Hy on the Fringe: Your Personal Guide to the
2014 New York International Fringe Festival
This Titles Page Was Most Recently Updated: August 9th 2014
What's in a Name?—Notable Show Titles
Scenes from Breaking the Shakespeare Code, The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking, and 20/400—Sketchy as F*ck
We're told to not judge a book by its cover.
When there are 199 shows to choose from, though, it's hard to resist flipping through the FringeNYC 2014 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 36 shows in
this year's festival identified as being solo productions. Some have
titles that sound
generic and you're likely to forget as soon as you read them: Interview, Bubba, Fearless, Felicitas. But others instantly grab interest and make you wonder about them: A History of the Devil, Kiss Your Brutal Hands, Does This Dress Make Me Look Alone?, The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking. Which of these do you think are most likely to sell tickets?
An obvious way to nab attention is to have a very long name. The "winner" this year is HOAXOCAUST! Written and Performed by Barry Levey, with the Generous Assistance of the Institute for Political and International Studies, Tehran. The risk with this approach is that if the production doesn't merit special attention, bad word of mouth will spread like wildfire. The fact that the first and last words of this title are especially provocative just amplifies that risk. This show had better be extraordinary, or it'll be considered a hoax itself.
Other notable long titles this year include The List: The Greatest, Most Absurd 100 American Movies Mash-Up Parody Ever Stitched Together, 2014—When We Were Idiots: A Comedy Walking Tour Hosted by Xavier Toby, and The HVAC Plays (Or, Adventures in Living Without Basic Necessities, Like Heat and Air Conditioning). Time will tell whether they deliver on their larger-than-life promises.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are nearly two dozen one-word titles this year. While they may represent fine productions, many of them are instantly forgettable as labels—Over, Mother, Human, Chemistry, Marvellous, MMF, and <50%. Do any of these names make you want to stop and find out more?
A few of the short titles are eye-catching, though—such as Tangleplay and Kuntsler, which are both by returning FringeNYC playwrights.
Another great attention-grabber is a title which is simply fun. This year's winners include:
• Fatty Fatty No Friends: Quite simply, one of the great titles of all time—in or out of the festival. I dare you to read it and not a) laugh and b) want to know more. I spoke briefly to director/composer Christian De Gré, who revealed how the show began: "One day I casually asked my girlfriend Serrana Gay how she was feeling, and she said, 'Oh, you know. Fatty fatty no friends.'" Christian reacted appropriately and convinced her to write an entire musical based on that genius line. Serrana reacted appropriately in turn by having Christian write the music for it and direct it. I predict this perfectly titled production will sell out its run, so grab tickets ASAP.
• Gary Busey's One Man Hamlet (as performed by David Carl): This title is both tricksy and 100% accurate. Comic David Carl will be playing Gary Busey...who in turn will be performing a highly eccentric version of Shakespeare's greatest work. I saw this production when it was first workshopped at The PIT. Expect it to be one of the highlights of the festival.
• Breaking the Shakespeare Code and Burbage: The Man Who Made Shakespeare Famous: Speaking of the Bard, these are both superb titles that demand to be noticed. The first is a drama about a student and her acting coach who seek to uncover the secrets of great Shakespearen acting, while the other is a historical drama about one of the actors who originated many key Shakespearean roles. They both encapsulate the show's premise in the title...and sound highly promising.
• The Internet!: A Complete History (Abridged): How can you not instantly like a title that playfully hypes itself (with an exclamation point, no less!) and then parenthetically contradicts itself at the end? Crossing fingers it's as fun as it sounds
• Dancing Monk Ippen: Speaking of playful, what's more immediately endearing than a dancing monk? This show about a real-life 13th century monk who traveled all over Japan to encourage people to dance & sing has an on-the-nose title that simply works...and is one of the productions I'm looking forward to most.
• 20/400: Sketchy as F*ck: I'm not usually a fan of titles that begin with digits. But when numbers are used to make a metaphor about perspectives far beyond the norm, and are coupled with a discrete "Fuck", I'm totally on board. This superb trio of sketch comics—consisting of rising star Lauren Olson, Jana Schmieding, and Christian Paluck—have been honing their craft for years at NYC's Magnet comedy theatre. Expect their extreme character-driven sketches to be funny as f*ck.
• Stone Cold Fox: The Best From 75 Years of SCF: Stone Cold Fox is, no joke, one of the very finest sketch groups in the country—and the only one to have earned a regular weekend slot at the famed Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Chelsea. While it hasn't been around for 75 years—more like 7—it's done a hell of a lot of great work and absolutely merits a "best of" show. In contrast to 20/400''s character driven sketches, SCF is mostly concept driven. For video samples, please click here, here, and here.
• Xavier Toby: Mining My Own Business: This smart twist on a cliché offers the true-life tale of a man who worked in the mines of Australia.
• The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking: The two clever plays on words in this title—imbibe vs.Bible-thumping Temperance followers, and spirited referencing alcohol—are delightful, and let you know immediately that there's wit at work here. Without reading anything else, I committed to seeing this.
• Seven Seductions of Taylor Swift: The most obvious way to attract a crowd is to put the name of a beloved celebrity in your show title. This can backfire; if the production doesn't live it up to the brand name it's exploiting, audiences will leave feeling betrayed, and word of mouth will quickly sink the production. But here's hoping this comedic play delivers, because its title is among the most cleverly seductive of the festival.
• Clive Barker's History of the Devil vs. A History of the Devil: I'm not quite sure how this happened, but there are two shows with year with virtually the same title. The key difference is one starts with a huge brand name, Clive Barker, who is one of the greatest horror writers of all time. (Chances are we should all go see this one.) The other is from Mexico...and your guess is as good as mine. I'll be checking out both.
And by the way, there's also a third production with Satan in the title: His Majesty, the Devil—A Play With Music. This is likely to be terrific (for an interview with its creator, please click here), so I'll be attending it as well.
Moral: It pays to call on the Lord of Darkness at the Fringe.
And in case you're wondering: "God" makes it into just two show titles this year—and I'm not sure Joel Creasey in Rock God and Vestments of the Gods really count as notable references to our monotheistic and non-guitar playing higher power...
While a great title helps a lot, it's far from everything. Two of my favorite one-woman shows of all time 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 will treasure forever.
So enjoy this year's cornucopia of titles. But make your final buying choices based on content descriptions, videos, production photos, the talent involved, buzz, rankings, and reviews...including the ones I'll be providing on this site.
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