Students perform at FringeNYC
Imagine yourself fresh off the bus from Pittsburgh to New York. You have a bag of clothes and a bag of puppets, props, and makeup. It’s one week before you perform in the New York International Fringe Festival, the largest multi-arts festival in North America that features around 200 shows in a two-week period.
This was the scene for a group of Carnegie Mellon School of Drama students as they took their show, Sheherizade, to New York for the festival.
“We were lucky we had a minimalist set and didn’t have too many props,” said Rodney Earl Jackson Jr., a senior musical theater major and the show’s producer, about transporting the show materials to New York.
Sheherizade began as a project for the School of the Drama’s Playground Festival last March. “We thought, ‘We need to seize the day and take this opportunity that the School of Drama and Purnell has given us and do something,’ ” said Jackson of the decision to enter in Playground. Aidaa Peerzada, a senior acting major, wrote the play and the two assembled a cast and crew of students to help put on the show.
Directed by junior directing major Priscila Garcia, Sheherizade is a fresh take on a traditional “Arabian Nights” story. The play incorporates music, storytelling, puppetry, and dance to tell three stories of women’s strength and men’s challenges.
After receiving great reviews at Playground for its originality, the group decided to enter the show into the Fringe Festival. “We decided to just enter it and see what happened,” Jackson said. “And then sure enough, we got accepted.”
Sheherizade was, in fact, one of three shows created and performed by Carnegie Mellon students in this year’s Fringe Festival. Two other groups that also presented their shows at last year’s Playground made it through the Fringe Festival’s jury selection process and became a part of this year’s festival.
Inexperienced Love, one of the other Carnegie Mellon shows at the festival, is a musical written and composed by senior drama student Jacob Tischler. The musical tells the stories of three college couples as they discover the ups and downs of love. The musical comedy was directed by senior drama student Benjamin Viertel and produced by iLove Productions.
The third group of Carnegie Mellon students to take its Playground show to the Fringe Festival performed Behind the Badge, an autobiographical story of two police officers and their sons. The play was written by senior drama student Lachlan McKinney and recent drama alum Marrick Smith, both of whom grew up with police officers as fathers. The play’s entire creative team is comprised of Carnegie Mellon students and is produced by Iron Shirt Production.
The three groups have added to a long list of Carnegie Mellon students who have performed at the festival in years past. PigPen, a group formed at Carnegie Mellon in 2008, participated in the festival in 2010 and 2011, winning the highest honor for a play both years. PigPen was the first group in the festival’s history to win two years in a row. Additionally, a Carnegie Mellon group called In The Basement Theater also attended in 2011, performing a piece called Chien de Moi.
Despite the number of students who complete the journey from Playground to Fringe, it’s not an easy ride. Taking into account travel expenses, rehearsal space, props, backdrops, advertising, and time commitments, preparing for the festival can take its toll financially and physically.
That’s why the Sheherizade group decided to hire a team to help take some of the load off. To pay for everything, they created a Kickstarter page and raised $4,610 — $1,110 more than their goal. To prepare for their show, they rehearsed between six and eight hours every day for a week.
“It was really tiring,” Jackson said, “but absolutely worth it. I learned a lot about being a producer in the process.”
The main thing Jackson learned, he said, was that if you want things to be done, you have to do them yourself. This was certainly the case for advertising the group’s four shows. Unlike campus performances, a full house is not guaranteed in New York, and especially not in the Fringe Festival.
“It’s a lot different because at school, you don’t have to worry about filling the house. The people who usually come, do come,” Jackson explained. “But in New York, there were 190-something shows in the festival, so it was all on you if you wanted people to come see your show. You had to go get them.”
In the end, Jackson and the rest of his team’s efforts paid off, as they performed to a large crowd and received positive reviews in the media.
Like Playground, the Fringe Festival allows students complete creative freedom. While Jackson enjoys the classical structure of school, “sometimes you want to do what you want to do, and [Playground and Fringe] really open that door for opportunity, which is phenomenal.”
“Fringe is like Playground on an escalated scale,” Jackson said. “It’s like, here’s the space, here’s the press, now you go and do everything.”