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Friday, September 13, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Theater Preview

Fall event links Seattle festival to the fringe circuit

Seattle Times theater critic

Festival preview


Seattle Fringe Festival, Thursday through Sept. 29, nine venues on Capitol Hill; $5-$17 per show (other ticket deals available). The Central Box Office opens tomorrow from noon-8 p.m. daily, Broadway Performance Hall Lobby, 1625 Broadway, Seattle; 206-322-2018 or visit the festival's Web site.

Fringe Parade, 12:15-12:45 p.m. tomorrow, starts at the Broadway Performance Hall.

Festival Sneak Preview, a free event where you can see 10-minute snippets of shows, 1-5 p.m. tomorrow, outdoor stage at Broadway and Thomas.

Poncho Artistic Picks, shows chosen as the best of the fest, Oct. 3-5 at Freehold Theatre, 1525 10th Ave., Seattle; $12.

Now in its 12th year, the Seattle Fringe Festival remains a work in progress.

Each year, this mobile Capitol Hill smorgasbord of eclectic performance fare (drama, comedy, performance art, fire theater, clowning, cabaret, solo spiels, etc.) makes a few changes in the way it operates. But the 2002 edition includes some major revisions.

The most obvious is the date: For the first time, the festival is happening in early autumn, rather than late winter or early spring. It opens Thursday, and runs through Sept. 29.

There is also a new pricing structure for tickets, with a range of options and costs.

Finally, there's a big leadership transition on the horizon: After this festival ends, energetic Kibby Munson MacKinnon will step down as the longtime director of Seattle Fringe Theatre Productions and hand the festival reins over to a new festival honcho, Andrew Haines.

Right now, however, MacKinnon is neck-deep in preparations for this year's fringe jamboree — an all-out assault of 500 performances of more than 90 productions in nine Capitol Hill venues.

It seems Seattle has a boundless appetite for fringe theatrics — even when the artistic offerings are an unjuried jumble of the exciting, the lackluster and the strange.

The 2001 festival sold 17,000 tickets, a record for the Seattle event. Why tamper with success then and shift the festival to a week when a dozen resident Seattle-area theaters are premiering their own new shows, and the younger portion of the fringe's relatively youthful audience is just back in school?

"We did this to take more advantage of the 23-festival fringe circuit and the good September weather," replies MacKinnon. "We want this to become a more outdoor and visible event, and to attract new groups so there's more artistic diversity."

The new timing puts the Seattle event in close time proximity to similar festivals in San Francisco, Vancouver, B.C., and Victoria, B.C.

"Now people can tour their shows to a circuit of several West Coast festivals," MacKinnon notes.

And the new ticket arrangements? Instead of repeating last year's standardized price of $12 per show, patrons will now pay between $5 and $17 per ticket — depending on the size of the venue, the number of performances in a run and other factors.

Since the artists involved rely on box-office receipts to pay their way, "we wanted to give them more decision-making power so they can tailor the experience to their own needs," says MacKinnon. "Companies with bigger casts may chose one option, while a solo performer might choose another."

Consequently, the festival has done away with the All-Fest Pass good for every show. But it has instituted a new two-for-one ticket deal for many of the performances Sept. 23-25.

"I stole that idea from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival," MacKinnon confides. "It will help us fill seats on our slowest nights."

There is also a five-shows-for-$40 pass. But here's the hitch: You must buy it in advance and also select the shows you want to see in advance. Since limited seats are available at that discount, you might not be able to use the pass for everything.

In artistic terms, there are also a few (unanticipated) shifts: not as many solo shows than in the past (14 this year) and more world premieres (53). Also (due to the new calendar slot?) there are more out-of-town acts — from Baltimore, New York, Albuquerque, England, Budapest and elsewhere. But the festival is still dominated by Seattle theater artists.

The popular Young Fringe program is back, hosting two shows with teen actors: an abbreviated version of T.S. Eliot's "Murder in the Cathedral," from Bishop Blanchett High School, and a play about a 1960s student revolt, Joan of Arc Production's "Plan B."

