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'Fringe' festival features diversity of shows, performers
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times

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Transgender performance artist Rebecca Kling is returning once again to perform in the Chicago Fringe Festival, which runs from Thursday, Aug. 28, through Sunday, Sept. 7.

Just like last year, the 5th Annual Chicago Fringe Festival plays the Jefferson Park neighborhood centralized near the intersection of Milwaukee and Lawrence Avenues. It's a neighborhood that Kling feels has been more convenient to audiences and to the 48 incoming theater companies that will be serving up more than 200 performances in five venues.

"As much as I love Pilsen ( where the Fringe Festival was held in its first three years ), there were a lot of frustrations. The venues were further apart and that was a really big issue, while some of the specific venues had limitations," Kling said, marveling at the convenience of catching show after show among the more compactly clustered venues in Jefferson Park. "At the Fringe Central where people sort of hang out, in Jefferson Park we're able to be connected to a bar and we're able to go later and we're able to have food and drink and that makes it an easier environment."

Thanks to a diversity initiative within the Chicago Fringe Festival, Kling considers herself lucky to have been included in so many festivals to perform her solo work about her experience as a transgender woman. Her latest show is titled Something Something New Vagina and it's all about a really big transition in her life.

"This past December, I had gender-reassignment surgery, so I had my penis changed by modern medical magic into a vagina; obviously, that was a big life stage and event in my life, and so as I was looking forward toward the Fringe Festival this year, I knew that was going to be something that I would want to process for myself, process for an audience," Kling said. "There's a lot of misinformation out there about trans identity and even more there's just a lot of misunderstanding. … So it's good having an opportunity to share I don't want to say "the real experience," but certainly "a real experience."

And as in Kling's past performance art pieces, she intends to conclude her show with another of her standard Q&A striptease sessions to hopefully help break down fears some people might have about trans bodies. Last year, Kling mentioned that she never ended a show without being naked.

Another prominent local production involved in the festival is from the free-access Oracle Productions, which recently won the 2014 Broadway in Chicago Emerging Theater Award. Directed and conceived by Ben Fuschen, This House Believes the American Dream is at the Expense of the American Negro is essentially a reenactment of a famed 1965 Cambridge Union debate between out African-American author and activist James Baldwin and conservative columnist William F. Buckley Jr. And the audience at each performance will ultimately decide which speaker wins the debate.

Fuschen created the piece to time with the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and to hopefully expose more people to Baldwin's significant work.

"If you cursorily read up on Baldwin, you'll know that he is one of the more famous writers and activists of the Civil Rights era," Fuschen said. "And at the same time, he is a person who is disappearing from American classrooms. He's being taught less and less, and I was introduced to his work far too late in my life. I feel that I would have benefited a lot from reading Baldwin a lot earlier from when I first did."

Other works in the Chicago Fringe Festival that touch upon gender and sexuality include:

—Jen Freeman as Po' Chop performing Black as Eye Wanna Be, a burlesque look at oppression and victory concerning African-American women musicians throughout history.

—Rose Freeman as Alrosa performing Er'Man, an interactive vaudeville-inspired work picking apart the medieval morality play Everyman.

—Siobhan O'Loughlin from Everything is Everywhere performing Natural Novice, a exploration of a women's identity through her hair style.

—Kayla Lane Freeman & Sara Faye Richmond performing Angle Boots: absurd miniature memoirs, which aims to explore issues of feminism, body image and sexuality through surreal performance art of the 1960s and '70s.

The Chicago Fringe Festival, presented by Blue Moon, runs Aug. 28-Sept. 7 at these five venues: Stinking Onion Stage and Deep Dish Stage ( Congregational Church of Jefferson Park Gymnasium and Meeting Hall at 5320 W. Giddings St. ), Ketchup-less Stage ( The Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee Ave. ), Lake Effect Stage ( Youth Company Chicago, 5340 W. Lawrence Ave. ) and the Early & Often Stage ( Magnolia Banquet Hall, 4751 N. Milwaukee Ave. )

Entrance is a one-time $5 festival button purchase, and then each subsequent performance is $10 each. There are also multiple show passes available with five for $45, 10 for $80 or an unlimited admission pass for $175. Each venue has its own box office before performances, though the box office for the entire festival is at Fringe Central, also known as Fischman's Liquors, 4780 N. Milwaukee Ave. Fringe artists and performers receive 100 percent of the ticket sales they generate by their appearance. For more information, visit .

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