CLEVELAND, Ohio – Art from around the globe will take center stage in Cleveland for this year’s BorderLight International Theatre + Fringe Festival, set to take place July 20-24 in venues around downtown Cleveland.
Those five days will be jam-packed. More than 45 different performances are set to take place in 12 venues, featuring many Playhouse Square stages along with less conventional spaces like Old Stone Church and a Wizbang Circus Theatre Tent.
Along with a variety of venues, BorderLight will feature a range of performances, including comedy, theatrical plays and “fringe”: unusual and experimental shows that don’t fit neatly into typical stage productions.
“We’re dipping into genres and geographies that are less visible here,” said Dale Heinen, a co-founder and co-director of BorderLight. “There are lots of fringe festivals around the country, but none are doing quite what we are doing here, which is bringing international and national work to our really robust local festival.”
For example, a lonely clown named Greta seeks a husband in the audience in Gabriela Muñoz’ performance “Perhaps, Perhaps… Quizas.” An interactive dance work called “Bees” was created by Australia’s Polyglot Theatre, and will be performed by Inlet Dance Theatre at the Cleveland Public Library’s Eastman Reading Garden. “The Walks” is an audio-guided walk developed in Germany, which directs listeners to experience its soundscapes in various locations like cemeteries and waterfront areas. A culinary performance called “Khuraki” will showcase Afghan female refugees in Northeast Ohio, cooking a meal for ticketholders.
Tickets are now available for BorderLight performances, ranging from $0-$45, and are available at BorderLight’s website, borderlightcle.org. International shows cost a little more, while local shows typically range from $5-$15. All of BorderLight’s 16 outdoor performances are free and open to the public, Heinen said.
An all-access pass is available to all BorderLight shows, for $230, and packs of four to eight tickets for fringe-only shows are available for $55 to $100.
The last time BorderLight took place was its debut in 2019, with plans to continue on a biennial basis. However, the coronavirus pandemic interrupted plans in the summer of 2021, when a spike of cases rose in Northeast Ohio, and the organization decided to move the festival to a virtual basis.
“It was awful to pull the plug on 2021 after such a great festival in 2019. Our first outing was big; it could have gone either way but it really succeeded,” Heinen said. “People didn’t want to necessarily sit at home looking at a screen on a June or July afternoon. We’re very happy to have the original idea in full, and slightly expanded from 2019.”
From its 2019 beginning, BorderLight’s 2022 festival has grown to include one more venue, a few more performances and an additional day of programming, according to BorderLight’s website. Heinen said that the festival received more performers’ applications, as word spread around the world.
Some of those performers were included in last year’s virtual fest – like Judah Leblang, who performs the one-person show “It’s Now or Never: My Life in the Late Middle Ages.”
Leblang, a Cleveland native who has lived in Boston for the past 30 years, wrote the play when he turned 60 years old. The show – which Leblang said is about facing his “inner critic” and exploring aspects of his life like his family, hearing loss and his sexuality – has been presented at other fringe festivals, and even won the “best of festival” award at Calgary Fringe 2019.
“It’s Now or Never” was presented in a pre-taped online format last summer, and now it’ll get its full production treatment at the Kennedy’s Theatre stage on Thursday, July 21 and Saturday, July 23.
“Only a small number of people I think saw the video. This is an opportunity to do it live and I think it’s going to be an exciting time,” Leblang said. “It’s been so much more difficult in the last two and a half years, to share live theater with people. Zoom is great for certain things, I’ve done a fair amount of teaching. It’s not the same, I think, in terms of performance. I’ve really missed that. To be doing that in Cleveland is really exciting to me.”
Along with its focus on national and international acts, BorderLight also puts the showcase on Northeast Ohio artists. Acclaimed Cleveland playwright and poet Mary E. Weems will present her play, “Hey Siri,” July 21-23 at the Old Stone Church.
Weems found the seed of inspiration for “Hey Siri” during a rehearsal for her play “At Last: Celebrating the Lives of Black Women.” Ebani Edwards, who was performing in the play, used her phone and said, “Hey, Siri” for a quick question – the overheard moment sparked an idea for Weems’ new project.
“Since I have a love-hate relationship with technology, I thought the play was going to wind up being against technology and showing what technology can do to harm our interconnection, but instead this play came out,” Weems said. “It’s about how three people living in isolation in a city kind of like Cleveland are saved through their iPhones.”
The play, produced by Playwrights Local, was accepted into BorderLight last year, but a virtual version was not featured in the event’s pivot.
Now, Weems is excited to finally bring the play to life, after years of work.
“My work’s been produced in this town since 1996,” Weems said. “I’m really excited about it – to have this downtown, in my hometown, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Downtown Cleveland has been a big part of the recipe to BorderLight’s success so far. The area’s emphasis on theater lends itself to an arts-filled week that Heinen said she hopes will continue to expand.
“We wanted to take advantage of this great infrastructure we have in Cleveland. We have an outsized theatrical footprint, especially in Playhouse Square, and it’s very walkable, which is just ideal for a festival like this,” Heinen said. “Cleveland is not a huge city. It’s not a megalopolis like New York, Chicago, London… but Cleveland has an advantage, I think. You can get more attention here and build something that can grow.”
Find more information about BorderLight, including a full schedule of performances, at borderlightcle.org.
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