ADDISON, TEXAS: Ask a North Texas theatre patron what to attend in March, and they may flash a grin and respond, “Go loopy!”
That slogan, emblazoned boldly in bright green and black on a T-shirt sold yearly at the event, embodies Water Tower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival (Mar. 5–15). The phrase has a double meaning: The festival takes place at the Addison Theatre Centre, just beyond a mega-highway “looping” Dallas, and it features works that handily fit the concept of edgy—or, if you will, loopy.
Water Tower Theatre first raised its curtain in 1996 with just 136 subscribers. Today it serves more than 30,000 theatre fans with seasons of professional stage productions and educational programming, held in the Addison Centre’s three flexible, intimate theatre spaces. That would be plenty for most theatre companies, but producing artistic director and festival coproducer Terry Martin said he dreamed of creating a fringe festival in 2001, modeling it after others across the country. He felt that North Texas could use just such a multidisciplinary experiment.
“Water Tower’s mission is to produce a diverse mix of plays and educational programs that inspire audiences to experience and embrace live theatre,” said Martin. “I wondered if a fringe festival might additionally inspire regional artists to take artistic risks.”
Out of the Loop was designed to provide regional artists a place to try out the off-beat and quirky, to mount freshly created works, and to explore the challenges of multidisciplinary pieces that don’t fit into traditional spaces or standard seasons. The first Out of the Loop launched in 2002, and around 1,000 people attended. Attendance has grown, according to Water Tower’s development director Greg Patterson, so that in 2014 the festival attracted more than 3,000.
The programming has evolved over the years, as well.
“During the first years, we brought in headliners as anchors and to garner media coverage,” Martin explained. “Name acts included David Lee Nelson, One Man Lord of the Rings and Star Wars Sagas, Miranda Sings and Mike Daisey.” Then, when regional performers with local followings began to outdraw the national acts, Martin, “We filled the festival slots by juried selection. Our challenge now is to find corporate sponsorship to help extend the festival beyond 10 days, and to increase artist stipends.”
National Endowment for the Arts grant money funded the fest at first. Currently supporters include the Texas Commission for the Arts, which is supportive of new work and emerging artists, and the Town of Addison. The work they’re supporting with this year’s festival, which kicked off last week, includes seven world premieres, four Best of Loop winners and five artist or company debuts, with 200 artists and technicians onstage or backstage.
Here’s a sample of some of the artists and companies participating in 2015’s Out of the Loop, and a description of their work.
Audacity Theatre Lab, Cyrano–A-Go-Go
National touring actor/ playwright Brad McEntire considers Out of the Loop his home incubator. “I always try out my new work here first before I head to New Orleans, Chicago or New York,” said McEntire.
A repeat presenter from The Loop’s earliest years, McEntire won Best of the Loop in 2014 with Robert’s Eternal Goldfish. This year he departs from absurdist examination of the human condition to delve into a classic: Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. McEntire’s Cyrano-A-Go-Go, performed in what he calls “an old-school oration style,” traces a soulful journey through Rostand’s1897 play, blending personal, historical and literary elements.
Water Tower Theatre, The Spark
Danielle Georgiou Dance Group, Nice
Two female-directed productions, both mounted on Water Tower Theatre’s mainstage (with the audience reduced to 100 seats for the festival), fulfill Out of the Loop’s multidisciplinary mission with original works in dynamic, nontraditional environments. Water Tower’s own entry, The Spark, is written and directed by festival coproducer Kelsey Leigh Ervi, a recent graduate of Baylor University’s drama program. The play uses puppetry, original music and movement to explore the adult fairy-tale journey of a young girl with an imaginary friend in search of “The Lost Firefly Tribe of Antarctica.” Ervi said she had wanted to work with former Sesame Street Live puppeteer Kyle Igneczi for some time, to challenge herself as a writer and director and develop a new work that would step out of the traditional script box. The Spark incorporates both shadow puppetry and found object puppets with movement and projection to fulfill this intention.
Dallas-based Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG), founded in 2011, creates performance pieces that delve into social and psychological issues, using choreographed contemporary dance and physical theatre in ways that demolish the fourth wall, confront convention and inspire audience engagement and reflection. With their 2015 Loop entry, Nice, Georgiou’s troupe of 10 actor/dancers explores modern Western society’s sexual and social guidelines, which can mask desire and explode into violence. Regional NPR DJ/personality Paul Slavens provides synthesizer musical accompaniment, with song and narrative overlay, adding an element of patriarchy, dripping with humor and sarcasm.
Tori Scott, I’ll Regret This Tomorrow
New York-based chanteuse/comedian Tori Scott returns to her Dallas roots with her Out of the Loop debut. An earthy celebration of life’s ups and downs illustrated with song, her show feels like a mix-tape of 25 tunes made famous by Judy Garland, Bette Midler, Michael Jackson and Dolly Parton. Scott opens her show with Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” and it looks like there’s no stopping her indeed. Edge New York wrote that this “sassy fruit fly…could probably go head-to-head with Bette Midler’s wit and Lady Bunny’s feistiness.”
Patrick O’Brien, The Fever
Based in Minneapolis, O’Brien frequently tours three to six fringe festivs across the U.S. and Canada. He said he finds fringe audiences “theatrically savvy, attentive, and responsive.” In 2013 he won Best of the Loop with his sold-out performances of Underneath the Lintel (also a winner at the London, Ontario, and St. Louis Fringes that year). He said he appreciates Out of the Loop’s audience-friendly venues and professional technical capabilities, and finds its juried selection system preferable to the lottery system used by some other festivals. In 2015, O’Brien returns to Out of the Loop with Wallace Shawn’s Obie-winning, one-man challenge to capitalist complacency, The Fever.
Water Tower Theatre’s 2015 Out of the Loop Fringe Festival runs through March 15 at the Addison Theatre & Conference Centre, in north Dallas. See the website for up to date scheduling.