The Chicago Fringe Festival is back, and the many artists behind about 50 different lottery-invited stage shows are doing their utmost to get as many "bums on seats" as possible during its run from Thursday, Aug. 29, through Sunday, Sept. 8.
For instance, a "strip Q&A session" will conclude transgender performance artist and writer Rebecca Kling's latest show of personal experiences and humorous anecdotes called Get Ready for the Vagina Fairy.
"For every question asked, I take off an article of clothing," says Kling. "We go until there is either no time left, or no questions left. I just got back from the Minnesota Fringe, and I did end every show there naked."
Kling says her shows always incorporate a question session for people who might not have had much exposure to issues of trans-identity, and to provide a safe space for the dialogue to occur. Yet with Get Ready for the Vagina Fairy, Kling has decided to take things a bit further.
"Part of my attitude and realization this summer was that I had never seen a naked trans body outside of pornography or sex, and part of the way we normalize our understanding of other's bodies is by seeing them," Kling said. "As someone who is a woman, identifies as female, has breasts, presents as feminine, is 'ma'am-ed' on the phone and in coffee shopsalso has a penisthat's a body type that is usually only shown in media as a sexual object or an object of disgust."
Based upon her Minnesota Fringe experience, Kling has received a lot of positive feedback about her "strip Q&A." But Kling is slightly nervous about performing to a hometown crowd with more friends and family who will probably be coming to the show.
"I don't plan to modify the show for that, I don't plan to self-censor, but it will be scary in a different way," Kling said.
Kling is a veteran of the past three editions of the Chicago Fringe Festival, which were all staged in Chicago's largely Latino Pilsen neighborhood. This year, the Fringe has moved to a new Jefferson Park location centralized at Lawrence and Milwaukee Avenues (near the Copernicus Center and its sizable Polish population).
Far from seeing the neighborhood switch as a disadvantage, the Latino creators of two shows making festival debuts see the Fringe's new location as a way to reach out to different audiences.
Chicago-based Teatro Luna prominently features a lesbian relationship with its newest ensemble show, Generation SexGet Connected.
"If we were in Pilsen, it would have been a lot our community who already know about Teatro Luna," said Teatro Luna artistic associate Alyssa Vera Ramos. "It will be great to extend our reach and see what more people think."
Ramos is the lead developer and director behind the all-Latina ensemble-created Generation SexGet Connected, which is all about exploring how new media technologies and devices have forever changed the landscape of dating and relationships.
"It's really funny, but we also have some heart-wrenching stuff," Ramos said, adding that though the stories come from a Latina perspective, they truths they have to share are very universal.
As someone who attended the Chicago Fringe Festival last year, Ramos is looking forward to the vibrant community and sharing of ideas that inevitably occurs when you bring together so many creative theater artists.
Yet for out San Francisco-based Argentinean Silvio Menendez, the Chicago Fringe Festival will mark the very first time that he will be visiting the Windy City. This first chance to personally explore Chicago excites Menendez, though he will also have to spend much of that time promoting and performing his autobiographical show Entiende? (Do You Understand?).
Entiende? (Do You Understand?) is based upon Menendez's own experiences of working as a Spanish interpreter at a major San Francisco hospitalrecounting many harrowing patient experiences while humorously chronicling his attempts to woo and date a very attractive neurosurgeon.
"Chicago felt like a great place to showcase my show," said Menendez. "Every single person I've talked to when I've said that I'm going to Chicago has said, 'Oh my God! I love Chicago.'"
Rebecca Kling's Get Ready for the Vagina Fairy plays the temporary PB&J Stage, 5338 W. Lawrence Ave., at 10 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 29, 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1, 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 2, 8:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8.
Teatro Luna's Generation Sex: Get Connected plays the Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee Ave., at 10 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 29, 8:30 p.m. Sunday and Monday, Sept. 1 and 2, 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8.
Silvio Menendez's Entiende? (Do You Understand?) plays the temporary PB&J Stage, 5338 W. Lawrence Ave., at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8.
All shows are $10, plus a one-time $5 purchase of a Fringe Festival admission button that is required to gain admittance to all shows. Tickets can be purchased at the Fringe Central location of Fischman's Liquors & Tavern, 4780 N. Milwaukee Ave., and at all Fringe venues. Discounted multi-show packs and an all-access package for $180 are also available. Buy online and see a full schedule and venue list at www.chicagofringe.org .