The next two weeks some of my students and I are participating in The Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival. We're taking a cut down version of Start Your Engines!, a script the advanced Conservatory class developed and produced earlier this year.
This is the 5th installment of a project called The Wasatch Cycle. Each year a different room is chosen, and the students write scenes and vignettes that occur in this not specifically located Salt Lake home. I serve as a kind of Producing Artistic Director, helping them sharpen the structure and shape the narrative - but almost all of the creative work is done by students.
It makes perfect sense, but part of what I find fascinating is how these stories reflect the lives, experiences, and attitudes of my students. Almost all of them are graduating, and "what comes next" is a common question. Parenting is also frequently in their cross-hairs. Their perceptions of we "adults" are sometimes painful, sometimes hysterical, and always informative. I don't want to give too much away, because I'd like you to come and see their work, but I invite you to consider looking at this as a clear reflection of how they see the world.
Like almost any other director, I'm always reading and looking for shows to do. In the back of an Introduction to Theater text I remember seeing a thought expressed that, 'If you want theatre to be important in a community, then companies should produce work that arises out of their community. They should tell stories that reflect the successes, failures, concerns and characters that are present where they live. If the companies weren't willing to take on that challenge, then they would be better off re-staging old chestnuts, or attempting to duplicate the spectacle of New York.'
I was thinking that in general The Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival achieves the former objective, giving opportunity and voice to stories that, at first blush, seem like they may not resonate beyond our community or region. But then this morning I was spinning through my Facebook feed and ran into this:
"Instead of bringing artists together, matchmaker-style, to adapt a movie (a process that naturally shuts out marginalized voices), producers would do better to travel to Brooklyn or regional theatres and see what artists are making. Constitution began in a 89-seat theatre in the West Village, and arose out of Schreck’s need to process her own traumatic family history. Hadestown began as a community music-theatre project in Vermont, based on Anaïs Mitchell’s love of the Orpheus myth. Both are hits because they’re damn good shows which would not work as well in any other medium; they’re authentically themselves." - Diep Tran
It leads to the interesting possibility that Fringe Festivals like this, (and they exist all over the world,) might be the key to making a more relevant, revitalized, and accessible theatre.