Starting Tuesday, Portland will be briefly and absolutely awash in new, experimental, and edgy works of theater — more than 60(!) shows to be staged in a little under a week. You've probably heard that from June 26 through July 1, the city will host the Portland Performing Arts Festival and several concurrent Fringe festivals. You might not yet have heard about the full range of their offerings and the myriad dramatic media they employ, from marionettes and live chickens to found soundscapes and video art, and from campy show-tune remakes to chocolate and magic cakes. Cumulatively, it all represents one hell of a theatrical force. Our listings offer a full schedule; here is an explanation of the phenomenon's structure and a look at some of the theatrical pleasures it presents us.
Puppets in Come and Go
The PPAF's featured theatrical production is Thumbs Up, a new play developed and presented by the artists of the Celebration Barn, South Paris's acting, miming, and juggling Mecca. In this "cosmic love letter" to Maine, which stars Amanda Huotari, Kavi Montanaro, Ian Bannon, and Kelly Nesbitt, a young woman hitchhikes north and east from Portland, encountering a slew of archetypal Mainers before winding up at a clam shack in Machias. After its world-premiere production as part of the PPAF, which also supported its development, Thumbs Up hits the road on tour. (For more on this and other PPAF events, which include music and dance performances, go to portlandfestival.org.) Tickets are available at PortTix, included as part of a $135 pass that grants access to all PPAF events — though not, it should be noted, any shows that are part of various Fringe festivals happening alongside the PPAF.
The Fringe is, in fact, bigger than the festival it surrounds (or perhaps overwhelms). Here's your guide to the vast array of additional theatrical events taking place on those "fringes," including an "official fringe" organized by the PPAF, a slew of individual productions, as well as the multi-company PuppetFest and Kids Fringe, and finally PortFringe-12, a vast line-up of shows organized and promoted by the newly founded Portland Theater Collective. (Every group that's doing anything Fringe-related — as well as arts groups putting on shows that week — can be found at portlandfestival.org/performances-fringe). The Fringe one-offs and festivals, each of which handles its own reservations and ticketing, will run at performance venues all over Portland.
PUPPETFEST, KIDS FRINGE, AND ONE-OFFS
As part of PUPPETFEST, at Mayo Street Arts, Reuben J. Little will conjure a dark waterfront for his marionette fisherman in Audio Sketch Series; Peaks Island Puppets will stage the story of Solomon and Ashmedai; and Libby Marcus and David Robinson present the exquisite brevity of Samuel Beckett's Come and Go, with marionettes. MSA also hosts Ian Bannon of Figures of Speech Theater, who will throw Indonesian puppet shadows for the Jester Kings of Java, and Zach and Dylan Rohman of MotionFolks, who will stage Reynard the Bear. And in their own mini-fest across town, unaffiliated with PuppetFest, Oak Street Studios showcases the homemade puppets of their young students.