Annual Fringe Festival presents cycle of alternative plays
Courtesy of Stereo Vision Photography
Paco Fish will be performing an act titled “Burlesque Vanguard: Advice from a Homeless Stripper/Clown” at this year’s Tucson Fringe Festival. The act is based on anecdotes from when Fish was living out of a van.
Homeless stripper clowns, Christopher Walken impersonators and an apocalyptic musical all come together at the fourth annual Tucson Fringe Festival. This three-day performance compilation takes place today through Sunday at both Fluxx Studio and Gallery and Hotel Congress.
Fringe festivals conceptually have more going on than the average production. Originating in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1947 as an alternative to the Edinburgh International Festival — an annual festival of performing arts — fringe festivals have sought to provide a space for counter-normative art styles.
Since then, fringe festivals have hosted small acts in locations across the globe.
“Fringe is completely unjuried and uncensored,” said Yasmine Jahanmir, the Tucson Fringe Festival’s co-founder.
As a native Tucsonan who frequented the downtown area during her youth, Jahanmir witnessed the artistic changes that were happening around the city.
“I thought it would be a great place for avant garde, never-tried-before acts,” said Jahanmir, whose interests lie in promoting the abundance of local performance art.
Jahanmir and co-founder Sara Tiffany initially formed the idea to begin the festival here in Tucson seven years ago, but it didn’t become concrete until 2011.
According to Jahanmir, the lineup for fringe festivals is mostly original work by local artists.
“We get spoken word, solo performers, plays, rock opera [and] movement-based performances,” Jahanmir said. “We’ve had the variety, and we do again this year.”
One of these acts is recent Tucson resident Paco Fish, whose show this year is titled, “Burlesque Vanguard: Advice from a Homeless Stripper/Clown.”
In the past year, Fish went on a national tour and performed with various regional burlesque troupes across the country. Fish now works with Tucson’s own Black Cherry Burlesque, with shows every first Friday of the month.
“The show is a summary of all of my adventures from the road,” Fish said.
Fish explained that the show’s title was the name of his tour.
“I was living in my van [with] a friend of mine, who is a touring musician,” Fish said. “I used to rotate van guard duty when we had to sleep in the van.”
Fish described the standard burlesque structure as 12 acts, each the length of one song and each of which are introduced by a comedic Master of Ceremonies.
“Almost all of the acts were strip teases,” Fish said, “but each of them had a specific character that told a specific story.”
All of that intimate, creative energy is what fringe festivals value so highly.
Jahanmir said that Fringe gets none of the money made at the festival. Around 80 percent goes toward the artists, and the other 20 percent goes to the venues.
Male burlesque performers like Fish generally don’t find their way to various audiences with ease.
“There are shows that we can’t be booked for because clients are specifically looking for females,” Fish said. “We have fewer options, but more security within the options that we have because male burlesque is still such a novelty.”
Other small acts have similar troubles finding regular venues, and, along with that, regular income through their art.
“I have performed in a few other fringe festivals, and I really appreciate their focus on alternative theater,” Fish said. “I like that there is an opportunity to be outside of traditional theater in, hopefully, a traditional theater space.”
Though the space may be traditional, Fluxx Studio and Gallery’s mission is certainly not. Fluxx originally began as a nonprofit that sought to raise funds for transgender surgery and transition costs. Since then, Fluxx has hosted LGBT film festivals, slam poetry and various other alternative styles of art.
As a primary LGBT art space in Arizona, Fluxx looks to promote and support local counter-normative styles of art throughout the year.
“Those sorts of ideologies go hand in hand,” Jahanmir said regarding Fluxx and Tucson Fringe Festival’s ethics. “Safe performance space for anything that might not be traditional or normative.”
This weekend, catch any of the amazing local acts and support Tucson’s alternative artists while, above all else, being entertained.
—Follow Ian Martella @DailyWildcat