Featured

West Coast Wildfires Cause Great Concern

This is the post excerpt.

November 15, 2017 — BY JACKIE DANZEL
National News

Climate change is shown by the increase of natural disasters, but wildfires aren’t always nature’s choice. Research suggests four out of five wildfires are caused by people, including acts of arson and campfires gone horribly wrong. These deadly and horrifying occurrences are more frequent when the climate is hot and dry. To make matters worse, the forests near “at risk valuables” are making a steady supply of fuel (creating their own fuel). Plenty of forest management practices have been developed by generations of firefighters, native peoples and farmers— practices which are in some ways stunning the impact of a climate change on areas prone to wildfires.

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Actions being done to slow down or reverse a climate change are covered in this in-depth report. Sadly, this situation is getting out of hand, and valuable in the form of lives, natural resources and property are being lost during some uncontrollable wildfires. This  investigation reveals what is at stake for those effected by wildfires and the report issued by the scientific community.

 

  • In 2017, Los Angeles County experienced some of the worst wildfires in its history. This story gives real accounts from West Coast residents living next to the blaze.

 

  • firefighters-702890_1280.jpgExperts in design for fire protocol are continuing to perfect their patented, life-saving technology. Marvel over what experts in the South East US are doing to bring emergency workers home safe after battling blazes in this profile of modern-day American heroism. The back-up plan if fires get out of hand is known as The National Strategy.
  • people-2575608_1920Major natural disasters happen all over the world, but when they happen within national borders it seems that the solution at hand to deal with this crisis lies in organizing and planning. There are certainly ways for the Mid-Atlantic to get involved in this issue.

 

 

Behind the Mask: Advice for Actors with Alexander Scally

Acting advice from Alexander Scally in Behind the Mask interview series. Scally gives tips on building a company, character work, and information about his play being featured in Future Publishing House Anthology Series, Volume 1: Theatre.

Take some time away from warming up your voice to hear the tales of acting in Baltimore. Tales and tips on acting in this city are revealed here by UMBC alumnus Alexander Scally. He offered enough tips to make heads spin; if you get overwhelmed, remember to fall back on your training by remaining grounded, poised, and ready for anything that you read. Perfect.

My experience knowing Alexander started in college when working on a 48-hour play festival  that evolved into sketch comedy, then writing plays for the company he founded, Glass Mind Theatre Company. Alexander showed professional attitude, dedication, and ability to build memorable onstage personas. Today, Alexander is making an appearance this summer with Quarry Theatre‘s Meditations on Nationalism.

Alexander has attended the Fringe Festival “since year one.” His comedic one-man show, Building Your Emotional Home, is set to run as part of Nights on the Fringe on June 8th and 9th.

Do it because you love it… You have to really love it. I never understood performers who don’t love it. Go and do something else that doesn’t ask for your emotional and physical being at all times.

Alexander Scally

Tips for Acting in Baltimore

There are Baltimore companies that specialize in producing Shakespeare alone (such as Baltimore Shakespeare Factory and Chesapeake Shakespeare Company). For this reason, Alexander agreed that a professional actor ought to have a classical monologue prepared. Baltimore audiences enjoy contemporary work, as well. Getting musical numbers ready to perform should be part of the plan, since Alexander mentioned that plenty of musicals audition in Baltimore.

On the topic of being open for opportunities— Alexander agreed that staying non-equity will help you keep your options open while living in Baltimore. But a flexible schedule is just as desirable. Alexander said, “Keep your nights and weekends open for auditions and rehearsals. Any job with nights and weekends is not easy to manage.”

Advice on Material and Character Work:

Actors must keep tuning up their repertoire by taking workshops and classes, according to Alexander Scally. “Keep your material fresh,” he said. “Do it because you love it… You have to really love it. I never understood performers who don’t love it. Go and do something else that doesn’t ask for your emotional and physical being at all times.”

As part of his system for acting, Stanislavsky wrote, “In the language of an actor, to know is synonymous with to feel.” The actor must work with feeling like any other artist works with their materials, but the job of acting is to create, refine, and recreate a living person or character. Character comes from a Greek word (χαρακτήρας) meaning to engrave, stamp, or mark. Alexander mentioned that character work is especially successful in Baltimore since audiences enjoy unique, rather eccentric qualities. Characters, however, take commitment to reach their true arch.

