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On the edge — Chicago’s Fringe Festival showcases ‘organized chaos’

“Handshake Uppercut' by Jay Dunn John Leo Brooklyn N.Y. features two mischievous mutes.

“Handshake Uppercut," by Jay Dunn and John Leo, Brooklyn, N.Y., features two mischievous mutes.

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◆ Aug. 30-Sept. 9

At multiple venues in Pilsen (festival box office: 600 W. Cermak)

◆ Tickets: One-time “button” purchase of $5; individual tickets $10 (five-show pass is $45; 10-show pass is $80.

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Updated: September 25, 2012 6:03AM

Where to begin? At first glance, the third annual edition of the Chicago Fringe Festival — the elaborate exercise in organized chaos and on-the-edge expression running Aug. 30-Sept. 9, at multiple venues in the Pilsen neighborhood — seems overwhelming.

Not only will it showcase 49 different performance pieces of every description by artists from Chicago and throughout the United States, as well as from Canada, France and South Korea, with solo works, comedy pieces, dance experiments, storytelling with puppets, political dramas, relationship plays, a variety of sex-plorations, and yes, something described as “the first ever guitar-controlled video game battle” all part of the mix. But these shows are being performed on a marathon-like schedule at five intimate venues — spaces ranging from a standard proscenium to the industrial-like basement of an art gallery specially outfitted with benches made by the father of the festival’s stage manager. And there is even a designated hangout spot (“Fringe Central” at 600 Cermak), which, in addition to serving as a gathering place between shows, will be the site of an opening reception (Aug. 30 at 6 p.m.), a VIP party and benefit (Sept. 1 at 7 p.m.), and a brunch with the fringe artists ($25, tickets at the door) set for Sept. 8 at 11:30 a.m.

“We use an established fringe festival model for selecting work,” said Vinnie Lacey, the improviser, producer, writer, comedian and commercial actor who serves as the Festival’s executive director (and whose own show, a Catholic comedy titled “Hopelessly Devoted,” was recently featured at the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, D.C.).

“We send out the word as widely as possible, and charge a $30 fee for those applying. And though we’re totally uncensored in terms of content, we set certain stipulations — nothing more than an hour in length, nothing improvised, and nothing produced within the past year within a certain geographical proximity to Chicago. We vet artists to the extent possible. But the final choices are made by using lotteries and sub-lotteries that ensure we have appropriate shows for the different venues, including one with a Marley floor ideal for dancers, and one with the necessary lighting equipment. This year we had a total of 150 applications to choose from.”

The budget? Lacey laughs at the question, and says the festival is still seeking grants and individual funding.

“Mostly it is subsidized by charging each participating show a fee of between $250 and $500, based on the number of performances they give,” said Lacey. “And that’s really very cheap considering the usual cost for producing a show in Chicago. All of us on staff at the festival — about eight full-timers and six part-timers — essentially do it for the love of the game.”

And where do the performers who come from beyond Chicago stay?

“We try to find volunteer hosts, and I will have four people I don’t know sleeping in my living room,” Lacey said.

Following is a list of some of the shows that have triggered my interest, at least on paper:

♦ “The Alembic” (presented by Terra Mysterium, Chicago): A
“steampunk” style musical that spins a tale about fate, and involves the relationship between an alchemist and a goddess.

♦ “Anonymously Yours” (by Jennifer Olson, Chicago): A barrage of rants and raves drawn from the anonymous boards on the Web, this new edition of a favorite show from last season is billed as “a harvest of the desire and rage posted on the Internet.”

♦ “As We Like It” (by Messenger Theatre Company, New York): A two-woman adaptation of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” complete with music, puppetry, dance and wrestling.

♦ “Beneath the Zipper” (by JM Productions, Oklahoma): Robert Matson’s “naughty little adult comedy” about the male sexual organ in all its theatricality.

♦ “Cheater” (by Natalie Shimpman, Chicago): A show that asks: Can a girl who grew up overweight and Catholic turn into a philanderer, or can she be faithful, at least to one guy at a time?

♦ “A Day for Grace” (presented by Doug Vincent, with music by Sam Lianas [formerly of the BoDeans]), Colorado: The story of a father-to-be who “chases parental shadows to find the light for his unborn daughter.”

♦ “Demain L’Aurore” (“Tomorrow the Dawn,” by La Petite Famille of France): A comic musical that traverses the landscape of adolescence.

♦ “Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-Latino” (by Yes Theatre Co., Indiana): This Hispanic re-imagining of American pop culture features a President Rodriguez and a Mexican Harriet Tubman.

♦ “Handshake Uppercut” (by Jay Dunn and John Leo, Brooklyn, N.Y.): Two mischievous mutes drag each other “through life, the stage and your purse” in this mashup of silent film, Samuel Beckett, sadism and whiskey.

♦ “Presented by Dr. Pete” (from Georgia): Dr. Pete Ludovice, an engineering professor by day and comedian by night, takes audiences on a comic ride through science, math and technology.

♦ “Kinetic Connection” (SHARP Dance Company, Philadelphia, Pa.): A mix of pieces that careens from “Rollercoaster Rules” to a look at a dancer in pointe shoes and a straitjacket.

♦ “Lie Light” (by Kate Healy, Chicago): In this game of ropes, every lie becomes a physical constraint and every conversation degenerates into a battle.

♦ “Pink Milk” (by White Elephant, Evanston): A crazy riff on the mind of Alan Turing, the lonely, gay, British genius and wartime code-cracker who is considered the father of computers and artificial intelligence.

♦ “UnMasked” (by Curt ... from Detox, Ohio): Curt, the writer, actor and spoken word artist who fancies himself the love child of William Shakespeare and Richard Pryor, promises 56 minutes of “brutal honesty.”

♦ “The War to End War” (The Island, Chicago): This “three-part dream” reveals itself as a surrealist re-imagining of the Treaty of Versailles, a Dada revue hosted by German artist Kurt Schwitters, and a high stakes poker game between nuclear physicists.

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