Luck of the draw determines the participants in the Atlanta Fringe Festival. As fate would have it, two of the shows in the upcoming event have LGBT themes.
The mission of the Fringe Festival is to provide a platform for indie, underground playwrights doing edgy work. In all, the second annual Atlanta Fringe festival, opening June 5, spotlights 24 shows, but the offerings are not chosen in traditional manners.
Applicants are placed into a hat and drawn, says Diana Brown, the company’s artistic director, although the company does reserve the option of saving a few spots at the end to make sure the event is balanced.
“We don’t want to have 20 solo shows or shows just about white people,” she says.
But this season’s drawn/selected pieces were so diverse that no intervention was needed.
“We have everything from comedy and drama to solo works, even a circus piece,” Brown says.
While at GSU, Brown helped form Twinhead Theatre, a student-run group that has some queer members. She and members of the troupe visited the Minnesota Fringe Festival in 2006 and hoped to see one in the ATL soon. As it turns out, in 2010 the Little 5 Points Business Association shared plans to do some sort of festival in the spring, to complement the popular Halloween event in the fall, and use area theaters. Thus, last year’s Fringe Festival —which also featured queer themes— was born.
One of this year’s LGBT productions is “It’s My Penis and I’ll Cry if I Want To,” by Chicago playwright Jamie Black, who is coming to Atlanta for the first time. Featuring four men and four women, “It’s My Penis” features monologues from the performers about gender and gender stereotypes.
“The show is about the difference between men and women,” Black says. “Society doesn’t allow the integration of masculine and feminine characteristics; this looks at how that affects our lives.”
This is Black’s second fringe festival appearance for the play, following the New Orleans Fringe Festival earlier. The playwright identifies as transgender and says he began his process back in 1994. His first play dealt exclusively with his own coming out experience.
While gay themes are prominent in today’s theater, lesbian issues are less so and trans issues are almost extinct.
“I am not sure why that is,” he says. “Maybe it’s more controversial. It’s not talked about much.”
Yet Black feels the show’s themes are relevant for all audiences.
“We are all human beings,” he says. “Men are supposed to behave a certain way and women are too, but we don’t. Not all gay men are effeminate and not all lesbians are butch.”
On the Fringe Festival Tumblr site, organizers ask playwrights a list of serious and silly questions, including what would happen if “Random Atlanta Couple Who Doesn’t Ordinarily Go To These Sorts of Things” happened to “wander into your show blind.”
“What happens to them? Are their minds blown? Are they freaked out? Are they seduced by your gentle artistry?”
Black, who is also a comedian, turned the question into a chance for humor.
“Well, if they come in blind, they might trip over the carpet runner. Then they’ll sit and listen to what I’m saying without any judgment because they’ll have to use their other senses and be totally in tune with me,” he wrote.
“And yes, their minds will be blown. And they will be touched in a deep way and go home and seduce each other in a whole new way.”
The second LGBT-themed production, “Loverslane,” deals with two sisters and their quest to find love via online dating. The sisters are young and have a gay brother who is 17, closeted and dealing with his homophobic family. Eventually, he helps screw up his sister’s dating process.
Hillary Heath of the Atlanta-based Doing Stuff Badly Productions directs the world premiere of Weatherly Richardson’s play. She calls the piece extremely timely.
“The generation upcoming is dedicated and dependent on technology; everyone is always on their laptop or phone,” Heath says. “Online dating is hard. It’s hard to be yourself and sometimes we put on a front, but we should be tolerant of each other.”
The young characters are all Oglethorpe University graduates (as is Heath) but the place’s locale is intentionally ambiguous.
“Casual bigotry can happen anywhere,” Heath says. “It is not unique to one culture.”
And what would the “Random Atlanta Couple Who Doesn’t Ordinarily Go To These Sorts of Things” think of “Loverslane”?
“The real magic of our show comes in Act Two when we ask all of the blind members of the audience to stand and be given the gift of sight,” Heath responded. “So I imagine, they will walk out of our show with a new perspective on the world. Ideally, this RACWDOGTTST also has a few million dollars to give away and awe-struck by our kind hearts and healing powers throws us a donation of a million each.”
In addition to the theater — a total of 120 performances of 24 plays over five days — the Atlanta Fringe Festival features opening and closing night parties, plus other activities.
Top photo: Chicago playwright Jamie Black, who identifies as transgender, performs his ‘It’s My Penis and I’ll Cry if I Want To’ at the Atlanta Fringe Festival, set for June 5-9. (Publicity photo)