The annual Fringe Festival, presented by Westmont College Theatre Arts, not only extends theater to the outer edges of experimentation but also draws a large circle of participation in acting and production by students who are not theater majors. Presented over two weekends in several venues in the theater arts complex, the 17 pieces this year include two full-length senior projects, eight short world premiere pieces, and an assortment of original dance works. Although one night doth not a festival make, my attendance on the evening of Saturday, April 13, allowed me to watch four short and one full-length work, and witness a buoyant atmosphere of creativity and supportive audiences.
The word “fringe” implies a rough edge, and this festival is more about process and even iconoclasm than about finish. Take, for example, the genesis of the eight short works. Eight student directors were each matched with a playwright from MFA programs at UC San Diego or University of Texas at Austin. Westmont professor John Blondell gave these writers a rubric of features and only 48 hours to produce a script. Nothing, of course, frays the nerves like a deadline; on the other hand, the results of forced creativity can be surprising.
The major feature of the evening was José Rivera’s Marisol, directed and produced by Westmont seniors Sam Martin, Jackie Dressler, and Shawnee Witt. This dark, apocalyptic tale of rebellion in heaven and universal turmoil on earth was a grand spectacle featuring original music and orchestra, as well as effective integration of multimedia. The shorter works were all admirable efforts to wrestle with substantial issues. Fruit Pie by David Jacobi, directed by Molly Sexton, faced the illusions of fame; Songs for Girls by Diana Small, directed by Lauren White, wrestled with the death of a friend; and The Girl with the Red Lipstick, written and choreographed by Lindsey Twigg, used dance and monologue to face the anguish of sex slavery. But the finest piece was Venus’ Daughter by Kristin Idaszak, directed by Paige Tautz, in which an American girl’s vacation in Paris turns into an identity struggle with her Islamic roots.