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Behind the art binge that is Scranton Fringe

Plus, the 'worst' of Wayne County.

June 3, 2022
Inside this edition: Fringe status, border wars, bridge busters, bigfoot meatloaf, the 'worst' of Wayne County, and a pre-fabbed weekend.

Without looking at a map, how many states border Pennsylvania? 

(We'll have a real stumper in this space each week. You'll find the answer at the bottom, but don't miss all the good stuff in between.)

» One thing to know: I've apparently been mispronouncing the name of this Hanover-based pretzel brand as "wedgie" forever. "Wege" is actually pronounced "wig'gie" after the brand's founding family. 

» One thing to watch: Next month marks 19 years since the Kinzua Bridge collapse in McKean County. Here's a look at the engineering oversights that helped bring down the "Eighth Wonder of the World."

» Two things to 'squatch: It's bigfoot season. The Forest County Bigfoot Festival kicks off June 10 in Marienville and Meat Loaf (correction: Meet Loaf) will grace Kane's Squatch Fest on July 16.
» One place to Yelp: A new spot in Hawley proudly claims "the worst food in Wayne County," a true-to-form nod for the sequel to a raucous Brooklyn bar that some call the first comedy club in the USA.

» One roof to toast: A rooftop bar and restaurant is planned atop Scranton's historic Oppenheim Building, the Times-Tribune reports. It's called The Top and it could open as soon as this summer.

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

» Obscure law could blunt impact of $1B broadband expansion

» Pa. high court could give local gun laws the go-ahead

» GOP primary losses could make budget season painful

» Good-government changes stuck in legislative limbo

» Medical marijuana company draws scrutiny for doctor listing

» Your guide to COVID resources on cases, vaccines, and tests
(Photo courtesy of the Scranton Fringe Festival)

The Scranton Fringe Festival is out from under glass this year, and you have until 6 p.m. Tuesday to submit your project ideas for consideration. Find details and the application here

The nine-day festival officially kicks off Sept. 29, capping a prodigious, year-round stream of programming spanning March’s Porchfest, this Saturday’s Big Gay Story Slam, and July’s production of Anne Washburn’s postapocalyptic The Simpsons riff, directed by Simone Daniel.

All of this is happening in Scranton — a place most outsiders don’t associate with a bustling performing arts scene and one even fewer of us would link with the kind of avant-garde Ibsen productions that Fringe Fests are commonly known for.

But maybe we should connect the dots, because Scranton Fringe co-founder Conor Kelly O’Brien, pictured at right, says surprising things are happening there. 

We talked to O’Brien — a performer, creator, and director himself — about the case for Scranton as an arts hub, his local brush with Lizzo, The Office hangover, and the powerful pull of the region.

Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

PA Local: Why Scranton? 

O’Brien: There’s a reason they say, 'If you can play Scranton, you can play anywhere.' Obviously that was way back during the city’s vaudeville heyday, but Scranton has a rich and diverse arts scene ... And it’s a tough local audience, but once you have them it’s a loyal local audience.

PA Local: What’s your elevator pitch to an artist who might be willing to relocate? 

O’Brien: It’s what they tell me, which is, you know, the affordability, the proximity to Philadelphia and New York City. It’s large enough that there’s actually an audience to support your work. It’s also small enough that you might not have to deal with the same level of bureaucracy that you would in Chicago, Boston, New York, or Philadelphia. 

And I’m speaking as someone who split their life as an artist between this area and New York City.

PA Local: Tell me more about that split.

O’Brien: I started an all-ages music, art, and coffee shop called The Vintage in Scranton when I was 17. And I stayed in Scranton (after high school), but I would go back and forth to New York City to audition for parts. 

I eventually moved to New York and remained involved with Scranton projects. But when the pandemic shut everything and all the performance spaces down, I lost $40,000 worth of contracts. 

My lease in New York City was month-to-month, and when it became clear there was no meaningful rent relief coming, my friend offered to come up from Pennsylvania with a van. 

I got my own apartment in Scranton, and I’m not going to say the number but it's the same price I paid in New York except now I have a three-bedroom apartment that I live in alone. 

PA Local: What happened to the coffee shop? 

O’Brien: It closed in 2014. But the person I ran it with, who had moved to Seattle, just moved back, so the call of Scranton is very powerful. 

PA Local: Any memorable stories from the shop? 

O’Brien: It wasn’t until a year or two ago … There was this wonderful band called Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps that played at our venue, and we were looking at the photos and remembering this one singer named Lizzie or Liz with the group, and we were looking at her in the photos and all of a sudden it hit us, 'Oh my god, that’s Lizzo.' 

PA Local: Speaking of pop culture phenoms ... Tourism officials think The Office’s popularity will help postindustrial Scranton. And we recently wrote about a new mural effort there. Will it help Scranton’s arts scene, too? 

O'Brien: I love that show. It’s one of my top five shows, but that’s not the direction that I would go, and I know I speak for many people connected to the local arts scene. I personally don’t see any relevance in why we continue to associate ourselves with this wonderful, award-winning sitcom that ended many years ago and was fictionally based here. If it’s a tool for some to bring in tourism and creativity, great, but I personally have no interest. 

PA Local: What does Scranton need more of then? 

O'Brien: We need more funding. We need more support. There is an incredible amount of writers and performers here. The audiences can be a little hard-necked, to say the least, but that’s part of the reason why I love it. The expression remains, 'If you can play Scranton … .'

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA 

Currently fawning over this photo taken in Katherine M.'s New Kensington garden. Send us your Pennsylvania pics by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania

» Friday, June 3: Hit golf balls over Beaver Stadium at the State College stop on TopGolf's Live Stadium Tour. The pop-up runs through Sunday. Ticket prices vary by time of day. Students pay $25.

» Friday, June 3: Get folksy at the NEPA Bluegrass Festival at Lazy Brook Park in Tunkhannock. Two stages will showcase traditional and progressive styles of bluegrass, a genre born in Appalachia. Prices vary

» Friday, June 3: Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Arts Festival returns at a new location downtown (DCNR took Point State Park off the table) and with the usual bevy of performances, artists, foods, and more.

» Saturday, June 4: Go green and learn the ins and outs of a plant-based diet at the 6th annual Lancaster VegFest. It's happening at Buchanan Park all weekend. There's a $5 suggested donation. 

» Saturday, June 4: Time travel with auctions of old-timey machinery, famous pot pie, and craft and flea markets at the Nittany Antique Machinery spring show at Penn's Cave. Admission is free.

» Sunday, June 5: Philly's Pride March is back with new organizers and a broader focus. Here's Billy Penn reporter Michaela Winberg's podcast on the shakeup. And here's the schedule of Pride events.

» Sunday, June 5: Sample homemade Thai cooking from New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania at Bensalem's Thai Fair Festival. There's also Thai dancing, Thai boxing, and Thai music. Admission is free.

» Tuesday, June 7: Head over to The Gallery at Penn College in Williamsport to see the Little League World Series evolve from small-town tournament to the international event it is today. It's free. 
There are six states that border Pennsylvania: Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia.

Pennsylvania also fought wars with bordering states that wanted a cut of its rectangle: Cresap's War with Maryland in the 1730s and the Pennamite–Yankee Wars with Connecticut between 1769 and 1799.

Thanks for reading PA Local! We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? What do you want to see more of? Or, tell us your secret food recipes!
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