APU Fringe Festival addresses the hard and awkward conversations

What do you get when you put together a student writer and a student director with student actors in a Black Box? The Fringe Festival.

Inspired by the PAVE program in Arts Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, which developed the Phoenix Fringe Festival, Producing Artistic Director Dennis Baker wanted something similar for APU theater students. With his end goal in mind of teaching students how to produce their own creative work, Baker took action immediately.

This adjunct theater professor wanted to utilize the festival as a way to encourage his students to take the initiative in creating their own art while auditioning and waiting to be hired after graduation.

“I love seeing student producers invest, and truly realize what it takes to create a show from idea to full production,” Baker said. “If I could summarize it in one word it would be empowerment. They have something that is their own. This empowerment leads them to take the work outside of the APU bubble.”

In fact, according to Baker a show from last year went on to be produced in the Hollywood Fringe Festival, which is a feat for any student writer/producer/director/actor.

The application process begins in the spring semester preceding the fall semester in which the play will be produced. Baker sifts through the submissions and looks for similar themes. According to Baker, this year’s theme for the festival was centered on “those hard, uncomfortable conversations.”

Audiences can attend these performances, which spark conversations that might otherwise be avoided in some Christian circles. Similar to the different topics inherent, the styles performed in the Fringe Festival are generally different as well.

“We select theater we have not seen at APU,” Baker said. “This gives an educational component to the Fringe. We want to expand the students’ knowledge beyond musicals and realism.  We are still working on this component. My hope for the future of the Fringe is that it becomes a place to try, play and experiment with non-traditional theater styles.”

“I’ve learned how to direct sketches, which is very different from directing a scene,” senior theater arts major Heidi Warstler said. “You have to approach it differently. In sketches you need to be more specific in the directions you give since it is all about comedic timing.”

Senior theater arts and psychology double major Lauren Shook is studying at the Groundlings school of improv in Hollywood, which is what made the Fringe yet another way to apply her education.

“It is hard when you put so much pressure on yourself to be funny,” Shook said. “I still deal with it every time, but I just have to go on. The thing about comedy is that it can easily fail.”

Unlike the light-hearted, Saturday Night Live-type sketch comedy Memoirs of a Leash Child, Peering Into the Doghouse is a heavier story about how a friend changes the lives of those around him. Audiences can also enjoy a hysterically funny and moving one-man show Homo Erectus based on personal experience or Lilies From Iron, an equally comedic and poignant piece of monologues intertwined with bits of realism following a group of friends struggling through learning how to accept help from each other.

“Fringe was the most rewarding experience I’ve had at APU,” senior theater arts major Breanna Champagne said. “I was able to work with many wonderful people and produce a show that really meant something to me.”

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