Summer theater in Maine usually means musicals.
With PortFringe, a multi-day theater festival in downtown Portland, it means edgy and experimental performances that celebrate local creativity.
The festival runs through Sunday with drama, musical comedy, improv and dance. All performances last less than 60 minutes, and are staged in clubs, theaters and arts venues across the city.
“It really is a celebration of all of the amazing work being done by actors, writers, directors and designers in the area,” said Deirdre Fulton, one of the organizers. “It’s high-energy, and I think more than anything it captures the theater’s community DIY mentality.”
That mentality is evidenced in venues for the festival: Geno’s Rock Club, Space Gallery, Empire, Mayo Street Arts and the storefront of Portland Stage Company.
This is the festival’s third year. It began in 2012 with about 40 acts, and has grown to nearly 60. This year, PortFringe adds a family lineup with a half-dozen shows appropriate for all ages at Mayo Street Arts on Saturday and Sunday.
Fulton is planning for big crowds. CNN named it one of nine fringe festivals to check out this summer, giving the upstart festival a boost of national exposure.
“We definitely hope that people come from all around the state, and even further afield from around New England,” she said. “The CNN coverage was obviously great.”
The festival represents the growing depth of the Portland theater scene. The city has long supported a vibrant theater community, with several established companies. In recent years, the city has seen the addition of a number of new theater companies, and the range of material has expanded.
PortFringe represents that growth, and brings together theater artists to collaborate and experiment.
A good example of that is “Fishbones: Crummies, Deadheads and Knights of the Road.” It traces the “sometimes true” story of Irving Stevens as he leaves his Down East home for the life of a wandering hobo during the Great Depression.
It’s a story told in words and music by Troy Bennett and Eric Worthley. Bennett is a musician and Worthley is an actor.
For “Fishbones,” they reverse those roles.
“PortFringe gives us the opportunity to try our hands at something totally new and a little outside our zones of comfort. Eric will sing a bit and I will do a little acting,” said Bennett, who lives in Portland and has been writing songs and performing for many years.
“I’m always telling stories, but they’re usually in verse and only three and a half minutes long. This project is letting me test my skills as a writer and a performer with a longer form of storytelling. The show will run just over a half-hour when it’s all said and sung.”
Another example of both collaboration and experimentation comes from Carl Currie, Nicholas Schroeder and Corey Gagne. Currie wrote the play “Serial Killers, Country Music and Pickled Punks: Joe Coleman in Vignettes.” It’s a biographical play about the artist Joe Coleman, a 1980s underground performance artist and painter in New York who became famous for his portraits of historical and counter-culture icons.
Schroeder directs it and Gagne acts in it.
It’s presented in a documentary style in a series of vignettes, and includes music by Caleb Couthard.
Currie is a newcomer to the Portland theater scene. He wrote and directed in previous PortFringe festivals, “but this marks the first time I’ve produced a piece, and I find the collaborative effort to be the most rewarding so far.”
Fulton said she hopes the festival exposes people to Portland’s edgier theater scene, and reminds them that going to see a play or performance doesn’t have to mean sitting quietly in your seat for two hours.
WHEN: Through Sunday
WHERE: Various venues around Portland, including Portland Stage Company, Space Gallery, Empire, Geno’s Rock Club and Mayo Street Arts.
HOW MUCH: Single tickets, $10; 3-show pass, $25; 7-show pass, $55; VIP pass: $125. Tickets available at Coffee By Design locations and at the door; cash only at Coffee By Design and at the door.
INFO & FULL SCHEDULE: portfringe.com