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Anything goes at the first-ever Tampa International Fringe Festival

Nancy Kenny's one-woman show follows a woman emerging from solitude of her comic books to the thrills and spills of a roller rink in Roller Derby Saved My Life. The Canadian writer and playwright has also produced a documentary, On the Fringe. Both the film and play will run at the first Tampa International Fringe Festival, held in Ybor City May 11-14, 2017. Courtesy of Nancy Kenny.
Published May 12, 2017

Transforming Ybor City from abandoned warehouses to the bohemian, artsy district it is today took decades.

Another quantum leap in that direction could take just a weekend. The Tampa International Fringe Festival, a brand-new event, aims to turn revelers into repeat customers for what could turn out to be the most eclectic group performers this area has ever seen.

That's what fringe is, and why the free-form, anything-goes style is growing. You never know what you're going to get.

Trish Parry, one of three former University of South Florida theater students who co-founded the festival, acknowledged some jitters as more than 100 performers representing 29 shows set their sights on Tampa for the event, which runs today through Sunday at several venues.

"This is definitely the biggest project I've ever been involved with," Parry said.

It began to take shape three years ago with the encouragement of an old friend, Jobsite Theater's producing artistic director David Jenkins. Parry and fellow USF alumnus William Glenn sold out Tampa's New World Brewery with a two-actor show, A Brief History of Beer.

"We began talking then really seriously about, 'Wouldn't it be great if Tampa had its own fringe festival?'" Jenkins said.

Billed as "Tampa's first open-access, uncensored, international fringe theatre festival," TIFF did not require performers to audition. Performers secure their spots by lottery. Shows last an hour and run three times over the weekend. Artists keep the money from ticket sales.

This year's offerings include a play about the Falklands war (Falkland), a comedy about theme park actors (Callbacks), a dark comedy punk cabaret singer-songwriter (Mock$tar) and a variety show (Tyler's Time Out).

Organizers placed TIFF just ahead of Orlando Fringe (Tuesday to May 29), the longest-running fringe festival in the United States, and at the earliest end of a festival trek across the United States and Canada, culminating in September in San Francisco. The goal, Jenkins said, is "for this to become a destination on the touring circuit."

"And that helps the region," he said. "That helps tourism, it puts people in hotel beds, it puts money into Ybor City and into artists' pockets."

Here's what five of the contributors had to say.

Nancy Kenny: Roller Derby Saved My Life

Genre: Solo comedy

What it's about: An introvert who reads comic books in her apartment gets into the wildly competitive world of roller derby.

Inspiration: "It's metaphorically autobiographical," says Kenny, 36, a native of Bathurst, New Brunswick. "I wasn't as withdrawn as the character in this show. But I turned 30, and I think people re-evaluate around 30."

Payoff: Skating around the area before festivals, handing out fliers and selling T-shirts. She's going to meet the women of Tampa Roller Derby, a league that includes the Tampa Tantrums, the Tampa Bay Bruise Crew and the Black Widows. Kenny's documentary film about festival life, On the Fringe, will also be shown this weekend.

Timothy Mooney: Breakneck Julius Caesar

Genre: Solo comedy

What it's about: A stripped-down version of the Shakespeare play, reinterpreted at warp speed.

Inspiration: "As I dove into the play, I came away with how little they had on Caesar, other than they were afraid he might become a tyrant. They decided to kill him before he had actually done anything wrong. … The more I studied it, the more I felt Shakespeare doesn't really agree with Mark Antony's perspective."

Payoff: "As the narrator, I'm kind of just me, giving my own kind of snarky perspective on the play as it flies by, diving into different roles, squeezing in all of my favorite quotes."

Karissa Barber: Masterwork

Genre: Two-character drama

What it's about: After marriage and three children intervened, Katherine rediscovers painting and gets a gallery show. "She's trying to balance that part of her life with staying home with the kids. How do those two things work together?"

Inspiration: Barber is an artist and actor who lives in Lakeland with her husband and children. This is her first play.

Payoff: "Just (write) and it will come to you. I've gotten feedback from artists and playwrights, what was working in the script and what was not working."

Staci Sabarsky: Dark Vanilla Jungle

Genre: Solo drama by British playwright Philip Ridley, directed by Sabarsky

What it's about: Marie-Claude Tremblay plays Andrea, whose childhood abandonment and neglect have left her with cravings for paternal love.

Inspiration: "When I first read it I was terrified. I said, 'There's no way I can do this.' My husband said, 'You have to do it because it scares you. It needs to be told by a woman.' "

Payoff: "It's so difficult but it's rewarding too. It makes you really questioning and uncomfortable, mesmerized and transformed in some way." Sabarsky plans to start a theater company, Innovocative Theatre, in Tampa.

Ladell Thomas: The His-Tory of the Magical Majestic Mr. Ocean

Genre: Solo dance

What it's about: Born 29 years ago in Trinidad and Tobago, Thomas moved to Brooklyn at age 8. Entirely self-taught, he has mixed the styles of his native country with hip-hop and physical comedy. Between his popping Robot and the Ticking Clock moves, Mr. Ocean enjoys "small movements, waving, imitating water." This is Thomas' first festival performance.

Inspiration: "It's something I ended up teaching myself how to do in order to impress a girl, and it turns out to be my life's dream."

Payoff: "For me to be a part of this festival is a dream come true. Ever since I have heard about the fringe festivals, I have been anxious to put my show in one. It's great to finally get that opportunity."

Correction: An earlier online version of this story misspelled the name of Staci Sabarsky's theater, Innovocative Theatre.

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