FringeArts HQ goes to (Blue) Heaven this weekend

Sarah Squirm by Parker Day
Sarah Squirm
Parker Day

For all of its regular irregularities, there are two, solid annual rites of passage that occur before each year’s Fringe Festival.

The first comes with its pre-Festival Call for Artists, one that operates under a Bring Your Own Venue model and registering for the Sept. 8 – Oct. 2 festival. The second is FringeArt’s stand-up, improvisation and sketch comedy mini-fest that runs April 29 – 30 and features Philly fave Sarah Squirm, better known as Saturday Night Live cast member Sarah Sherman.

While FringeArts HQ’s Zoë McNichols, the comedy-focused curator of Blue Heaven, spoke on the laughs to be had this weekend, Fringe Festival’s April Rose provided insight on what artists need to know for September’s live gathering.

Both Fringe programmers, with Fringe boss and founder Nick Stuccio, have felt the sting of the pandemic on recent events, therefore utilizing digital programming to go with the live vibe for hybrid performances.

“That was the way we had to go to be able to experience this art, together, as a community,” says McNichols. “Our responsibility was, and is, to artists so to keep that ecology afloat, as well as to keeping audiences safe.”

With that, there was caution as to what could lie ahead for 2022’s planning and execution, especially now that the FringeFest had been extended, starting in 2019, to almost one full month’s worth of events.

“We’re very cautious as well as forward thinking in regard to our safety plans and what could occur for every possible outcome,” says Rose of forging Fringe-wise into the fall. As for the extension of time to the Fest programming, the additional weeks offers “more art and less competition – local artists are each other’s biggest fans, and we wanted everyone to be able to see each other, as well as Fringe’s curated events, all while avoiding performer burnout.”

One thing that has remained a constant for festival performers—and will throughout 2022’s FringeFest—is the removal of the fee for performing artists’ participation in the festival. “It used to be a $300 fee that artists would have to pay, one that Nick was adamant had to go away, given how hard hit those artists have been, financially, through COVID. As we hopefully move further out of the pandemic, that policy stays in place, which makes the fest more accessible for everyone.”

As for the Blue Heaven festival this weekend, the hardcore clowning Edinburgh Fringe favorite Zack Zucker’s Stamptown improv group (featuring comic performers Mary Beth Barone, Ali Macofsky, Robby Hoffman, Martin Urbano, Dylan Adler, Ashton Womack, GiGi Holliday, and Marcia Belsky) will take the stage April 29, before Zucker (“who also goes by his Jekyll & Hyde alter ego, ‘Jack Tucker,” states McNichols) goes his own way and hosts his Find Your Clown Workshop improvisational workshop.

“This workshop is a really good way to get your big red shoes wet and prepare for all levels of audience responsiveness,” says McNichols.

Then there is SNL’s 2022 season addition, Sarah Sherman, who appears at Blue Heaven under her performance art alias, Sarah Squirm, for an April 30 comic salon, through Philly’s Crossroads Comedy Theater with Shannon Fahey, Alyssa Al-Dookhi, Alejandro Morales, and yurdoivy.

“Sarah was part of the first two iterations of the Blue Heaven fest in Philly, took a year’s break, and wound up blowing up as this huge star,” states McNichols, enthusiastically.

Anyone who hasn’t witnessed Sherman as Squirm has a chance to check out the absurdity and sheer silliness in person this weekend.

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