Fringe Fest 2013 Reviews: RIT Film & Animation Honors Show, "Rochester Stories," "The Daughter of Capulet," "Interviewing the Audience," "Old Maid and The Thief" 

My Saturday at Fringe Fest was all about storytelling. I started off with the RIT School of Film and Animation Honors Show, screened at Little Theatre 1, which offered 26 of the best works produced at the school last year. While many of the short films were the work of students obviously flexing their burgeoning skills in animation and experimental live-action film, there were a ton of serious gems among the group. "Dust," a beautifully filmed and edited 22-minute live-action fiction film by BFA student Ben Disinger, tells the story of a miserable old widower, Julius, whose reclusive life gets shaken up by the precocious 7-year-old, Emma, who invades his home and innocently drops quippy, beyond-her-age wisdom that challenges Julius, and causes him to contact his estranged son.

"Solomon MaximusChocko" is MFA student DhaneeshKooliyath's short-and-sweet animated illustration in rhyme about a man infected by a disease called "think." Immediately next and utterly juxtaposed, "Deep Fried" is BFA student Joseph McCarthy's bleakly hilarious music video about our disgusting habits."Restitution" is 3rd year BFA student Matthew Pickett's tragic, intimate look at harsh, precarious life on the frontier, specifically centered on an accident that sparks a chain of violence.

"Dark Mechanism," by MFA student IhabImadMardini, is a skillfully executed 3D-animated short of a mechanical spider that stalks and traps a mechanical firefly not for food, but for light by which to type."Hawa" is MFA student ArzoumaKompaore's absolutely gorgeous film about a woman from Cameroon living in America, who struggles with her longing to have a child and her marriage that is strained by stress and pride. When it finally occurs to her self-centered husband to extend a little kindness toward her, it's far too late.

After several very clever and humorous shorts, the screening wrapped with the lengthier "Honeymoon," a wrenching live-action fiction piece by 4th year BFA student Geordie Earle III, in which a young man is tormented by memories of a twice-lost love and decides to end his life. Though this beautiful work ends on a hopeful note, it temporarily gutted me and I was happy to escape outside into the rain.

I then moved along to RAPA's East End Theatre for "Rochester Stories: A Neighborhood Project," a series of anecdotes and background stories of Rochesterians collected by AprilleRoyelleByam for her Story Chick project. The stories varied in length and tone, and were performed by local actors before the owners of the stories were revealed via photograph on a screen. Included were memories of sugar-fueled self-rule at age 6, becoming an American citizen, and a near-death experience that led to a supreme sense of wonder about this life. Just based on the anecdotes, I realized that I knew who a couple of the story owners were before their identity was revealed. Between some of the stories Byam told anecdotes about notable historical Rochesterians and at the end, Byam and each of the performers told their own stories. Byam's thesis is that we can build community through stories, and plans to expand this great project.

Later in the evening, I headed to MuCCC for to hear Juliet's side of the story in "The Daughter of Capulet," an opera by Thomas Pasatieri, directed by Devin Goodman and featuring Katie Lewis as Juliet and Kurt Galvan skillfully playing piano. There weren't many things I took away from this piece -- though I was impressed by Lewis' astoundingly beautiful voice, the play offers little more than a girl in modern garb in a modern bedroom (Facebook was conspicuously open on her laptop), swooning, giggling, sighing, and pacing while epically belting out Juliet's lines. The play seemed to be about a contemporary teen reading "Romeo and Juliet" for school and getting seriously, dramatically wrapped up in the story.

The girly set and Lewis' demeanor effectively emphasized Juliet's young age, and the brevity of the performance revealed how little Juliet actually spoke. But the play was an odd little reduction to a teenage girl's infatuation and longing, so much so that when we came to the one-sided death scene, the intensity of the girl's emotions, apart from any tragedy and alone in her cozy room, were a bit disturbing.

I stayed at MuCCC for Spalding Gray's "Interviewing the Audience," performed by MuCCC artist-in-residence Justin Reilly, along with volunteers from the audience. The premise is exactly what it sounds like, and after a short intro, Reilly proposed a theme of "risk-taking" and asked for volunteers. The show's element of unpredictability gives it great potential for entertainment and profundity, and once again, I was learning the stories of other Rochesterians.

Reilly began each interview by asking the volunteer to give a bit of info about themselves -- what they did, who they were -- and followed up with a smooth stream of questions in a conversational manner. It was fascinating to hear how each person chose to define themselves. Molly, an artist and retired city school teacher, spoke of being a newlywed in 1961, and joining her husband on his tour of duty in Germany right after the Berlin Wall went up.

Next, Jesse, a mental-health counselor who works with children, spoke of shifting from his trajectory of media art to helping kids tackled their problems in new ways, saying that "being with another human in a constructive way sounded appealing." When Reilly asked again for a third volunteer, I put my hand up, partially because I dread getting up in front of others, and partially because I was curious to experience that side of this interactive experience.

The audience disappeared when I crossed the blinding wall of light to sit talk with Reilly about moving to Rochester and learning about the city's vast creative community through my work for City. Lastly, Ed, a retired high school English teacher, spoke about returning to the stage to act and write after a long absence.

My evening wrapped back at RAPA for Lyric Opera's infectiously delightful "Old Maid and the Thief," a slightly tragic and very comedic Menotti piece about a scheming spinster (Kaitlyn Baldwin), and her even-more-scheming maid (Maureen Edwards), who fall for a dashing vagrant (Kevin Greene) and get into all manner of mischief in their attempts to woo their visitor, while avoiding the prying eyes of the neighborhood busybody (Jennifer DiNolfo). The vocal talents of the entire company were phenomenal -- the three ladies, astoundingly, are only high-school students -- and the intimacy of the small theater offered a close look at the hilariously spot-on expressions of the actors. The production, directed by Judith A. Ranaletta, was part of Lyric Opera's last season, and served as part of its Accanto program, for which Broadway actor Kevin Greene has returned to Rochester to offer instruction to musical theater students.

(“Old Maid and The Thief” will also be performed Monday 9/23 7 p.m. at RAPA’s East End Theatre. Tickets cost $10.)

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