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Fringe Fort Myers brings burlesque, stand-up comedy, and more June 1 through 4

Fringe Fort Myers is June 1st through the 4th. The festival features free shows in the Alliance for the Arts parking lot and outdoor stage plus 9 ticketed acts in the Off Broadway Palm, the Foulds Theatre and the Alliance’s Classroom Theatre.

"Carousel of Burlesque" is one of the shows that will be staged in the Foulds Theatre. Written by two local burlesque artists, Pixel Winters and Freckles Galore, this 60-minute performative piece will take the audience on a trip through history, tracing the development of the art form from its introduction into the United States in 1868 through the present.

“We have a narrator who is going to be taking us through time, taking us through not only how burlesque has been important, but how it’s changed and where it’s possibly going to go,” Pixel Winters explained. “And in between, we’re going to have examples of those types of burlesque with our actual performers. And there’s four us plus an emcee who we have coming to perform for the show.”

Because of its emphasis on history, "Carousel of Burlesque" is an ideal opportunity for people who’ve never seen a performance to indulge their curiosity in a completely non-threatening venue.

“So, this is a really good way to dip their toes in without feeling overwhelmed or over-pressured,” said Pixel.

The full range of burlesque will be on display — from classic and neo-classic to comedic and sensual. And the show will culminate in a spectacular finale you won’t see anywhere else. But more than informative, "Carousel of Burlesque" promises to be fun.

It’s also affordable.

“They get to catch the show for three days in a row – Friday, Saturday and Sunday and it’s at an affordable price,” said Freckles Galore. “That’s why Fringe is important. It makes art accessible to people who are normally not able to buy a ticket to see a show at a theater.”

The Alliance’s Classroom Theater will be the venue for a one-woman show that some have called the most powerful story on the fringe circuit. In The Light Bringer, Tampa-based writer and performer Laila Lee brings to light her experiences growing up Muslim in the American South.

“Knowing about the experience of an Arab-American, that is something not usually prevalent in a lot of the arts and in theater and storytelling,” said Lee.

Laila’s parents brought her and her six siblings to the United States when she was just eight. The adjustment to, and assimilation into, American society and culture proved far from easy. To claim her vision of the American dream, Laila had to make a decision that has estranged her from her family for more than 18 years.

“As it may seem like it’s intended to reflect upon the theme of immigration and the theme of immersing yourself in a culture and cultural shock and losing your sense of identity," she said, "it is a show that many people can relate to from all walks of life, whether they’ve been on this soil all their life or whether they’ve come from overseas.”

The show resonates with people from all walks of life precisely because it delves into universal problems that transcend culture and ethnicity -- such as family dysfunction and estrangement with the challenges of coming of age serving as the backdrop.

“I’ve had some audience members come up to me and say, 'I have yet to be able to talk to my parents about certain things because of these traumatic experiences that I had,' and it became an inspiring thing for them,” said Lee. “I’m very fortunate to know that I can touch more than a specific group of people’s lives.”

Comedian Paco Erhard will also be in the Alliance Classroom Theater with his irreverent stand-up show, "Worst. German. Ever." He appropriated the title from a heckler who caught his act in Berlin several years ago. Since leaving Germany, Paco has lived in 7 countries and traveled to 40 others, but America is his first love. And he feels a responsibility to point out that we’re in dire need of a mid-course correction.

“On stage, I like to go where it hurts,” warned Pac. “So I’ve been politically incorrect many, many times, but with a good message underneath. I think it’s important to somehow say things directly and in a mischievous way and step on people’s toes a little bit in a funny way instead of pussy-footing all the time.”

Fringe Fort Myers attendees have three chances to see each of the event’s nine shows. Since no show exceeds 60 minutes, you can even catch all three shows in each venue in a single night.

For more information:

