You won't find what you expect at the third annual Charm City Fringe Fest, and that's the idea.
"It's up-and-coming underground theater. It's the new people that are breaking new territory and trying new things," says co-founder Zachary Michel. "You're going to get new, original work, or new spins on older works."
Beginning Wednesday at five venues in Station North, Mount Vernon and Hampden, some of the area's most adventurous performers will be putting on shows that stretch the boundaries of what live theater is.
Some will work; some might not. And that's part of the idea, too.
"All of the shows that are a part of Fringe are the sort of shows you won't see anywhere else in Baltimore," says Kiirstn Pagan of Interrobang Theatre, a newfound company that will be putting the second play in its short history as part of this year's Fest.
"They're new, they're fresh and they'll only be here a very short time. "Theater is always fleeting," Pagan notes, "but Fringe is especially fleeting."
Here's a quick peek at five of the more promising shows scheduled for this year's Fringe Fest.
'Sacred and Scared get the Same Score in Scrabble'
Charles Shafer pokes religion with a sharp stick in his 45-minute, one-man play. He hopes nobody gets too offended. But he'd definitely like to provoke some sort of response.
"Mostly, it's told in the form of different stories, which are satirical or humorous, but in the background, they sort of raise issues that people might consider about religion," says the 69-year-old Shafer, who teaches at the University of Baltimore law school when he's not taking on one of the world's touchiest subjects. "The idea is primarily to be entertaining, and then to have some things that people could think about."
In the course of his performance, Shafer portrays six characters — "myself, God, Jesus, a blowhard at a bar, a sort of rabbi-businessman teaching a course about religion, and a woman who's a Southern young girl."
The idea, he insists, is not to make people angry, just to make them think.
"I hope some of it is provocative," he says. "Provocative without being insensitive."
And if someone gets really upset?
"Actually," Shafer says, pondering the thought, "it would probably be fun."
Showtimes for "Sacred and Scared Get the Same Score in Scrabble" are 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Nov. 7, 10 p.m. Nov. 8 and 3 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Chicken Box, 1 W. North Ave.
'Minty Julep Goes to Foodieland'
For Judith Pojda, aka Minty Julep, her time on the Fringe is all about food.
"The inspiration for it came from, I suppose, having worked in food and nutrition my entire life," says Pojda, who has a doctorate in international nutrition from Cornell University, "primarily on global-food and hunger-related issues. I've worked with direct-feeding programs, food banks, community agricultural groups, and also for humanitarian assistance agencies, such as the U.N. in Geneva and Catholic Relief Services."
Pojda began about five years ago to study improv and comedy.
Gradually, the thought came to her that she could use her acting skills to further the causes she'd been involved in.
Pojda bills "Minty Julep" as a "comedy about hunger," but there are serious issues being dealt with here. Why are there hungry people? What is the role of corporations and private industry in the struggle against hunger? What can one person do?
"What I would like to do," she says, "is bring this show to universities and colleges and food conferences, and couple the show with workshops related to food politics and nutrition education."
Showtimes for "Minty Julep Goes to Foodieland" are 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Nov. 7, 6 p.m. Nov. 8 and 5 p.m. Nov. 9 at Church & Company, 3647 Falls Rd.
Youth will be served, at least if this Baltimore-based theatrical company has anything to say about it.
Founded in January by four recent University of Maryland, Baltimore County grads, the group took its name from grammar's newest punctuation mark — a combination of a question mark and an exclamation point that the group thought of as an appropriate inspiration for theater.
"Leveling Up," the group's second production, fits their agenda perfectly. Written by Juilliard-trained playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer, it's the story of Ian, a twentysomething computer wiz who makes a living "leveling up" — playing video games and pushing players to a higher level, enabling his customers to play at that elevated level without actually having to get there themselves.
The NSA recruits Ian to work on its drone program in Nevada. There, "the lines between fantasy and reality, between the virtual and the real worlds, start to blur," says co-founder Pagan.
"Showtimes for "Leveling Up" are 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9 p.m. Nov.7 and 8 and 5 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Mercury Theater, 1823 N. Charles St.
Ron Kipling Williams
'Dreadlocks, Rock 'n Roll & Human Rights'
Ron Kipling Williams is a black man who grew up hooked on rock 'n' roll and the punk scene. That makes him pretty fringe-y from the get-go — a fact that is at the heart of his one-man show.
As a kid, Williams says, he never seemed to fit in. As an adult, he recognizes how wrong that was.
What audiences will see, Williams says, is "an autobiographical sketch about a kid growing up, essentially trying to figure out about where he fit and going through the process of understanding that you really need to create your own world."
A D.C. native who says he's been in Baltimore "for a couple decades," Williams first performed "Dreadlocks, Rock 'n Roll & Human Rights" in May. A graduate student studying creative writing and publishing arts at the University of Baltimore, Williams presented the piece as part of the Emerging Voices Project at UB.
Showtimes for 'Dreadlocks, Rock 'n Roll & Human Rights' are 9 p.m. Wednesday, 10 p.m. Nov. 7, 6 p.m. Nov. 8 and 5 p.m. Nov. 9 at The Chicken Box, 1 W. North Ave.
Infinite Stage and Les(s) Clowns
"Nothing" presents an existential quest, an attempt to wrestle with such basic questions as "why?" "where" and "when." Primarily a scripted play, it also depends heavily on crowd interaction, often bending the performance to fit the audience on hand. And it's performed in the tradition of theatrical clowns, by actors in clown makeup.
"We think that it's an interesting style to explore existential questions," says Leslie Felbain of Silver Spring-based Infinite Stage, who is co-directing "Nothing" with Daniel Pinha. "We were asking universal questions of why, where, when. So we got this idea that there are no answers, and how strange and silly it is, how humans are always seeking answers when there are no answers."
If it all sounds puzzling, Felbain, who teaches theater at the University of Maryland College Park, isn't worried. Audiences, she says, seem to love the experience.
Showtimes for "Nothing" are 9 p.m. Wednesday, 6 p.m. Nov. 7, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8 and 1 p.m. Nov. 9 at Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.