Back around the turn of this century, recent Woodstock emigre Wallace Norman decided to investigate the then-unused Byrdcliffe Theatre. “I found the stage covered in acorns and dust. I stepped onto it and said, ‘Wow, I would love to work here.’ It was so full of debris and magic.”
Thus was born Woodstock Fringe, a performance company and festival that has been injecting a bracing blast of vigor and delight into the local performance scene ever since its birth. Various reviewers from a laundry list of local papers have investigated various performances—the festival is an eclectic blend of music, theater, comedy, and poetry—and come away exultant. Words like “brilliant” and “gem” and “knockout” and “tour-de-force” have been applied, and publications from New York to Albany have taken notice.
For Norman, it is still and has always been about the joy. Fringe is founded on certain ideals—honesty, integrity, excellence, mutual support, and respect—and that overarching ethos seems to sanctify a space in which creative sparks fly and catch tinder. “Every year is a whole new blend of voices and psyches and visions, by design,” Norman says. “We’ve had chamber opera, voice recitals, Tiny Ninja puppet theater, a genius clown. If there’s a unifying element, it’s that the works are literate, intelligent, and speak to humanity in some individual way. We tend to go for offbeat pieces. The main criteria is, does it make our hearts beat faster?
“And there’s always the new work. We do a series of free staged readings of brand new stuff, and it really packs people in—some come back year after year. I find it very moving—it’s the first time the words have been heard by an audience, and their reactions become very much a part of the process. Those laughs or gasps inform the play in both clear and unconscious ways.”
Highlights this year include “No Fracking Way!”, a fracking awareness evening with Marc Black and Amy Fradon (August 10), internationally acclaimed actor Malcolm Gordon in “Cocktails with Coward” (August 25 and 31), the indefatigable and twisted team of Mikhail Horowitz and Gilles Malkine bringing you “Poor, Obscure, and Pushing 64” (August 18 and 19), and the Goat Hill Poets (August 22). Rain Pryor, daughter of Richard Pryor, is performing her one-woman show “Fried Chicken and Latkes,” on growing up multicultural in the sixties and seventies. Pryor is a diversity educator as well as an acclaimed performer—expect to laugh 'til you cry while learning things that may make you want to weep (August 24, 25, 31, and September 1).
Also on the bill of fare is the world premiere of “It Can’t Happen Here,” a play that begins in the aftermath of a horrific community tragedy and transports its characters a year back in time to trace the trickling streams that ultimately join to form a river of misery. It’s Norman’s own work, a first for the Fringe Fest. “In rehearsal, I have to keep pinching myself,” says Norman. “I have a dream cast—it’s hard to believe they could really be this good. I’m always happiest in rehearsal, and I’m very, very happy these days—I find myself getting swept up in it. I think it’s going to pack a bit of a wallop—it says a lot about who we are in community, and the people being created by these stunning performers are good company for the audience.”