Alexander’s show, Building Your Emotional Home, centers on a motivational speaker named David Mark Davids. The character was unveiled to Baltimore audiences during a vaudeville-style variety show called LAF*fest that was produced with the help of Charm City Comedy Project in 2016. Alexander and his wife, Caitlin Bouxsein, produced the premier of Building Your Emotional Home at Annex Theater in December 2017.

On building this character, Alexander mentioned, “It was about using structure [to become] familiar with his background. What does a motivational speaker do? You go out on a tour, do a structure based on a book they wrote, then there’s the [psychic] cold reads…”

Build a Company, Build a Show, Be Part of a Community

In a city that loves new, original pieces, writing and producing a show is a viable option. “If you don’t like the work you’re getting or not getting enough work, make your own opportunity. That was how Glass Mind came around,” mentioned Alexander Scally. In addition to founding GMT, he was the Community Engagement Director for four seasons.

Alexander was part of GMT when it was around and relevant in Baltimore, producing plays about the city. In 2015, the Baltimore Sun reported the company “focus[ed] on issues raised by the death of Freddie Gray and their the effects on the community.”

Alexander didn’t necessarily recommend sticking to acting in Baltimore exclusively since there’s always the option to audition online or travel. Alexander auditions and performs in New York City and Washington D.C., and he toured with Baltimore Rock Opera Society when the company took a show to Philadelphia.

Final Thoughts

The last bit of advice Scally left comes from being pushed for too much information. Actors have to know when to turn roles down, and they have to know when someone is asking too much of them… When Alexander was asked to summon one of his previous characters from a show called Meredith’s Ring, he did not do it. Instead, he calmly said, “I’m not your monkey,” and the night went on.

Find more from Alexander Scally in American Theatre in the Twenty-First Century: Absurd, Symbolic & Poetic Short Plays available through the publisher on their site here. You read more about this anthology of plays by visiting Future Publishing House’s official website.

This first anthology from FPH includes 12 short plays, including two plays written by Alexander Scally.

The premiere volume of Future Publishing House Anthology Series.

The anthology includes and index of topics, genres, and more, and there’s an introduction that’s written by the editor, and Behind the Mask interview series creator, Shaun Vain.

Unburned: Wildfire Safety Despite Climate Changes

The national headlines sputter a barrage of sad stories every time a flame gets loose, and every time a house burns down when the wildfires get out of control or when a person is caught in the flames, reports surge around the nation. It is an attempt to prepare the masses for consequences of a changing climate and keep people updated as scientists search for solutions.

FEBRUARY 12, 2018 — BY JACKIE DANZEL

In the summer of 2017, I turned to investigating wildfires in California and along the western states that are prone to the key ingredients of fire: dryness and fuel. Life on the West Coast is hard to come by without mention of the unthinkable road closures, families relocating, natural resources, and severe loss. The culprit being the forces of nature’s most destructive temper. In the West Coast, nearly everyone considering themselves to be a resident has a story about wildfires, some more upsetting than others. With every new wildfire in the area, a fear of uncertainty looms nearer. Each ember sparks a sense of responsibility in citizens to inform anyone who will listen about fire safety.

 

“You aren’t allowed to smoke here,” says a photographer to a few hikers. Out of breath from the uphill climb on the Hollywood Sign, he hangs his camera on one of the Wisdom Tree’s low-hanging branches. Despite his warning, the hikers keep smoking. They are facing South, away from where the wildfires torched parts of Burbank not more than a week earlier.

 

The national headlines sputter a barrage of sad stories every time a flame gets loose, and every time a house burns down when the wildfires get out of control or when a person is caught in the flames, reports surge around the nation. It is an attempt to prepare the masses for consequences of a changing climate and keep people updated as scientists search for solutions. Despite personal belief in climate change, or political affiliation, the value of human life is at stake, and nobody questions the appreciation for the emergency workers fighting fires. In the interest of preserving human life, the fire shelter is invented and used by all wood-land firefighters, but it is in need of funding if its design is going to improve.

BEHIND THE MASK: Michael Brush and Zachary Michel (Full Report)

Last week, I met with Michael Brush and Zachary Michel— the guys that started the Charm City Fringe. I first heard about Fringe when I was studying outside of the city, and I was excited to speak with people who were successful in the theatre business.

