From the Fringe

Behind the scenes at the New York International Fringe Festival

by Jake Lipman ’00

Jake Lipman ’00 founded Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions in 2006 after earning her MFA in 2004 from the Actors Studio Drama School at the New School in New York City. This summer, Tongue in Cheek Theater’s production of Books on Tape, by William Missouri Downs, was selected to be performed at the New York International Fringe Festival, the largest multi-arts festival in North America, and a real coup for a small theater company to make its mark in New York City. Below Lipman shares some memories of the experience.

Books on Tape

This is from the opening scene of Books on Tape by William Missouri Downs, and that’s me in the embrace of a handsome actor named Nate Washburn. The premise of the show is four New Yorkers looking for love and meaning in the big city. My character, Adriane, loves books on tape so much that she asks a suitor to narrate as he ravishes her.

Bill Downs with Jake Lipman

I met the playwright, Bill Downs, about a year ago. I was producing and acting in another of his plays, Dead White Males, last fall and I reached out to him to invite him to see our show, which was also a New York premiere (this shot is from a post-show reception). Published playwrights rarely write back, but Bill did, and came to see the show. He must have liked our production, because he sent me the script for Books on Tape.

Books on Tape

In this scene, my character, Adriane, is up to her usual antics, but this time with a priest (she has a thing for The Thorn Birds). The irreverent mix of comedy and sexuality in Books on Tape made me think it would be a good match for the New York International Fringe Festival—they produced the original production of Urinetown, among others.

Jake Lipman perfroms

Books on Tape is all about people looking for answers and authors to tell them what to do. In this scene, celebrated self-help author, Donna Paige Miller (played by Shana Wiersum) finds out that celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley wrote an unauthorized biography on her, and later calls Kitty Kelley and leaves a nasty message on her answering machine. We got Kitty Kelley to record her answering machine message for the show. It’s a really sweet voice message, followed by Donna Paige Miller hurling insults. And Ms. Kelley was simply divine, agreeing to record the message for us and telling me she loves the theater.

last scene of Books on Tape

In this shot, from the last scene of Books on Tape, I’ve reunited with my suitor from the first scene and we reenact a romance novel scene, complete with hoop skirt for me and pirate shirt for him. This play is the perfect mix of romance and realism; a moment after this kiss, I tell him to stop role-playing and kiss me as himself. As I write this, we open in a few short hours, and I am that jittery mix of nervous and excited.

Frine Festival NYC

This is a shot of the heart and soul of the New York International Fringe Festival, FringeCENTRAL. It changes every year, but it’s a centrally located spot to the festival’s venues in the East Village, where folks can buy tickets, hold production meetings, and perform small snippets of their show to entice people to come see it.

Connelly Theater

As part of the Fringe, we are given these amazing theaters to use. The Connelly Theater, where we are doing Books on Tape, was a historic 19th-century miniature opera house in a prior life. On load-in day, all the productions using this theater for the festival gathered to hang lights, curtains, load in our set pieces and clean the dressing rooms, among other glamorous tasks. As a producer who is also acting in the festival, it was cool to get a feel for the space before our final tech (when we ran the show once through).

Opening night

Opening night was a smash! Completely sold out (had to turn away people at the door) and the audience laughed loud and hard from the first line of the play. “He took her in his arms and kissed her luscious lips.” The show flew by. This picture was taken at a bar across the street from the theater 15 minutes after we bowed. People congratulated us on our best show yet. That’s my husband, Philip Rothman, who is also an immeasurable support to me and my production company. He designs all the sound cues for my shows, takes my artwork and turns it into beautiful postcards and posters, and a thousand other things that go on behind the scenes.

And we got great press! New York Theatre wrote, “A charmingly heady 90-minute comedy” and NYTheatre.com proclaimed it “hysterical!”.