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By Kathleen Allen


A meditation on Jacqueline Susann's 'Valley of the Dolls.'

Mind readers and magic.

A comedy about science and math.


These are just tastes of what plays in the upcoming Tucson Fringe Theater Festival are about.

There's also a dark coming-ofage story, a play about an eternal job hunt, and another that touches on gender-neutral babies and the Super Bowl.

This year's Fringe Fest- the city's seventh annual one- features 20 new plays spread over six venues and three days.

The playwrights hail from Tucson, Utah, Washington state - they come from around the country.

Here's the thing about fringe festivals, which pop up all over the world: They are totally uncurated - scripts are not read before being accepted; rather, entrants' names are thrown into a hat and pulled out at random. These are new works, many untested.

And all that make the festivals some of the most thrilling theater around.

This year, there were 42 submissions, says Maryann Green, the event's executive director.

That's up from 39 in 2017, and about 32 the year before that. The Tucson festival is gaining traction and notice internationally- submissions have come from around the world.

Here's how it's done: The organizers raise money, secure the venues and do the heavy organizing. The playwrights, who are often the actors, stage the works.

Most pieces are performed at least twice, although it is virtually impossible to catch all of them.

Playwrights receive 100 percent of their ticket sales.

'We've got a lot of solo shows, and a lot of personal memoir pieces,' says Green of this year's


Scotty Wagner's 'Trial Child: Nurture a Better Nature' will be at the 2018 Tucson Fringe Festival.

Jeffrey Robert returns to the festival with a new piece, 'The Gay Uncle's Journey Through the Valley of the Dolls.'

A scene from 'Threads,' by Gabriela Galup and Tshilo Galup, one of the Tucson Fringe Fest offerings.


Audra Bauchera's 'A Glorious Day for Mrs. Sissy Fiz,' which tracks five women in different stages of their lives.

Sign language and poetry are used in 'Allah Earth: The Cycle of Life.'

'A Bit Touched' deals with obsessive- compulsive behavior.

'White-ish: A Memoir' by China Young explores racism, privilege.


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One of those solo shows is from a repeat Tucson Fringe Fester, Jeffrey Robert, who calls Seattle home.

His piece, 'The Gay Uncle's Journey Through the Valley of the Dolls,' is that meditation on the wonderfully trashy book by Jacqueline Susann. The 1966 novel follows three women as they search for fame and love. It was her first book and the gossipy tome was panned by critics and was the biggest selling book of that year.

Robert's show in last year's fest - 'The Gay Uncle Explains it All to You!' - was one of the most popular, says Green.

And last year was Robert's first Fringe Fest.

'I was a little nervous and scared,' he recalls. 'But I had such an amazing time. I love the city of Tucson.'

It's hard to imagine him nervous - he is one of Seattle's best known comedic entertainers. But fringe festivals allow him to perform material that is out-of-the-norm for him. 'Fringe festivals give hard-to-classify plays a place to perform,' he says.

'I can do something that's a little more experimental.'

And the audiences at the festivals crave new works.

'People are more daring at fringe fests,' he says. 'I love that people go from show to show and they have no idea what they are in for.'

Tucsonan Catfish Baruni will make his sixth appearance on the festival stage this year. He echoes what Robert says.

'It's harder for artists who don't necessarily fit into a predefined genre,' he says. 'I think (the fest) is a great outlet for artists.'

This will be Tyler West's first play and first fringe.

West, a talented theater student set to graduate from the University of Arizona in May, will perform his one-man pantomime show, 'Abeyance.'

'The story is the character has an important job interview,' says West, who has a well-honed comedic instinct.

'He shows up to the waiting room a little early and, basically, chaos ensues while he's waiting. He becomes trapped in a vending machine, falls asleep and dreams about fishing for mermaids, his résumé flies out the window.'

The show will also be staged at Live Theatre Workshop's late-night arm, Etcetera, in March; he sees the Fringe as a way to 'test things out and see what works and doesn't.' And if it all goes well, West is hoping more fringe festivals are in his future. 'I would love to continue doing this,' he says.

The chance to show new work to eager audiences is what made Green, a high school theater teacher, fall in love with Fringe in 2013. That year, she performed a play she had written, 'Twitterpated A Love Story in 140 Characters or Less.'

'There was no way anyone would produce my script,' she says. Now, she says, it's her turn to help others get the same chance she had.

'It's pay it forward for me,' she says. 'Giving 20 artists the freedom to produce their show. It's the same way I love working with students - helping them spread their wings.'

Besides, she adds, new theater can provide different perspectives, and that is essential.

'Art is about creating a conversation. You don't have to love what you see, or agree with what you see, but if you are only exposed to the same viewpoints, you don't grow as a human being. What is the point if we don't try new things or open ourselves to new experiences?'

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at or 573-4128. On Twitter: @kallenStar

'Confessions of a Delinquent Cheerleader' by Mame Pelletier follows the exploits of a little-supervised teen.


A group of cavemen are confronted with unfamiliar emotions in 'Dawned.'


'Feces on-da Face' is by Joe Udall and the Hully Gully Entertainers of San Diego.


A mythical placed called Earth is researched in 'The Sybil of Mars.'


A job seeker encounters problems in Tyler West's one-man show, 'Abeyance.'


A friendship evolves in Catfish Baruni's 'Nickles & Dimes.'


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