Hy on the Fringe: Your Personal Guide to the
2015 New York International Fringe Festival
This Show Titles Page Was Most Recently Updated: August 27th 2015
What's in a Name?—Notable Show Titles
Posters for the cleverly titled Van Gogh Fuck Yourself, Your Love, Our Musical, and Kill Sister, Kill!
We're told to not judge a book by its cover.
When there are 190 shows to choose from, though, it's hard to resist flipping through the FringeNYC 2015 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 tagged as being solo productions. Some have
titles that sound
generic and you're likely to forget as soon as you read them: Jellybean, Succession, Lucky Chick, Hank Leaves Home. But others instantly grab interest and make you wonder about them: Van Gogh Fuck Yourself, An Inconvenient Poop, Tiananmen Annie. Which of these show do you think are more likely to sell tickets?
An obvious way to nab attention is to have a very long title. As it happens, the two productions fitting that bill this year are also solo shows—specifically, one-person autobiographical comedies.
I actually had a hand in naming The Broccoli Murder, the DiCaprio Dance, and Other Stories From My 20 Years as an NYC Cop, as I saw Mark DeMayo's stage memoir about being a former NYPD detective turned standup comic more than a year ago, loved it, and gave DeMayo tips on how to make it Fringe-friendly. In case you're wondering, arguably the most fascinating story in the show is about how death in New York can be startlingly abrupt and random, with someone getting killed over a disagreement about the proper preparation of broccoli in a Chinese restaurant. DeMayo also delivers a celebrity-packed anecdote about his encounter with Leonardo DiCaprio; and numerous other funny and compelling tales. The risk with a long title is that if a production doesn't merit special attention, bad word of mouth will spread like wildfire. But this is a very strong show that will hold up under scrutiny. (Go see for yourself...)
The other longest title of this year's festival is My Ass (In The World): A True Story Of Love, War, Taliban... And Dirty Lambada. Jasmine Pittenger describes her hour-long tale as follows: "One humanitarian. Five continents... And her own inescapable butt. Helping girl refugees, Jasmine too is fleeing. One continent's 'fat ass' is another's 'perfect peach.'" Which, to my ear, sounds pretty good; and, in fact, this show is selling out. But whether that results in positive buzz and good press will depend on the material and the performance.
Other notable long titles this year include:
• Hick—A Love Story: The Romance of Lorena Hickok and Eleanor Roosevelt
• The Mad Scientist's Guide to Romance, Robots, and Soul-Crushing Loneliness
• America's Next Top: One Topís Hysterical Take on Life, Love, Tools, and Boxes
• The Bad German: A Solo Show about Identity, Guilt and the Wurst in All of Us
• Feelings: Because Why Pretend the Show is About Anything Else?
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—Coping, Knots, Pickles, Cliff, Dancers, Dungeon, Baba, Jericho, Joker, Schooled. 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 Plath. about iconic poet/novelist Sylvia Plath, and G.U.S., which is an improvised show about three men living in a Generic Underground Shelter following the end of the world.
Another great attention-grabber is a title which is simply fun. This year's winners include:
• Your Love, Our Musical: This is my favorite title of the whole festival. Simple, easy to remember, fun to say—and in four words, it describes the entire concept. Specifically, Rebecca Vigil & Evan Kaufman interview a couple from the audience and then make up a complete musical about their love story on the spot. The only vital thing the title doesn't tell you is that Vigil & Kaufman are genius improvisors, and they're so lightning-quick and inventive that you're likely to give them a standing ovation at the end. (And if you love what they do, come back for more; every performance will be an absolutely unique event, never to be seen again...)
• Van Gogh Fuck Yourself: I've already mentioned this, but it's so stupidly fun that it merits being brought up again. The description: "Based on the letters of Vincent and Theo, and the memoirs of Vincent's stay in Auvers-sur-Oise, (this show) reveals the truth behind Vincent, the ear, his death, and his sacrifice for humanity's sake. You think you know the truth? #VanGoghFuckYourself." Perfect...
• The Screenwriter Dies Of His Own Free Will: For a profession notorious for robbing its practitioners of their ability to control their work and their careers, this title smartly promises one ironic victory—the ability to script one's final fade out. The cleverness of this title was enough by itself to make me decide to see the show.
• Kill Sister, Kill!: If you get a kick out of 1970s sexploitation movies, you grasp the vibe of this retro musical instantly from its name. Also notable is the playful use of punctuation—leaving out the comma after the first "Kill" creates a delicious breathlessness; while the exclamation point indicates the climactic thrill that the nun—and, by extension, you—will experience after each slaying. Plus all this is backed up by a fun video teaser. (Postnote: To my deep disappointment, the actual musical was dreadful. But I stand by my other comments; it just proves terrific packaging doesn't guarantee a great show...)
How You Kiss Me Is Not How I Like To Be Kissed: Because of this production's vague description, I don't really know what the show is about. But its title is so evocative, I want to find out.
• Virgin Sacrifice: New York is the stand-up capital of the world. So how does a comedy show from California get into FringeNYC? By having a particularly clever high concept framing the various sets. Specifically, Nicole Blaine hosts some of the best comics in the country...and someone who's never performed stand-up before to be the evening's "Virgin Sacrifice." It's a sharp idea represented by a short, evocative, and (in context) very funny title—a great blend of packaging and content.
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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