For 16 years, Boulder International Fringe Festival has kept audiences entertained with delightfully original productions that induced laughter, sometimes tears and often thoughtful reflection.
Rather than cancel due to the pandemic, the long-standing event — whose 16th annual installment launched Wednesday and will run through Aug. 23 — has gone virtual and is also featuring one rather unique in-person offering.
“Reaching out to the world audience has been very exciting,” said David Ortolano, executive director of Boulder International Fringe Festival. “We ran shows in April, May and June to experiment with the concept of virtual events and the interest was more than usual. A majority of the audiences Zoomed in from other parts of the country and the rest of the world. We had people from England and Istanbul and the audience was thrilled to be culturally activated in their own homes.”
At a time when entertainment was scarce, Fringe provided a much-needed diversion from the news cycle.
“A majority of participants told us that they were so relieved and inspired by the opportunity to see live theater, dance and music that actually felt live and created the sense that they were there in the room with the performers,” Ortolano said.
As part of this year’s Fringe, some lucky folks will be able to enjoy a live event that will come right to their front yard. Through a lottery, winners are selected to have Los Angeles-based actor Brett Johnson perform his hit “Poly-Theist” outside of their Boulder homes. His hit one-man show, that he took on a 20-city U.S. tour and had a month-long run at the Edinburgh Fringe, humorously showcases his evolution from a 21-year-old monogamous evangelical to a faith-questioning man in an open marriage.
“In March and April, I saw many videos on YouTube showing performers in their windows performing for neighbors and having fun collaborative events balcony to balcony and I was excited by the opportunity to bring art to the people at their homes,” Ortolano said. “Of course, we all know what’s happening in the world right now and I was deeply focused on creating opportunities to keep the Fringe alive in the community while keeping our artists, staff and audiences safe.”
Prior to Johnson’s “lawn” shows a film crew will arrive to set up equipment so that the show can be streamed online to ticketholders.
“Brett was the only one who chose to do the lottery and we were very excited about it,” Ortolano said. “If there were no suitable options, the artists all had the choice to either defer their slot until next year or withdraw. Only a few people pulled out. We’re excited to still have a great and full list of artists.”
With a variety or free and ticketed shows that are capped at $15, Fringe is a great way to experience a variety of entertainment at a nominal price. There are also senior discounts, two-for-one deals and festival passes.
“Each show is very unique and important in its own way,” Ortolano said. “The thrill of the Fringe is the grab-bag of choices that audiences have at their fingertips. We strongly encourage risk-taking and impulsive show-going. The thing about the Fringe is that you’re not always sure about what’s going on — and you’re loving every minute of it.”
In May, Boulder-based actor and writer Wendy Miller — via Zoom — debuted her one-woman show, “Fake!,” chronicling her autobiographical journey as a quirky Jewish divorcee on the search for love.
“I always wanted to do stand-up, but something inside me told me I have a story to tell and I am compelled to tell it,” Miller said. “Having gone through a very addictive relationship and coming out the other side to recovery, I felt driven to write this story for other people who are sex and love addicts so that they can see their story, perhaps feel validated and get hope.”
Miller’s performances will be livestreamed from a table and chair in her living room in Boulder.
“There are note cards all over the walls to remind me where I am,” Miller said. “My son is in the kitchen doing sound for the show.”
While she has yet to perform her recent work in an actual venue due to COVID restrictions, she looks forward to the time she can walk onto a spotlighted stage and perform in front of an in-person crowd.
“I am eager to go live in a theater the minute we can do that,” Miller said. “I am like a monkey in a cage or the frog in the slowly boiling water — it’s all I know. I do love the talk-back, however. After the show, audience members hang out and we have a wonderfully satisfying conversation.”
In the spring, two out of three virtual productions of “Fake!” sold out. In the hour-long show, Miller divulges her habit of trying to fill emotional voids with both men and food. Although it has strong comedic elements, themes of infidelity, suicide, hate crimes, sexual abuse and internalized anti-Semitism also surface.
“People seemed to find themselves in the story,” Miller said. “My portrayal of my mom’s character was difficult for people to watch, yet my mom and all her L.A. friends loved the play and are coming back for more. I think most people appreciated my courage in sharing tough moments in my life. I think the more honest I was, the more the play invited the viewers to be honest.”
Miller is currently working on another show about the warning signs that pop up when getting to know a prospective mate.
“I am very excited about ‘26 Red Flags,’” Miller said. “It is basically about online dating and probably dating in general. I am online dating right now and the story is writing itself. The idea is that this girl is fine with 25 red flags, but when it comes to the 26th red flag she just isn’t sure. That’s where she draws the proverbial line. It’s both funny and painful and hopefully funny again.”
Michael Anthony Jones returns with an updated version of his multi-disciplinary piece, “The Last Niggah in Boulder: I am Not Your N Word.” Drawing from his own experiences with race and weaving in recent events, Jones has crafted a piece that is deeply personal yet also extremely relevant.
In “On The Spectrum,” real-life mother and son, Blaize Berry and Marybeth Berry navigate the ups and downs that coincide with an Autism diagnosis.
“There are a few standouts in terms of critical acclaim that promise to be audience favorites,” Ortolano said. “‘Mixed Tape,’ produced by Band of Toughs, is a collection of contemporary performance companies, from all over, that are each submitting a three- to five-minute segment of a ‘music video’ created in their own unique style. The pieces are all tied together by four simple unifying elements — a song, a spray bottle, the arrival of a special guest and an item from their closet that brings them joy.”
Also this year comes the return of Kid’s Fringe, whose programming includes everything from a workshop with playwright Kelly McAllister to performances from beloved Colorado-based music duo Jeff and Paige.
“Another promising show is ‘The Variety Show’ created by Rachel Lederman,” Ortolano said. “It’s a modern-day vaudeville show, ‘Laugh-In’ meets Stephen Colbert, featuring headlining guests from New York City’s creative scene alongside personalities on the West Coast, Los Angeles and San Francisco.”