The New Orleans Fringe Festival starts Wednesday, November 16 with its fourth year of unconventional theatre, but with more than 70 mostly-unheard-of shows, a Yard Art Tour, trunk show, and free-for-all tent, it can be difficult to choose what to attend.
The shows include everything from puppetry, improvisational, and spoken word to dance, burlesque, and musicals. Many of the Fringe Fest shows run in six permanent venues in the Marigny, but there are also “BYOV”—Bring Your Own Venue—shows at venues organized by the artists themselves.
Single show passes, five-show passes, and all-access passes are available online, or in person at the central box office at Press and Dauphine streets. You’ll need a Fringe Fest button, which costs $3, to get use a ticket for any show.
Knowing that one thing that unifies OffBeat‘s readers is a love of music, here are five picks for shows not to miss that use a significant amount of music to enhance their shows. These are a great place to start when exploring all that the New Orleans Fringe Festival has to offer. For more shows and info, visit nofringe.org.
Girls! Girls? Girls.
Girl! Girls? Girls. is a comedic one-woman show written and performed by New York’s Marjuan Canady in which she portrays ten different characters in a satirical world mocking modern media and fame. “I play a series of characters that all have their own commentary, specifically about black women in the media,” says Canady. “Each character, they don’t know each other, but their actions influence one another’s behaviors.” The show focuses on a young African-American girl’s search for fame, and along the way it mirrors and parodies her concerns, from hot-on-the-scene rapper 40 Ounce, to fashion mogul Sara Baartman.
The fictional rapper 40 Ounce and his hit song, “Pussy Rims,” are supposed to poke fun at mainstream hip-hop artists like Lil Wayne and the obscene music the public has become desensitized to. “I’m not saying they’re bad people, I just want us to take a look at some of the music and entertainment that we digest and how it shapes our ideas of women,” Canady says. She even did a small project in which she marketed “Pussy Rims” and 40 Ounce on the street as a new up-and-coming rapper. “The language was so filthy, but people were like, ‘Man, this beat is so sick.’ They thought it was an actual song.”
Canady has been performing Girl! Girl? Girls. for over a year now, touring with the show at festivals and schools, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest. The New Orleans Fringe Fest will probably be the last festival for the show, but Canady says, “I’m excited because the material in the show is very Northeastern…the language and places in the play are inspired by my own experiences. I’m excited to see reactions from the people of New Orleans.”
ee me & pollock thee
Writer Adam Falik and guitarist Jonathan Freilich collaborated to create the modern opera ee me & pollack thee, a dark performance that depicts a fictional relationship between two historical artists: poet E.E. Cummings and painter Jackson Pollock.
Freilich composed the music, while Falik created the libretto—the opera’s script. “It’s a dramatic story with straight dialogue intercut with musical numbers. It’s an opera, absolutely,” says Falik. The show’s music will be conducted by Francis Scully live during the performance. “The music is definitely contemporary classical music,” says Falik. “Jonathan is an interesting composer.”
The story about the characters’ relationship is made up, but much of the rest of the show is based in truth. E.E. Cummings really did want to become a professional painter as well as a poet, painting around 1,400 canvases in his lifetime, although he failed to reach notoriety as a visual artist. “The two of them become mutually obsessed with one another,” says Falik of the show’s plot. “Cummings finds inspiration in Pollock’s paintings, Pollock finds inspiration in Cumming’s poetry, and it also makes them both physically ill and leads to their mutual destruction.”
The show is Falik’s third, and Freilich’s second for the New Orleans Fringe Festival. The opera is a first partnership for them, but they discovered each other through attending each other’s Fringe shows two years ago. Having taken part in three years of the New Orleans Fringe Festival, Falik has seen it grow to become a big part of the local art community. “Anybody who does anything in theatre, and often in music, is part of this. It’s an enormous amount of theatre.”
Erica Langhoff, who wrote and performs in e.lang, grew the idea for her play from an inconspicuous night hanging with friends. After picking up the guitar and fooling around with it, the hopeless character of E. Lang was born. “I started making up songs. I have no musical training,” explains Langhoff. “It ended up being really funny, and we started playing around with the character E. Lang, and then eventually I made a play for her.”