Last week, I met with Michael Brush and Zachary Michel— the guys that started the Charm City Fringe. I first heard about Fringe when I was studying outside of the city, and I was excited to speak with people who were successful in the theatre business.

The result is an exploration of their vision of how theatre in Baltimore has changed since Fringe started. We hear how they feel about the success of the nonprofit and its festival. They also explain some of their personal views on making a good show for Fringe and the importance of theatre as a form of artistic expression.

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Mike places his Buzz Lightyear book bag on the bottom step as he taps lightly on a window to signal Zach to let him inside the quiet Charles Village apartment. The two festival founders meet weekly to make tough decisions on shaping culture in Baltimore. Today, they peel back the mask to reveal what it’s like inside Fringe. What comes out as a result is a story of a growing resurgence. The festival they maintain offers rare pockets of live performances. Seven years in and Charm City Fringe Festival is still overcoming the struggles of a changing landscape. Working to strengthen arts communities in Baltimore is Towson alumnus and educator, Michael Brush. The other side of the founding duo that helps unify theater in Baltimore is the research and marketing focused graduate from UMBC, Zachary Michel. Together, they employ wit, intelligence, and creativity in the only way they know how. In the process, they are bringing artists together to share their stories with The Greatest City in America. The way they do it… is on the fringe.    

Mike places his Buzz Lightyear book bag on the bottom step as he taps lightly on a window to signal Zach to let him inside the quiet Charles Village apartment. The two festival founders meet weekly to make tough decisions on shaping culture in Baltimore. Today, they peel back the mask to reveal what it’s like inside Fringe. What comes out as a result is a story of a growing resurgence. The festival they maintain offers rare pockets of live performances. Seven years in and Charm City Fringe Festival is still overcoming the struggles of a changing landscape. In the mean time, the local festival is preparing artists for the world’s largest fringe that takes place once each year in Edinburgh. Siobhan O’Loughlin is one of two companies to take a CCF award-winning show, Natural Novice, to the Scotland festival after showing at Fringe in Baltimore. 

Both of the founders took a few theater classes in college, but neither founder earned a degree in theater or business. Running a theater festival was something they learned through experience. It was during a downturn in his early career as a Baltimore County teacher that Michael Brush found his calling in Fringe. The other side of the founding duo that helps unify theater in Baltimore is the research and marketing focused graduate from UMBC, Zachary Michel. Zach now works in marketing, but he started out in education, as well, writing educational content for National Geographic. Together, they employ wit, intelligence, and creativity in the only way they know how. In the process, they are bringing artists together to share their stories with The Greatest City in America. The way they do it… is on the fringe. 

Michael Brush: Essentially, what we want to be able to do is take the community that already exists in Baltimore, the theatre community, and add to it. There are a ton of colleges in the area, most of which have theatre departments. There’s no reason for those students coming out of those theatre departments to leave Baltimore. We want to make a viable home for theatre in Baltimore. That’s the growth part. 

We run a professional theatre festival. We want to establish a professional theatre community… Not community theatre necessarily. [We want] a professional theatre community, so that developing companies that can sustain themselves. 

Beyond that is enhancing, improving upon the work that’s here. There’s a lot of really great theatre that’s happening here. We just want to continue to see it grow. Our thought has always been that the more theatre you put into the community, the higher you are going to raise that bar. Even if 80% of the work that comes in is not very good, that means that you’ve added 20% of that new work that is good. [It’s] that 20% of people we hope to keep around to enrich the scene on a whole. 

Zachary Michel: It’s not just flooding it with a number and seeing what rises to the top. It’s helping to cultivate artists so that they can rise to the top. There’s a direction there with the purpose of the Fringe. 

Shaun Vain: Speaking as someone who left Baltimore and came back to it because I saw that there was potential in Baltimore, I would agree about that being a stigma is in the theatre community in Baltimore. Do you feel like it’s changed since the Fringe started? How has the Fringe raised the bar already?

Zach: We’ve helped a number of artists produce their work for the first time and move on to produce again, to elevate their work, and to push themselves in ways they hadn’t yet done. I think, as a community, there’s still a lot of work to be done. It’s a challenge that we’re looking to face this year and moving forward. It’s how to unify the existing artists and companies and build out a larger, grander sense of community. 

I think that is one thing that is really challenging. 

We’ve helped a number of artists produce their work for the first time and move on to produce again, to elevate their work, and to push themselves in ways they hadn’t yet done.

