Performance
5:00 am
Fri July 19, 2013

KC Fringe Festival Inspires Creative Challenges

Actors Jake Walker and Diana Watts rehearse their lines, as a husband and wife in a sinking boat, at the Fishtank.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR

This year’s KC Fringe Festival includes dance, theater, visual arts, spoken word, fashion, and film; in 11 days, there are just over 360 shows in 19 venues.

Artists often describe Fringe as an opportunity to take on new roles: to direct, to write, to produce. But sometimes, it's also a chance to have some fun.

Connecting to the Kansas City theater community

Forrest Attaway is dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and cargo shorts. He jokes that his girlfriend, actor Amy Kelly, says he’s in his Hemingway mode. A writer, director, and actor, Attaway’s fairly new to the Kansas City area - he’s lived here for about 2 years - but he's appeared on local stages since 2007.

Most recently, Attaway served as artist-in-residence at the Crossroads-based theater, The Living Room, but he’s taking on a new role as associate producer at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre.

"That’s one of the things that I really love about the Kansas City theater scene is their ability to collaborate with each other, and share work, and cross pollination and things like that," he says.

A lighthearted take on Texas roots

Attaway has traveled and worked around the country, from California to Alaska, but his entry for this year’s KC Fringe Festival taps into his east Texas roots. He wrote the play, Outta Beer and Outta Space (A Redneck Galactic Adventure), a little more than a decade ago for a playwriting class.

"And it’s not in any way making fun of my friends from east Texas," says Attaway. "It’s actually quite endearing in parts how honest these guys are."

In the play, there are four cast members, including drinking buddies, Jeb and Earl. On a beer run, they encounter aliens. As Attaway puts it, a lot of his work has weight to it. But, he says the Fringe festival gives him an opportunity to present something - like Outta Beer and Outta Space - that’s a little more lighthearted.

"It’s short, it's funny, it’s kind of blue, it’s really sort of ridiculous," he says with a laugh. "I’m very, very proud of it."

Getting re-introduced to a childhood author

On a late afternoon at the Fishtank, a performance space in the Crossroads, actors push painted black wooden cubes against a mirror on stage to set the scene for a rehearsal.

Fishtank curator Heidi Van, with her blonde hair pulled back, is directing An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein. It’s a collection of one-acts from the writer and illustrator, probably best known for Where The Sidewalk Ends, or The Giving Tree. But, he was also, among other things, a playwright. Van cautions that this subject matter is not for children.

"He drops some language in there. And then some sorts of characters that, no, aren’t children’s characters," says Van. "He has some very eloquent speaking prostitutes, selling themselves in verse. He has kind of a synonym game for body parts."

Shocking with 'literary finesse'

An actor and director, Heidi Van often creates or produces something new for the Fringe, like 2008's The Coppelia Project, her first full-length play. But, this time, she opted for Silverstein’s work; she’d seen it on a larger stage and decided to adapt it for the more intimate Fishtank. She says in An Adult Scene of Shel Silverstein, there’s an emphasis on the language.

"They start off as pretty normal scenes, but then the subject takes a sharp turn in one direction – not physically, but vocally," she describes. "The banter back and forth is so percussive and sharp and witty."

In one story, called The Lifeboat is Sinking, actors Jake Walker and Diana Watts portray a husband and wife. They sit together on a bed, and she asks him to imagine they’re on a sinking boat in a storm.

Van says at times, the production is a little bit shocking – but she says there's also a lot of humor, allowing Silverstein to show off what she calls his "literary finesse." The cast includes the Fishtank’s summer acting apprentices – as well as guest appearances by Kansas City actors, such as Pete Bakely, Annie Cherry, Katie Gilchrist, Heidi Van, and Jake Walker.

The KC Fringe Festival runs July 18 - 28, 2013.