Greg Kotis play will premiere during Fringe

05:00 AM, Sep 15, 2013

Greg Kotis (2013 Fringe Festival)/

Written By Catherine Roberts | Lead Local Editor/Life

Touring shows not to miss• JCC CenterStage’s official entry into the festival is New Eyes, a one-woman show by Israeli-American actress Yafit Josephson. She plays 18 characters from five countries as they view the modern world. Tickets are $16 for the Fringe performance at 8 p.m. Sept. 28 at the TheatreRocs Stage at Xerox Auditorium. Tickets are $18 to $26 for a second performance at 2 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Rochester in Brighton.
• Movin’ Melvin Brown (pictured above) presents a revue that spans the history of black music from the mid to late 20th century in A Man, A Magic, A Music — Live! at Geva Theatre Center. From Austin, Texas, Brown has been dubbed The Dance Man because he has a fusion of tap, juke, clogging, swing and contemporary dance in his show. Performances are at noon Saturday, 3 p.m. next Sunday, 6 p.m. Sept. 24, 9 p.m. Sept. 25, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 26 and 8:30 p.m. Sept. 27. Tickets are $16.
• Saakumu Dance Troupe is billed as one of the leading traditional/contemporary dance groups in Ghana, West Africa. This rhythmic group is led by the master of the Ghanaian xylophone, Bernard Woma, and its Fringe show will include repertoire from spiritual, ceremonial, recreational and contemporary African dance forms. The Saakumu Dance Troupe has shared world stages with Glen Velez, Maya Angelou and Yo Yo Ma. The show is at 8 p.m. Sept. 24 at Kilbourn Hall. Admission is $10.

Many who are part of the New York International Fringe Festival refer to the more recent part of its history as “P.U.,” or post-Urinetown.

That satirical musical about a capitalist who ends up controlling restroom use in a very down economy (and indeed of the musical theater form itself) started at the fringe fest in New York City. It ended up getting off-Broadway runs, then Broadway. Eventually, it won creators Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann a Tony for original score and Kotis another for the musical’s book.

There’s no doubt that the musical’s success brought more attention to fringe festivals as a vehicle to launch new theater.

Urinetown is the show that changed the way we look at fringe festivals worldwide,” says Sean Daniels, director of artistic engagement at Geva Theatre Center and director of a new Greg Kotis production that will premiere Thursday at the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival.

After that show, suddenly producers were scouting fringe. Theaters were using fringes to try out material in a way they didn’t before,” Daniels says.

The First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival, now in its second year, is ready to be a festival with its own breakout shows, he says.

Daniels can think of no one better than Kotis to lead the charge.

Kotis’ All Your Questions Answered, a show of shorts by Kotis, not only is Geva’s contribution to the Fringe, the production will open the regional equity theater’s Nextstage season and will continue through Oct. 13, two weeks after the Fringe ends.

A fringe festival is a great place to launch a new play because there’s “a sense of fun and play” that allows audiences to try out shows they normally wouldn’t gravitate toward, Kotis says.

Kotis and Daniels go back to the 1990s when Kotis was one of the leaders of The Neo-Futurists in Chicago and Daniels was co-founder of Dad’s Garage in Atlanta. The Neo-Futurists are known for short-form plays, and the two theaters had a collaborative relationship.

So Daniels has directed collections of Kotis’ short plays before. Notably, when Daniels was at the Actors Theater in Louisville, he directed Brink!, a collection of 30 two-minute plays about rites of passage that was an entry in the Humana Festival of New American Plays. Kotis was one of the six playwrights involved in the project. So were Peter Nofstreet, whose Bob Daniels directed last season at Geva Nextstage, and Deborah Zoe Laufer, whom Daniel is working with currently to develop Informed Consent, which premieres at Geva in March. No slouch, Kristoffer Diaz, 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, was also involved, as was noted playwright Lydia Diamond.

Kotis had never been to Rochester before his involvement in All Your Questions
Answered, but he says he has a family connection to the city. “Rochester to me is like that mythical place where my mom and dad started going out,” he says. The date between the documentary filmmaker and the photographer involved driving to Rochester for a film festival in the 1950s.

The project at Geva started with Daniels and Kotis picking a variety of short plays that Kotis had already written. Daniels and Geva decided to use its conservatory group of area college students and recent grads to build the final show, picking and choosing among the plays.

However, along the way, Kotis wrote even more material and several original songs for All Your Questions Answered. Daniels and the conservatory group are still working out which will make the final cut and their order.

So how do these short works meld together for the whole?

I think there’s a real struggle for us to wish that we knew everything, and the constant reassurance that we wish the universe would give us,” Daniels says. These shorts explore that theme through the work of the theater. For example, there’s the short in which two cops interrogate a playwright, who happens to be named Greg, about whether his plays are funny.

Daniels is impressed by Kotis’ material.

This has the potential to be produced forever, and Rochester is not only the first audience … the audiences become a collaborator in what this new comedy looks like,” he says.

The relationship between Daniels and Kotis will continue. Daniels is working with Kotis and Hollman on a musical called ZM, a subversive zombie musical commissed by True Love Productions, whose projects include Tony-nominated The Retreat from Moscow and Medea.

The piece, like others of Kotis and Hollman, is submerged in social commentary. The zombie state, in this case, is caused by all the chemicals in the the processed foods that we eat.