Two made-in-Madison plays are heading to the NYC Fringe Festival

First there was “Walmartopia,” the musical satire about life in a big box that jet-setted to the New York International Fringe Festival in 2006.

Then we had “Tea Room Tango,” Doug Holtz’s play about illicit liaisons in public bathrooms, and a zombie musical that started its life as “Love Death Brains” in the Bartell Theatre. Both had revivals at the Fringe Festival after their Madison runs.

The choose-your-own-adventure comedy “You've Ruined A Perfectly Good Mystery!” made the jump from the MercLab, a converted corrugated shed theater on Fair Oaks Avenue, to the Fringe in 2011.

And this summer, two more Madison-born plays are heading to the Fringe: the musical fantasy “Held” by Kelly Maxwell and Meghan Rose, and “The 800th Annual Salvation Swing-Off,” Malissa Petterson’s comedy set in a laundromat in purgatory.

“There’s this desire to have your work seen and appreciated outside the Madison community,” said Heather Renken, artistic director of Broom Street Theater, where both “Swing Off” and “Held” got their start.

Meghan Rose co-wrote "Held" with Kelly Maxwell. She'll be in the band again at the New York International Fringe Festival and has found a new cast for the show. PHOTO BY DAN MYERS

“The truth is the work that’s being done here is really good,” Renken said. “I’m not sure we as a community appreciate how good the writing is becoming.”

The Fringe is a wide-ranging, enormous festival, encompassing 1,100 performances over a few weeks from Aug. 12-28. A stop at the Fringe can lead to future gigs — “Perfectly Good Mystery,” for example, has had several productions; “Walmartopia” had an off-Broadway run.

“Hopefully that will encourage writers to let their work go,” Renken said. “At Broom Street, we often encourage playwrights to direct their own work. We want them to have their vision in the first rendering of the play.

“Once that groundwork is laid down hopefully you can hand it to someone else, and that the piece will still stand up. You put so much into creating a piece … (then) you give it to someone and trust they’re going to give it the care you will. It’s a leap of faith.”


“Held” began as a mini-musical, written for a theater project called “Are We Delicious?” that tasks a pick-up ensemble with writing and staging a series of short plays in a single week.

In spring 2014, “Are We Delicious? Musical Fantasy” featured an initial version of “Held.” It tells the story of an intensely empathetic dreamer named Korin, Mera, Korin’s warrior best friend, and Bardo, who balances their highly emotional trio.

Sarah Streich played Mera and Erin McConnell played Korin in "Held" when it premiered at Broom Street Theater in Madison. PHOTO BY DAN MYERS

Rose and Maxwell expanded the show for a full production at Broom Street in June 2015. At the time, Amelia Cook Fontella wrote in an Isthmus review that “Maxwell and Rose make a powerhouse of a team.”

“Held,” she said, is “well crafted, and its entertaining mix of fantasy, memorable music, and emotional ups and downs keep the audience engaged.”

In its Fringe production, “Held” is set to include the same band that played in the Broom Street production: Rose on piano, Jake Ripp-Dieter on upright bass and Kristen Brenner on cello. But Rose has secured a new cast and director.

Maxwell and Rose submitted “Held” to the Fringe knowing that Rose, a prolific local musician and Maxwell’s bandmate in Little Red Wolf, was moving to New York. For Maxwell, letting the play go has been bittersweet.

“It’s a great opportunity for her to start building a new community there,” Maxwell said of Rose. “When we submitted it, we were deluding ourselves to say I’ll go and I’ll direct it.

“It’s been a rough month emotionally, but it’s also really cool. I’m going to get to go see it, a show that I wrote performed with a whole new set of eyes.”