Sex, Talking Sandwiches and More at 2012 Chicago Fringe Festival

Production photo from “Handshake Uppercut,” one of 50 productions presented at 2012 Chicago Fringe Festival. Photo credit: Amy Bolger.

Now in its third year, the Chicago Fringe Festival in the Pilsen neighborhood continues to bring emerging and experimental talent to the city. And if the previous two years are any indication, the 2012 Chicago Fringe Festival, taking place August 30 – September 9, will be a real grab bag of entertainment.

As is to be expected with a festival where the works are chosen purely by lottery, the quality of the pieces can be hit-or-miss. A sense of adventure and the expectation that you might catch a dud or two in exchange for a piece of brilliance is a necessity. Thankfully, all shows must adhere to a 60 minute running time, which provides limited commitment to a show that’s not really what you expected based on the description. But, honestly, I’ve been more than impressed by the pieces I’ve caught over the past two years, with just a handful of groaners.

And this year’s lineup looks more eclectic than ever. Without knowing anything beyond show descriptions and experiences with artists in past fringe shows, I’d suggest starting with Storms Under Her Skin by transgendered performance artist Rebecca Kling, Shadows and Lust by Strangeloop Theatre, and An Autobiography of Our Lives, As Told By a Sandwich by The Broken String Theatre Ensemble.

Here are six helpful hints to maximize your experience at Chicago Fringe Fest:

  • Bring a sense of adventure. Again, The ChiFringeFest is best experienced through an open mind. These artists are putting on shows with limited resources but unfathomable passion. And anyone can respond to that.
  • Bring a seating pad. At the Fest’s inaugural year, audience members literally sat on 2x4s. Last year, they upgraded to folding chairs. Not sure what they have in store this year, but bring something to protect your bottom and thank me later.
  • Buy in bulk. You can certainly purchase tickets a la cart ($10 suggested donation a pop), but you save $$ if you get a package.
  • Plan ahead. With 50 different shows playing across five venues (all within walking distance of the other), it’s wise to plot out the shows you wish to see ahead of time, and perhaps buy tickets for those shows ahead of time as well. Admittedly, I’ve done a poor job of this in the past, and just wandered around to whatever was available that day (I like to roll the dice a bit). A few times the shows that gained the biggest buzz were quickly sold out and I couldn’t beg my way in. So, I had to settle for something else, which sometimes led to a fascinating new discovery.
  • Pack a snack: Pilsen is lovely, but there are limited options when it comes to food and beverage. So come to the art armed with sustenance.
  • Thank the volunteers. Seriously, these guys work extremely hard to keep this festival running so smoothly, and I’m always so impressed by the work they do. So, when collecting your ticket at one of the venues, just take a moment to recognize their efforts in helping make Chicago’s rich theatre scene that much more amazing.
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