Zachary Michel
(In terms of the Fringe's business model, the artist is a valued part of Charm City Fringe Festival, and each artist's needs are carefully managed throughout the festival. My recent experience working with the festival as a venue manager proved this to be evident. Indeed. I found that my purpose at Fringe last fall was to keep artists comfortable with the venue and help artists troubleshoot any issue that came up. The artist relations during the festival is well-oiled and a moving part of Fringe. Caring for artists is a challenge and a privilege that the founders pass down to each individual assisting during Fringe.)

Zach: As far as individual successes, we’ve had two companies produce world tours— or go to Edinburgh, at the very least. [They went to] Edinburgh, Scotland, for the International Fringe. We had Ron Kipling Williams publish his first book following his participation in the Fringe Fest. Interrobang Theatre Company founded themselves in the Fringe. They are now entering their fourth year. 

We’ve had a number of out of town artists come into Baltimore, and look at the community, and actually get really excited. One thing we’ve done is cultivate a really welcoming festival atmosphere and experience. While we are a smaller, more modest-sized fringe festival, we do work really closely with the artists. And they’ve really embraced how much they can learn on the production side of things. 

This past year, every artist was written about. A number of them were featured on the news and things like that. I think getting more artists coming from out of town and really strong productions coming from out of town is a testament to people coming in and having a positive experience. 

(At this point in the interview, I believe Zach was alluding to Fringe hosting its first international group from Canada in this past year's festival. In 2017, of the 23 groups that produced shows for Charm City Fringe Festival, only 10 of those groups were local from the state of Maryland. Mike and Zach go on to share their views on reasons why Charm City Fringe Festival is attracting artists.)

We’re going into year seven. We’re starting to become and institution.

Michael Brush

Mike: We offer an easy entrance platform. Zach talked about some companies that kind of got started in fringe. It really is an ideal place to get underway because you have this opportunity to produce a work for four or five performance and it costs the company $300. It would be nearly impossible to find a venue for a week in Baltimore for $300.

Zach: Then, you attach front of house and even a nominal amount of marketing and you’re looking at quite a bit more, or an enormous volunteer team.

When we first started, Zach and I had no experience in Baltimore’s theatre at all. We had some experience in theatre and some experience in writing. But we mostly had a desire and time to make something happen.

Michael Brush

Mike: It’s a great place to get started and learn what it takes to produce a performance. We’re going into year seven. We’re starting to become an institution.

Zach: (acknowledges this)

Mike: There is just a knowledge within Baltimore now, at least within the Greater-Baltimore theatre community that there is a fringe festival here, and it does exist, and it is a place where you can go and produce some work.

We’re becoming more active in the Baltimore theatre community discussions. We’re more confident in talking about what the Baltimore theatre community is. When we first started, Zach and I had no experience in Baltimore’s theatre at all. We had some experience in theatre and some experience in writing. But we mostly had a desire and time to make something happen.

One of the first things we did is go to as many theatre companies as we could find and ask them if they thought this was a good idea, if they thought this was something that would bring value to the community. For the most part, across the board, everyone thought it was valuable.

The longer we’ve been here, the more people we meet. The more success the festival has, the greater the responsibility we have to the community and the more responsibility we can take on within the community.  

(In addition to speculating why Fringe is appealing to artists and how the Charm City Fringe Festival is changing form to an "institution", Mike told me his advice for artists that are leaving university life.) 

Mike: Reach out to the companies that are around. I think immediately of places like Single Carrot and BROS. and even Everyman [Theatre], to a degree. Those are organizations that have capacity to answer your email, or to answer your phone call, or just sit down and talk to you. If you can find a way to communicate or get in touch with some of those smaller companies, that’s awesome. Because you can get your foot in the door early with them, audition for their shows, or just help them in some capacity.

I think one of the great things about Fringe is we had really no business starting a theatre festival.

Michael Brush 

In so many case, those really small companies are spending 99% of their time trying to get something to get a production together. They may not necessarily get back to you right away if you are reaching out to be a part of their company, but if you go to a place like Single Carrot or go to a place like the BROS., you are going to meet a ton of people who are also working on their own projects.

Zach: That’s one of our goals, as we mentioned earlier: to unify and create a larger sense of community. Because I think there are some companies who are growing similar to us. They’ve been around for as long or longer. Single Carrot, BROS., Iron Crow, even Everyman, Arena Players probably. There are a number of them. The challenge is knowing they exist. 

