Sep 12, 2006

A Tiny Morsel from the Fringe

The Fringe Festival has been upon us these last couple of weeks, and it feels like camp. Philadelphia often seems like a small town anyway, seeing as how you tend to run into people you know a lot. But the Fringe is a time when the collective will-to-be-weird encompasses a nice cross section of the population, and people come out to watch performances where nothing is guaranteed to be good but everything's guaranteed to be a little off. (And to be fair, most of it's really good.**)

The reason it feels like camp is that, more than at any other type of performance series, there's a sense of camaraderie amongst the audiences. There's a thing called the Late Night Cabaret, a big bar and informal music venue that doesn't even exist 50 weeks out of the year, where everyone congregates after the shows each night. People actually talk to each other at the shows, and often times the performance spaces are unusual, like inside a UHaul, or at someone's house, or at the hotel pool at the Sheraton in Society Hill and you actually get wet, or in an abandoned movie theater, or as was the case last Friday, at my old belly dancing studio.

T.J. and Nate and I went to go see "Madison to Madurai: 134 Days in Mother India," a monologue by H.R. Britton.* I knew it would be one of the smaller venues and one of the less famous performers, but other than that I didn't know what to expect so I told Nate that we should just imagine it will be a grossly under-attended little one-man show that only costs $5, and then we couldn't be disappointed. (I have a thing about going to events where I secretly suspect I will be one of the few people there... I feel a lot of empathy for performers in general, so I just can't take it when things are under-attended and I wind up laughing extra loud and generally embarrassing myself to make the performer feel better. Duh, Jesus, Dubin.)

So we get there, and it's not empty at all! Or, more to the point, the ratio of people attending to chairs set up is pretty high, even though there aren't that many chairs set up. There's a cat wandering around the place, something I remember from belly dance class... that gregarious cat. And then H.R. comes out and starts his story, just sitting peacefully on a stool talking about traveling in India.

We went because we are going to India in December, but mostly we went because the blurb described the piece as "an anxiously comic travelogue." I couldn't pass up an anxiously comic anything.

The thing I liked most about it was that the performer hit a nice sweet spot between taking his youthful self seriously (the self he reminisces about in his stories) and being able to look back and laugh at it. In other words, he respects the mindset he was in at that time, but also tells the story knowing that sounds kinda laughable to recount how you saved your pennies for an open-ended trip to India to go deeper into Buddhist thought and learn from the great eastern spiritual swami-types. You know? Kind of cliched, like "boy sets out to find himself amongst a totally foreign culture" kind of story.

Anyway, it just got me thinking about travel and how I get when I am out of my element. In the past, I've tended to hide until I felt like I could assimilate. Like, if I had to look at a map, I'd sneak into a restroom, memorize it, and come back out with the map securely tucked away. Or when on a bus in Italy, I'd put on some dark glasses and try to make people think I was Italian by limiting anything I said to three words. I can't help it, I just feel very vulnerable when I stand out as a stranger in a strange land.

However, if you aren't willing to be silly and different and just be you in all your American doofiness, you stand to lose track of yourself while traveling. H.R. Britton, on several occasions in his piece, described himself as becoming a "mascot." Like, he said he got on a 58-hour train to the south of India, and became the mascot of the sleeping car -- everyone asking him questions and staring at him and enjoying his differentness.

I figure that this is how one travels without losing one's own personality. I have always worried that my totally overblown urge to keep my dignity at all costs ruins a lot of perfectly fun fiascos, and I am going to try to relax just a little bit this time around, when we go in December.

* 9/15 and 9/16 at Studio 1831 (1831 Brandywine Street), $5.

** The best place to get a sense of the Philly Fringe is at the website of my former next-door neighbor. He is a great photographer, but more interestingly he is totally ubiquitous... J.J. is everywhere, photographing everything, at all times.

http://www.jjtiziou.net/2006festival/index.php

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1 Comments:

Blogger Nate opined...

Yo, his show was indeed totally rad. The only bad part: I drink tea every night after dinner, usually Chai, and since last Friday I keep involultarily muttering "mmm Chai, mmm Chai" as I wait for the water to boil, and trace ∞s in the air with my nose. My housemates think I'm insane.

7:54 AM  

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