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BU’s Very Own Fringe Festival Returns

Intimate, adventurous theater and song run through the month

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In the slide show above, Sharon Daniels, director of the Opera Institute, and Jim Petosa, director of the school of theatre, discuss this year’s Fringe Festival, which opens tonight with The Good Person of Setzuan.

When Sharon Daniels began the Boston University Fringe Festival 13 years ago, performances took place in converted classrooms, opera students built the sets, and faculty hung lights and painted floors. “We’ve come a long way,” Daniels says.

Inspired by the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Daniels, director of the College of Fine Arts Opera Institute and an associate professor, used BU’s version to provide more roles for Opera Institute students. It has grown to include performances by students from the school of theatre in a month-long celebration of lesser known and rarely seen work.

Performances take place in intimate black-box theaters, says Daniels, so audiences are practically on stage. “When you’re sitting four or five feet away from an actor or singer who is working as intensely and profoundly as these young people do, it can be very exciting,” she adds.

According to Jim Petosa, director of the school of theatre, fringe festivals exist worldwide as a way for artists to create “adventurous, offbeat, and low-budget theatrical productions.” The BU Fringe is no different, he says.

This year’s festival, Willful Women: Worlds Apart, kicks off tonight with The Good Person of Setzuan, by German playwright Bertolt Brecht. Shen Te struggles to lead a good life, but when greedy friends and neighbors take advantage of her, she invents a male alter ego for protection. Rarely performed because of its large cast, the play, says Petosa, is “often only read off the page, which isn’t nearly as vibrant as experiencing it on the stage.”

Directed by David Gram, a CFA lecturer, The Good Person of Setzuan plays at the Boston University Theatre, Lane-Comley Studio 210, 264 Huntington Ave., on October 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 22, and 24.

Diventare, written by Jenny Rachel Weiner (CFA’09), is a product of the school of theatre’s New Play Initiative. When Linda’s daughter is swept into the sea, she seeks refuge in an imaginary underwater kingdom. The play, which chronicles her journey through grief, denial, anger, and acceptance, “is a powerful, provocative, and very sophisticated form of storytelling,” says Petosa. “The audience, too, will be swept away.”

Directed by Ellie Heyman (CFA’11), Diventare opens at the CFA Theatre Lab, 855 Commonwealth Ave., on October 14 and runs through October 18; admission is free.

Next up is a revival of Antigone. Based on Sophocles’ classic drama, it features music and a libretto by former CFA faculty member Marjorie Merryman. When Antigone’s brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, kill each other, Creon, the new ruler of Thebes, refuses to give Polyneices a proper burial. Antigone resolves to bury him in secret, and tragedy ensues.

Directed by Petosa, with musical direction by William Lumpkin, a CFA associate professor, Antigone is being performed at the BU Theatre, Lane-Comley Studio 210, on October 17, 18, 23, and 25. It will also be featured in the spring’s InCite Arts Festival in New York City.

Composer William Bolcom wrote Lucrezia for the 2007 New York Festival of Song. The one-act comedic opera, a “riff” on Niccolò Machiavelli’s La Mandragola, is retold from the viewpoint of Lucrezia, a seemingly virtuous woman pursued by the unscrupulous Callimaco. “It’s a crazy comedy with disguises and farces,” Daniels says.

Directed by E. Loren Meeker (CFA’99), with musical direction by Allison Voth, a CFA assistant professor, Lucrezia will be at the BU Theatre, Lane-Comley Studio 210, on October 24, 25, 30, and 31.

The Fringe Festival’s final piece, Recital Meets Theatre, is performed by second-year Opera Institute singers. Audiences for classical music song recital are diminishing, Daniels says, and Recital Meets Theatre seeks to bring new life into centuries-old repertoires by revamping the recital format. Opera students perform pieces in a traditional song style rather than operatically, and the songs are staged with props and costumes. “This process brings a new concept on how to appreciate song literature,” Daniels says.

Recital Meets Theatre will be performed one day only, November 1, at 2 p.m., at the BU Theatre, Lane-Comley Studio 210; admission is free.

“As much as I love our main stage productions,” says Daniels, “there’s something extraordinary about these up-close realizations. Being in the presence of the process is very special.”

CFA’s Fringe Festival runs today, Friday, October 9, through Sunday, November 1. Tickets are $7, unless otherwise noted, and may be purchased online, by phone at 617-266-0800, or in person at the BU Theatre box office, 264 Huntington Ave. Performance times vary; check the calendar for a full schedule.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.

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