I think that reaching out to the existing community is one of the best moves, and see how you can fit into that. 

Mike: Obviously, you can reach out to us directly, to the Fringe Festival, to folks at the Fringe.

Shaun: Do I have to be a theatre professional, or have a theatre degree?

Mike: Absolutely not. No. I think one of the great things about Fringe is we had really no business starting a theatre festival. We had a background in theatre, but it wasn’t an extensive background in theatre.

Zach: No background in starting a business.

Mike: Absolutely none. No. (He pauses briefly.)

We’re super open to working with people from all ilks and from all backgrounds. The desire and the commitment to being a part of what we’re doing is really what’s important, at least from my vantage point.

Zach: Passion almost comes first. Passion in theatre and having an interest in growing a community and building it out.

[We’re] bringing some great artists out the woodwork [that live] in Baltimore. And [we’re] bringing artists out of the woodwork into Baltimore from other states. Having that passion to put on a great festival is first.

Honestly, I’d say that even if you’re going to another theatre, you have to be passionate first and foremost. You’re not getting a fat paycheck or a good pat on the back. It’s a passion project. It’s a labor of love. 

Shaun: That’s great. That gives us a really good idea of what types of artists are attracted to the festival. 

Zach, you had mentioned how the Fringe establishes a strong theatre— or is helping to establish a strong theatre district. I don’t want to misquote you… You had mentioned that Baltimore doesn’t have a strong theatre district yet. Where would you see that potentially planting itself?

Zach: The historic theatre district was the Bromo Arts District, which is where we are. So it’s only coincidental. The case would be the same whether we were there now or not. I think that’s the natural place. Station North is working to do that, but the Bromo already has the spaces. It has the historical reference point. 

(The Bromo Arts District is "anchored" by the Bromo Arts Tower. You are liekly familiar with seeing the tower on the drive into and around Baltimore City. It's the lovely clock tower located between Oriole Park and Lexington Market. The tower is home to over 30 artist galleries, theatre collectives, music and poetry venues, and more. They have an open house once each month where the galleries open their doors for everyone and anyone to visit for free. 
In order to welcome Charm City Fringe Festival to the neighborhood in 2017, the Bromo Arts District created its very own walk of fame called "the Star Walk." The Bromo District's website calls it "semi permanent signage installed between all the venues [in] the Fringe festival". These stars were placed around the Bromo Arts District to honor Baltimore-born celebrities Jada Pinkett Smith, David Hasselhoff, Chick Webb, Thurgood Marshall, Ira Glass, Tom Clancy, and many others for contributing to the continued notoriety of the legendary Charm City.)


Zach: That might be the biggest sign we’ve had so far of our success in building a community is activating those two blocks this past year. It was the first time we had a visible and substantive step towards a vibrant theatre grounds. 

Shaun: What do you mean when you say, “activating those two blocks”?

Zach: Those blocks were vacant, largely. And had little to no businesses occupying them.

Mike: The 300 and 400 blocks of Howard Street.

Zach: Yeah. And so we went in and rented four different spaces and seven stages, including our headquarters. For those two weeks, we had 23 different productions. Plus, our after parties and late night affairs, opening and closing. It’s that kind of atmosphere, I think, that changes people’s perceptions of the area. It can give people a new vantage point of how a space can be used and utilized. 

As much as it’s a goal of ours to develop the companies in Baltimore and the artists, I think it’s just as important to give a space where people can perform their art. Of the companies that we named earlier, only two of those have their own spaces, Single Carrot and Everyman. For us, to be able to find a place that’s consistent will also help that. You’ll get theatre in a consistent space for at least two weeks out of the year. Ideally, you can bring other artists in, and maybe they rent those spaces out in the interim. 

As an arts district, it’s in their best interest to point things in that direction.

 

Anthology of short plays, edited by Shaun Vain. Available through Future Publishing House.
(Some of the buildings were in poor condition before Charm City Fringe gained access to prepare the venues for use in Fringe. One of the spaces was actually used for training employees to work at CVS; before Charm City Fringe entered that particular space, it was set up to look like the store with red-orange walls and a fake pharmacy, but it was left to waste. Flipping the spaces around to be repurposed once again is one of their interests in working with the community. 
I ask Zach if artists are using the spaces after the Fringe rehabilitates them. This is right before Mike states his interests in what audiences gain from new theatre experiences in the Bromo Arts District.)

