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A Fringe event weathers the storm in fine style

It was an interesting time at Glenwood Park in Ashland on Saturday afternoon when I stopped by to review “Was it the Wind?” The outdoor performance piece exploring spaces and sound was mounted by interdisciplinary artists Erin Bednarz and Zoey Cane Belyea for two performances during the 2018 Oregon Fringe Festival (OFF) hosted by the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University last week.

Developed in 2014 by Southern Oregon University students, OFF is a boundary-breaking platform for creators making unconventional work in unconventional spaces. A celebration of “zany, alternative forms,” OFF is an opportunity for artists to experiment with forms not found in traditional gallery and theater spaces.

Glenwood Park — a small greenspace about a block from the university in the neighborhood above Siskiyou Boulevard — served as a one-acre-plus performance arena in which Bednarz and Belyea (along with a troupe of multidisciplinary artists who were not identified, as there were no onsite program notes) made good use.

Several uncontrollable scenarios made their job a challenging one. There was a torrential downpour at the very beginning of the piece, and a steady rain that continued throughout. There were — either by design or by mistake — insufficient earpieces for the audience, which made it difficult to have a fully immersive experience. There was also a charming but loquacious Australian cattle dog in the attendant crowd, who seemed to want in on the act.

With all of these factors taken into account, the performance was adequately challenged but still managed to come off rather well, with the troupe making good use of the terrain to work through a series of creative expressions that included contemporary dance, a love story between a male and female pair who engaged each other in an elegant mating dance, a solo dancer who moved beautifully through a different section of the park, and what appeared to be several artists who operated in a witnessing capacity. Patrons were encouraged to integrate themselves into the performance space, although most elected to stay safely pinned under a tree on the southwest side of the park — the driest and best space from which to watch the unfolding show.

Powerful classical music was interspersed with brisk, high-velocity, unintelligible language and drumbeats. Spoken word, recorded voices and additional ambient, electronic and experimental music set the tone as actors dispersed into areas of the park in displays of feral animosity, sometimes climbing and then dropping from trees, at other points crouching in the bushes or re-emerging to run a significant distance to come together as a group.

Movement was reminiscent of work of Twlya Tharp, White Bird and others, but outside of that, the process seemed fairly original in concept and execution. Despite a complicated set of circumstances, once the downpour lifted somewhat to a steady drizzle and the performance began to wind down, I was left feeling relaxed, contemplative, and intrigued.

Bednarz is founder of new play accelerator “Umbrella Project” out of Seattle and has worked as a sound designer with Intiman Theatre and Cornish College of Arts, among others. She has worked prolifically as a sound designer, producer, performer and model. She will be designing sound for Seattle Repertory Theatre’s 2018 “Mac Beth” as adapted by Erica Schmidt.

Belyea was a founder of the Young Americans Theatre Company in Seattle. She studied theater at Tulane and Seattle University. She has performed with fringe and regional companies in Seattle including Book-It Rep, Seattle Shakespeare Company, upstart crow, Pony World, Live Girls! Theatre, Annex, Theater Schmeater, and others. She is currently the interim education director at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum in Ashland.

— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com.