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Scranton Fringe sets the stage for success

Maureen McGuigan, a Scranton native, debuts her one woman show as part of the 2023 Scranton Fringe Festival.
Haley O'Brien
Maureen McGuigan, a Scranton native, debuts her one woman show as part of the 2023 Scranton Fringe Festival.

The Scranton Fringe Festival brings a little more entertainment and artsy flair in the city for two weekends every fall. The founders say it’s all about giving the artists a chance to express their work, whatever it may be.

“It is artist-led,” said Conor Kelly O’Brien, co-founder and executive director of Scranton Fringe. He and Elizabeth Bohan curate the two-week event that features performances of all calibers.

“I think the common misconception is that Fringe Festival means it has to be edgy, and it has to be weird, and avant-garde, and DIY,” he said. “And the beautiful answer is, it can be… It can also be professional and polished, it can be contemporary and classical.”

Bohan, co-founder and managing director, said they provide marketing and logistical resources that can bring a written work to life in front of an audience for the first time.

“We provide the platform,” she said. “If one group of actors wanted to get everything to give to them, it would cost them exponentially more than what it costs us to spread it around the festival. You have to pay for the venue managers, the people to sit there, all of the tech, the venue, you have to pay for tickets and PR.”

Terry Thompson, a local actor and youth education manager at Scranton Fringe, finds amateur acts inspiring.

“What I most like about amateur performances is that it gives you a sense of, ‘I could write something like this too,'" he said.

From Scotland to Scranton

The very first Fringe Festival took place in 1947 in Edinburgh, Scotland. O’Brien and Bohan took part in several Fringe festivals as performers and producers, including the Scotland showcase. It’s actually the largest event in the world, hosting thousands of performances annually.

The Scranton Fringe Festival is one of about 250 in the world that all belong to an international organization. O’Brien, Bohan and Dan Kimbrough, who call themselves “the three legs of the tripod,” travel to conferences and other Fringe Festivals to collaborate and consult.

Over nine years, Scranton's event has grown from four days to two weeks.

Scranton Fringe is unique in that they don't charge an entry fee, and it's not just one event. The group recently finished a podcast with the Black Scranton Project and hosts educational and entertainment programs throughout the year.

The Fringe hosts a popular Silent Disco every year, and Dan Kimbrough, the technical director for the event, founded a film festival within Scranton Fringe Fest, that showcases the work of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Persons of Color) movie makers.

In another effort of inclusiveness, audience members are required to wear masks at the first matinee performance for most shows.

From Scranton to Beyond

Maureen McGuigan, a Scranton native, debuted her one woman show Thursday evening for an intimate crowd.

The writer and performer walked on stage and sat on a couch at the start of the show. She looked out at the audience and said, “It’s probably a good idea when you have a borderline psychotic breakdown at the dentist to see a psychiatrist.”

The show, directed by Alicia Grega, and accompanied by musician Jason Smeltzer, is titled “Remember You Must Die.” It’s a personal story in which she makes light of her own existential crisis of sorts.

Although she comes from an artsy family and is Director of Arts & Culture for Lackawanna County, this was a new venture for her.

“Usually I am more in the producer/writer role,” McGuigan said. “But in recent years, I’m interested in that storytelling, stand up comedy format, but I've never done anything like this.”

The performance features Jason Smeltzer on a theremin, an electric musical instrument. The unique sounds and images on a projection screen help McGuigan share her anecdotes. This is only the beginning of putting the project on its feet.

“A lot of people do use it as a testing ground,” she said. “It’s such supportive, friendly audiences, and you can try new works and learn from it, and then maybe do them again.”

She joked she may take the show to Luzerne County next.

Maureen’s brother, Conor McGuigan, writes a show almost every year for his hometown Fringe Fest. This year, his dark comedy Graphic Prints, featuring The Bog Players, debuted in the first weekend of the festival.

Co-founder O'Brien is proud of the amount of world premiers taking place.

"Whatever they go on to do, will always and forever have started at the 2023 Scranton Fringe Festival."

The Scranton Fringe Festival continues until October 7th. Click here for events.

Haley joined the WVIA news team in 2023 as a reporter and host. She grew up in Scranton and studied Broadcast Journalism at Marywood University. Haley has experience reporting in Northeast Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. She enjoys reporting on Pennsylvania history and culture, and video storytelling.

You can email Haley at haleyobrien@wvia.org