Zach: I wouldn’t say we rehabbed any of the prior spaces until this year. We were using spaces, for better or worse, we didn’t put rehab time into [them]. They were actively being used in Station North. Here, in Bromo, about half of the spaces are completely new. They’re being re-purposed for theatre.

Mike: One of the things I’m really curious about is how many first time theatre goers we see, and year-over-year, how many people are coming back? If you saw your first ever live theatre production in the 2017 Fringe Festival, how many pieces of theatre have you seen between the 2017 and 2018 theatre festival? And how many productions are you coming to see in 2018? Are we bringing people?

On top of that— Are we actually developing an informed and well-seasoned base of audience members? There’s a lot of data we have to sort through to find those answers. I would be really fascinated in trying to compile that. 

I do believe we’ve seen our audiences grow.

Excerpts of this interview appear in the introduction to American Theatre in the Twenty-First Century: Absurd, Symbolic & Poetic Short Plays, edited by Shaun Vain. Read more about this book on the publisher’s website.

Shaun: Grow in terms of numbers?

Mike: Also in terms of their ability to take in new things. We do audience surveys each year. This year I noticed a few people saying, “We came back this year and saw some of the best work we’ve ever seen.” Well, is that some of the best work you’ve ever seen compared to what you saw last year? Or because our work is actually getting better? Or because you know more about theatre now, so you can pick out the good things from the bad things more easily? That’s something we’re working to develop as well. 

That’s not necessarily something we can put a huge focus on, but it’s something I think is a byproduct of developing the companies and developing the festival as a whole.

Shaun: All very good to hear. This is my last question, then you guys can say whatever you’d like. When you describe the perfect Fringe show, what types of details would you share?

Mike: My perfect Fringe show would be one that leaves me feeling an emotion. That’s super vague. It’s a Fringe show, so I have no idea what to expect going in. I leave with a very real identifiable thought and emotion about what I just saw. It doesn’t necessarily have to be good. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the most incredible performance I’ve seen. But what’s most important is it’s making me think and it’s making me feel. I think back to two years ago when we had… What was the name of the company that won our “Best of [Fringe]” two years ago? Not this past year, the year prior. A couple people from North Carolina who were very lovely.

Zach: Oh! Panda Head Theatre.

Mike: Yes. Panda Head Theatre’s… Um…

Zach: The Great Invention.

Mike: The Great Invention. That was the name of it. There was no dialogue. There were noises made between the two people. But it was incredibly inventive. They used lamps and batteries, and a shopping cart. That was pretty much all of their props.

Shaun: Wow.

Mike: And I smiled throughout the entire performance with the exception of one moment where I came very close to crying because the connection between the two people was just that real. After the show was over I was so happy. I was so pleased. I couldn’t help but think about how those two characters just told this entire story, virtually through pantomime. It made me ecstatic to be alive. It was an awesome performance!

All of [the winners] have similar things in common, which is a really awesome and different perspective on a story you might already know.

Zachary Michel

That’s the type of thing we want to promote. We want everybody to see and come away and be like, “Ah yeah! ****ing live theatre is great!”

Zach: Overall, we had some of the best theatre we had ever seen over 10 days. It’s a testament to a number of things. People are pushing themselves to put on great art. I’d like to think we’re doing a good job preparing the artists for those shows. 

The quality of the art has been going up each time. Speaking to this year’s winners, Luscious Robinson‘s You’re in Danger was amazing. I think, for me, in most art… [like] Mike said, it’s having a reaction. For me, sure, that’s part of it. But what garners every action is story. Not every time, but it’s story or something wildly [inventive]. I was fascinated by You’re in Danger. It was great story writing, great acting. 

Big Thank You was great as well. That was the Hallucination Project. Two years ago, when Panda Head Theatre won, we also had a production from the Hallucination Project called Yo, You Be Trippin! which was phenomenal, as well. I think it had a chance to win that year, but it was up against a lot of great art. 

All of [the winners] have similar things in common, which is a really awesome and different perspective on a story you might already know.

Yo, You Be Trippin! was a devised piece told in Seussian-rhyme. It was the story of Timothy Leary, who was the psychologist who used LSD and used it on test subjects, and the Swedish chemist who invented it. It was a story I hadn’t known much [about], but, also more so, it was told in Dr. Seuss rhyming patterns with the Cat in the Hat portraying Timothy Leary. So it was like this completely fresh look at storytelling.

