The last thing you want to do in September in Seattle is rush indoors to see a show.

September is the most perfect of months here; it's summer as the poets intended it to be. It was with some trepidation that I gave up two of my rare perfect weekends to see as much theater as my brain could digest. A body can only take so much theater, and experimental theater, well, there's a limit on how much of that a person can be expected to tolerate. But I'd committed, I was going to see the Seattle Fringe Festival this year. Theater and plenty of it, that's how I was to pass the last two fine weekends of September.

I was not the least bit sorry. It was totally worth it. I had a great time.

Seattle has hosted a Fringe Theater for 12 years. . . In previous years, the Festival has been in February, when there's no weather enticing you outside, but this year the board decided to reschedule the Festival for September so that it didn't conflict with the Festival up the road in Vancouver, B.C.

The Fringe Festival takes place in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, home to punks and queers and artists and families and working folks and people just like me. It's (I think) the best neighborhood in the city. Capitol Hill hides a number of independent theater houses in former warehouses, basements, back alleys, and some venues that were actually built to be theater houses. I found myself walking through loading docks, climbing creaky back stairs, and squeezing in to rickety ancient elevators to enter the nine venues that hosted more than 500 performances of independent theater acts.

When you have 500 performances to pick from, there's no one good way to decide what to see. I opted for the Russian roulette approach and picked each show at random, based on how it fit in to my schedule. I opted for a Friday night, a Saturday matinee, a Saturday night, a Sunday early show, and, if I could take it, a late Sunday afternoon show. My goal was to squeeze in five shows each weekend, but I didn't quite make it. I saw eight shows total. Still, if you count the one show I saw that was actually four short plays, that jacks the number up to 12.

There are those who'd consider my commitment lightweight. Some folks take it upon themselves to see at least one show daily for the run of the eleven day Festival. Shows are performed until late at night and many of them are quite short. It's not unreasonable to try to see three shows a night. And it's not expensive - a pass for five shows cost US$40 dollars this year. Single shows ran between seven and 15 dollars, and the Festival offered a number of 2 for 1 shows, making it all that more fun to bring a friend.

Seattle Fringe
Festival Venues:

1. Northwest Actors Studio, 1100 E. Pike 2nd Floor (enter on 11th)

2. Northwest Actors Studio Cabaret, 1100 E. Pike 3rd Floor (enter on Pike)

3. Union Garage #1, 1418 10th Avenue

4. Union Garage #2 (back theatre), 1418 10th Avenue

5. Odd Duck Studio, 1214 10th Avenue

6. Theater Schmeater, 1500 Summit Avenue

7. Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue

8. Freehold Studio, Oddfellows Hall, 1529 10th Avenue, 2nd floor

9. Chamber Theatre, Oddfellows Hall, 915 East Pine, #419 (4th Floor)

So what's at the Fringe? What's a theater-goer to expect? Everything. Sex and violence, plays for kids, inscrutable surrealist productions - you can find all of those things. There are amateurish productions that make you pray that someone will set something on fire just so you can get out of the 45 minute play 40 minutes early. There are marvelous productions of classic theater. It's all there any variety of theater you can imagine and some you can't.

I saw two plays that made me wish I'd chosen to go to the dentist instead of the theater, but the other six were totally worthwhile. One of them won the "Best of Fringe" award. Best of Fringe plays are given encore performances after the Festival is over and they're a good choice for people who'd like to catch some fringe theater but can't decide for themselves what to see. But again, don't expect traditional theater. The show I saw that won was weird, obscene, funny, crazy, and audience members who are offended by sexual references and profanity would do best to stay away.

In the two weeks after the festival, the average temperature has dropped a good 20 degrees and it's started to rain. The October skies are each day more spectacular, but September remains my favorite month here. Now it's not just the weather that makes Seattle the place to be in September. September is Fringe Festival time!

Interesting Links - Official Fringe Festival Web Site. - My favorite group at the Festival, your mileage may vary. They staged the award winning "Letters to Wendy's" and my other favorite, "The Book of Job." - Just one of the many outstanding locations to see independent theater in Seattle. There's also the Northwest Actor's Studio, Freehold Theater, Theater Schmeater (a personal favorite, not only because of their live renditions of classic Twilight Zone episodes), the Union Garage - to name a few.

By Pam Mandel, Seattle Correspondent.


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