Five years ago, a group of theater lovers looked around Grand Rapids and saw a lot of community-wide events centered around specific themes such as LaughFest and ArtPrize. And this group decided it was time for Grand Rapids to host a community-wide event for theater.
Thus the Lake Effect Fringe Festival was born.
“Can you believe it?” wrote Mary Beth Quillin. one of the organizers and a member of GEM Theatrics, in announcement about the upcoming event. “The little theater festival that could is now celebrating five years at the Dog Story Theater.”
During those five years, the event also has grown from mostly weekend events during the month of February to programming throughout the month, and this year, has expanded into the first weekend in March.
Week day events include Comedy Outlet Mondays performing every Monday at 7 p.m. during the Festival. Also during the week is The Brutal Sea’s presentation of “Love & Semiotics,” a new play written by Kimberly Snyder and directed by Alex Michael Cook. The production, set for 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 8 and 9, is about a young woman who is visited by a novelist’s ghost and is forced to confront her relationship with reality and herself. Due to language and themes, the production is for mature audiences only. Christopher Van Der Ark is set to do a reading form “Collage of a Dystopian Midwest: a play by various authors” Feb. 22 at 8 p.m. and local playwright Stephen Douglas Wright will read from “The Ghost of Jimmy Dean” March 1 and 2 at 8 p.m.
There are several Wyoming and Kentwood participants in the festival including members of the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company, who performed “Titus Andronicus” last weekend. Coming up, Kentwood resident Ann Celeste Cloyd directs the Blue Star Players’ production of “36 Questions,” where two college seniors attempt to replicate an experiment to create real love in a laboratory setting on themselves. “36 Questions” is at 8 p.m. Feb. 18 and 3 p.m. Feb. 19.
Also from Kentwood is the Hole in the Wall Theatre Company, a Commedia Dell’Arte group that will present “The Whole Vine Yards” at 8 p.m. Feb. 25 and 3 p.m. Feb. 26. In this tantalizing tale, the diVonstro family vineyard has slowly been going bankrupt over the last three generations, and Modestina, the current head of the estate, is at the end of her financial rope. Then a mysterious box with a treasure map is discovered with everyone from the vineyard owner to the neighbors to the servants racing to get their hands on it.
Other productions throughout the month include:
One of the original LEFF participants. The University Wits, returns this weekend, Feb. 10 – 12, for Yasmina Reza’s dark comedy “God of Carnage.” Four parents come together to “calmly” discuss the fight between their children, but as tempers flair and neuroses collide, the night evolves into disturbing and hilarious mayhem. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.
Also this weekend are two songwriting workshops, the LEFF Songwriting Workshop with Julia Yob from 1:30 – 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, and the two-hour musical-writing workshop M.Y. Musical World at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12.
The following week, Feb. 16 and 17 at 8 p.m., Art by Ellis will present “The Bald Soprano,” the classic French farce that launched Theatre of the Absurd a half-century ago. Directed by Roger Ellis, the story centers around the Smiths who entertain and insult their guests the Martins, who can’t remember whether they actually know each other.
Since the festival’s inception, GEM Theatrics has wrapped it up and will do so again this year March 3 and 4, with the West Michigan premier of “Chapatti,” by Christian O’Reilly. The husband-and-wife team of Gary E. Mitchell and Quillin play two lonely animal-lovers in Dublin. When Dan (Mitchell) and his dog Chapatti cross paths with Betty (Quillin) and her 19 cats, an unexpected spark begins a warm and gentle story about two people rediscovering the importance of human companionship. Show times are at 8 p.m.
LEFF performances are all at the Dog Story Theater, 7 Jefferson SE. Tickets are $14/adults and $8/students and seniors. Comedy Outlet Mondays tickets are $5 each. For more information, visit www.dogstorytheater.com.