News Column

Batavia actress enjoys the Fringe

August 23, 2013

YellowBrix

Batavia-based singer/actress Julie Bayer embraces two very different sides of performing.

A classically trained singer, she has sung opera at Ravinia, among other places. But she also has a bawdy side -- one that comes out in her work with Batavia's comic Troupe Strozzi, making its debut with the edgy, boundary-pushing Chicago Fringe Festival.

Troupe Strozzi's entry into the fest is an unconventional, adult- orientated take on mythology.

"The show takes our characters and puts them into a Greek myth," Bayer explains, "the story of Persephone, the young woman abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld."

The Troupe Strozzi specializes in a specific style of comedy called Commedia dell'arte. First developed in 16th-century Italy, it includes plenty of physical comedy, staged fighting and a spontaneous, sometimes improvised, performing style.

Actors in Commedia troupes focus on developing one character, who appears in every Commedia play. The same is true for the performers in Troupe Strozzi.

"I play Ruffiana," Bayer says. "She is loud, a singer."

There are hints that she used to work in a brothel, and some of the other characters do not like her singing at all.

"In Troupe Strozzi I do a lot of comedy where I have to fall on the ground and roll around," Bayer laughs. "It is a little more brash than my usual opera ingenue roles."

Even though there are Commedia scripts in existence, Troupe Strozzi writes and performs its own material. "We get together and brainstorm," Bayer explains. "And then founding member John Dryden writes it up."

"We normally do about two hours of sketch material," Bayer adds. "We do four sketches, which are filled with singing, dancing, physical comedy and stage combat."

Bayer was invited to join the comedy troupe by Dryden, who worked with her husband at Batavia High School, in part because of her singing.

Bayer got her degree in vocal performance with an emphasis on classical music at Illinois Wesleyan. After that she did graduate work at the Manhattan School of Music.

"But I had never done Commedia before," Bayer says. "And I hadn't done much stage combat."

Still, Bayer liked to perform -- she was in the school musical four years in a row at Hoffman Estates High School -- and she was up for the challenge.

The Chicago Fringe Festival features the work of roughly 50 groups. Selection to the Fringe is based on a lottery.

"We are really excited to be at the Fringe," Bayer enthuses. "We wrote a new song for the show. We are so excited to present it at our Chicago debut."

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