park Jesus; “Krish Mohan’s Stories From The Road,” the Pittsburgh-based comedian’s “stories from touring around the country … [including] birthday parties in basements, threats made on his life and odd situations,” among others.
The festival runs Fri., May 1, through Sun., May 3. There are also Zoom-enabled Fringe happy hours Friday and Saturday.
Watching all Virtual Fringe shows is free, but donations are requested. All proceeds benefit the performers.