There are an impressive number of artists—and arts organizations—in Tucson: theaters for performing artists, galleries, dance companies, musicians and orchestras.
But according to Michael Fenlason, who is one of the founding members of the STRADA Company, a new arts venture—or adventure, is a more accurate description from this observer’s point of view—these groups, established or new, tend to work on what Fenlason and his compadres think is an outdated paradigm. That means that they use old-fashioned ideas about how to reach audiences, which, Fenlason says, often leads to potential audience members sinking deeper into the couch at home, and plenty of creative folks without the means to get their work out into the public.
These organizations, says Fenlason, former artistic director of the late Beowulf Alley Theatre downtown, have a “’if you build it they will come” attitude.’” But consumers of the arts, he says, have a myriad of options these days to get their art fix, including digital arts featured on the internet. He thinks the paradigm is changing, and STRADA is seeking ways to discover and develop what this different way of doing things might be.
“We’re really not ruling out doing a show in a proper theater and all that. Right now we are working on a flash mob musical, and we will take that into a venue that is not meant specifically for that purpose. A live performance is not the same as seeing something on the internet. So you have to show up where people are and do it there. There will be less formality and people can see that the arts are really DYI.”
So as the word strada—which means “street” in Italian—suggests, the company will be taking the art it creates or fosters to the streets. “We will be literally thinking outside the box”—that box of a specific place to perform, says Fenlason.
With its commitment to an unconventional approach to art-making, it’s only appropriate that we will see STRADA make an official debut at the fourth annual Tucson Fringe Festival.
Fringe Festivals have been springing up all over the country, and they have a very particular identity. They are intended to provide an opportunity for artists to showcase their work, which would otherwise not be possible because of the production costs involved or other difficulties. And it gives curious observers a chance to see some unique works they wouldn’t see otherwise.
“It’s a place for artists to experiment,” says Catfish Baruni, who pulled off a well-received performance piece at last year’s festival. “It’s accessible and open. The pieces are not juried. We just have to pay a small application fee.” And if there are more applications than slots on the performance roster, they are chosen by lottery, pulling the names out of a hat. Really.
Baruni is returning this year with a rowdy and wicked re-envisioning of a tale by Mark Twain, "The Facts in the Case of the Great Beef Contract." The original story was first published in 1870 in “Galaxy” magazine, says Baruni.
Each year the audience numbers have grown, according to Baruni, and the offerings get better and better.
So it’s a perfect spot for the efforts of the new STRADA Company. One piece, “Hers and His” will feature Fenlason and Toni Press-Coffman. The other STRADA production is “a comical bit of anarchy,” according to the press release, called “‘Time, Gentlemen, Please’ which follows the life of a comic who suffers chronic depression.”
This year the Fringe offerings will rotate at Fluxx and Club Congress.
Both Fenlason and Baruni think there’s really an audience in Tucson for the experimental. “We’ve already outlasted Phoenix’s Fringe Festival,” Baruni says proudly.
The 4th Annual Tucson Fringe Festival
Venues: Fluxx, 414 E. 9th St. and Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St.
$7 for each show; $10 for 2 shows; $40 for Festival Pass