A look at the 2015 Charm City Fringe Festival

The fourth annual Charm City Fringe Festival kicked off last night with a launch party at Liam Flynn's Ale House, where participants and festivalgoers enjoyed live music and preview performances selected from the festival's 23-production, 12-venue lineup.

Officially commencing on Sunday, Nov. 8, the festival runs through the following Sunday, Nov. 15, with theater, improv, music, comedy, dance, and other performances at multiple locations in Hampden, Mount Vernon, and Station North.

"The sheer variety really excites me," writes Charm City Fringe co-founder and president Zachary Michel via email. "We have dance again for the first time in three years with 'Dancing Ophelia' [a performance inspired by the women of Shakespeare's plays from local ensemble Trajectory Dance Project at Gallery 788], comedy with 'The Wedding Party' [a play by Megan Dominy and Mimsi Janis, also at Gallery 788], and all sorts of other acts across genres."

Among the brief preview performances, "Ebon Kojo: The Last Tribe" from Baltimore music-based performance art collective Afro House stood out. Afro House artistic director Scott Patterson summoned intricate, futuristic tones, playing the piano mostly one-handed, while reciting a poem about a mind-altering space mission.

Each year, the festival has roughly doubled in size. The 2015 lineup includes nine Baltimore companies and eight from out of state as far as the Midwest. Seven companies are returning from previous Fringe Festivals, including Baltimore Improv Group, which has been involved with Charm City Fringe since the beginning and will perform at their headquarters at the Mercury Theatre, as well as Terrault Contemporary.

Brooklyn-based writer, performer, activist, and playwright Siobhan O'Loughlin, a "Best of Fringe" award winner in 2013, brings her internationally touring solo show "Broken Bone Bathtub" to a "secret" Hampden location (address will be shared upon purchase of tickets). There, O'Loughlin explained at the launch party, exposing the colorful cast on her arm, she will perform her play in a bathtub, nude.

D.C.-based conceptual artist Brian Feldman will perform his private one-man show "Dishwasher" in people's homes, where he will wash their dishes and subsequently read from any monologue of their choosing. At the Mercury Theatre, Feldman will also perform "#txtshow," in which he reads live Tweets from audience members.

Also on the program is the premiere of "Kerrmoor," a play written by and starring UMBC professor Susan McCully and jointly presented by Baltimore's Strand and Interrobang (last year's "Best of Fringe" winner) theater companies at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Mount Vernon. McCully plays an estranged mother who returns to her small, insular Appalachian home town, where her distant daughter, played by Katie Hileman, prepares to undertake the grisly ritual that drove her mother out years before. The play, which is a part of the Women's Voices Theatre Festival as well as Charm City Fringe, evolves from a coded picture of Appalachian life to a disturbing horror story of superstition, sacrifice, and atonement, touching on the pervasiveness of racism and patriarchy even in the smallest, most isolated communities.

"By writing 'Kerrmoor,'" McCully writes in the production's program, "I've attempted to embrace my people, not to celebrate them, but to explore the cost of glorifying a certain kind of rural American mythology."

As is the mission of Charm City Fringe, all performances come from DIY or community companies and independent artists.

"As many people tell us, Baltimore is 'fringe,'" writes Michel. "I think it's valuable to embrace and celebrate that, because the fringe is where new ideas and concepts are created and grown. Fringe arts are a place where audiences can know they're going to get something new and exciting, and the artists have a space where they can create and perform and cultivate new works... I think that's the biggest thing, Fringe, as a festival, gives a collective platform to elevate these arts and ideas and shed a light on new ideas."

For more information, visit charmcityfringe.com, or read the digital Charm City Fringe Festival program here.

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