Friday, August 26, 2016

IndyFringe16: "Short Fringe Theater" Gives Local Artist Courage to Press On

IndyFringe, while it features many professional artists, is still at its heart an incubator for new artists and new performance pieces. IndyFringe is constantly evolving to ensure that these new voices and new stories have a place to grow. 

This year marks the inauguration of "Short Fringe," an intimate performance space inside the beer tent:

"Every night we present a new, unjuried bill of 15-minute performances. Brilliant monologues? Plays in progress? Comedy improv? Cabaret singers? Avant-garde dance? Drag? Bring an open mind because we have it all!

"On weekends, we just double the performances and the fun! Kids shows--including magic, puppets, and storytelling--fall on Saturdays on Sundays.

Every Sunday night is a juried 'Best of the Week' of Short Fringe performances, and the last weekend is the juried 'Best of the Fest,' with a few wildcards thrown in."--IndyFringe program

We were pleased to check out a couple of these performances opening weekend. One was a polished piece by Les Kurkendaal of West Hollywood, who brought his story from his tour with The Moth. With just a microphone in hand and no props or lighting, Kurkendaal gave the delighted audience a chance to feel what it would be like to attend a Moth story event in New York City. 

On the flip side, we saw a local artist who used her time slot to pitch and refine a show she's been dreaming of doing for the past couple of years. In When You Marry, A Look at 1940s Propaganda Aimed at Women," (a working title) Janice Hibbard read from an actual text book that belonged to the Indiana School for Girls, and offered a comical yet thought-provoking commentary on the messages women have been sent through the decades, and how the echoes of those messages can still be heard.

Hibbard shares some very "helpful" advice that was administered to prospective brides of the 1940s at the Short Fringe stage.

I got to sit down with Hibbard and discuss how she came up with the show idea and how the Short Fringe stage has helped her refine her vision.

"For a long time, I had this vision of a show about housewives from the 1950s, riffing on the old instructional videos aimed at women of the time. I wanted to write about how women felt about constantly being reminded how to be a 'respectable woman,'" Hibbard began.

"But something wasn't gelling in my idea. Then I found this book back stage at a local theater, and we all started reading it and laughing hysterically, except it wasn't funny when you actually thought about it. I got to thinking of how I would have felt as a young woman or girl who wanted to please my teachers and parents, and how I would have received these messages. That's when I got the idea to do a one-woman show about this book and similar propaganda and intersperse the narrative of the book with my own ideas of what it's like to be married," she continued. 

The idea of doing a one-person show began to take root in Hibbard about a year ago. "I watched my friends and contemporaries leaving established theater groups to branch out and go solo, and I started to feel ready for such a challenge. When I heard what Fringe was doing this year with the Short Fringe stage, I took a deep breath, and signed up for a slot.

"Before I took the stage, I started grappling with doubts and fears. 'What if this flops? What if people get mad that I'm reading out of a book? What if they hate what I'm doing or think that I'm confirming the messages of these instructional books--or think that I'm making fun of marriage? That's not what I'm doing. I'm just wondering how these women felt; I'm exploring that." 

After her performance, she shared some thoughts on how performing the piece-in-progress helped her.

"I got immediate response on what parts got a reaction from people. I'm getting a better feel for how to structure the show. I feel encouraged to press on."

When asked what her next step will be for this piece, she replied, "Write. Edit. Finish. Perform." As an actor, director, and stage manager, Hibbard is well connected in the local theater scene and has a few theaters she'd like to approach. "I've also been checking out other Fringe festivals that are reasonably close to Indy," she added.

Born and raised in Munster, Indiana, Hibbard moved to Indy to attend college. In 2006 she bought a house on the east side, where she lives with her husband, Eddie. 

Hibbard has been involved in theater all her life, from performing in community theaters around Munster as a child, to teaching piano lessons as an adult here in Indy. After graduating college, however, she began to feel that her options as a performance artist in Indy were limited to just a handful of theaters, which frankly did not always perform works that compelled her. For about five years, she feared she would never get to do the type of meaningful theater she'd dreamed about her whole life.

"But around 2010, things started shifting in Indy. New, independent theater groups started popping up all over town. I got involved with Q-Artistry, and through their New Plays Festival, I was able to write and stage my first play. (Imaginary That, IndyFringe 2012). Since then I've volunteered for every role there is in theater--not just acting, but directing and stage managing. I find the Indy theater scene to be very accepting, and there's a lot of collaboration between groups--we don't seem to have rivalries or bad blood among different groups at our level. I've grown so much the last few years."

When she's not busy with theater, Hibbard can be found at CitYoga, Half Price Books, or Books-a-Million. She loves Indiana and says she can make a vacation out of simply going to Bloomington for the day to take in the charm and visit the bookstores. Her favorite place to hang out is the Sinking Ship in SoBro because of its incredible vegan options. Next to theater, she loves nothing more than relaxing at home with her husband and her dog, going on Netflix binges. 

Congratulations on facing your fears and taking the Short Fringe stage at a moment's notice, Janice!

The future looks very bright for emerging local performance artist/writer Janice Hibbard.

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