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Erin Austin Finds the Fringe a Perfect 'Fit'

Erin Austin Four years ago actress and playwright Erin Austin graduated from the University of Miami with a B.F.A. in musical theatre, moved to New York, and never looked back.

Instead of getting into the tiresome routine of auditioning and waitressing, the Tampa native jumped right into doing what she loved. She co-founded the Plastic Flamingo Theater Company with Ross Evans and Diane Zelenka, and started getting her own work produced—often acting in them as well.

Since then, she's seen a number of her plays on stage, including "E's Happy Family," "So a Lady Walks into a Bar," "Eating in Bed," "RIP JD: A Celebration of Death," and "Buddha Nosh." She's also co-written three plays with Evans: "Hindsight," "MayDay," and "Finger Paint," which appeared at the 2009 New York International Fringe Festival, where it earned a Back Stage Critics' Pick.

This weekend, Austin will return to the Fringe with her new play "Fit," which will have its world premiere. Although she's not acting in this one, she has been a part of the creative process every step of the way.

Back Stage recently talked to Austin about her plays, the Fringe, and plastic flamingos.

Back Stage: How did your theater company get started?

Austin: We got to that point when we were graduating [from the University of Miami] and wanted to go into our respective fields in the theater. It was getting very scary. We had formed such a bond in school, so we said, "You know what—why don't we take the theater scene in New York into our own hands, and try to form a company that creates our own work whether other people are giving us jobs or not."

The company name, Plastic Flamingo, comes from us going to school together. We thought it was interesting because a flamingo is actually not native to Miami, and that was sort of like us. We came into Miami and met and then created this thing together.

Back Stage: As a co-writer and actress in "Finger Paint," you were very involved in the entire creative process. How has that changed with "Fit," since you are not acting in this one?

Austin: The great thing about Plastic Flamingo is that Ross Evans is directing the piece. We wrote "Finger Paint" together two years ago. We're very close. He's a wonderful director, and it's been a very collaborative processes. So I sat in on all the rehearsals.

I'm acting as an assistant director for this one, and it's really nice to check in with someone and get their opinions. He's been with the play since the very beginning. So, we have a very strong working relationship.

Fit Back Stage: Can you tell me what this new play is about?

Austin: It's a play about three generations of Scottish women who are all at the age of 20 and it takes places all at the same time. The play is tied together and framed by traditional Celtic music. It's a family play. It's a play about the psychological turmoil and similarities that pass down between generations and generations.

Back Stage: What were your inspirations while writing this play?

Austin: Well, I'm a second-generation Scot, so I've grown up in a culture that's pretty rife with Scottish heritage. They are really funny, interesting people.  It's a very small country with a very cultural persona, and there is something about the idea of a world that you're so connected to, yet it's separated by an entire ocean.

There is a big disconnect for anyone who has family who live in a different county. Also, one of the biggest influences was the idea of Celtic music. I think there is something about Celtic music that is mystical and theatrical and timeless.

Back Stage:  As a playwright, what was your process like with "Fit"?

Austin: This play has been percolating for a while. I've been working on it for probably two years—two years of hard writing and maybe a year before of sort of dreaming. We did a reading of it in March at Under St. Marks with pretty much the same cast, so we've been rolling with this one for a while. But this is the world premiere.

Back Stage: This is your second time at Fringe, so what type of expectations do you have?

Austin: We love Fringe. We had such a great experience with it two years ago. I just think it's such a cool concept, and I love that there are so many different shows at so many different times. We didn't do it last year—we did a really cool festival in Brooklyn—but we were itching to get back.

Ninety-nine percent of our summer is doing this and we are very excited. It's been sort of a dream process this time—great actors, a great director, a great design team. I think we just want people to see the play. We worked really hard on it.

"Fit" will be playing on August 17 at 2 p.m., August 18 at 6:16 p.m., August 19 at 9:15 p.m., August 25 at 2 p.m. and August 27 at 9:30 p.m. at Teatro LA TEA as part of the New York Fringe Festival.

-- Emily Cegielski

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