Tucson Fringe Festival: Everyone has a story

click to enlarge Tucson Fringe Festival: Everyone has a story
(Scott Griessel/Contributor)
Tucson Fringe Festival performances are often personal in nature.

Performer Sommer Browning has had strange moments in her sex life.

She’ll share them — unfiltered — at the Tucson Fringe Festival, which is set for Thursday, Jan. 19, to Sunday, Jan. 22, at the Screening Room, the Temple of Music and Art’s cabaret theater, the Steinfeld Warehouse and the Circus Academy of Tucson.

Her show, “Good Actors” — which stages 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20, 10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22, at the Screening Room — blends poetry, comedy and multimedia show inspired by her third poetry book.

The show also delves into motherhood, divorce, loss and sex and sexuality.

“I tried to think about and talk about all the different roles that we have in our lives, as mothers, daughters, workers, lovers, wives,” Browning said.

“We are performing our own life. I thought about how we bind all those roles together to create this whole self or this mirage of a whole self? Where does the creativity end and the real life begin? Or does it? There’s no difference between art and life, yet there is. I’m exploring that kind of confused space.”

James Pack — the treasurer, acting president and a board member for Tucson Fringe Festival Inc. — said performers are chosen randomly, through a drawing in which names are chosen out of hat.

“The reason for that is we’re not censoring anyone. It’s not a juried kind of performance festival. It’s luck of the draw,” Pack said.

Performers are asked to fill out a content warning, which details if their shows contain content such as sexual references, clowns or depictions or discussions of violence.

“We have had instances where we didn’t get all of the information about the show, and it made some people very uncomfortable,” Pack said.

“We don’t want to censor anyone, but we want to make sure people are aware of what they are going to see. We want everyone to enjoy the show, but we want the artists to be able to tell their story the way they want to tell it.”

The Tucson Fringe Festival hosts shows geared toward all ages while others are suggested for people 13 and up or 18 and older.

The festival offers a space where performers can develop and work out new material, too.

click to enlarge Tucson Fringe Festival: Everyone has a story
(JJ Snyder Photography/Contributor)
During Tucson Fringe Festival performances, artists often get up close to the audience.

“If they were trying to put on their show here in town on their own, it can get very costly,” Pack said. “This is a nonexpensive way for them to get their show out there. If they are doing something that is new, or maybe they haven’t performed it yet, it’s not very polished, and they are trying to work out the kinks, this is a great space for them to be able to do that.”

The performers come from around the world for the Tucson Fringe Festival.

“We still allow people to apply with virtual content if they want to do something on Zoom,” Pack explained. “We want to have that ability to get these international performers, who maybe can’t afford to travel all the way to Arizona.”

One artist returning to the festival is Kansas City comedian, actor, screenwriter, storyteller and improv performer Jamie Campbell, who will bring his new solo show “Big Dad Energy.”

In 2019, his storytelling show “The Devil on the Wall” won Best Drama at the Tucson Fringe Festival. This show was a darker comedy focused on his childhood traumas.

He said his newest show is possible because of this show.

“I think doing that very personal storytelling show let me get to a place where I was a lot more adjusted…Now, I feel like because of that healing, I’m in a better place, and that’s what ended up leading me to creating such a positive show,” Campbell said.

“Big Dad Energy” shares standup, audience interaction and musical comedy. At the beginning and end of the show, Campbell performs comedic rap numbers.

The production debuted at the Kansas City Fringe Festival, where it won Best of Fringe honors. Taking part in fringe festivals has given him a respect for artists who regularly appear in them.

“Artists who go out and do fringe are probably the most passionate and a lot of times some of the most creative of any of the performing artists that I’ve ever seen. They find these ways to think outside the box,” Campbell said.

Campbell’s show explores how he is coming to grips with the fact that he probably will never be a dad.

“My wife and I didn’t get married until we were in our early 40s, and we’re not ready for children at this point in our life. We always thought we would be parents, but at this point, you have to either have kids or let the clock run out,” Campbell said.

In the show, he shares advice he would have given and things he would and wouldn’t have done well as a dad.

He offers positive “dad” commentary when interacting with audience members.

“In true dad fashion, I like to talk to a few people, get some information about them and tell them why I’m proud of them,” Campbell said.

“The audience, I think they are waiting for me to turn around and roast them…My show is super positive. I think after the lockdown and everything we’ve been through as a world, we could use some positivity.

“It’s not like I’m Mister Rogers out there. I talk a little bit about drugs, a little bit about sex, a little bit about changes I want to see in the world, but I also focus on how we need to listen and how I’m proud of this younger generation.”

“Big Dad Energy” will be presented at the Steinfeld Warehouse on Saturday at 2 and 8:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

During the Tucson Fringe Festival, performers are paid for their time and artistry. In total, it has given out over $45,000 to performers. A portion of ticket and pass sales goes to the artists. The other proceeds help with festival costs.

Pack became involved with the event in 2017. He said it’s been an interesting ride.

“What I find most interesting is A, everyone has a story to tell, and B, a lot of times, it’s very interesting to watch. I’ve never gone to a fringe show and felt bored the whole time… It’s interesting seeing it from the person who experienced it,” Pack said.

Tucson Fringe Festival

WHEN: Various times Thursday, Jan. 19, to Sunday, Jan. 22

WHERE: The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress Street; Temple of Music and Art’s cabaret theater, 330 S. Scott Street; Steinfeld Warehouse, 101 W. Sixth Street; The Circus Academy of Tucson, 400 W. Speedway Boulevard

cost: $12 for individual shows, $20 for two-show pass, $50 for five-show pass

INFO: tucsonfringe.org

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