Charlotte has its share of underground, avant-garde entertainers, and this weekend many of those will gather in one place for a series of performances – by local, regional and national artists from different disciplines.
The inaugural Queen City Fringe Festival runs through Sunday, with events sprawling across the Elizabeth, Plaza Midwood and NoDa neighborhoods.
In recent years some of the most interesting, modern, hilarious and difficult-to-describe performances to hit Blumenthal Performing Arts Center or the Spoleto Festival in Charleston were discovered at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
The first such festival was created in Scotland in 1947 as an alternative to the mainstream festival that wasn’t welcoming to riskier performers. It showcased entertainment that was outside the norm, and that’s what you’ll find at QC Fringe, which features everything from dance and aerial artists to stand-up and improv comedy; cutting-edge theater that addresses controversial topics such as terrorism and abortion; plus puppetry, burlesque, performance art, poetry, live music and other difficult to describe acts.
After performing at Fringe festivals across the U.S. with his one-man show “Gonzo: A Brutal Chrysalis” – in which he plays Hunter S. Thompson – James Cartee decided Charlotte was due. He found many interested artists and venues.
What executive producer Cartee (president of Stage1, a nonprofit that assists theater groups, and co-founder of the local Citizens of the Universe theater group) envisioned as a small festival has exploded into a four-day event with a dizzying number of acts.
The Comedy Zone’s Debbie Millwater, who books local amateur talent for the comedy club where Sunday’s after-party is held, says she has 120 comedians working this weekend at various themed events. Among them: Charlie’s Angels, featuring attractive female comedians and hosted by an up-and-coming 16-year-old comedy wunderkind; and a Teachers vs. Students event that pits high school students and teachers against one another for laughs.
“Even on my best week I’m only working 30 guys, so to be able to work 120 in just one weekend was pretty thrilling,” says Millwater, whose husband, Johnny Millwater, is a national touring comic. “It satisfied the need for local amateurs to stretch into longer sets. There’s a lot more stage time – over 100 hours of comedy.”
Cartee counts Nicky Watts in a Box Livin isolation project as one of the festival’s most unusual.
“She walks around with a giant clear Plexiglas box on her head for four days and then does a piece about her experiences,” he explains.
He’s pleased with the reception QCFringe has received from the city.
“In talking with the city and the mayor’s office and local council members – they’re supportive,” he says. “That was one of the biggest surprises. The want is there. To see that interest gives me heart. Charlotte is ready for something like this. I’m hoping this turns into a tool that not only the city can hold and say, ‘This is what’s going on,’ but also a tool for the artists to produce new and interesting work.”
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