Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Fringe 2019 Top 10 - #3 - Ploys for Ensemble Glitz and Crisis Actors – Toot - Southern Theater

Description: It's not a conspiracy, we "promise!" The lights of Satan frame the faces of those who prepare to take the stage. And we're going to take it back! We take a keen, empirical interest in the obvious truth!

The thing that first drew me to the show page was the image - a figure in a long blue gown wearing an alien mask wandering through an abandoned theater space.

I read the show description and thought, “OK, borderline pretentious, and completely impenetrable.  Who’s working on this?”

And I saw two names that immediately made me trust the thing - Charles Campbell of Skewed Visions, and Emily Gastineau of Fire Drill, two local physical/intellectual performance wizards.  I am constantly intrigued by anything they do, even if I often can’t find words to convey the full range of feelings I experience when watching their art.  They poke at the boundaries of theater and audience, in ways that invite the audience into the process, rather than assault them as mere outside observers who are intruding on the process.  They want you to feel and they want you to think.  They’re listed as collaborative conspirators, so I’m already on board.

I feel like I should know Eric Larson, or some of his previous work, but it’s such a generic “John Smith” kind of name for the upper Midwest that I have know way of knowing for sure as I type this.  A  quick scan of my social media shows another physical performance theater person whose work I greatly admire, Samantha Johns, is a huge fan of Eric Larson, so that causes me to trust him as the Creator/Director of the project as well.

And honestly, their Fringe preview last night just reinforced my amusement with the  whole concept of the show.  There are two people listed as actual performers, rather than as collaborative conspirators, so I'm assuming Kenzi Allen and David Melendez were two of the people wandering onto the  stage last night, but it was hard to know, because all (ultimately) three of them were wearing demon/monster masks, the kind of plastic full head coverings that make it impossible to see a human face underneath.

But first, we hear the strains of the introduction to the song "Seasons of Love" from the musical Rent, which makes me inwardly groan, until the singing starts and I realize it's in German, and then the demon people wander out and begin to pretend to lip sync/perform the song.  At one point they wander into the audience and hand out sheets of paper.  Not the program, not the show card, each sheet has a random name typed on it.  Mine was Ava Farrell.  And a quick Google search later tells you, nothing definitive - she could be a college track star, an actress with an IMDB page, or a research assistant under a Nobel Prize winner in cellular and molecular neuroscience.  Or none of the above.  But take no details for granted.  The creator/performers of Toot don't.

Oh  yeah, they call themselves Toot.  A theatrical fart.  I am apparently still a ten year old boy at times.

So they just perform the song, including trying to get the audience to clap along.  We're sheep at musicals, so we do.

Just deeply weird.  As is the write-up on the More Information tab on their show page:

"A rehearsal for XXXXX like Ploys for Ensemble Glitz and Crisis Actors can only play out with a little planning.

First things first: lay the groundwork. If this hypothetical performance really is that important/penultimate, something insidious certainly compromises its purity.

Identifying the following element is the next and most crucial step:  find out which secret plan best justifies XXXXX conditions, overcome it, then stage the juiciest parts. It wouldn’t be so bad to be skeptical every now and again, is it going to kill you? Isn’t someone out there always a few steps ahead anyway?

Finally, create an assertive yet unassuming title for the shadow company which will present the piece. “Toot” could work. It might be too much. Do a jazz square and choose it despite doubts. There’s always room for what feels good, even in situations like these.

Ploys for Ensemble Glitz and Crisis Actors was born from this method.

Toot, Eric Larson, and those who wish to identify with Ploys for Ensemble Glitz and Crisis Actors would do right by themselves were they to establish an active online message board. For now, The Southern Theater will act as a fine venue."

Anything that  Emily and  Charles are involved in, and Samantha's excited about, I'm there for.

I know all the written material might sound self-important and hopelessly twee but give them a try.  I always enjoy the hell out of these strange presentations, despite all previous misgivings.  No guarantees in art or life, but I'd bet on this group of interconnected artists any day.  They don't take themselves too seriously (just look at their posted bios on the Cast and Crew tab if you don’t believe me), but they take their art and their audiences seriously.  I may not always understand, or be able to communicate it afterward, but I'm never bored, always engaged, and feel like I've spent my time watching something significant.  And often quite fun.  So, you know, the kind of stuff I go to Fringe to see.

First show - Saturday, August 3, 2019, 7pm - Southern Theater

For a quick list of links to my other postings, check out my Top 10 and Top 11-20 new Fringe artists to check out for Fringe 2019.  There's also Returning Favorites, and Fringe Shows I Just Can't Watch Right Now, but You Probably Should.  If you want to keep me company, during my first Fringe without Mom, I'll be posting my schedule here.  Also, here's some links if you want to hit all the Fringe 2019 blog posts, or see the full Fringe Archive from years past (just keep scrolling down, or hit the different years in the archive listing for the full blog on the right side of the screen and zero in on July and August)

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