The story unfolds during a tour by a delusional, aspiring musician who travels from small venue to small venue. The play includes music and dancing, all in the name of fame. “It starts off with the first night of her tour. She goes through and sings her regular songs, and she even does her first rap,” Langhoff describes. “Singing, dancing, the whole bit. It’s going to be jazz, saucy jazz, and then some sweet hip-hop dancing for her rap.”
The audience learns about E. Lang through her skewed banter in between the songs. She talks about her life and affairs, which end up being inadvertently comedic. “You see a little bit more about who she was before she was E. Lang, her personal history,” says Langhoff of her character’s two identities. The anecdotes mostly recount past romances. “She tells tales of her former lovers, mostly famous people. Tom Hanks, Jeremy Shockey…all these other random celebrities.” In the end, the performance turns serious, with E. Lang coming to realizations about herself and her identity. Langhoff shares some of the ending, divulging that “a character from her past comes out in the end and forces her to reveal who she really is.”
Free show with Fringe button. Showtimes, location, and more info.
Hip Hop is Alive
Hip Hop is Alive, created by DaVida Chanel, puts hip-hop in a context of real life issues. The play is made up of five vignettes, in which all of the dialogue comes from lyrics to popular hip-hop songs. She cast actual rappers, such as Lyrikill and A. Levy, as her actors, and it’s been interesting to see their transition. “The actors won’t be rapping, they’ll be acting,” Chanel says. “Lyrikill is a rapper, so he keeps trying to rap…but he has to take that part out and act. There’s a ton of improv going on.”
Each vignette is dedicated to a group of songs that express a theme. The music comes from Chanel’s favorites in her music library. She dedicates an entire vignette to her favorite artist, Kanye West. “When I hear Kanye West, I think of church,” she says. “All of his lyrics speak to me like a preacher would. For the Kanye West tribute, it’s literally a church service scenario. The preacher is preaching, but he’s only using Kanye West lyrics.”
For the performance, Chanel wanted Hip Hop Is Alive to include more than just a story. “I was fascinated with variety shows, like In Living Color, where there was acting and comedy involved, but then dancing and music. I figured hip-hop would be a great place to explore that.” In between each vignette there is a hip-hop dance performance group, and at the end of each night’s show, one of four local DJs—Raj Smoove, E.F. Cuttin, Tony Skratchere, and RQAway—will perform while the crowd mixes and mingles.
Chanel wants everyone to see how hip-hop touches different aspects of life. “Hip-hop, when you think of it, is one of those genres that people put into one box of an urban experience. It doesn’t really cross over to everything. I think my play shows you that it does. I try to take the hip-hop experience for me and make it broader.”
A Man, A Magic, A Music
Movin’ Mel Brown’s A Man, A Magic, A Music is being performed for the first time in the United States at this year’s New Orleans Fringe Festival. Austin-based Brown has performed this one-man show from Edinburgh to Australia, but he’s excited to see the reception it will receive from the people of New Orleans. “It’s my first time coming to New Orleans to do something like this,” says Brown. “There’s a lot of people in New Orleans that love this type of music. It’s a great place to start in the States.”
The music Brown refers to is ’50s and ’60s R&B, from legends like James Brown and Ray Charles. Brown’s performance in A Man, A Magic, A Music portrays the roots of black music in popular culture, and how R&B began to make its way to the airwaves. “The story is basically about black music history starting from about the 1950s. Bill Robinson, Ray Charles, James Brown, Jackie Wilson. I go through all these artists and do their songs and tell stories about their lives. It’s got a lot of comedy and characters.”
One of his main characters is a black preacher and gospel singer. “He talks about the black experience of going to church on Sunday morning.” The stories are supposed to be comedic, light-hearted, and educational as they follow the history of the famous characters and their struggles. “It gives you an idea about the foundation of black music and how it came up through the ranks. Back in the 1950s, they were just beginning to play black music. A lot of people don’t know these things.”