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SF Fringe Festival @ Exit Theater

Fringe Benefits

Ask your homies why they live in the Big City, and the answer is likely to include the phrase "all the cultural events…" But if you inquire what the last "cultural event" was that they had partaken in, you're likely to encounter long pauses, vacant looks, or maybe a vague recollection of a Quentin Tarantino flick. It's a shame; in the Bay Area, right under our noses, in our own backyards, there's a wealth of cutting-edge performance art and small theatre that seems to go largely unnoticed. We default to the cineplexes when we want out-of-home entertainment, but the problem is (in case you hadn't noticed) big studio movies kind of suck lately.

Of course, the Bay Area has many tasty offerings throughout the year, but the San Francisco Fringe Festival is all-you-can-eat hog heaven for experimental theater. Between September 7th and 18th, it presents 44 plays, including one comprised of twenty one sketches in the span of an hour ("21/One" by The Boxcar Players). Plays are all one hour or less in length, and tickets are $8-9 each. Ten to thirty plays per day are presented, which means that if you were really hardcore and saw, say, seven plays in one day, you'd still be spending less than one-fourth of the price of a ticket for mainstream fare like Wicked. It's not that mainstream theater isn't worth seeing, it's just that, like live sporting events, it's beyond the range of most of us, as our discretionary cash is now all going into our gas tanks.

There are at least forty fringe festivals all over the globe now, ranging from Florida to Hong Kong to London to Australia to Iowa. Judging by a quick review of global websites and audience reviews, live experimental theater in these festivals is thriving, growing, and inspiring. The Edinburgh International Fringe Festival, the largest and best-known internationally, sells 1.25 million tickets worth more than $16.5 million. What's common to all festivals is, according to the Edinburgh festival's website, the "freedom of expression for the arts supported by an open arts policy with no artistic vetting."

A preview of Fringe Festival plays shows an intriguing range of offerings -- everything from true life adventure to clowns to improv to experimental dance to werewolves to what's billed as the "world's first piece of Musical Theatre to focus on the fine tradition of Niagara Falls barrel jumping," and much, much more. There's "Show Me Where It Hurts", Karen Ripley and Annie Larson's Depression-era musical adventure teeming with irony and satire and framed by recent and futuristic political travesties. "Love Scenes" is a "sexy, touching, laugh-out-loud funny look at gay New Yorkers falling in and out of love." "Chinese Clown Cabaret" features eclectic musical acts starring Jane Chen and her real-life mother, Tair Chen, and was the winner of the Best Clown Show award in the 2004 SF Fringe Festival. Elisa DeCarlo's "Cervix with a Smile" "explores the highs and lows, in and outs of sex, gender and power all with a touch of perversion, and features songs and character monologues including: "Dream Date with Jesus", and "Donald Rumsfeld, You Blow Me Away".

Greek goddesses and lounge singers; penguins, poetry, and love triangles; alien abductions and Pol Pot; devastating satirical accuracy, goofiness, spontaneity, and emotional depth; potent blends of snack food and genetic experimentation; bloopers, googling-eyes, wordplay, monsters, and gangs; Latina icons, homelessness, mental illness, medications, and rock n' roll delusions. Joe Bob says check it out.

San Francisco Fringe Festival at the Exit Theater