On the Fringe: NorCal Fringe Festival goes virtual
Special to Prospector
2020 was a tough year for live events. In the spirit of innovation, it didn’t take long for many organizations to regroup and take advantage of the technology made available through the internet, bringing their creativity to audiences in an entirely new vehicle. Those involved in the NorCal Fringe Festival (formerly known as the Nugget Fringe Festival) were forced to cancel their event last year but are coming back in 2021 with free and virtual performances over the next two weekends.
Working in cooperation with NC Media, the 2021 NorCal Fringe Festival will feature a dozen shows that are certain to delight audiences. Admission is free, though donations will be encouraged, with all contributions being split between the performers.
Fringe festivals traditionally bring eclectic performances to stages around the world. The first Fringe Festival is said to have been established in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947 after theater leaders held an international theater festival and invited professional companies from around the world to participate, leaving local artists out. Those locals decided to hold a festival of their own on the “fringe” of that event, and let anyone who wanted to be involved perform. Today that tradition of letting anyone who wishes to perform do so continues at Fringe Festivals around the globe, opening the gate to original, often edgy, and always unique theater.
KNOW & GO
WHO: NorCal Fringe Festival
WHAT: A dozen or so performers, both local and visiting
WHEN: April 3, 4 and 10, 11
WHERE: Online via NC Media and YouTube
COST: Free, but donations are encouraged and will go towards supporting the performers
MORE INFO: For more info on the festival, how to watch, and to see the line-up, visit norcalfringe.org
This year, operating under the nonprofit Quest Theaterworks, board members and coproducers Rich Fisher and Marsha Burch reached out to past performers and as well as other artists with an invitation to take part in a virtual event by submitting prerecorded works. Organizers looked to keep what had once been considered the “largest rural fringe festival in North America” alive even in these pandemic times. Fisher said they spent hundreds of hours organizing the festival in 2020 only to have to cancel it a week before the show was set to kick off.
“Last year we had 21 shows at four different performance venues – the idea is to have shows a little less than an hour and all walking distance to one another from the different venues — and then eight days before opening everything was being shut down and we had to make the decision to cancel the Fringe Festival. It was the day before Broadway shut down, no one knew what was going to happen.”
Fisher went on to say that while everyone involved understood the need to cancel, board members regrouped to change the style of performances as they saw other Fringe Festivals begin doing the same. Teaming with NC Media, the nonprofit continues the work of cultivating Nevada County as a hub for theater and performing arts, even changing the name to give artists a sense of location, said Fisher.
“This was originally the Nugget Fringe Festival, but we changed it to NorCal Fringe Festival because the international fringe organization called us and said as performers look at the list of festivals and plan their tours, Nugget doesn’t give them any idea where we are, so we realized it was smarter to have our location in the name.”
This year a dozen shows will broadcast on the weekends of April 3 and 4 and on April 10 and 11 — highlighting both local performers and out of the area artists. Fisher said, “The works are not juried. We have everything from funny stuff to fairly dark material. Some have worked the pandemic into their shows. Because it’s virtual we didn’t have to limit the time, so we have five-minute shows and shows that are over an hour in length.”
The full schedule and description of each show is available at http://www.norcalfringe.org.
Fisher said traditionally some of the best fun came during the introduction of the artists and interactions with the audience. This year those introductions are also prerecorded.
“We tried to keep the fringe pretty loose,” said Fisher. “We goofed around a lot and there is a lot of humor in the introductions. We do mention we did not charge any performer any money to take part in the festival and no money is needed to watch the shows, but we do have links to donate. We will take any money donated and give it to the performers, since they are the ones who have lost so many venues to perform in. We are intentionally doing this as a gift to the community. We feel people are hungry for entertainment and others are hungry to perform.”
A couple of standout local performances are Lorri Holt performing “Who Killed Sylvia Plath” which won the Best Full Length at the 2020 Marsh International Solo Fest and “Beautifully Grotesque” by Janet Collard, which Fisher said is a true story.
“It’s the true story of expressionist dancer Valeska Gert of 1920’s Berlin. She (Collard) recreates dances, made the costumes, and tells Gert’s life story. Jori Phillips is another local. She is a standup comedian with subject matter that crosses a few areas.”
Fisher said Arnold Anthony Schmidt submitted two pieces which are not to be missed – an eyewitness account of the 1931 La Placita Riot and one of the few family-friendly works called, “Pirates, Mermaids and the Girl Who Couldn’t Swim.” Fisher noted, “It’s very kitschy, very fun.”
Fisher said they hope to host a live festival in late summer or early fall but are on a wait and see schedule. Until then, he encouraged folks to attend this festival, free of charge, to discover something new and interesting in this new way of presenting artists’ works to the public. The shows run from noon to 9:30 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 6:30 p.m. Sundays.
“We’ve become a company that has really had to flow with the change of reality here,” Fisher said. “We are appreciative of the support.”
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire, as well as a podcaster at HollieGrams. You can hear her episodes at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1332253. She can be reached at holliesallwrite@ gmail.com.
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