Staunton is known for its eclectic art scene and nowhere is that captured better than at the two day Shenandoah Fringe Festival that kicks off this weekend in the Queen City. So-called “Fringeketeers” showcase their work in a demonstration of the town’s artistic muscle. WMRA’s Jessie Knadler caught up with the festival’s “Grand High Poobah” Carmel Clavin for a preview.
'ShenFringe,' as it’s dubbed, kicks off this Sunday and Carmel Clavin, a longtime performer and producer, would really prefer to sidestep the whole Murphy’s law thing.
CARMEL CLAVIN: You can’t get sick! No dairy for the next seven days!
Upstairs at the Kettle performance space in downtown Staunton, Clavin is wrapping up a final meeting with her technical director of the second annual Shenandoah Fringe Festival.
CLAVIN: It depends on my mood. So on all of my ShenFringe communications it says Directrix and Grand High Poobah Extraordinaire.
If you didn’t get that, Clavin is the brains behind the two day festival, a showcase of theatrical performances by magicians, dancers, DJs, clowns, actors, vaudeville historians, even shadow puppeteers drawn to Staunton’s oddball art scene. Collagists, painters and photographers are in the mix as well. One artist plans to erect a tower downtown and sit on it for 24 hours draw attention to homelessness. The disparate acts are an outgrowth of Clavin’s own eclectic performance style.
CLAVIN: I’ve been a belly dancer, henna artist, singer, actor, living doll, stage fighter, costumer, I’ve worked medieval fairs. I realized I like to do all the things and no specific place is enough for me. So I realize that if I want to do all the things then I need to work in vaudeville.
One actor coming to ShenFringe is Heather Massie of New York City who will be performing her one woman show about 1930s film siren Hedy Lamarr. A lot of people don’t know this, but Hedy Lamarr was also a brilliant inventor.
FADE UP HEATHER MASSIE AS HEDY LAMARR: I see the failings in the operations of the stoplight and I designed one that will operate more efficiently and safely for the modern driver.
Lamarr co-developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes during World War II. She invented technology that’s still used in cell phones to this day. Massie, who has won awards for her performance, was drawn to Lamarr because they both share a background in science.
MASSIE: I went to the University of Virginia for astrophysics and got my theater degree from Virginia Tech. Hedy just didn’t fit into the regular mold. She wasn’t what people expected.
Clavin says it’s hard to imagine the festival anywhere but in Staunton.
CLAVIN: Staunton has been growing its arts community for years and years and years, like decades. The community is here and the patronage is here for the arts. The festival works beautifully here because the pump has already been primed.
The festival runs from Sunday to Monday.
CLAVIN: We do it on a Sunday and a Monday to address the fact that there is an entire population of people who work retail, service and hospitality who don’t know what a Saturday-Sunday weekend is.
She says attendance to Monday’s line-up last year dipped slightly from Sunday but not by much. And a lot of the patrons who turned out paid with cash.
CLAVIN: Which means to me, having worked in the service industry for so long, that means, great, we’ve got bartenders, waitresses and strippers. Like, excellent!
Fringe Button holders are also invited to a couple of parties Sunday and Monday nights post performances. There’s the “B.S. Awards” Sunday night where performers walk away with ridiculous prizes for distinctions like “Mostly Likely to Poke Out an Eye,” which are made up on the spot.