Review: ‘Crankie Cabaret’ at The Charm City Fringe Festival

Listening to Katherine Fahey recount personal memories, ghost stories, and a lovely tale about Baltimore’s arabbers while grouped around The Lantern Sisters’ gorgeously adorned crankie box, feels as intimate as huddling around a campfire with friends. Fahey, who has been creating and performing crankie shows since 2011, is renowned as the “Jane Appleseed” of the modern resurgence of this traditional folk art. This weekend, you can enjoy her enthusiasm and expertise at Crankie Cabaret at the Seventh Annual Charm City Fringe Festival.

A crankie is a storytelling medium in which a long scroll is illustrated and wound onto spools. The spools are placed at opposite ends of a backlit box with a viewing screen, and a hand crank is used to move the scroll from one spool to the other. As the images on the screen – intricate papercuts of street scenes, interiors, people, and nature – scroll by, a shadow puppeteer makes additional figures appear and disappear as the story dictates. It’s a magical effect. Narration and/or music accompany the images.

Crankie Cabaret consists of a number of stories and songs. My favorite, apart from the one about the arabbers who bring fresh produce to communities who need some sunshine in their bellies, is a personal story. Populating the crankie scroll with a variety of beautiful birds who memorialize different qualities that she loved about him, Fahey talks about her father, a mapmaker whose artistic precision has clearly been passed down.

Fahey is charming. Her storytelling style is sweet and conversational, more like she is sharing with you than performing for you. In Crankie Cabaret, Fahey is joined by a puppeteer, musician, and foley artist to create just the right atmosphere for her tales. Depending on which performance you see, she may be accompanied musically by Dave Huber, Corey Thuro, and/or Liz Downing and by puppeteers Valeska Populoh or Dan Van Allen.

I wouldn’t call The Lantern Sisters’ Crankie Cabaret a children’s show, but it is appropriate for both adults and kids. One of the ghost stories is a bit suspenseful, but the show is family-friendly and should be fine for all but the most spook-averse. Go check it out.

Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.

The final remaining performance of Crankie Cabaret is on Sunday, November 11, at 3:00 pm at the Charm City Fringe Festival, 322 LOFT – 322 North Howard Street in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the venue or online.

Charm City Fringe Festival

Fall in love with crankies at the Fringe? These days, crankie festivals are popping up everywhere from Washington to Winnipeg, but Baltimore’s been feting the art form for years. The Creative Alliance will be hosting the sixth annual Baltimore Crankie Fest from January 4-6, 2019. They haven’t announced the artists yet, but Katherine Fahey has regularly participated so there’s a good chance you can see more of her work there.


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