Juliette Davis of Pearl and The Oysters. Photo courtesy of Noah Lamport.

GUTFest, an underground theatre festival, encourages artists to “risk it all.” 

The High Dive looks like a scene out of an early 1930’s speakeasy. On the saxophone’s cue, Sally B. Dash, fitted in a sparkling red dress, assumes center stage and introduces fellow performers at the burlesque revue she hosted this past May.

Dash has performed burlesque in Gainesville for four years. Next month, she will join over 25 other artists at venues across downtown for GUTFest, Gainesville’s first underground theatre festival.

Matt Bratko, the creator of GUTFest, said that underground theatre is experimental and multidisciplinary.

“The stranger, the more avant-garde, the better,” said Bratko, the director of the festival.

Typical of underground theatre, which combines different forms of theatre with art, dance and music, audiences can expect to see a range of alternative performances, from bands to clowns (both comedic and serious), performance artists, interactive and musical storytellers, and poets.

Bratko said he tells artists “Don’t do something that you know you can do that’s safe. Do something that you haven’t done before. Do something you’re not sure you can pull off. Do something you don’t know how people are going to react to.”

Performers, like Dash, are encouraged to “risk it all.”

“A lot of the burlesque that we do in town in very edgy, we have some very deep, sad and moving acts—it’s not necessarily big, beautiful and sparkly all the time,” Dash said.

Tyler Francischine, director of marketing and communications for GUTFest, said that the festival aims to give a voice to local artists and to give the community the opportunity to see art regardless of one’s socioeconomic status. To further this goal, the festival is free, a condition of its $1,500 grant from the UF Center for Humanities and the Public Sphere.

In addition to the grant, the organizers held an underwater-themed fundraiser at The Atlantic in April, which featured a performance from Dash and the Gainesville-debut of French pop-duo Pearl & The Oysters. Both artists are expected to perform at the festival.

Juliette Davis, lead singer of Pearl & The Oysters, received her master’s degree in music and musicology in Paris. The pair came to Gainesville so that her music partner, Joachim Polack, could complete his doctorate in music.

“Gutfest is about giving a chance to people who have ambitions with their art to make something happen with it and to have a real connection with the public,” she said.

Bratko hopes the event will spark more communication among artists in the community, but most importantly he wants festival-goers to come away thinking theatre is cool.

“There is sexy theatre, there is exciting theatre, there is theatre that makes you think, that makes you excited to be there, that takes risks, that challenges you,” he said. “I really want people to think that there is more to this art form that [they] can care about than [they] ever thought there was.” •