When we initially made our plans to attend the Fringe Festival, we did not even think to investigate the venue of the show. We had tickets, a carefully planned SEPTA and subway route, and even a list of dessert locales to indulge at after the show. Keep in mind, we were still Philadelphia virgins, only having ventured into the city once or twice in the daylight with our families. So when Google Maps led us to the front door of an apartment building in a neighborhood speckled with yellowed walls, peeling paint, and buildings forebodingly shut with metal gates, the four of us stopped and looked again at our phones to make sure we had the right address.
A poster for the show, “Pretty Tall for a Hobbit,” pasted on the door confirmed our location. We stood outside for another minute silently considering the worst case scenario, that we were about to willingly enter the lair of a psycho pretending to be a theater star. Curiosity and the chilly air soon propelled us past our fear and into a dimly-lit living room and kitchen. Three people, likely in their twenties, assured us that we were in the right place. In fact, we had just walked into the stage.
We grabbed a row of seats in the back of the room and watched, staying alert for any alarming signs as a few more people joined the audience. The general vibe was reminiscent of Swat: at least two of the six men present sported buns and beards. As was promised on the website for the Fringe Festival, we were each offered dino-chicken nuggets as a pre-show snack.
Thus far, our experience had been already out of the ordinary for what is expected at art festivals such as this one. Yet the spirit of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, which was created in 1997 and has since grown into an annual 17-day event in September, lies in its experimental approach to theater, dance, music, and visual arts. As we would soon find out, the charm of the Fringe Festival performances is grounded in the novelty of the unexpected.
Our show began with the one actress and star of the show, Katie Verde, sitting on a couch facing us. Unsurprisingly, she was eating dino-chicken nuggets which complemented her mint green and black dinosaur patterned sweater. Behind us, a young man operated the audio from a Macbook. The basic premise of the story was that of a college graduate stuck in the awkward time where she must face and ask what she would do with her life. Her conscience became a secondary character, expressed through a voice recording.
The plot unfolded as a dialogue between Katie and her inner self. She felt paralyzed by the job offers and success of her peers. All she really wanted to do was to explore Yosemite National Park, grab life by the horns, and leave her late-night snacking, frozen self behind. But to actually get up and carry out such a dream seemed to her to require too much strength and effort. Through her stream of conscience, she then indulged in her more accessible fantasy: that of destroying the Ring in the fires of Mount Mordor, assisting Harry, Ron, and Hermione with their Hogwarts shenanigans, and basically becoming as awesome in person as she was in her head.
After painstaking minutes of internal struggle and dialogue (an “inner” dialogue spoken outwardly — clever Katie), Katie delivered her final monologue. Perched on the arm of her couch, Katie declared that she could in fact think for herself; she had conquered her inner fears and thoughts. At this point the curtain closed, hypothetically of course (it was just her living room).
Although the entire play ran for just 45 minutes, interrupted briefly by technical difficulties, Katie communicated a strength of emotion which often takes more time and plot development to achieve. The intimacy of the room and her stream of conscience dialogue lent to her success in reminding each of us of the petrifying feeling of standing on the precipice of independence and adulthood.
We were offered another round of dino-chicken nuggets, and this time we accepted. We stayed to talk with the actress. She graduated in 2014 from Rowan University with a major in theater, acting and directing. When asked what inspired her production of the piece, Verde told us that she wrote it as a senior capstone project.
“My professor basically asked us, ‘What do you want, what do you want in life?’ I got so mad at him because I was about to graduate so I was mad at everyone. And I went home and wrote a page about how all I want in life is to live in Yosemite Park, to just be in the mountains.”
She also was inspired by her love for the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series, as well as by the soul searching adventure found in the film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
“It’s all about what you have going on in your head versus what you can actually do in life, and the crossroads and the choices that you can make,” said Katie.
I have no doubt that if we haven’t already, we will all experience the very same fears and doubts that Katie has portrayed. Yet, even when things are nerve-racking, as our night had begun, we cannot always give into these doubts and must continue. You may just surprise yourself (and indulge in some dino-nuggets).
Katie will appear next in The Children’s Hour at EgoPo Classic Theater on Wednesday October 7. This same performance will also be held at Spring Garden on Saturday, October 10.
Featured image courtesy of www.fringearts.com.
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