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Fringe Fest Flier with Bondage Pic Was Faked to Hurt Alderman, Allies Say

By Heather Cherone | September 5, 2013 6:30am
 A fake flier touting the Chicago Fringe Fest's connection to Ald. John Arena encouraged people to bring their "fetish, perversions and imagination" to the nine-day fest.
2013 Chicago Fringe Fest
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JEFFERSON PARK — A flier received by more than 100 homes in the 45th Ward invited them to bring their "fetish, perversions and imagination" to the Chicago Fringe Festival.

It includes an image of a dominatrix straddling a kneeling man — and includes a logo from the office of Ald. John Arena (45th).

But the flier is a fake — Arena's office didn't pass it out, his supporters said. It's actually an attempt to hurt Arena politically for supporting the at-times risque festival, which started Aug. 29 and runs until Sunday, they said. 

Arena declined to comment on the flier.

But he said the first several days of the Fringe Festival had been incredibly successful — even though some performances weren't for everyone.

"I've been amazed at the talent," said Arena, who said he attended a handful of shows over the Labor Day weekend. "The organization has been pitch perfect, and the volunteers great."

The fake flier touts the festival as featuring more than 200 "freaky and mind blowing" performances, including "rap musicals, poetry readings, transgender performances and exciting air sex competitions" — followed by five exclamation points.

The festival actually does include an air sex competition — think air guitar, but with simulated sex acts — which will take place Friday at Fringe Central, otherwise known as Fischman's Liquors, 4780 N. Milwaukee Ave., as part of the festival's Sectravaganza/Sexpo/Sexy Pie Night.

Other events scheduled include speed dating and a burlesque show. There will also be a kissing booth and "sex shop merchandise" will be for sale.

On Saturday, the same location — but now known as the Ald. John Arena Arena — will feature matches between members of the Chicago league of Lady Arm Wrestlers, described by the Washington Post as "outrageously dressed bawdy femmes."

The fake flier, which was stuck in the doors of homes in Gladstone Park, Jefferson Park, Portage Park and Old Irving Park, urges people to "bring the hot to the end of summer."

Arena won election to the Chicago City Council in 2011 by just 30 votes against lawyer and Chicago Police Lt. John Garrido. Arena has not announced whether he will seek re-election in 2015, nor has Garrido said whether he would run again. No one else has announced plans to run for the seat.

Garrido said Wednesday he had nothing to do with the flier, saying he did not have time for "juvenile games."

"It's a ridiculous flier and I'm sure will be dismissed as such," Garrido said.

Several Arena supporters, who did not want to be quoted, said the flier was an attempt to make it seem like the alderman was attracting an undesirable element to Jefferson Park, which is known as a largely conservative, family-friendly community.

The festival, which relocated to Jefferson Park from Pilsen this year, features performances from an aerialist dance company, a group that roasts characters from fairy tales, and an avant garde theater company devoted to presenting fantastical realism and challenging the definition of gender and sexuality.

"The festival is a great way to introduce some folks to Jefferson Park, and to re-introduce it to others who have been here a long time," Arena said. "It is clear the arts can survive and thrive in Jefferson Park."

Vinnie Lacey, the executive director of the festival, said the flier was hilarious.

"If there was ill intent, and it seems like there was, it was lost on us," Lacey said.

The aim of the non-profit festival is not to offend people, but to showcase a range of artists expressing themselves through rap, dance, comedy, drama and other art forms, Lacey said.

"These artists are professionals who want to put on a good show," Lacey said.

Anna Zolkowski Sobor, the vice president of the Old Irving Park Association, said she got a call from a man who got the flier and was outraged by the idea of having a festival featuring "transgender performances" in his neighborhood.

"I just told him I was sorry he didn't like rap or poetry," Zolkowski Sobor said.

More than 2,000 people attended Fringe Fest shows over the Labor Day weekend, which translates to about $20,000 in ticket sales, which go directly to the artists, Lacey said. 

In addition, the number of multiple-show ticket packages sold for the festival has doubled as compared to last year, Lacey said.

That is "especially exciting to me because that means people are checking out more than one show," Lacey said. "That's an important part of the Fringe — the discovery gained from flipping through the program, getting recommendations from other patrons, and interacting with artists."