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Hy on the Fringe: Your Personal Guide to the

2011 New York International Fringe Festival

This Page Was Most Recently Updated: Sunday August 28th 2011

What's in a Name?—Notable Show Titles

Theatre of the ArcadeRomeo and Juliet: Choose Your Own EndingZombie Wedding

Scenes from Theatre of the Arcade, Romeo and Juliet: Choose Your Own Ending, and Zombie Wedding

We're told to not judge a book by its cover.


When there are 200 shows to choose from, though, it's hard to resist flipping through the FringeNYC catalog and picking out the productions with the coolest names.


In fact, the single most important marketing decision a Fringe show can make is what to call itself.


For example, there are a number of productions in this year's Festival springboarding off the works of William Shakespeare. One is a version of Hamlet, and it's titled—wait for it—Hamlet. Yawn. (Addendum: While nothing innovative was done with the title, those who've seen the show once the festival began are giving it high praise, so it's probably well worth catching.)

Way better marketing savvy is evident in a hodgepodge of Shakespearean plots applied to an imagined war between The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch. It's titled The Bardy Bunch; and if it's any good at all, expect tickets to sell like hotcakes. (Addendum: I saw The Bardy Bunch on August 13th...and gave it a top rating of four stars. I'm told it's the second-best seller of the festival, behind only Yeast Nation—which had the double advantage of coming from the creators of the most successful Fringe show of all time, Urinetown, and being a four-star show itself.)


Another clever bard take-off starts off with the original title but then builds on it: Romeo & Juliet: Choose Your Own Ending. "Should Romeo pursue Juliet or Rosaline? Will the lovers live happily ever after? Itís up to you to decide. The audienceís vote determines how the play unfolds each night." Brilliant. I'm there.

An obvious but risky way to grab attention is to have a very long name. The "winner" this year is There Was An Old Woman Who Swallowed A Fly And Other Heroines That Reach For The Sky! The big question: Is this show smart, or merely gimmicky? The first clues are the questionable grammar (That Reach vs. Who Reach), the lack of tense agreement (Swallowed is past, Reach is present), and a less-than-perfect parallelism (what exactly does a crone consuming an insect have to do with non-age-specific gals raising their arms in the air?). Further clues can quickly be found on the company's Web site, which explains the show comes from a "Komedy Kidstitute" (really, I swear) that promises "It's fun, fun, fun!" (honestly, I'm not making this up...). If the intent is to warn audience members away, mission accomplished.


At the other end of the spectrum, there are three shows this year tied for the shortest title: FIt, Lou, and Mic. The first two don't tell us much about the content of their shows...and so are instantly forgettable. (Could be they're great shows, but the point is to make us want to see them.) In contrast, Mic. is about the open mic art scene in NYC; and the super-short but descriptive title makes me want to nab a ticket for this production. (Addendum: Buzz on .Mic hasn't been so hot, and substance trumps hype, so I'll probably end up skipping this. Still a fine title, though.)


Another great attention-grabber is a title which is simply fun. This year's winners include:


Theatre of the Arcade: Five Classic Video Games Adapted for the Stage: This show's own description says it best: "An apelike brute holds an innocent young woman captive and hurls obstacles at anyone who dares approach. A glutton eats everything in sight while running away from the ghosts that haunt him. Are these the plots of classic video games, or are they searing narratives of modernist drama? This collection of short plays explores what happens when stories born of the arcade are given the high literary respect and dramaturgical rigor they deserve." Directed by Gyda Arber, who is loved by pretty much everyone in indie theatre, and with a title that neatly captures the high concept, this is likely to be one of the hits of the festival.

Addendum: Shortly after I wrote the previous paragraph, another game-related show directed by Arber received a rave review from The New York Times, which said in part "Call it avant-garde performance art. Call it whatever you want. I just call it brilliant." To read the full review, please click here. And to see Arber, me, and others discussing Apple technology on August 17th, please click here.


COBU: Dance Like Drumming, Drum Like Dancing: A dance & percussion show, created by a cast member of Stomp, that's perfectly described by its title—as you can see by clicking here and here. (Addendum: I've since seen the show, and it's one of my favorites of the festival. For my review, please click here.)


The Legend of Julie-Taymor or The Musical That Killed Everybody: This is the sort of high concept show that's likely to be great or god-awful. But either way, chances are you chuckled when reading the title. A show whose mere name provides you with instant pleasure has already made major headway in persuading you to see it. (Addendum: I've since seen this production...and to my surprise, it was neither awesome nor dreadful, but a "so-so." That said, it's garnered tremendous interest, and will probably sell out its whole run. Review to come.)


Flaccid Penis Seeks Vaginal Dryness: If your reaction was "ew," I'm with you. This is far from the ideal way to grab attention. That said: attention was grabbed. It remains to be seen if the show is amazing enough to get away with its title.


You've Ruined a Perfectly Good Mystery: A sly come-on for a clever idea: a production that deconstructs and disrupts the literary conventions of the detective story. For the accompanying video teaser, please click here.


Zombie Wedding: Aside for tacking on the phrase, "A Musical," what more do you really need to know? (Addendum: Sadly, this didn't live up to expectations; for my review, please click here.)


Yet another popular Fringe strategy is including a celebrity or celeb reference in the title. Among the most notable examples this year are After Anne Frank, Bette Davis Ain't For Sissies, Call Mr. Robeson, Courtney and Kathleen: A Riot Act, I MIght Be Edgar Allan Poe, Killing John Grisham, Hard Travelin' With Woody (about Woody Guthrie), Who Loves You, Baby? (about Telly Savalas) and Walls and Bridges (about John Lennon during his 18-month separation from Yoko). This is a gimmick that can easily be abused, though, and it remains to be seen how many of these shows are of star quality. (Addendum: Post-festival, the answer appears to be none of them. I ended up seeing After Anne Frank (**½), Hard Travelin' with Woody (**½), and Walls and Bridges (**); and I received feedback on the others. Based on buzz, some were pretty good—such as Call Mr. Robeson—but none approached the greatness of their subjects.)


Then again, some folks just aren't much good at titles. FringeNYC 2011 includes these instantly forgettable examples: Break; Destinations; Happily Ever After, Heads; Hello, My Name is Billy; Life Insurance; Mush; Top Drawer; Winner Take All; and Ya Mama! (Addendum: I ended up seeing Winner Take All, which featured some of the very finest singers at the festival—and an utterly idiotic script. I also saw Destinations...which somehow managed an even worse script. So a lazy, unimaginative title sometimes really does warn of terrible writing overall.)


That said, two of my favorite one-woman shows ever are Eileen Kelly's My Pony's in the Garage (FringeNYC 2005) and Elna Baker's If You See Something, Say Something (FringeNYC 2006). These bland, forgettable titles initially kept me away, and it was only the recommendations of others that led me to see the productions. But I'm so grateful I did, as Eileen and Elna are two of the most wonderful women on the planet, and their shows are memories I treasure to this day.


So enjoy this year's cornucopia of titles. But make your final buying choices based on content descriptions, the talent involved, videos, production photos, buzz, and reviews...including the ones I'll be providing here.


Finally, speaking of names: There's quite a bit of star talent at the festival. To learn more, please read the section Shows With Stars.


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