  • Inaugural Fringe Ft. Myers provides platform for independent experimental and alternative performance artists
  • Spotlight on The Light Bringer
  • Spotlight on Paco Erhard: Worst. German. Ever.
  • Spotlight on Francine Wolf: Please Don’t Tell My Kids!
  • Fringe Fort Myers is the newest Fringe theater festival in the United States and follows long-standing Fringe traditions of being 100 percent uncensored, 100 percent unjuried and 100 percent inclusive. Even better, 100 percent of ticket sales go directly to the artists.
  • Fort Myers joins more than 250 cities around the globe that host fringe performing arts festivals.
  • Fringe Fort Myers is a collaboration between the Alliance for the Arts and Broadway Palm Dinner Theater.
  • Fringe festivals trace their origins to Edinburgh, which held an international festival in 1947 in an effort to heal some of the wounds inflicted on England’s collective psyche by World War II. Participation was restricted to established, mainstream performers and that didn’t sit well with so-called outsider artists. “So basically, these outsider artists held their own festival around the perimeter of the city as kind of a protest to the festival that was happening because they weren’t being included,” explains Fringe Fort Myers organizer Bill Taylor.
  • Ever since, fringe festivals have provided a platform to independent, experimental and alternative artists who otherwise exist on the “fringes” of the professional art world.
  • Although fringe festivals were popular in England following the inaugural festival in Edinburgh in 1947, fringe did not cross the pond to North American until the 1980s. Today, there are more than 250 fringe festivals around the world.
  • “The Drowsy Chaperone” (Bob Martin and Don McKellar) premiered at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 1999 and went on to Broadway in 2006. It was produced locally by Creative Theater Workshop. Directed by Kimberly Suskind, it starred Tricia Hennessy (in the title role) and Samuel Pucin, Jesse Massari, AJ Ford and Kristen Noble.
  • “5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche” was a hit at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2011. Theatre Conspiracy at the Alliance for the Arts produced it locally in 2019. Directed by Stephanie Davis, it starred Karen Goldberg, Lucy Sundby, Anna Grilli and Dena Blauvelt.
  • “Da Kink in My Hair” (Trey Anthony) was part of the 2001 Toronto Fringe Festival. It went on to enjoy successful runs in the U.S. and U.K. and also ran as a TV series on Global TV from 2007 – 2009.
  • “My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding” (David Hein and Irene Sankoff) debuted at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2009 before going on to enjoy an extensive North American tour.
  • Emma Thompson (the only person to ever win an Oscar for both writing and acting), Hugh Laurie, Robin Williams, Mike Myers, Rachel Weisz  (who won an Oscar for her role in “The Constant Gardener”) and “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah all got their start at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
  • Fringe festivals are not juried. This allows artists to take risks they might not be willing or able to otherwise. For many, it’s a big step in finding their creative voice and opportunities for distribution of their work.
  • While fringe festivals can afford the opportunity to see a lot of terrific, and terrifically terrible, theater in a short time span without breaking the bank, Taylor recognizes that the roster of shows can be a little overwhelming. So Fringe Fort Myers will kick off with a preview show at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 1st, in the Foulds Theatre, during which each performer or group will have 2-3 minutes to sell their show to the audience.
  • “So if you’re looking at the program and you’re like, ‘Well I’m not sure what show I really want to attend,’ come to the teaser show and you’ll get an sense of each one of those shows, what they are, which ones you might want to attend,” advises Bill Taylor. “We’ll have ticket sales that night right at the door for anything you want to buy. So it’s a good way to familiarize yourself with what shows are in the festival.”
  • There will be three venues – the 132-seat Foulds Theatre at the Alliance for the Arts, a cozy theater that will be set up in the Alliance classrooms and the nearby 85-seat Off Broadway Palm Theatre, which the dinner theatre boasts, has “a great view from every seat.”
  • Due to the proximity of these venues and the strict limits imposed on the length of each show, it will be possible for attendees to take in multiple performances Friday through Sunday of the festival.
  • Each performer sets the price for tickets, which are typically $15 and under. The artists keep 100% of the proceeds, although the festival charges a modest per-ticket handling fee to cover its expenses. Fringe Fort Myers comes on the heels of two of Florida’s other pre-eminent fringe festivals, Tampa Fringe and Orlando Fringe, which is the largest fringe festival in the United States.
  • Bill Taylor, the Alliance for the Arts and Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre had intended to introduce Fringe Fort Myers to Southwest Florida in 2020. They even produced “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” in the Alliance Classroom Theater as a fundraiser for the event before the coronavirus pandemic struck. “We had sold tickets and everything and then, of course, the world came to a screeching halt and so it stopped,” relates Taylor. “We’ve been wanting to redo it. Last year, we looked at doing it, but we had the Caloosa Connect Water Project go through our property so we didn’t want to have a fringe festival when our property was going to be torn apart for that water project, so we decided to wait another year, and here we are.”
  • Bill Taylor is best known in Southwest Florida as a producer, director, actor and founder of Theatre Conspiracy at the Alliance for the Arts. Since founding the latter company in 1984, Bill has produced more than 120 shows, directed 40 productions and performed in over 50 others including three one-man shows, “Sex, Drugs & Rock and Roll,” “Barrymore” and “Tru.”
  • Among the many initiatives Taylor has launched at Theatre Conspiracy are its perennial New Play Contest, an emphasis on productions written by women playwrights and providing strong female characters, and programming that provides opportunities for area actors of color and discourse on the Black experience in America (in shows like George C. Wolff’s “A Colored Museum,” Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” Lydia Diamond’s “The Bluest Eye,” Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf” and several productions from August Wilson’s Century Cycle.

To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida visit Tom Hall's website: SWFL Art in the News.

Spotlight on the Arts for WGCU is funded in part by Naomi Bloom, Jay & Toshiko Tompkins, and Julie & Phil Wade.