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New CFA Fringe, New Venue

Four-piece festival introduces Studio ONE space


One reason to be excited about this year’s College of Fine Arts 21st annual Fringe Festival can be summed up in that old real estate adage: Location, location, location.

The festival is being staged October 6 to 29 in the new Studio ONE, at 855 Commonwealth Ave, which replaces the BU Theatre’s Studio 210 black box theater, making it closer to home for students coming to the shows and those involved in producing them. It’s also part of a consolidation of theater programs on the Charles River Campus after decades of using a scene shop, costume shop, and other backstage operations at the BU Theatre complex.

“Having everybody on Commonwealth Avenue is great,” says Jim Petosa, a CFA professor and director of the School of Theatre.

Studio ONE was created this summer with the gutting the old TheatreLab@855, an inconveniently shaped proscenium space, turning it into a classic black box theater that can be endlessly reconfigured, with an 18-foot ceiling (up from 13), a full lighting grid overhead, and as many as 145 seats on movable risers (up from 90 fixed seats).

“It’s a perfect spot for Fringe,” Petosa says. “We’re really thrilled with it. And it gives us a performing space while we wait for our new building to open in November.”

That, of course, would be the new the Joan and Edgar Booth Theatre just across Commonwealth Avenue. Some backstage facilities in the new building are already in use.

Producing the Fringe Festival in Studio ONE “is our first step to getting the School of Theatre integrated into one community,” says Petosa. “Just in terms of the quality of life—after having to get performers across town for costume fittings, now they go across the street.”

A collaborative presentation of the School of Theatre and the Opera Institute, Fringe brings audiences new or rarely performed opera and theater works. It is supervised by Petosa, William Lumpkin, a CFA associate professor of music, opera, Opera Institute artistic director, and opera programs director, and Oshin Gregorian, Opera Institute and opera programs managing director.

Lumpkin says this year’s performances are “pairs of opera and play that concentrate on two important contemporary yet timeless themes: the everyday struggle of the LGBTQ community and powerful anti-war messages.”

21st Annual Fringe Festival, 2017

CFA’s 21st annual Fringe Festival introduces the new Studio ONE black box theater at 855 Comm Ave, part of an overall consolidation of theater programs on the Charles River Campus.

Sweets by Kate (October 6, 7, 8) is a dark comedy set in the superficially cheery glow of 1950s rural America as Elizabeth returns to her hometown with her partner, Kate, to face the teetering of the family business and her family’s (quite literal) deals with the devil. The opera, composed by Griffin Candey with a libretto and original story by Thom K. Miller, is directed by Emily Ranii (CFA’13), BU Summer Theatre Institute academic program head, with music direction by Allison Voth, a CFA associate professor of music, opera.

“Political satire, contemporary opera, intimate staging in-the-round. What’s fringe-ier than that?” says Ranii. “Griffin and Thom have been enormously generous in sharing insight into this delicious world they have created.”

Downtown (October 13, 14, 15) gives us Al, who has written a bestseller about his unrequited affection for Ben. But when Ben turns up in his life again and threatens to sue, both men are forced to examine their past—and present. Written by Kyle Chua (CFA’18), the play is a product of the BU New Play Initiative and is directed by Michael Hammond, a CFA assistant professor of acting.

“I love working on new plays,” says Hammond. “It gives me a thrill to have the occasional opportunity to collaborate closely with young and gifted playwrights like Kyle Chua, who’s smart as hell and has a lot to say about what it’s like to swim through the crosscurrents of cultural and sexual identity.”

The War Reporter (October 20, 21, 22) tells the true story of Pulitzer-winning combat journalist Paul Watson as he seeks to stifle the haunting voice of an American soldier whose corpse he photographed in the streets of Mogadishu. Directed by Petosa and conducted by Lumpkin, the opera was composed by Jonathan Berger, with a libretto by Dan O’Brien, and is based on O’Brien’s play Body of an American.

“I worked with Dan when he was a student at Middlebury College in the ’90s,” Petosa says. “I’m looking forward to seeing how it being turned into an opera distills the nature of the play.”

Mother Courage and Her Children (October 27, 28, 29) is a classic anti-war drama by Bertolt Brecht, translated by David Hare, and directed by Jeremy Ohringer (CFA’19). Written in 1939, under the shadow of Nazism, but set during the Thirty Years War of 1618–1648, the play follows Anna (Mother Courage) as she tries to profit from the war and loses each of her children along the way.

Mother Courage is a great Fringe show because at its heart it only requires an audience, the actors, and a space to work in,” says Ohringer. “The text investigates the choices people make in order to survive the chaos of war. It explores how our beliefs can simultaneously sustain and ruin us. I chose the play because it feels deeply connected to the social and political chaos we are currently experiencing.”

Fringe Festival 2017 plays weekends, October 6 through 29, at the College of Fine Arts, Studio ONE, 855 Commonwealth Ave. Find times and purchase tickets, $7, $3.50 with CFA membership, here.

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Joel Brown, writer, BU Today at Boston University
Joel Brown

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@bu.edu.

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