The Hamptons and the East End art large now have something new:  their own Fringe Festival. Designed to showcase new and edgy theater, the East End Fringe Festival debuts this week with a program of plays and poetry, many written by area and Long Island talent. Presented at the historic Vail-Leavitt Music Hall in Riverhead, N.Y., the East End Fringe Festival opened with fanfare on July 26, 2017 by featuring one of its headliners, "Fifty Flat," followed by an Opening Festival Reception hosted by Moustache Brewery Co. of Riverhead. The East End Fringe Festival then took to the streets, so to speak, and presented "Theater Express," short sets of short plays as part of Riverhead's Alive on 25 family street festival on July 27, 2017.

Continuing through August 6, 2017 at the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, the East End Fringe Festival presents a series of programs featuring two or three short plays per show to create an evening of engaging theater that pushes audiences in different directions. The Festival also presents a single Poetry Project evening, showing the avant garde side of poetry and spoken word. Tickets are $25 per play; $35 for two when presented in a single evening and $45 to see a trio of plays when presented in a single program. The Poetry Project evening has a $10 admission.

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Fringe Festival Rehearsal. Photo: Tony DiFranco. Courtesy East End Fringe Festival.

East End Fringe Festival Rehearsal. Photo: Tony DiFranco. Courtesy East End Fringe Festival.

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In a twist, East End Fringe Festival was inspired by the venue and not by a specific gathering of plays, said artistic director Debbie Slevin. The Vail-Leavitt Music Hall is a historic theater, built in 1881, and was a fully appointed and luxurious theater for the time. It originally featured gas lighting and gold leaf, according to its official history. The oldest theater in "downstate New York," it pre-dates Broadway theaters by 20 years, according to the music hall's website.

"The East End Fringe Festival was really inspired by the Vail-Leavitt," Slevin said in a phone interview. "The Music Hall was designed to have live theater; it just wants it there and it's the perfect environment for the plays and performance with an edge. You can feel the history as soon as you walk in; it's a special place."

Debbie Slevin is an award-winning essayist, author, theatrical producer and director and has had her work performed in the New York International Fringe Festival. After conceiving and co-producing "The Apron Strings Project," made up of poems, songs and short scenes, at the Vail-Leavitt, she teamed up again with "Apron Strings" co-producer Cindy Clifford to move the East End Fringe Festival from idea to reality. Like Slevin, Clifford has theatrical and writing chops. Cindy Clifford is a voiceover artist, writer, and producer. She's produced "It's A Wonderful Life: A Radio Play" for several theaters on Long Island. Her play "Boomer Town" is in development.

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Playwrights Maggie Bloomfield and Susan Dingle rehearsing "Break Out!" at the East End Fringe Festival. Photo courtesy East End Fringe Festival.

Playwrights Maggie Bloomfield and Susan Dingle rehearsing "Break Out!" at the East End Fringe Festival. Photo courtesy East End Fringe Festival.

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To get the East End Fringe Festival rolling, Slevin and Clifford put a call out for new plays earlier this year and received around 80 submissions. The plays were sent to a committee of theater professionals—many of them involved in New York theater—and five short plays were selected for production at the inaugural East End Fringe festival unfolding this summer. Presented in repertory are "Fifty Flat" by Brianna Singer; "BREAK OUT!" by Susan Dingle and Maggie Bloomfield; "Mr. Danby's Son" by Dennis Hart; "Priapism" by James Kingston and "The Supreme Beings" by Michael Horn.

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East End Fringe Festival Rehearsal. Photo: Tony DiFranco. Courtesy East End Fringe Festival.

East End Fringe Festival Rehearsal. Photo: Tony DiFranco. Courtesy East End Fringe Festival.

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"Poetry Project" will be held on Tuesday, August 1, 2017 at 7 p.m. Featuring a lineup of poetry with some selected from submissions and others from notable poets, one highlight is Hong Kong born Canadian violinist, poet and librettist Phoebe Tsang, who will play violin while delivering her poetry, said Slevin. In another special event, a New Orleans Jazz Brunch is planned for Sunday, July 30, 2017 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Dark Horse Restaurant in Riverhead. The brunch features live music by Bob Barta's Sunnyland Jazz Band with special New Orleans additions to the menu. The cost is $45.

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East End Fringe Festival Rehearsal. Photo: Tony DiFranco. Courtesy East End Fringe Festival.

East End Fringe Festival Rehearsal. Photo: Tony DiFranco. Courtesy East End Fringe Festival.

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While the curtain is still being raised on the first East End Fringe Festival, there has been enough response to start dreaming of a repeat performance, said Slevin. As with the New York International Fringe Festival, the hope is to present an annual theater event that encompasses multiple venues, various types of performance art and affiliated events to create a signature theater event to add to the annual Long Island cultural calendar, such as film or play festivals like the Hamptons International Film Festival and Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival in The Hamptons and the Festival of One-Act Plays at Theater Three in Port Jefferson on Long Island.

Riverhead is the perfect place to establish the East End Fringe Festival with the historic Vail-Leavitt Music Hall as centerpiece, said Slevin. Besides having an atmospheric theater that pairs beautifully with avant garde and new theatrical performances, Riverhead itself has its own charms, she said. Situated between the North and South Forks, the location can draw audiences from both East End locales, she said.

Around the corner from the Vail-Leavitt, is Riverhead's historic East Main Street, where new restaurants are popping up and the restored 1930s art deco Suffolk Theater and East End Arts Gallery are located across the street from each other. East Main Street has a Downtown vibe and is lined with buildings featuring diverse architecture, creating an unusual walking Main Street for an East End town. In a real sense, Downtown Riverhead is also on the fringe. Set apart from both the North Fork and South Forks, it's also apart from the highly developed Route 58. Dotted with shopping magnets like Tanger Outlets, big box stores, car dealerships, fast food and franchise restaurants and other commercial offerings, Route 58 serves as a quick identifier for Riverhead for many on the East End.

Slevin poses: What better place to host a Fringe Festival than in a place that radiates a sense of fringe and edge?

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East End Fringe Festival Rehearsal. Photo: Tony DiFranco. Courtesy East End Fringe Festival.

East End Fringe Festival Rehearsal. Photo: Tony DiFranco. Courtesy East End Fringe Festival.

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BASIC FACTS: East End Fringe Festival performances will be held July 26 through August 6, 2017. Tickets are Tickets are $25 per play; $35 for two when presented in a single evening and $45 to see a trio of plays when presented in a single program. The Poetry Project evening has a $10 admission. Vail-Leavitt Music Hall is located at 18 Peconic Avenue, Riverhead, NY 11901. www.thevail.org. For the East End Fringe Festival's full line up and further information, visit www.eastendfringefest.com.

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Copyright 2017 Hamptons Art Hub LLC. All rights reserved.

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