5th Annual Pittsburgh Fringe Festival returns to the Northside for 3-day long celebration of exploratory art

By: Neil Strebig

Sometimes a dose of the abstract, the unconventional – the fringe of society – can be a good thing, for both audience members and performers.

David Lawson believes nothing else has brought “art, tech and cultural war” together quite like video games. Gaming technology creates an escape for players, but it also has become a massively important avenue of inspiration for artists and creators, alike. To him, that borderline between reality and fictional universes has unintentionally opened a connection with hot-button issues like gun violence. So, Lawson uses a risqué joke as the best way to break through the tension of the subject matter and open up that conversation.

“It is really about this huge question [between] video games and the cultural wars. Do they really negatively impact young people’s minds,” said Lawson during a phone interview. “And it’s hidden around the joke, ‘which Super Mario character would you want to have sex with?’”

Lawson’s solo show, “No Oddjob” explores the growing strain between video games and cultural wars. He acknowledged that festivals like the upcoming Pittsburgh Fringe Festival have helped offer him an outlet with the freedom to showcase his show, his art and his passions.

“Fringe is inclusive and gives them [artists] the opportunity to perform where they traditionally wouldn’t be able to,” said Xela Batchelder, executive director of Pittsburgh Fringe Festival.

The Pittsburgh Fringe Festival is back on the Northside this weekend Friday, April 6 to Sunday, April 8 with over 30 performances in five Northside locations throughout the Allegheny City Central, Historic and East Deutschtown neighborhoods. “[The Northside] community has been very helpful and supportive,” said Batchelder.

The Fringe Festival is a celebration of exploratory artists that wholeheartedly embrace their artistic expressions and encourages an equally inclusive and adventurous audience in “non-traditional theater” settings, according to Batchelder. Shows vary from indie rock, one-person performances, hypnotists to well – anything that pushes the creative envelope.

Guests can watch historically relevant shows like the award-winning “Falkland – The War the World Forgot”, a performance that takes a touching, look inside the lives of families and individuals affected by the less-publicized Falkland War in 1982. Or enjoy lighter acts like Peter Michael Marino’s “Show Up,” a one-man performance that combines Post-it notes and audience participation to divulge trivial and cliché moments in everyday life.

Peter Michael Marino will perform “Show Up” this weekend at St. Mary’s Lyceum. Photo by Alicia Levy

“Fringe is a great place to do something that wouldn’t be seen in a commercial setting,” said the New York-based Marino. “The show would not exist without the risk you can take at a Fringe [Festival].”

Marino, a veteran solo performer, has been consecutively touring Fringe Festivals for about five years now and noted the new performance was a chance for him to “shake things up” and explore something “different” with the genre. His show is a split between scripted performance and audience-induced improvisation.

The Fringe Festival aims to capture the abashed spirit behind transformative art. It can be humorous, absurd, informative and at times it can be confusing. But most of all it should be intrepid. And that’s part of the allure.

“Every time I got to a Fringe, I get inspired,” said Batchelder. “It really does spark the creative juices.”

The Pittsburgh Fringe Festival runs from Friday, April 6 through Sunday, April 8. Full weekend tickets are $95, single sessions range from $8 to $15. St. Mary’s Lyceum in East Deutschtown is the festival headquarters, guests will be able to purchase tickets, maps and access additional information there during the duration of the festival. For a full listing of shows or to purchase tickets, visit the festival’s website.

In addition to St. Mary’s Lyceum, participating venues include Allegheny Inn, Allegheny Unitarian Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church, Alphabet City, Nova Place and Teutonia Männerchor.