Thursday July 19, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON

Evangelical veganism. Lovers who speak two different languages. And facing the end of the world with little more than a supply of canned food and an exercise bike. Those concepts and more are part and parcel of the eighth annual Berkshire Fringe Festival.

The ever-eclectic festival runs Monday through Aug. 13 at Bard College at Simon's Rock's Daniel Arts Center.

Following a recent rehearsal, two of the festival's three co-founders/artistic directors, Sara Katzoff and Timothy "Ryan" Olson, spoke about its evolution.

They said it has gone from being a bit a of a head-scratcher, to a better-known quantity among the area's cultural offerings.

"People sort of finally understand what it is that we do," Katzoff said, a reference to its program of new work by emerging artists. "People can wrap their brains around what it is and now it is easier for them to be like, ‘Oh, I'll just go. I trust what they are presenting.'"

Organizers this year are staging four works by other artists (instead of the more typical eight) and for the first time are mounting a full work of their own, a new play by Olson.

The decision to feature fewer works for a longer duration, Katzoff explained, allowed new works to be developed, through artist-residencies, in addition to the performances at the festival.


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"It allows more collaboration and cross-pollination, which is sort of the idea of the festival; that it is a real testing ground for new work and that they get to participate in that," Katzoff said.

Korean-born artist Haerry (pronounced Heddy) Kim said the residency was a driving force behind her decision to apply to the festival this year.

"It is an amazing opportunity for a theater group to have a summer home where we can focus on performing, developing a new piece, exchange ideas, and share our work with the community," Kim said in an email.

Her "Bathtub Play," having its U.S. premiere Aug. 3-12, is one of two international works in the festival.

Inspired by research and testimonials from the lives of Korean comfort women during World War II, and performed in English and Korean, "Bathtub Play" is a love story that weaves images and humorous snapshots of two people who do not speak the same language. Kim described it as an "opportunity to think about love and the desire to be loved."

Bring audiences in

As part of the residency, artists are required to bring audiences into their process. Some have opted to host to open rehearsals or workshops. Others, such as Dan Bernitt, developed other ideas.

Bernitt, a three-time Fringe Festival performer, will stage the world premiere of his latest work "Yelling at Bananas in Whole Foods" (July 26 - Aug. 4). The piece, inspired by a chance meeting with 1990s food guru Susan Powter, has Bernitt jumping into the "rabbit hole of the future of food." As a result he decided to host a potluck lunch and writing workshop.

"There's something great about this community, where they're actively engaged with the work performed on the stage," he said in a email. "I've performed two completely different works here, and I cannot wait to come back to premiere yet another, completely different, show. I'm excited to see what conversations we have about the work."

It was audience feedback that prompted Olson to write "Dark: An End Of The World Play With Music And An Exercise Bike."

Prior to this year, festival organizers performed a brief piece at the annual gala, but Olson said a number of festival-goers requested a full-length work.

The play, with music by fellow co-founder Peter Wise, and featuring Katzoff, as well as actors Emma Dweck and Michael Brahce, takes place in a remote one-room cabin following a cataclysmic event.

During the rehearsal the characters whiled away the time and sparred over who stole a can of beans from their sparse food supply.

The cost to attend "Dark," or any of the other shows ranges from pick-you-own-price opening nights to $15. The "30 Live" music concert series and community workshops are free.

Admission to the gala on Monday ranges from pay-your-age to $100 per ticket. Titled "REMIX," the gala s hors d'oeuvres, a silent and live auction, a dance party and five new short performances by local artists.

New work attracts

"There is something about new work made by people of a younger generation that I think attracts people of that generation to the work," said Katzoff reflecting on the festival as a whole. "Because it's about things that are contemporary, and current, and that are affecting the lives of people who are in that population."

But Katzoff added those concepts are also universal and translates to audiences beyond that as well.



What: Eighth Annual Berkshire Fringe Festival of new plays by emerging playwrights.

When. July 23 - Aug. 13.

Where: Daniel Arts Center at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington.

Schedule: For a complete schedule of plays, events, and prices visit www.berkshirefringe.org.