Over a couple of hours on Saturday, Central Library hosted a variety of small acts. Members of ROC Bottom Slam Team (who performed later in the evening at TheatreROCS) took turns performing moving poetry about political and social issues in the Teen Center, while a pole dancer wowed a small audience with her strength in the Gleason Auditorium.
A stilts-walker milled about indoors and out, but other than that, there wasn't much activity. The Fringe program guide promised other attractions, including a sword swallower and human blockhead, but I didn't get to find out what that latter act entailed, as I had to scoot over to The Little Theatre for the next show on my schedule.
It would have been impossible to maintain a bad mood after seeing RIT-based group Dangerous Signs perform "Hands Full of Shakespeare," in celebration of the 400th anniversary of The Bard's death.
The energetic and hilarious performance linked together some of Shakespeare's most beloved scenes with a running narrative (with a script by Danica Zielinski, who also performed), in which enthusiasts attempt to convert a hater into a fan. She makes her disdain clear from the start with "I Hate Shakespeare," a witty number pulled from the musical "Something Rotten."
The small company blended layers of storytelling methods (theatrically performed American Sign Language, dance, and song and spoken word broadcast on speakers), each player taking a turn with main performances -- as the witches from Macbeth, or dancing and signing to Patti Smith's Shakespeare-inspired "Looking for You" -- while the others supplemented each scene with lively physical theater and entertaining facial expressions.
After each of the performers briefly described different factors that divide people, the team launched into the prologue to "Romeo and Juliet." And to balance that obsessive, naive version of a beginning, they followed it up with the hilariously-executed verbal fencing scene between Kate and Petruchio in "Taming of the Shrew."
"Hands Full of Shakespeare" is one of my favorites of all the shows I've seen in any year of the Rochester Fringe Festival. It was a ton of fun to watch, and I walked away with a renewed desire to learn ASL. I could sense that there were elements in the program that I couldn't perfectly access, because I don't know enough of the language to understand how wonderfully nuanced ASL storytelling is.
It's incredibly complex and poetic. For example, after a fight between two characters accompanied by the Sarah Bareilles song "Gravity," one of the players softly made the sign for "I love you" with a hand she drew slowly down her cheek to say the word for "tears" or "crying." Between that compound gesture, her furrowed brows, and eyes shining with emotion, her situation was perfectly conveyed -- I wondered how many other instances like this I missed -- and my understanding of the medium's possibilities expanded suddenly, much to my delight.
I've seen ROC Bottom Slam Team's powerful spoken-word shows before, but they've outdone themselves with their performance at this Fringe on the TheatreROCS Stage. Rather than simply taking turns reciting their work, they threaded a narrative throughout the show, and often spoke specifically about challenging Rochester to be a better version of itself.
The show opens with two men on stage, one having dreamed of waking up to his own funeral; the other embodying the addiction he thought he'd kicked, now viciously mocking him. As he settles back down to sleep, he decides to watch a little television to take his mind off of the trauma. For the rest of the show, he sits in the front row or on the stage, interacting and commenting as the others perform their spoken word skits.
One speaker raves about the desperate search for something, anything, real and true and lasting. Another performs a sneaky bait and switch, seducing everyone's mind into the gutter before revealing that what she actually describing wasn't the obvious thing. Through clever wordplay, another spoke of the depression and discouragement sold to us through television programming.
One woman performed her piece about the struggle for a sense of self young girls experience as if each scenario was a headline and she a news reporter. Tales from the hood and disturbing current events were discussed. Another team member ranted hilariously about not being able to cook, and all that entails. A man stares into his cell phone while his girlfriend desperately rages at him to connect with her. "I'm REAL," she screams, stomping her foot and flailing her hands.
ROC Bottom always serves up honest and earnest perspectives with intelligence and style. I'm grateful they're local, and highly recommend their performances.
With more than 500 performances taking place Thursday, September 15, through Saturday, September 24, there's a lot to take in. We'll help you get started.
Comedian Patton Oswalt discusses philosophy, comedy, and how stand-up will always be his mainstay