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Highlights of the Winter Season

The concept took root six decades ago in Edinburgh, Scotland, where independent theater folks — many of whom had been shoved to the fringes of mainstream theater in hot arts centers like London — got together to showcase their own talent. The Fringe Festival was born. 
More than a dozen U.S. cities today have a Fringe Festival of their own, and this year New Orleans joins their ranks. The nonprofit New Orleans Fringe Inc. launches its first (hopefully annual) festival Nov. 13-16. The theater event aims to promote new and emerging theater by presenting it at affordable prices, in multiple settings, primarily in Marigny, Bywater and the French Quarter.
Dennis Monn and Kristen Evans, artistic director and executive director, respectively, of New Orleans Fringe, predict “an extraordinary convergence of theater, performance art and spectacle” presented by some 40 groups from around the country. Drama, dance, one-person shows, cabaret, comedy, puppetry and improvisational works are on tap during the celebration of “the wild, weird, fresh and original.” Tickets for each of the 100 or so presentations are just $7. For the complete schedule and other details, see www.nofringe.org. 
Holiday Drama
Racking your brain to think of holiday activities for the family that reach beyond dining, movies and shopping? Music and drama are in ample supply on the December calendars of local performing arts organizations, and the depth and range of the lineup is impressive. Below is a sampling. For dates, times and locations, see the OnStage calendar. 
A Christmas Carol — The Whole Story | Dec. 5-21. Actor’s Theatre of New Orleans.
Jamal’s Special Christmas Gift | Dec. 5-7, 12-14, 19-21. Anthony Bean Community Theater. 
Miracle on 34th Street | Dec. 5-14. Jefferson Performing Arts Center. 
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever | Nov. 29-30, Dec. 6-7. Westwego Performing Arts Theatre.
grenadine McGunkle’s Double-wide christmas | Dec. 5-27. One Eye Jacks.
Scrooge in Rouge | Dec. 5-28. Le Chat Noir. 
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever | Dec. 12-14. Playmakers
Theatre, Covington.
A Christmas Carol | Nov. 28-Dec. 14. Slidell Little Theatre.
Symphony Holiday Concert, Dec. 4; Christmas Oratorio (Bach), Dec. 11-13 and The Messiah, Dec. 17; Louisiana
Philharmonic Orchestra.  
The Nutcracker | Dec. 2, 6, 7. Delta Festival Ballet, with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. 
The Nutcracker | Nov. 29-30. New Orleans Ballet Theatre. 
Belly up to … opera
Think you might enjoy opera but you’re too intimidated by its high-brow image to give it the old college try? Belly up to this: Opera on Tap.
First launched in Brooklyn, N.Y., as a performance outlet for emerging
operatic talent, Opera on Tap is becoming a hit with audiences who turn out in casual settings such as bars for a taste of the big vocal sound. 
New Orleans Opera on Tap, the first satellite group of the Brooklyn
company, started in 2007 and is performing a four-date season. The home bar for the 90-minute informal “concerts” of opera, Broadway and other selections is The Rusty Nail, 1100 Constance St., New Orleans. For times and dates, see www.neworleansopera.org. And yes, Opera on Tap is both supported and promoted by its more sophisticated parent, the New Orleans Opera Association.
Good Bets
The rich theater lineup for the weeks ahead includes some dramatic gems. Here are a few to keep on your radar screen. 
The Seafarer | Nov. 5-Dec. 7. Southern Rep Theatre. A regional premiere of a surprisingly funny tall tale of redemption. Sharkey and his blind brother Richard are set to play some boozy Christmas Eve poker in their dingy Dublin flat when old friends stop by with a darkly mystifying guest and the stakes become deadly serious.
Side Man | Nov. 14-30, Fri.-Sat.
at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m. Le Petit Theatre, Muriel’s Cabaret Stage.  NOLA Project teams up with InSideOut Productions’ Ashley Ricord and Michael Santos in an award-winning drama about a musician’s family and the struggle to maintain stability in the world of jazz. Filling out the rest of the cast will be The NOLA Project’s James Bartelle, Andrew Larimer, Alex Wallace, Kate Kuen and Sam Dudley. 
The Armstrong Hotel | Jan. 16-Feb. 1. World premiere of a new comedy written and directed by Dane Rhodes, starring Becky Allen and Sandy Bravender. The LaSalle sisters have spent their lives cleaning a downtown hotel. It’s just before the World’s Fair, and New Orleans is changing into a new type of town in this funny and surprisingly moving story.
History in Story Lines
Every street corner, front porch, abandoned warehouse or crowded restaurant in New Orleans holds poignant stories, according to one local theater group. They believe that spells opportunities to reclaim local history and neighborhoods. 
I-Witness Central, a project of theater company Mondo Bizarro, seeks to open “living and breathing personal histories” to a wide audience. The “story-mapping” project aims to connect current-day residents to the history of their favorite street corner or block by putting narrative stories together with the locations where the stories unfolded, and showing it all on a map. Mondo Bizarro founders Bruce France and Nick Slie plan, eventually, to put video narratives of citizen-storytellers on their Web site — click on a location, see a video story of what happened on that spot at various times in years past. 
Kids living in Central City may be unaware of the jazz funeral that the Free Southern Theatre held for itself in 1980, Mondo Bizarro points out. Current residents probably also don’t know who painted the murals of civil rights workers under the I-10 overpass. 
“We believe that everyone has a story, and through sharing these narratives we come to better understand our community and ourselves,” France and Slie declare on their Web site. They intend to continue collecting stories and widening the project’s reach, with emphasis on recollections from Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Watch for new developments at www.i10witness.org. •

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