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Fringe festivals Gasp! and SexXx Dreams converge on Tampa Bay

What do you get when you merge burlesque, paint, poetry, dancers, jokesters, drag queens and peepholes?

In a word, fringe.

The days ahead are packed with art that doesn't fit into that narrow fjord called normal. Two collectives will meld every kind of art imaginable, plucking folks from mundane day jobs and replacing their khakis with corsets. And one cult classic stage play rounds out the weekend with rotund prom queens and a severed head on a plate.

But it's not all naughty. The bigger point of the fringe festivals is to expose fresh art that's going on every day to a bigger audience, organizers say, an audience that might be thirsting for something a little different. That could be you.

Read on for a peephole into all the action. If it makes you cringe, you can't handle the fringe.

Gasp!

You know about March's many Gasparilla festivals, the ones with movies and music. But the last gasp of the festival season will unearth artists on the edge, smashing them into one wild Tampa experience.

Gasp!, the Gasparilla Fringe Festival presented by Creative Loafing and the Tampa Museum of Art, combines everything from dancers to poetry to painting, meshing live performances with the museum's visual exhibition from Graphicstudio.

"It's inspired by the idea of a fringe festival where you never know what could be going on at any moment," said Creative Loafing editor in chief David Warner. "There are a lot of choices to make."

The event will be layered, with different showcases in different parts of the museum. But something will always be stirring in the in-between.

"I like what happens when a lot of kinds of art forms bump up against each other," Warner said.

Matthew McGee and Scott Daniel will open with their Scott & Patti Show, a revue in the style of Steve and Eydie. McGee performs in a giant blond wig and sequined dresses alongside the suited Daniel, and they croon glamazon staples like Love the One You're With, We Are Family and Hot Stuff, cracking wise the whole time.

You can catch two one-woman plays by Heather Jones, with Roxanne Faye as Salvador Dalí's wife in My Unspeakable Confessions: Gala Dalí Declines to Explain Herself, and Joanna Sycz in The Hoarder's Child. Post Dinner Conversation will do improv comedy, Ned Averill-Snell will present excerpts from Seamus Heaney's The Cure at Troy and Bridget Bean will appear as Willy Russell's working-class housewife, Shirley Valentine.

A retrospective of Graphicstudio's work at the University of South Florida over the decades is in the museum's galleries. For Gasp!, the studio is sending two master printers to the museum with a small demonstration press and series of little paper books, called chapbooks or Cordel literature, which originated in the 16th century. They made them at Graphicstudio just for Gasp! patrons.

A listen-and-look experience teams poets Erica Dawson and Peter Meinke with artists Jono Vaughan and Jeanne Meinke. The Meinkes — husband and wife — have collaborated on his volumes of poetry. Vaughan's drawings and paintings will be on the walls of a temporary space in the museum dubbed the Poetry Room.

If paint were a piano, Gustavo Llenas would be Jerry Lee Lewis. We don't know how he works in the privacy of his studio, but when he puts brush to canvas in public, he performs. Which he does (and has done frequently) during Acho Brother's gig on the terrace outside the museum.

Two dance companies will move in tandem with a video by Santiago Echeverry, a University of Tampa electronic media art professor, artist and curator. Echeverry knows his tech and uses it to inspiring visual effect in his own works. For Gasp!, he created a new video "inspired," he says, "by the Santeria religion and its deities — Orishas — that provide and receive blessings." UT students in the dance program will perform while it loops.

For the artistic version of making mud pies, you can claim an easel, paper, crayons or colored pencils (sorry, no paint for obvious housekeeping reasons) and create something of your own.

The creators of Gasp! are supporting the other fringe event across the bay. At the museum, you can settle into a private booth and getting a voyeuristic peek at St. Petersburg's SexXx Dreams as it unfolds.

If you go

Gasp! 6 to 10 p.m. Friday at the Tampa Museum of Art, 120 Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa. $10 in advance, $15 at the door. VIP $50 in advance, $60 at the door. cltampa.com.

SexXx Dreams

That peephole at Gasp! leads to a converted fire station in St. Petersburg, which will become a haunted cabaret club inhabited by some pretty sexy ghosts.

The creators are calling SexXx Dreams an "immersive sexperience." Instead of watching a story play out on a stage, the audience will journey through Station Number Three, opening vanity drawers, pulling out negligees, reading love letters and peering through, yes, more peepholes. Artist Laura Spencer, a graduate of the Ringling College of Art & Design, has curated a 50-artist show of erotic art (a genuine and respected genre) that's a match for the performance part.

As you follow the performers through the house, you'll learn more about their stories. The event is modeled in part after Sleep No More, the acclaimed interactive theater piece in New York with a choose-your-own adventure structure.

"As someone who is a practitioner of theater, I have always wanted to kind of break that wall between the audience and the actors," said Zachary Hines, one of the event's creators and one half of cabaret act Coco and Homo. "It's playing up the voyeurism, which is very much what SexXx Dreams is about."

Outside the station, performers will take a more traditional track on the main stage with live shows at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. But there's nothing traditional about the acts themselves.

Hines and Colleen Cherry will become Coco and Homo, "silly, trashy degenerate" characters raised, their story goes, by their lesbian nun aunts after losing their parents in a zany accident. The duo has joined an underground touring circus and now sings a glittering repertoire ranging from Tom Waits to Ke$ha to the Spice Girls to Britney Spears, some in a 1920s cabaret style.

They'll be joined by local burlesque queens Vita DeVoid, Franki Markstone and male burlesque star Addison Panic, among others. Hines promises nail beds and sword swallowing and fire handling among other risky antics.

Some of the artists have traditional lives by day — they work in auto parts stores and teach school, for example — but events like SexXx Dreams give them an outlet for total expression, weirdness and all.

"It allows people to express the truest part of you, or parts of you that you're normally afraid to express," Hines said. "It breaks down the boundaries of social norms. It provides that space where you can feel a little bit like a freak."

If you go

SexXx Dreams is 8 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday at Station Number Three, 2701 Fifth Ave. S in St. Petersburg. $15 in advance, $20 day of show. sexxxdreams.com.

Six Women With Brain Death, or Expiring Minds Want to Know

Across the horizon from Gasp!, some explosive headlines will unfold inside a dark theater. For example: Overweight prom queen candidate loses crown! Housewife keeps severed head on cake plate! Bambi goes haywire in forest with Uzi!

A cast of six women from the University of Tampa will wade through everything from TV soap operas to press-on nails to Barbie and Ken's secret fantasy life when the theater department tackles the campy Six Women With Brain Death, or Expiring Minds Want to Know.

The revue-style show with songs by Mark Houston is directed at UT by Karla Hartley. The loud, unabashed Six Women has a devoted following around the country.

"It has become this really crazy, sort of cult-feminist musical that has got this socio-political bent that pokes fun at a lot of the typical cultural icons," said Michael Staczar, chair of UT's department of speech, theater and dance. "It's a really contemporary perspective and it allows women to be themselves, to express themselves socially, politically, and not to hold back."

If you go The show is at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the university's Falk Theatre, 428 W Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa. $10 to $15; UT students and staff get in free. Tickets are only available at the box office. (813) 253-6243.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8716.

Fringe festivals Gasp! and SexXx Dreams converge on Tampa Bay 03/25/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 5:20pm]

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