Double-Take Fringe November 11,12, 2011

‘Flying on faith’ Greenfield Recorder, Nov. 3, 2011
Richie Davis

11 plays will be staged in downtown Greenfield during Double Take Fringe Theater Festival debut Nov. 11, 12

Some people visit Greenfield’s annual Brick + Mortar International Video Art Festival and are wowed by intriguing electronic art installations in unusual spaces — like the former hotel rooms on the fourth floor of Wilson’s Department Store, or the cavernous First National Bank on Bank Row. But the ever-creative Linda McInerney of Old Deerfield Productions looked beyond the video installations and saw ways of bringing these downtown spaces even more to life.

“I loved seeing the renaissance of Greenfield, everything that’s happening, and have that be sort of an engine,” said McInerney. I thought, ‘Why not do the same thing with theater?’” From Brick + Mortar was born Double Take Fringe Theater Festival, which will take place at 11 locations within walking distance of downtown Greenfield on Nov. 11 and 12.

Fringe theater, a concept which began in 1947 in Edinburgh, Scotland, and has spread to New York, Orlando, Austin and Seattle, as well as Edmonton and Winnipeg in Canada, involves small theater works in multiple nearby venues that make use of vacant spaces.

Working with Becky George of the Greenfield Business Association, downtown building owner Mark Zaccheo, Hollywood production assistant Michael Haley of Conway and Historic Deerfield Marketing Director Marc Belanger, McInerney looked around at the space available at the Arts Block and The Pushkin Gallery downtown. The possibilities started giving her goosebumps.

The group looked around for other possible spaces, found nearly a dozen, and then, in May, she zipped off an email to as many thespians and theater companies that popped into her head, “just to see what people would say.”

With just one exception, McInerney said, “Every single person I emailed said ‘yes.’” Within a matter of weeks, each would round up a play to produce, along with actors.

“I love our community,” McInerney exudes. “I put it out on Facebook saying I was looking for two actors and a director. Within 11 minutes, the thing was set.”

She asked for people to come up with productions of 30 to 40 minutes to fill the 11 venues, which include All Souls and Second Congregational churches, the old Carr Hardware store on Wells Street and upstairs at Hope & Olive restaurant.

Sarah Marcus, a recent New York transplant who teaches drama at Bement School and has worked with McInerney at Old Deerfield Productions, called Phoebe Shaw, who had moved to the area about 10 years ago and had been involved in the Northampton Playwrights Lab. Together, they came up with “Vault,” a comedy written especially for The Pushkin.

“The first thing we saw there was the vault,” Shaw said in recalling their first visit to the former Main Street bank last spring. “We got kind of excited because it’s such a relic and it’s so unremovable.”

Together, they created a three-person play of just under half an hour about the encounter of two women who want to gain access to the vault “It kind of has an element of magic theater to it,” said Shaw of the play, which will be directed by Marissa Elkins.

John Reese’s students participated three times at the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival before his retirement from teaching theater at Deerfield Academy. During the fringe festival, he will direct the dark comedy “Chamber Music” at the old Carr Hardware space. He calls it a “fascinating play” he’d directed a couple of times before. It depicts a mental institution in 1938 inhabited by Amelia Earhart, Joan of Arc, Gertrude Stein, Queen Isabella, Susan B.

Anthony and three other powerful women.

“The play lends itself to bare-bones treatment,” with the former retail space’s linoleum neutral walls and clear-glass cinderblock, which is back lit by streetlights, providing a fitting institutional setting.

“I think this is going to be great fun,” said Reese, who is also on the board of Old Deerfield Productions. “We’ve wanted to develop more of an audience in Greenfield because of all the things that are beginning to happen around the Arts Block and The Pushkin. I think there’s an untapped audience in Greenfield and this will have something for everybody.”

With tickets set at $10 per evening, or both evenings for $15, the festival is priced to attract “Joe Average and his wife” to take a risk on a short play,” said Haley. (Those tickets are available from the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, World Eye Bookshop, Raven Used Books and online at Haley, who has visited the Irish Dundalk Fringe Festival, is translating some of his production skills from Hollywood movies like “A League of Their Own,” “Groundhog Day” or “Analyze This” to the upcoming Double Take Fringe Festival in Greenfield.

“A lot of people are excited,” said Haley, who’s also playing a role in the first act of the drama “North Country,” which he codirects, at the Arts Block’s Wheelhouse. “It’s about exposure, exposure. I think it’s very exciting. It can be a lot of fun.”

George, who’s also helping to coordinate the festival for the Greenfield Business Association, said, “Different kinds of cultural arts attract different people. The interesting thing about providing theater in this way is that it will allow those people who are ‘not theater people’ to come out and enjoy a halfhour play.”

No, George said, “This is not your mother’s play; you’re going to sit down for half an hour and be entertained.”

Here, in “some more cultured spaces and some raw spaces,” there’ll be something for everyone, she figures.

Whether it’s a dark comedic farce that pokes fun at our short attention spans, (“Cold Storage”) or Elvis’ story told through the eyes of 17 women (“All the King’s Women”), or even improved comedy-on-the-couch (“Shrink: Where Freud Meets Funny”), Double Take will offer a varied mix and a schedule for both people who don’t normally stay out late and the more late-blooded.

“If you’ve enjoyed one play, you can go off and try to get into another venue and see another one,” said George. “And if you miss something because it was at the same time, you can come back and the next night and see it. That’s some of the beauty of the way it’s structured.”

There’s even an “interactive process performance” just for kids at the young person’s friendly time of 4 p.m. In “Picture Book Play,” local theatre artist SerahRose Roth and her mom, Greenfield Community College professor Sharon Roth, will help children stretch their creative wings as they explore physical and vocal expression in a collaborative improvisation that will turn a favorite picture book into spontaneous performance.

McInerney ticked off the names of places around the country that swell with annual fringe theater productions, adding, “Some are huge and last more than a month. But I don’t know of any other small towns that are doing it.”

Nearby Northampton, which might be a candidate for hosting a fringe theater, is “further down the evolutionary scale,” said McInerney. “Everything there’s very expensive” to try to mount a festival in various nooks and crannies downtown.

But in Greenfield, she said, there’s a “transitional quality and the burgeoning creative economy that’s just coming to life here is opening the door. The moment is now. It couldn’t have quite happened five years ago, because everybody would have said, ‘What are you talking about?’” Creating this kind of event at this moment, in this place, also reflects on the fact that nobody’s getting paid to make it happen, McInerney admits. And that think-outside-thecoffers attitude doesn’t necessarily exist in a lot of places.

“Here people have that mindset still,” says McInerney, acknowledging that if the festival gets off the ground, it may be able to build a “nest egg” to pay for extras like lighting and have it be not quite so bare bones.

“We’re flying on faith a little bit here.

Faith is good,” said McInerney, who takes little credit for seeing Greenfield festooned with a fringe festival other than daring to raise the idea.

“It popped out of my mouth — this mouth.

I happen to own this mouth, for some reason, but the moment it was said, it just wanted to manifest. It’s a sort of an idea that’s yearning to happen. I’m grateful I got to utter the words, but it’s a credit to where Greenfield is and where our creative community is.”

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