Saturday, August 25, 2007

In Support of Fringe

All-in-all, 2007 New York International Fringe Festival seemed to have a lot more quality shows than past years. A friend of mine said that maybe I was just getting better a picking shows – but I don't think so. Maybe Elena Holy and the adjudication panel is getting better at picking shows? It's ironic, because there seemed to be a lot of Fringe-Bashing going on this year – mostly prior to anyone seeing this year's shows.

The Village Voice's piece (Welcome to the Fringe! Now Where the Hell Is It?) has three wildly different suggestions from three fringe-veterans. John Clancy suggests opening up the fringe to the other boroughs and opening up the festival in general to a model (You got a show? Find a venue and you're in!) similar to the Edinburgh Fringe. While I think that the way fringe shows are chosen, basically from an application, can result in a lot of bad shows – I think opening it up geographically would result in a complete disintegration of the energy that the Festival now creates. A major complaint of the NY Fringe is that unlike the Edinburgh Fringe, the NY Fringe doesn't bring NYC to a grinding halt of all other activity. Edinburgh's population is 457,830 (or was in 2005). I think that is roughly the number of people who live in my apartment building! New York would have to have a fringe venue on every block to generate that kind of excitement city-wide. You can walk down 6th Avenue on the last Sunday in June and not realize there is a parade of a million people happening a block away. That's just New York.

David Cote, on his blog Histriomastix , basically argues for the same opening up of the NY Fringe as Clancy. Cote also goes on to say “I love theater. I love artists. But I don't love scores of mediocre, barely trained amateurs who put together a showcase so that producers will come and give them paying jobs on TV.” Now, I was always under the impression that the Fringe was giving an opportunity for smaller, financially strapped companies an opportunity to produce inexpensively and have somewhat of a built-in audience by way of the Fringe's popularity. After Urinetown, there was realization that a show could have a life beyond the Fringe, but I think Elena and the adjudication process have managed to keep that in check by way of having the Festival be somewhat curated. I've not really got the feeling that Fringe participants were participating as a way of auditioning for TV. The Equity term “Showcase” was created way before the Fringe existed in NYC.

What direction would I like to see the Fringe go? Ideally it would be great if it could be more geographically contained (not less!), the way it was in the early years on the LES. East 4th Street has at least eight theaters between 2nd Avenue and the Bowery. I say take over East 4th Street! And then if there is a demand for a non-curated version of the festival – let those shows go beyond the actual Fringe venues.

But I say CONGRATULATIONS to Elena K. Holy, Shelley Burch, Ron Lasko and the whole Fringe gang for a great 2007 Festival!

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