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Arts & Life

KC Fringe Encourages Writers To Present New Work

The KC Fringe Festival, an annual event featuring actors, dancers, poets, storytellers, filmmakers, and visual artists, turns 10 this year. The festival offers about 50 theater performances, from R-rated to puppet shows for kids. And, KC Fringe often provides an opportunity for performers to try out new material.

It seems appropriate that Jesse Ray Metcalf, the writer of a new production called (Virgin.), would say: "This is my first time doing Fringe."

Metcalf is tall with dark hair styled into a bit of a bouffant. He started writing, mostly short one-acts, when he was studying theater at UMKC. His play (Virgin.), is a dark comedy about Mary Sue, a Catholic high school girl who grows up with an overprotective mother.

"I got the idea from my love of teen high school movies, the cliquiness of girls, the fun and campiness of it all," Metcalf says. "I wanted to see the things on stage that I wanted to see, so I decided to just start writing them. I just had this crazy little world in my imagination, in my head, and just decided that I wanted to do it."

This Fringe also marks a first for director J. Will Fritz. He's not new to the event, but this year, he's playing multiple roles: directing one play and acting in another (David in Kings of Israel). Fritz says he recommended Metcalf debut (Virgin.) at Fringe because it’s a place to take risks.

"There’s definitely some shocking subject matter," says Fritz. "It deals a lot with sex, drugs, peer pressure, bullying, (and) there is one death, so for a play that deals with 14-year-old schoolgirls, you know, it’s very risqué in that sense."

Kenna Hall, with thick red pigtails in braids, plays Mary Sue. Hall says there’s an energy to Fringe that’s unique.

"It’s a lot different because you have to share the theater with a lot of different shows, so you have to make your show very mobile. You sort of have to present the show as its bare bones and present it the best you can and bring it to life with the characters."

Hall says as a character, Mary Sue goes through a lot of changes.

"She starts out as – I don’t want to give everything away – she starts out as an innocent, almost vulnerable girl, who’s insecure about herself, for certain reasons," says Hall. "And then, throughout the show, things start to get out of control because of the choices that she makes."

Director J. Will Fritz says it’s playwright Jesse Ray Metcalf’s use of language that makes it a comedy.

"There are these ridiculous, almost cliché type of characters," says Fritz. "But the lines they say and the world that’s being created in the script is so bizarre and so funny yet so relatable."

'(Virgin.),' by Jesse Ray Metcalf, directed by J. Will Fritz, runs July 18, 19, 21, 23, 25 and 26, at the Just Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Central, in Penn Valley Park, Kansas City, Mo., as part of the KC Fringe Festival.

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