Catherine Siller in "The Reveal," streaming as part of PortFringe 2021, June 12-19. (Courtesy PortFringe)
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If the last year has left you ready to take the edge off by bringing the edge on, so to speak, you can now rejoice: PortFringe, Maine’s own wild and wonderful fringe festival, is back and raring to deliver a brand new slew of experimental, scrappy, genre-exploding, beyond-the-box shows. 

Works on tap include an ode to the altar of the American fridge, a Mr. Rogers spoof set during the apocalypse, a “Hamilton meets Maus” musical about a Holocaust survivor, and a DIY exorcism. And it’s all available on your favorite screen, wherever you may be.

After a coronavirus hiatus last year, PortFringe celebrates its 10th birthday this month from June 12-19, with 21 short works presented in a new and ultra-safe format: filmed in advance and grouped into programs of three shows apiece, these new works will stream in seven all-digital “fringe-on-film events,” as live watch-parties. 

When PortFringe organizers began building out the “fringe-on-film” premise as a pandemic, said James Patefield, PortFringe’s director of audience services and community engagement, they realized that they could amp up something that already set this fest apart from others: its programs of multiple short shows rather than individual full-length performances.

This format has long been a boon both for PortFringe audiences, who can take in a range of works in one sitting, and for the artists, who can more readily connect and build community. And this year, putting the lineups on film gave programmers more latitude for curating them for theme, length, and – in the interest of balancing local and out-of-state artists – PortFringe veterans and new-to-fringe performers. 

Megan Tripaldi in Polyphonic Theatre Ensemble’s “Feet: A Short, Sass-Quatchy, Mental Health Musical.” (Courtesy PortFringe)

PortFringe-21 Festival Event No. 1, for example, includes Khalil LeSaldo’s “Deepest Regrets,” a “love letter to all the weddings that we didn’t make”; Boston artist Catherine Siller’s multimedia dance show “The Reveal,” which explores gender non-conformity; and “Feet: A Short, Sass-Quatchy, Mental Health Musical,” from Portland’s Polyphonic Theatre Ensemble. Because each of the seven festival events screens four times over the course of the week, it’s actually possible this year to see every PortFringe show.

The pivot to film, made as a pandemic precaution, has become a source of fertile innovation and collaboration.

“It’s been really exciting seeing people who’ve identified primarily as theater performers flexing their muscles with film and filmmakers to tell really deep and innovative stories,” Patefield said. 

And film may now have a continuing role in PortFringe. Patefield said organizers have been inspired to think about how the fest can have more of a multimedia presence moving forward, which could be significant not just for artistic reasons, but because the brick-and-mortar footprint for live theater in post-pandemic Portland remains unclear. 

This year, so many of us have been missing being with other people, and PortFringe plans to get us together as best as possible online.

“Even before the pandemic, we were really leaning into the idea that PortFringe is so much more than performances,” Patefield said. “PortFringe is about community.” And so every night of PortFringe will see a live digital event to bring folks together, including a ghost story night and a fringe-inspired cocktail party.

As in previous years, PortFringe tickets come in a variety of sizes and flavors. A one-event base ticket price is $15, with a “suggested” ticket price of $25 and an “I Love Fringe” generosity price of $50 if you really want to share the love. VIP tickets, which get you into everything, go for $90.

The fringe-on-film format also allows for a new PortFringe Binge ticket, which gets you into a last-day-only PortFringe marathon of all seven programs (and your name on a wall, if you successfully complete the mission). And those who can’t make the real-time screenings will also be able to stream the programs on-demand through the end of June, at “pay-what-you-decide” prices.

Another great advantage of this year’s digital format is ease and range of access. “There’s never been a better time to jump into Fringe,” Patefield said. “Anybody anywhere can come to a show. And if you don’t like a show, it will be over in about five minutes.”

And even over the airwaves, you’ll also have a chance to chat with artists about their strange and fabulous work, in post-show Q&As that PortFringe hasn’t offered before.

“We really want to encourage that after-the-performance vibe,” Patefield said. “That’s definitely the intangible that everyone’s missing the most.” 

Megan Grumbling is a writer, editor, and teacher who lives in Portland. Find her at megangrumbling.com.

PortFringe 2021 runs online June 12-19. FMI and tickets, visit http://portfringe.com/.

Actor and singer Diana Huey will perform at the Ogunquit Playhouse Patio Cabaret June 25-27.

Live, in-person

• Theater will soon be officially back – and inside – at Portland Players in South Portland. The company comes back with a bang and much human devolution and chaos: its first show is Yasmina Reza’s acclaimed “God of Carnage,” in which two kids’ playground dispute becomes a much more disturbing throw-down between their parents. Benn May directs. The show runs June 11-26. Visit https://www.portlandplayers.org/.  

• For its summer season, the storied Ogunquit Playhouse created an entirely new open-air theater, known as the Leary Pavilion. The first show of the summer brings us the solace of the silly in “Spamalot,” which runs June 16-July 10. The Playhouse is also bringing back its Patio Cabaret, which features Broadway performers on select weekends for happy-hour performances. On June 25-27, Diana Huey (who played Ariel in the first national tour of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”) will sing and share stories of being a performer of color battling racism on Broadway.

• And if you want even more cabaret, check out the Kennebunkport Inn’s Club Cumming on the Coast: actor-singer-activist-club owner Alan Cumming brings his East Village cabaret bar north, where he’ll feature a rotating lineup of talent. While not cheap (every reservation requires a minimum $100 food-and-beverage tab), proceeds go to the Actors Fund, to support performers impacted by the pandemic. Visit https://bit.ly/3vXZhTL.

— Megan Grumbling