The Fringe Festival – it started in Scotland and it’s taking over the world!
San Diego recently held its own Fringe, and I was lucky enough to take in a few performances. I wish I had unlimited time, so I could have enjoyed more of the festival. But, I have a few take-aways to keep in my mind for my own work in the arts with children. Upon reflection, the thing that struck me about how the performers kept my attention was the clear commitment to intention and character. If I could manage to have my students really understand and take this idea to heart, their work would move to another level.
The first performance I saw was from a puppetry guild which involved 3 separate pieces:
Two dancers with shadow puppets, large hand “muppet” type puppets and a solo piece with one hand puppet. I really enjoyed the variety but was most impressed by the commitment of the performers.
I believe dancing with intention is every bit as important as technique. The two featured dancers were solid in their technique but few of the movements were particularly challenging. What made it so engaging for me was the clear intention of both of the dancers. They were committed to the piece, its message, and to each other. It drew me in and kept me there.
The puppeteers had very different types of pieces but all of them were clearly committed to the characters of their puppets and never once broke from that. I especially enjoyed the solo puppeteer as she did an exceptional job keeping my focus on the puppet and not on her by seating herself behind a prop and often finding ways to lower herself and/or had the puppet manipulating props throughout the piece.
The second performance I saw was a completely improvised full-length play.
I have seen lots of comedy improv, but never something this ambitious. This small, brave troupe improvised a play with only a genre chosen by an audience member (Tennessee Williams), a prop chosen by an audience member (a large stuffed frog) and a final line written by an audience member chosen at random by a member of the troupe (“I did not see that coming!”). While the play moved too slowly for me, I have to give those actors props for NEVER breaking character. Even when you could see the actors standing on stage and could imagine the wheels spinning in their heads as they tried to think of what would be an appropriate thing to say, they never broke character. That is what held me through the slow sections and kept me in my seat.
The final performance I took in was my favorite by far.
It combined dance and theater and was an intensely personal piece created by a dancer to tell her own story as a way of healing herself from a rift between herself and her sister. She spoke directly to the audience before and after the performance explaining that she is not a writer and all the performers were dancers, not actors. I beg to differ on both counts. The dialogue and monologues were clever, raw, honest, funny, passionate, well-paced and well-delivered. The dances were well-placed within the spoken scenes and were a fun mix of dance by itself and movement with spoken word. This performance was another example of clear intention and commitment to character keeping the audience riveted. I believed everyone and everything.
While we educators need to focus on developing the techniques of the students so they have the skills they need to create works of art, we need to remember to help them develop a clear intention and a commitment to that intention. It’s important for them to explore why they are creating that piece and upon execution, whether it is their work or the work of another, to completely commit to it. This will make a more gratifying experience for them as artists and will reach and captivate their audience.
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.