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The fringe of it all: Omaha Fringe Festival fulfills founder Tamar Neumann’s dream


The fringe of it all: 

Omaha Fringe Festival fulfills founder Tamar Neumann’s dream

 

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the July 2019 edition of The Reader (thereader.com)

 

If fringe occupies the outer edge of things, then expect a grab-bag of eclectic stage work during the first Omaha Fringe Festival, July 24-27, at UNO.

Omaha Fringe founder Tamar Neumann’s inspiration for her open-access, unbound event is the Minnesota Fringe Festival. She got hooked on it working in Minneapolis as a theater critic and Chameleon Theatre Circle administrator.

She developed the event as part of her thesis work for her UNO Master of Arts in Theatre degree,

Neumann, who teaches writing, is a former playwright. She’s recently transitioned into being a dramaturge. Upon moving to Omaha in 2016 she was bummed to discover no fringe fest here and determined to start one.

“I really like fringe festivals,” she said. “I think they’re exciting and fun. They have a way of bringing all these people together that other theater festivals don’t. I think it’s because you don’t have that adjudication piece, so kind of anything goes. It’s kind of wild.”

Her fledgling Omaha fest netted 25 applications from area individuals and ensembles. Ten productions were chosen by lottery. The work ranges from performance art shows to narrative stage productions. There are no costs to the artists, who receive 75 percent of box office receipts. Neumann sees the event as a platform for encouraging and monetizing new work.

“I noticed there were a lot of works being created here by a lot of really great playwrights, but there wasn’t always a lot of room for people to get paid for their work.

It’s a community with a lot of volunteers and not a lot of professionals.”

 

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Naturally, her start-up is a fraction of the large, years-in-the-making Minnesota Fringe she’s modeled hers on.

“Theirs is smashing. It’s two weeks long with over 200 productions. It takes over the city (Minneapolis). It’s crazy, it’s huge, it’s super fun.”

The nearest fringe to Omaha is Kansas City.

it turns out, fringe is a real thing around the U.S. and the world that started in Edinburgh, Scotland after World War Ii and spread. Creighton University professor of theater Amy Lane has made a study of the scene and gives a run-down of what to expect.

“Fringe is like a choose-your-own-adventure experience for the audience with several shows playing at the same time – and the options are always adventurous,” Lane said. “Fringe artists embrace the new, the experimental, the weird, the avant garde, the cutting edge. It’s like a cultural sampler platter. And it’s fun. Theatre can have a reputation of being elitist, stodgy, inaccessible, but fringe is the opposite. Fringe is a carnival where you get to decide which rides you’d like to try.”

It’s these qualities Neumann’s strived to present here.

“The thing I love about fringe festivals is how diverse they can be,” Neumann said. “You have a wide range of theater and performance styles and I feel like we really got that. We’ve got full plays, short plays, a standup comic, dancers, one-man shows. I feel like we’ve got a really good mix of artists and themes.”

Each Omaha Fringe work will be performed multiple times over the four-day fest, with shows running from morning through evening.

An established outside-the-box arts organization, Omaha Under the Radar, has taken Fringe under its wing, sharing marketing and other resources with its young partner in edginess. Radar’s own fest runs concurrent with Omaha Fringe, only at different sites.

Neumann enlisted Radar’s Amanda DeBoer Bartlett and stalwart metro theater figures Amy Lane, Cindy Melby Phaneuf and Lara Marsh to learn the festival ropes.

When Neumann broached the idea with Phaneuf, who teaches at UNO, she was encouraged “to go for it.”

Bartlett saw it as an opportunity to pay forward the support her own organization’s received. “It’s so scary and exhausting to go out on a limb and build an event from scratch, and I admire Tamar for taking this on with such tireless sincerity. Her heart and mind are in the right place. She wants to make something beautiful and positive for Omaha – so really I couldn’t say no to helping her out.”

Besides, Bartlett said, her group and Fringe share the same “zeitgeist” and “crossover appeal”as showcases for “creative risks” and “independent thought:” and in “uplifting the voices of local artists.”