Then you have You’re in Danger, which was a one-person show that brought the audience into the living room, theoretically onto the stage with the character. That was great storytelling and acting at its finest. 

I think that’s what’s exciting about theatre on the whole and what’s most exciting about Fringe—is that it’s the fringe of an already kind-of-experimental art form— an experimental medium. And Fringe allows you to really dig into that. We’re getting some of the best artists from out of state. And artists in state are really challenging themselves and rising to the occasion, too.

Shaun: Thank you Zach and thank you Michael for taking the time to talk about Fringe and theatre in Baltimore. Do you have any closing thoughts you’d like to add?

[W]hat’s most exciting about Fringe— is that it’s the fringe of an already kind-of-experimental art form— an experimental medium… We’re getting some of the best artists from out of state, and artists in state are really challenging themselves and rising to the occasion, too.

Zachary Michel

Mike: It’s really interesting that the work in these festivals makes you kind of reexamine what you think about the medium on the whole. A long time ago, Zach and I saw this devised piece.

Zach: (laughs at the thought) Yeah.

Mike: That was mind-numbingly awful. But three of the pieces that Zach just spoke highly of were devised pieces. All three devised… For a long time we had this sort of [idea] about devised work.

Zach: We thought it was self-indulgent and…

Mike: It can be when it’s not good.

Zach: Any theatre can be. It’s like any art.

Mike: The festival forces you to reexamine what you think about the medium on the whole. [For example,] a lot of people have a certain perspective or perception of one-person shows. But our winner this past year was a one-person show. And it was unlike any one-person show I’ve seen in my life.

Zach: Yep.

Mike: I think the biggest takeaway for me is when you go to a fringe festival— at least when you go to our Fringe Festival— you really have to let your guard down and take advantage of the things that are there to see. Because there’s a really good chance that your mind will be blown, or your perception will change about what you’re seeing.

The festival forces you to reexamine what you think about the medium [of theatre as a] whole.         —Michael Brush

Zach: Yeah. I mean, I challenge people to come out because I’ve had people remark on how their perception is that theatre is a dying industry, or that it can’t be an industry to compete with film because film is so prevalent, whether it be movie, cinema, or TV streaming— It doesn’t matter. There’s this perception that theatre is inaccessible or that it’s hoity-toity. Or that it can’t exist in the same plain in a culture that has film.

But I think, [when you] come to the Fringe [because], like Mike said, it’s going to open your mind. If you come open minded, it’s going to change your perspective on what theatre can be and what performances are. 

Because [theatre] capitalizes on your imagination, it can actually be more expansive than something on screen.

Zachary Michel

There’s just no comparison to what you can do on stage… You can do more in a lot of ways [in film] because you have visual effects and things like that. But you’re also really hemmed in by a camera. Whereas on stage, it’s a completely different experience. Sometimes that experience can be more visceral. Because it capitalizes on your imagination, it can actually be more expansive than something on screen.

On screen, if you want to have an imaginary world, you’ve got to show it. You’ve got to show all of it. If you’re doing a play, play’s are closer to books than they are to cinema in some ways. Because you’re imaging it, so the world is only limited by what your mind is capable of. I think that’s why theatre has so [many] more possibilities. 

The plays that we described as being the winning plays didn’t have million dollar budgets. They might not have even had thousand dollar budgets. They were still the most evocative things. And their world building was incredible because they gave you enough to then build off of in your own head. Then, you really came away with this amazing interactive and engaging experience. 

Theatre capitalizes on your imagination, which cinema can never do. [With film, there’s] someone in a room telling a story on screen [making it] really hard to captivate people. There’s a reason you don’t have that. But you can do it in theatre. You can hear sometimes better stories than you can on screen. Because you don’t have the crutch of special effects, of different camera angles.

(The meeting continued after I put away my notes and bid the guys farewell. They continue to discuss the events planned for Charm City Fringe and those still in the works.)

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“Behind the Mask” created by Shaun Vain is an interview series. This series was featured on Charm City Fringe’s blog, and excerpts have been used in the short play anthology available here.

Look out for an upcoming stories featuring theatre artists, Charm City Fringe Festivals winners, and other interesting people who play a valuable role in Baltimore’s theatre community.