Anything Goes at the Fringe Theater Festival

February 16, 2012

By Teya Vitu

Think of fringe theater as a very distant cousin of the freestyle dance that wraps up the season at “Dancing With the Stars”.  Remember Marie Osmond’s perplexing ragdoll freestyle dance?

Distant cousin is the operative phrase. Freestyle is the active, breathing element that drives fringe theater. Pretty much anything goes. It’s certainly not anything you’d see at Arizona Theatre Co.

Fringe theater is where you get what artists want to produce without any interference from artistic directors or the uphill struggle to get your show slotted into a theater company’s season.

In fact, everyone who applied for the 2nd annual Tucson Fringe Theater Festival was accepted. Five shows will appear February 24, 25, and 26 at Beowulf Alley Theatre, 11 South 6th Avenue, and at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 East Toole Avenue.

A free opening gala will launch the festival at 8 p.m. February 23 at Old Town Artisans, 201 North Court Ave. There will be music by The Shameless Flirts, and Algae and Tentacles, plus an appearance by local fringe presidential candidate, Al “Dick” Perry.

The festival itself  will have a song cycle called “Lethal Fairy Tales” written and performed by Fish Karma and Kevin Henderson; Catfish Baruni has a play called “The Starter House”; “Numb” is a one-woman show written and performed by Alison J. Torba; Joan O’Dwyer wrote a trio of short plays under the banner “Unreality Shows”; and a performance group calling itself One Gentle Mule will be staging a “bacchanal vaudeville” they are calling “The Barely Free Baja Spectacular.”

Each show is no more than about one hour. You can see three shows on one day.

The fringe festival is unjuried and uncensored.

“Who am I to say this show is deserving production?” co-founder Yassi Jahanmir said, espousing the core philosophy of fringe theater. “It’s all-inclusive. It puts the control back in artists hands.”

Two acts are by people who took part in last year’s inaugural fringe festival (Fish Karma and Alison J. Torba) and two are taking part this year after attending last year’s fringe (Bryan Sanders from One Gentle Mule and Catfish Baruni).

“They are all local,” Jahanmir said.

Actress and now playwright Joan O’Dwyer had three short plays on the shelf that no theater companies would likely produce, but they fit the one-hour fringe format ideally.

“I think it’s great,” O’Dwyer said. “Nobody really wants 15-minute plays.”

O’Dwyer was the woman behind the Wilde Playhouse that had a brief life on Congress Street from 2007-09, just predating the Downtown renaissance now in place.

Locally, O’Dwyer is largely known as a community theater actress, mostly at Comedy Playhouse and for Old Time Radio Theatre at Beowulf Alley. She got a bachelor’s degree in creative writing in 1999 at the University of Arizona. O’Dwyer adapted the short story about cancer survival she wrote for that degree into the 15-minute play “Happens All the Time” that opens her fringe festival set.

Her second mini-play, “Kids!”, derived from experiences in writing classes.

“You meet a lot of crazy, crazy people in writing classes,” O’Dwyer said.

She spent a few years in Ireland in the early 2000s and discovered the Irish are especially opposed to genetic engineering of their food. That concept evolved into the third play she will present at Fringe Festival, “Is a Pig’s Ass Pork?”

“I’m hoping people like the plays,” O’Dwyer said. “I’m hoping they attract people who don’t go to theater. Maybe (theater producers) will be more receptive the next time I offer a play.”

O’Dwyer is a theater veteran, as are all the artists involved in this year’s fringe.

“They all have backgrounds in theater and music,” Jahanmir said.

She hasn’t seen any of this year’s shows but is confident this year’s festival will be a winner.

“I think we had really good shows last year. We had a lot of solo shows. This year we have more traditional shows that push boundaries in another way,” Jahanmir said. “I’m interested to see how different this year will be.”

Tucson natives and lifelong friends Yassi Jahanmir and Sara Habib founded the Tucson Fringe Theater Festival one year ago to provide artists affordable opportunities to craft original ideas and have a chance to stage them.

No matter the crowd counts, the first Fringe Festival proved successful by the most crucial measure: “We broke even.”

Jahanmir and Habib staged the 2011 festival March 24-27, coinciding with the University of Arizona deep run in the NCAA basketball tournaments.

“Some of the games were aligned precisely with our shows,” Jahanmir said.

Thus, the 2nd Tucson Fringe Theater Festival was moved up one month to February 24-26. The performance schedule was reduced from four days to three, and this year there are three show each day instead of two.

“You could make a night of it,” Jahanmir said.


The performance schedule is as follows:

Three shows are at Beowulf Alley Theatre, 11. S. 6th Ave.

“The Starter House” by Catfish Baruni is at 7 p.m. on Feb. 24, 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 25 and 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 26.

“Unreality Shows: Three Short Plays by Joan O’Dwyer is at 8:30 p.m. on Feb 24, 7 p.m. on Feb. 24 and 3 p.m. on Feb. 26.

“Lethal Fairy Tales” written and performed by Fish Karma and Kevin Henderson at 10 p.m. on Feb. 24, 10 p.m. on Feb. 25 and 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 26.


Two shows are at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave.

“Numb” written and performed by Alison J. Torba at 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 24, 7 p.m. on Feb. 25 and 3 p.m. on Feb. 26.

“The Barely Free Baja Spectacular!” written and performed by One Gentle Mule at 10 p.m. Feb. 24, 10 p.m. Feb. 25 and 4:30 p.m. Feb. 26.


General admission is $10 for each show, $7 for students and seniors. Tickets are available at Antigone Books and online at

“We really believe with performance you can make a difference,” Jahanmir said.