Fringe at 20 Profile: Jess Conda
Above Photo: Conda with Red 40 and the Last Groovement (photo by Chris K Photography)
Name: Jess Conda
Type of Artist: actor, cabaret singer
Company: freelance, free love art maker; I get down a little bit with everyone
List of Fringe shows I’ve participated in:
The Lazy Activist, BRAT Productions, 2003 – ensemble performer/creator
Pay Up, Pig Iron, 2005/2013 – ensemble performer/creator
Eye 95 Re-Tarred, BRAT Productions, 2006 – ensemble performer/creator
Armageddon at the Mushroom Village, Tribe of Fools, 2009 – ensemble performer/creator
Water Bears in Space, Transmissions Theatre, 2011 – ensemble performer/creator
Heavy Metal Dance Fag, Tribe of Fools, 2011 – ensemble performer/creator
Festival Bar, RUBA Club, 2011 – programming director
Eternal Glamnation, BRAT Productions, 2012 – ensemble performer/creator
99 Breakups, Pig Iron, 2014 – ensemble performer/creator
Purgatory, Gunnar Montana, 2015 – performer
The Lid, BRAT Productions, 2015 – ensemble performer/creator
Fringe show I’m participating in for 2016: Performing back vox and raps with Red 40 and the Last Groovement opening night of the Festival
First Fringe I attended: 2003. Highlight was was walking to rehearsal and seeing all of this ACTION, in the box office, postcards flying around everywhere, Greg Giovanni performing Noh theater in the street in a kimono, artists all a flutter with this Olde City Fringe hub bub that made me giddy to be a part of this weird and amazing new art life.
First Fringe I participated in: Ranch-O Trivio show was a game show about George W Bush that BRAT played in the street. It was memorable to see how little regular folks knew about their politicians. Some things never change…
First show I produced/created at the Fringe: I was pretty proud of programming the Festival Bar in 2011, even though every day was 16 hours of hard, down and dirty work: rehearsing other shows, booking everyone for the bar, and working with the technicians to get the Festival Bar space physically ready. On Opening Night of the Festival I was sweaty, covered in saw dust, wearing electrical tape around my wrists and my phone was in my bra ringing and glowing away. I had brought this whole gown and heels ensemble to wear to host that night but I was so tired I was like, “Fuck it, this is how I’m going on stage.” I riffed about how this is what Art Warriors REALLY look like and it was one of the most connected times on stage I’ve ever experienced.
The Fringiest show, venue, action, or moment I ever experienced: I got lucky as a fresh faced newbie in 2003 because the first folks I became friends with were the techies and burlesquers and after hours folks. Madi Distefano brought a bunch of us together with one rehearsal to perform this version of “If I Had a Hammer” that was an ode to Deb Block and the hard working behind the scenes folks. We went on at 2am after a bunch of people got their heads shaved on stage. The number dissolved into this thrashing punk rock free form dance on stage with everyone stripping and hanging from this metal jungle gym with duct tape on our nipples banging things with hammers. I was like, “Woah, I’m in with the cool kids.” That was pretty Fringe-y.
A Fringe show that influenced me as an artist: In 2007 I went and saw Cynthia Hopkins’ Must Don’t Whip Um by myself and it was this whole spiritual awakening that music performance can be theatrical, can be big and messy with many performers, can be from the raw and honest guts of the performer. She sang this song that repeated this lyric, “If you ain’t singing, it’s your own damn fault,” over and over and I was in my seat crying, like, “Ok, ok, you’re right. I hear you, I WILL.” I will never forget that. Huge moment that sparked creative urgency and fire in my belly.
Example of artists I have met or were exposed to in the Fringe who I went on to collaborate with: I stalked the Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret forever. I was their original fan girl. I bugged them forever until they finally let me cameo with them. Now they’re all my good friends and have played in a bunch of bands I’ve put together for my own cabarets. I also have a vivid memory of seeing the Peek A Boo dance with the Late Nite Cabaret at the New Alahambra boxing ring and following at Scott Johnston’s heels as he ran around backstage organizing things saying, “What do I have to dooo to perform with Peek A Boooo?” And he said something along the lines of, “When it’s right, we’ll all know, darling.” Now I’m a regular guest artist with the troupe. I partied my way into being invited into creative rooms with my cabaret role models, which I’m thankful for every day. Sometimes the work begins in the green room.
The craziest idea for a Fringe show I wish I had done or to one day do: Oh man, more rock and roll please.