“Just what Ithaca needs—another damn festival!” was the motto running around George Sapio’s head when he first conceived the idea of hosting a fringe festival in TinyTown.
Sapio, a well-known figure in Ithaca as a “quintuple-threat” theater artist (award-winning playwright, director, producer, sound designer, and actor), had fallen in love with fringe festivals when one of his own plays was chosen for the Cincinnati Fringe Festival in 2008. The experience was pure delight, Sapio says.
“The Cincy folks treated us all—artists , technicians, producers and audiences—superbly,” Sapio recalls. “The feeling was that of a supportive and upbeat community,” I wanted to replicate that vibe here in Ithaca, and at the same time bring business to the Commons, which was a shambles during our first two years. I love the Commons and consider it the heart of Ithaca, but the heartbeat was getting weaker and weaker during the grueling years of the construction.”
Few things can get the blood pumping as well as a fringe festival, which brings new, often raw, sometimes wildly experimental theatrical works to the stage. Stages are usually found spaces and can include storefronts, cafes, even alleyways. The performance span the spectrum of performances and can include comedy, drama, monologues, dance, puppetry, mime, cabaret, musicals, vaudeville, and more.
The most famous fringe is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe the grandparent of them all, which has been around for more than 50 years. It draws audiences from around the world, runs nearly four weeks, and now features more than 50,000 performances of 3,000+ shows in 300+ venues.
“We’re a tad smaller,” laughs Sapio. “We’re still young, and we plan to grow over the next several years to 25 acts in 4 days. That’s about right for Ithaca.”
One feature the Ithaca Fringe shares with Edinburgh is that the productions are unjuried.
“That was a little scary at first,” said board member Katie Spallone, a local actor, former business owner, and Co-Director of the Actors’ Workshop of Ithaca. “But when you think about it, who is really qualified to decide which shows should get a stage? What I might love, George might hate, and vice versa. We’ve been very fortunate in our first two years that all the shows have been good, more than a few have been great, and two or three have been truly stellar.”
This year’s festival runs Thurs.-Sun. April 14-17 and features acts from Rochester, New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, and a homegrown production of four short plays by Ithacan James Comfort, a graduate of the Actor’s Workshop of Ithaca, which will feature several AWI actors.
Each production company takes home all ticket sales from its four daily shows. Individual tickets are $10, with discounts on multi-show passes. They can be purchased at the venues with cash, or online via credit card (for a small handling fee). High school and college students can pay just $7 with student ID when they buy tickets at Fringe Central, this year at Mystic Water Kava Bar, 107 South Cayuga Street, just off the Ithaca Commons.
Fringe Central is where artists and audience members learn more about the shows, mingle and enjoy entertainment and refreshments between and after the shows. Its location will be announced at a later date.
New this year is a dance exhibition; on Thursday evening at 8:45, three choreographers will be given a theme and two to three dancers each, and they’ll all go off to create, rehearse, and then perform their pieces for the public at the Bernie Milton Pavilion on the Commons at 6:45 p.m. Sunday. Also on Sunday awards will be given, based on audience votes.
The festival’s corporate sponsor is Tompkins Trust Company, and generous venue sponsors are Acting Out NY (Center Ithaca), the History Center, Cinemapolis and the Community School of Music and Arts. Local restaurants and retailers are offering special discounts to Fringe-goers.
This year’s performers:
Mal Cherifi: Make the Distance (Philadelphia, PA). Recent Ithaca College graduate Mal Cherifi in a solo performance. Distance is an amount of space between two people. Ignore the hazard signs; get caught up in the wanderlust. Ages 13+.
Brooklyn Culture Jam: Planet Hospice (Brooklyn, NY). “A joyous lighthearted romp through impending human extinction” by playwright Dan Kinch, whose Occupy Wall Street play How to Stop the Empire While Keeping Your Day Job has been viewed over 12,000 times on You Tube.
Flower City Vaudeville: A Night in Towanda (Rochester, NY). This energetic, talented trio (Ted Baumhauser, Richard Hughson, and Ward Hartenstein) returns after winning the Ithaca Fringe’s 2015 Andrew M. Dixon Award. Fun for all ages!
Kelly Haramis; Double Happiness: A Tale of Love, Loss, and One Forever Family (Chicago). Former Chicago Tribune journalist (and former Ithacan) juggles fertility issues, adoption and loss. Ages 13+.
J2D: Epoch (Ithaca). Written by local theatre artist, Actor’s Workshop TA, and filmmaker James Comfort II. Four short plays about those who dare to see more, do more, and be more—to not settle for the ordinary. Ages 13+.
Run Boy Run Productions: Underground Episodes. In Philadelphia, everyday people from all walks of life have stories to tell. Their platform? The train. Ages 13+.
Ithaca’s only festival devoted to the performing arts will be held on and around the Ithaca Commons. More info and tickets are at http://www.ithacafringe.com. (Be sure to type in the “www” to avoid a technical glitch.) See a short video about the Ithaca Fringe Festival at tinyurl.com/IthacaFringe2016Video.