Local arts group brings ‘fringe’ theater to the forefront with month-long festival in Port Huron

The inaugural Theatre, Music and Arts Festival from the Fringe Collective Kinetic Theatre kicks off Friday, Aug. 13, in downtown Port Huron. The grassroots arts organization has constructed their Open-Air Tent venue at the Desmond Marine Green Space behind the Raven Cafe, creating an outdoor theater experience with productions for the next four weekends.

Productions of the Charles Busch comedy Psycho Beach Party are scheduled for the weekends of Aug. 13 - 15 and Aug. 20 - 22. Each event begins at 8:30 p.m. with a performance from Konrad Lee, “Lounge singer extraordinaire.”

Written and produced by the Fringe Collective Kinetic Theatre is FREE: The 21st Century Peace-Rock Piece, an original production with a whopping 36 songs written by the theater collective. The musical is scheduled for the weekends of Aug. 27 - 29 and Sept. 3 - 5. Each event begins at 8:30 p.m. with a performance from lauded performance artist Satori Circus.

Tickets are available online and at the door for $15.

We spoke with two of the Fringe Collective Kinetic Theatre organizers via email, Sadaat Hossain and Scott Dambacher, about their organization, the performances, and what it all means for downtown Port Huron.

The Keel: First, can you introduce us to Fringe Collective Kinetic Theatre? Who are you guys?

Sadaat Hossain: Fringe Collective Kinetic Theatre was born out of a need for truly original fringe theatre pieces in the area. Our maiden voyage as a company was a collaboration with celebrated Detroit performance artist Satori Circus, producing Satori’s take on Dante’s Inferno titled Funy As Hell <no misspelling, it’s supposed to be “funy”> at the Citadel Theatre (basically before we had a “home”). After that we had another two productions slated for April 2020 in the Citadel Theatre again, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Life Lessons from Big-Time Wrestling. Look them up, they’re both hilarious. However, COVID hit shortly before and canceled our plans, and left any future plans in limbo.

The Keel: How did the idea for a temporary outdoor theater come about? What sort of opportunities does it present that you wouldn’t get at a more traditional theater experience?

Scott Dambacher: The idea for the Open-Air Tent venue came about initially in response to how to do Theatre in our current reality. Hopefully this will be an annual event with an entire Port Huron downtown festival vibe. For example, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, you can come see Psycho Beach Party down on the Desmond Marine Green Space behind The Raven.....you can go to The Citadel for Shakespeare...you can see Cry Baby by PHCT at McMorran. To make this an annual event would be great. In two weeks, you can come to the same venue and see an original musical…

Sadaat: The idea of an open-air theatre came around out of necessity: some folks are still wary of COVID and aren’t comfortable in a traditional theatre setting, so we took a cue from Dave Chappelle’s “8:46” presentation. They made it a point to showcase the precautions they were taking against COVID while still hosting an event, and to me it was truly inspiring and creative to see they were adhering to social distancing & masking suggestions.

The Keel: Are there plans to make this a more regular thing or is it a one-off event?

Sadaat: We intend to make the open-air theatre at the very least an annual event. Really, it depends on the success of this year’s productions. The beauty of the stage (designed by Brian Dambacher) is that it’s completely mobile, so we can erect it anywhere with a few days’ notice and get on with our bad selves.

The Keel: Putting the outdoor stage together has a DIY vibe to it. How might that suit these productions and performances? It seems like it would, and especially with the rock musical FREE.

Scott: It is going to be amazing for our original musical FREE, for sure, especially with the live band in the open air space...in addition, after leaving Psycho Beach Party rehearsal tonight, I was very happy with the production space, insofar as it reminded me of a kind of traveling vaudeville show stopping in town....lighting, a bare stage and an hilarious show....that's all you need for a crazy comedy. FREE is more technically challenging but is completely suited for this type of production/venue/atmosphere…

Sadaat: Originally we wanted to perform Psycho Beach Party at the McMorran “Beach,” but when they closed for upgrades we looked to the multitude of beaches in the area to perform it as a “sunset show” on the beach. After deliberating about logistics we decided on just erecting our own stage on Acheson Ventures’ property (much love to them for facilitating that) with grant money from the Community Foundation of St. Clair County (again, much love to them for making this happen). As for FREE, the show is a throwback to the peace & love flower child generation, so being outside and performing on a grass stage makes so much sense for that production.

The Keel: FREE is especially exciting, seeing as it’s an original production of yours. What is it and how did it come about?

Sadaat: FREE was essentially our “COVID piece.” When our productions at the Citadel Stage were canceled due to COVID, we hunkered down at Scotty’s house with the core writing group and our families (who were essentially our COVID pod). Knowing all of us were taking proper precautions against the virus, we felt comfortable working together. Writers Ty Scott Gates and Scott Dambacher put the script together on certain days, and once a week we’d all get together (“we” being myself, fellow composer/writer Dave Dambacher, Ty and Scott) and compose the music for the piece based on the lyrics in the script. It was a lot of fun and kept all of us feeling as much of a sense of accomplishment that we could while in lockdown.

As a show, FREE is a story of young adults that are fed up with fitting into the cookie-cutter status quo — they just want to be FREE. It’s written in the vein of Hair or Rent. Many fringe demographics are represented and addressed, and all 36 (!) tunes in the musical are derived from every different genre imaginable: rock, musical theatre, bluegrass, New Orleans blues, punk rock, chorale pieces, etc. There’s something in it for everyone, and the overarching theme is “be you, be FREE.”

Scott: FREE is so exciting and the cast is great....the music is great and I feel the show as a whole really works...so exciting to do something original on this scale...

The Keel: The more art, the better for Port Huron. What do you hope to accomplish with these productions? What can it do for the community? Why is it important?

Sadaat: While we have tried to bring underground fringe theatre into the public eye in the past, personally I hope that these productions can broaden the layperson’s horizons of what theatre can be, do and achieve. These aren’t community theatre pieces, but we’re also not going completely off the deep end with content or message.

Scott: We are hoping to create a nice social night out, offering the community a great experience. The more art, the better, absolutely...and again, I feel it is a step toward a total Arts/Tourist/Performance/Entertainment vibe for downtown Port Huron...

Sadaat: We have late start times for all of our productions for this particular run (show starts at 8:30 for both productions), so we hope our patrons will take advantage of Downtown Port Huron’s multitude of restaurants and bars before attending the show(s). Get a sitter, grab dinner from Casey’s or Lynch’s, snag a cocktail or two from the Raven or Wings Etc. and settle in for an entertaining evening of fringe theatre.