After a Rockin St. Lou Fringe Festival, NY Actress Considers Moving to the Lou

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

New York actress Siobhan O’Loughlin looks up from her menu and asks which beers were brewed in St. Louis. The actress—who was in town to perform her one-woman show, “Natural Novice,” at the St. Lou Fringe Festival—will ask the interviewer more questions about the city than he asks about her show. “I like St. Louis,” she says by way of explanation. “I think I might move here.”

Members of Chalk Riot posing with one of their creations. Photo courtesy of St. Louis Fringe

Members of Chalk Riot posing with one of their creations.
Photo courtesy of St. Louis Fringe

Not surprisingly, her experience with Fringe has a lot to do with O’Laughlin’s sudden St. Louis-centric focus. In only its third year, the festival—spearheaded by founder Em Piro—has experienced remarkable growth, and this year’s festival rocked the stats. Patrons tended to linger between shows and enjoy street performers, with Fringe Family and Street Fringe patronage increasing by nearly 750 percent. Over a third of visitors stayed and took in more shows than they had intended to, and other businesses in Grand Center reaped the benefits, with over 85 percent of visitors dining at an area restaurant or visiting a new establishment. Those are important milestones for any festival, but when a festival begins to attract artists who want to come here not just to perform, but live, it’s functioning on a higher level. And O’Loughlin is the creative type that that any city would be lucky to have.

Siobhan O'Loughlin from her one-woman show, "Natural Novice." Photo by Zack DeZon

Siobhan O’Loughlin from her one-woman show, “Natural Novice.”
Photo by Zack DeZon

“Natural Novice” is a show about female body hair, or more specifically, about women who choose not to shave and the pushback they get from women and men both. O’Loughlin plays several roles through the course of her play, and the stories told by her characters range from the genuinely funny—in the way that a seasoned stand-up comedian finds humor in the banal struggles of everyday life—to one moment that tears out your heart the way a wax strip rips out a leg hair.

Siobhan O'Loughlin in performance of "Natural Novice." Photo by Joni Simpson

Siobhan O’Loughlin in performance of “Natural Novice.”
Photo by Joni Simpson

“The show is not me pointing my finger around or dancing around like some earth goddess thing,” O’Loughlin says, and in fact, she didn’t write the show to make a statement. Women who don’t shave was simply a handy topic. O’Loughlin herself doesn’t shave—unapologetically—as the fringy tufts of hair peeking out from her underarms attest, but nevertheless she has managed to create a show that raises questions and causes one—especially if you’re male—to question why we find women shaving such an issue. Is femininity lessened in some way by not shaving? Is it some deep-rooted phobia? Did you know some women shave their toes? I didn’t. If nothing else, the show will make you appreciate what women go through to live up to society’s feminine ideal.

O'Loughlin responding to a N.Y. critic's harsh review. Photo by Ray Wu.

O’Loughlin responding to a N.Y. critic’s harsh review regarding her not shaving..
Photo by Ray Wu.

Beyond the fact that “Natural Novice” is a highly entertaining 50 minutes, the show continues to grow on you in the days that follow, and time and time again one will return to its themes; perceptions of femininity, peer pressure, individualism, even cruelty of the sort that seems minor on one side but is devastating on the other. To capture that in a script is quite an achievement, never mind the compelling performance.

O’Loughlin’s show will also play in Minneapolis, Seattle, and Chicago later this summer. In a follow-up email, O’Loughlin doubles down on relocating, writing, “I am really seriously considering moving to St. Lou in the spring, so there’s another cool thing that Fringe does.” Very cool, indeed. Let’s just hope St. Louis stays at the top of her city list.

For more information about Siobhan O’Loughlin and her show, “Natural Novice,” please visit her website.

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