Reflections on the Theatre Crude Fringe Festival

By Larry Laneer
October 7, 2019

When the couple Jenny Brand and Adam Brand moved to Oklahoma from Minneapolis three years ago, they came with fringe festival experience. They saw the need for a fringe festival in Oklahoma City and took it upon themselves to make one happen. Their fringe experience explains why the Theatre Crude Fringe Festival was so well run during the past two weeks.

We were long overdue for a fringe festival. Antecedents of fringe theater go back to 1947. The form really took off in North America in the 1960s and 1970s.

Theatre Crude Fringe Festival had a quality mixture of 10 different acts, both produced locally and from out of town. I saw eight of them. I don’t know of any theatrical production around here that ran as punctually as the Theatre Crude Fringe Festival. We were not forced to sit through droning curtain speeches and pre-show sales pitches to captive audiences. Performances started precisely on the curtain time. Some of the productions looked like they were done on a budget of $1.98, but that’s in the fringe tradition. For the performances, an event center on the first floor of the Old Surety Life Insurance Company building on North Lincoln Boulevard was transformed into a functional, comfortable black box theater.

I saw three productions the second week. The dystopian drama 3/4 Empty, written and performed by Justice von Maur and Jonathan Jarmon, recalled Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns: a post-electric play. A catastrophe has happened. It may be a revolution or invasion. We never learned exactly what it was, but something caused a big societal upheaval. References were made to “the election,” an occupying force, torture, and someone who “used art as a tool and a weapon.”  I think the authors were suggesting a future under Trump or a Trump-like despot.

3/4 Empty was the most fully realized play of the festival. Von Maur and Jarmon wore identical dark blue coveralls, and the play took place in a wooden frame supported by four posts. As the play opened, papers and other debris littered the stage floor. This could be an early draft of a longer work by von Maur and Jarmon.

In an act called Jamie Campbell: Professional Idiot, the eponymous Jamie Campbell did 55 minutes of stand-up comedy, barely stopping to take a breath. He gave a game performance before a small audience.

Surprisingly, the biggest disappointment of the festival was the enticingly titled The Ultra-Conservative Theatre Summit, a production of Next Stage. Rodney Brazil wrote the play, and it was directed by Holly McNatt. Producers were Brazil, Todd Clark, and Rebecca McCauley. The cast included Clark, McCauley, Tiffany Tuggle, and Kaleb Bruza. These are some of our top theatrical artists.

The play took shots at some easy targets favored or loathed by ultra-conservatives: gender fluidity and identity, removal of offending statues, corporate hegemony, and a vague scene involving a prison group therapy session. Not many of these attempts hit the bullseye. The play ended with the cast singing a verse of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” I couldn’t tell if the irony was intentional, but these ultra-conservatives were singing a song by a composer who was accused of being a Communist sympathizer.

The Brands and their crew of about 20 volunteers gave us a strong start to our very own fringe festival. They should be encouraged by theatergoers and performing artists to bring it back next year. Writers and performers who want to try edgier, more provocative material will have an excellent venue for it. Everyone should start preparing now.