On the other end of the age spectrum, there's "Acting Without Teeth," enacted by residents of a local retirement home.

The Seattle Fringe Fest is the longest-running one in the United States. But domestic fringe festivals are generally getting more respect now, thanks in good measure to the growing notoriety of the New York Fringe Festival and expanding attendance at fests in other cities.

We've scanned the packed schedule to give you a sampling of this fest's choices. (For dates and prices, consult our listings.)

But caveat emptor: These aren't critic picks (we've seen nothing in advance), just intriguing or weird possibilities. As with every fringe fest since the dawn of time, one must remember: You pays your money, you takes your chances ...

Comedy

"Viva Box Vegas!" A show from the Lusty Loonies (a Seattle troupe that's new to us) about a strange mama and her wayward sons, who have a strange encounter with members of the Cirque du Poulet in the "bowels of the Las Vegas airport."

"Baroness Jzeannette, the Teutonic ToughLove Tywrant." Described as "Marlene Dietrich meets General Patton," this adult-oriented solo show by Seattle performer Jeannette Allee promises "verbal jousting mit oomph."

Musicals

"Cannibal! The Musical." Conceived by "South Park" creator Trey Parker, and performed by a cast of 13 Seattle actors, this is a twisted romp through the Rockies with Alferd Packer, the only person in our nation's history to be convicted of cannibalism. Hold the mustard.

"Aladdin and His Magic Lamp." Here's one you can take the kiddies to (unlike the musical mentioned above). It's the old story about the genie in the lamp, performed in the style of English pantomime by the Fremont Players, with a cast of 10 and a six-member band.

"The Church of Pie." Fringe regular Maria Glanz and the Open Circle Theater created this new cabaret piece (with nudity), and they call it an "erotic fever-dream of food, sex and song." OK, maybe we'll bite.

Dramas

"We Killed Kurt Cobain." No, it's not an exposé about the death of a rock star. It's a bill of three one-acts by the New York troupe The Zero Boys, which reflects on contradictions of rock stardom and "media tragedy."

"Worm-Hole." Niki McCretton from England created and performs this well-praised movement-theater piece, a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, about a woman "trapped by her own devotion to a diet of dried food and high expectations."

"Herbert West: Re-Animator." Based on a tale by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, this show by the Seattle group Continental Ops imparts the gruesome story of a young man's spiral into madness — to the accompaniment of a three-piece chamber-music ensemble.

Classics

"Notes From Underground." Seattle actor Andrew Litzky digs into Russian angst in his long-touring one-man version of Fyodor Dostoevsky's brooding literary classic.

"The Two Gentlemen of Verona." Can Shakespeare stand the ultimate fringe test in this allegedly "user-friendly" version of his early comedy? The Seattle-based Rasa company promises to do his early comedy with nine actors — but no costumes, no set and no technical effects.

"The Best of Radio Activity." Presented by Seattle's Theatre Under the Influence, this ambitious staged radio project unearths vintage scripts (Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds," the adventures of Sam Spade) and produces them in the broadcast style of long-ago.

Dance theater

"House of Deer." Eva Magyar comes all the way from Budapest to perform her puppet-human show based on the Transylvanian legend of a young hunter's odyssey.

Miscellaneous solo shows

"Good Morning, Bejing!" Additional radio action in this solo piece by Rhode Island actor Jerome Saibil based on the true story of a 19-year old Canadian with his own radio show in China.

"Force of Nature." A one-woman work by Vason Island's Carole Groobman in which 15 characters (mothers, midwives, etc.) meditate on the "often amusing, inspiring and shocking world of birth." Not for the squeamish, probably.

"George Bush's Nuts." It got our attention, but who knows? Especially about this solo show by a guy named Brandon Welch, from Baltimore, who subtitles the hourlong solo political satire, "How I Learned to Enjoy Real Time War Footage on LSD." At your own risk, pal.

Fire theater

A fringe fest without fire is like a squirrel without a guitar, right? So this year, the Ignis Devoco Industrial Fire Circus and Pyrosutra will perform blazing feats in an outdoor show based on the ancient myth of Persephone. Burn, baby, burn.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com.

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