Sold-out shows and sand art

A recap of Saturday at the First Niagara Fringe Festival



Katie Jo Suddaby creates sand art at Geva Theatre Center.

Danielle Preiss

Last night I was lucky to catch two sold-out shows: (585) editor Leah Stacy’s Intrepid and Fringe headliner Jay Pharaoh’s stand-up act. 

Intrepid features five pioneering female journalists: Nellie Bly, Ida Tarbell, Ida B. Wells, Mary Garber, and Martha Gellhorn, each taking a turn making sure the audience knows their big-deal contribution to the field. As a striving intrepid female journalist, I was ashamed to realize I didn’t know any of their stories. But I think Stacy would give me a pass, recognizing how these women aren’t nearly well-enough known. (Editor's note: Indeed. Pass given!) To change that, she gave each reporter her turn to tell her tale as the other four read silently onstage. With strongly symbolic props, the supporting reporters stepped in to punctuate a storyline, like the noose held up during Ida B. Wells’s telling of the lynching of her friends in Memphis and a row of chairs to represent the insane asylum where Bly went undercover.

On the way out of Intrepid I checked out Reverend Katie Jo Suddaby’s (of the Baptist Temple in Brighton) sand art installation. Suddaby makes sand art in the style of mandalas traditionally created by Buddhist monks. A layered geometric pattern that represents the universe, a mandala often tells a story of the Buddha. Monks use them as a meditation practice and destroy the art after completion to represent impermanence. Suddaby said she learned the art form both from Tibetan monks visiting Rochester and many hours on YouTube. I overheard her tell onlookers she’s meditating on the Ray Rice domestic violence situation and #WhyIStayed while creating her version: a Japanese-style image of birds on tree branches. (If that makes you curious, you can catch Suddaby in the Geva lobby starting at 5:30 pm throughout the rest of the festival.)

Later in the evening, I got my first glimpse of the Spiegeltent, an elegant circus tent, for Jay Pharaoh’s act. The border of Spiegeltent is lined with booths, while the main seating area is a full circle of seats around a circular stage. Both Pharaoh and opening act Jamie Lisson were a little unnerved by the set-up (Lisson even joked his next performance would be in a rhombus). 

If you’re a Saturday Night Live fan, you know Pharaoh from his spot-on impersonations of Shaq, Jay Z, and Obama, and others. Last night Pharaoh made a point of spinning around slowly to let all 360 degrees of the audience catch his cross-eyed Shaq, pausing just the right amount of time for effect afterwards. I’m partial to Pharoah’s Obama and thoroughly enjoyed the "President" awkwardly discussing his feelings for Kim Kardashian last night. Throughout the hour and a half set, Pharoah was frenetic, delivering voices, characters, and punch lines in rapid fire and filling the tent with a level of energy befitting 
a Fringe headliner.

Danielle Preiss is tweeting about Fringe, too: @DaniellePreiss.

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