In the Soho Playhouse’s basement venue, the Huron Club, Pamela Sabaugh tottered on stage clutching a white cane. In character, she’s the middle school-aged version of herself, fumbling into the spotlights – a familiar gesture for the actress.
The show opens with Sabaugh, who lives in Astoria, singing “Grace Amazing,” which reflects the English spiritual and particularly emphasizing the lyrics “was blind but now I see.”
The audience bumbles.
“Is she blind?” they wonder.
Sabaugh’s play “Immaculate Degeneration,” a rock and roll cabaret, is an autobiographical look into her Detroit adolescence and the adjustments made after being diagnosed with juvenile macular degeneration, an eye disease that left her legally blind.
She says it’s about moving through the world with an invisible disability.
“Immaculate Degeneration” is one of nearly 200 works showcased in this year’s Fringe Festival, the largest multi-performance festival in the nation. Now in its 16th year, the event allows international artists to take over 20 theaters throughout New York City. Each group selected does about five performances, and the chance for well-received shows to gain additional exposure in an extended encore series.
Since moving to New York in 1997, Sabaugh has participated in the Fringe Festival four times, including a musical she directed in 2008 called “Cruising to Croatia.”
“This piece is the most personal of all the stuff I’ve done,” she said. “I can’t think of a better place to do the premiere of a deeply biographical story. It’s both a love song to my original home of Detroit and my new home of New York.”
Mike Hadge, an Astoria resident, is making his Fringe Festival debut with “The Mike Hadge Trio’s 7th Reunion Concert,” a concert-comedy blend about an indie band reuniting after several failed attempts at making it big.
The show’s 15 songs, all written by Hadge, conjure humor in common and embarrassing scenarios, including texting in bars to seem less awkward, lowering expectations in goal setting, and the realization that nostalgia exists just to make things seem better than they were.
“Music and comedy isn’t something that a lot of people do but it’s something that a lot of people enjoy,” said Hadge. “It’s become my forte for better or worse.”
Hadge says the production is similar to going to a concert where only one band member showed up.
Hadge, whose show business background contains more writing than performing, said the festival granted him a new approach to mixing music and comedy.
“I knew [the Fringe Festival] was held in such high regard and I knew people saw it as a way to get your name out there and to get more people to see your work,” said Hadge. “It’s such an undertaking. You see all these shows that are 30 people and all these lavish sets. I’m overwhelmed with this show that’s just me and a guitar.”