“UNO Theatre sees it as part of its mission to connect with the community,” Phaneuf  said.

In addition to mentoring from arts veterans and support by the host University of Nebraska at Omaha Theatre Program, Neumann credits operations manager Aaron David Wrigley for making it a reality.

“He joined me in the middle of our Kickstarter campaign and I literally would not be running this festival without him. He does all the technical and logistics stuff. We’re a team of two in the trenches.”

The process of organizing the event, Nuemann said, has rekindled a passion for theater that had waned.

“In high school I discovered in theater a group of people who welcomed me and understood me. I enjoyed the community theater created and the freedom inhabiting another role created. As I grew older and became more of an audience member than a creator, I found joy in theater because of its immediacy.

“Fringe has reinvigorated me. When I first moved down here I didn’t go to much theater, but in this past year I’ve seen so much and I’ve been able to embrace it again. I feel like I’ve reinvented myself by finding something I’m truly passionate about. I’ve always loved theater, but it kind of disappeared for a time, and creating this festival  has helped me find that passion again.”

Along the way, she said, “I’ve learned so much about the Omaha theater community. I connected with so many people. It’s really empowering to know that I created this – that this is happening.”

She fully intends making Fringe “an annual thing.” That depends, she acknowledged, on “the community supporting and embracing it.” After this first fest wraps, she said, “I’ll take a step back and evaluate what worked and what didn’t work and how I want to move forward.”

 
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The Lineup:

Improv Art by Big Canvas

Artists will create original pieces of art inspired by the antics of Big Canvas improv comedians and audience members’ own creativity. This in-the-moment. interactive art experience will culminate in an unveiling.

Celebration: A Belly Dance Show

Della Bynum and the ladies from her Chrysalis Studio will perform this ancient midriff dance that celebrates the feminine and the cycles of life. Onlookers may be invited to join in as the rhythm moves them.

Hummingbird – A Theatrical Tribute to Robin Williams

Playwright Jason Levering directs his own script in this love letter to Robin Williams that imagines the comic’s last hours of existential angst. This Crook Factor Productions show has a free form befitting its subject.

Secondhand Love

Standup comic Andrew Morton riffs on some of his life journeys of the physical, hiking variety and of the mental health what-is-fantasy-versus-reality variety.

MOABIRTHC

Playwright and actress Colleen O’Doherty is joined by other performers in her celebration of physicality in theater, comedic and otherwise. Bodies in motion through space and time lead to interesting possibilities.

TBA: Tired, Barren and Alone

Jean-Paul Zuhur performs this one-man show he’s also written that is a contemporary take on Dante’s Inferno.

20 Questions

Doug Hayko pushes the limits of discourse and vulnerability in this exploration of the moments right before and after his HIV-positive diagnosis and coming out. The conceptual piece lives in the intense emotions between theater and reality. For mature audiences only.

Carnival

Tim Barr’s one-man show from his own Jungle Productions 2 revolves around deep research he’s done into the life of carneys and the subculture of carnivals. It’s Carousel meets Nightmare Alley.

Darkness Like a Dream

Anna Jordan and her new Found Ensemble present this full production retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in In the forest of ancient Athens. Lovers run from persecution and tyranny. The gods rage. Tragedians rehearse an ill-fated play. Monsters are born and mortals are magicked. A sinister thread weaves everyone’s stories together – revealing a darkness in the forest and in themselves.

Little Wars

The festival’s star entry may be this UNO Studio Theatre production from Jeremy Stoll and fellow grad students that addresses homo sapiens’ hard-wired desire to “make war. From armed warfare to schoolyard beefs, this work of devised physical theatre explores the nature of human conflict by imagining it as ritual.

The play’s toured Nebraska. Its cast and production team will next bring Little Wars to the mother of all fringe festivals – Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August.

Fringe unfurls at UNO’s Weber Fine Arts Building (Dodge Street campus).

For Fringe schedule and tickets, visit www.facebook.com/omahafringefest.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

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