Wednesday, August 6, 2008

How To FringeNYC

On Friday (August 8th, from 1pm - 3pm), I am hosting a portion of the Opening Ceremonies at the New York International Fringe Festival at FringeCENTRAL. I'll be introducing some sneak previews of shows appearing in this year's festival, chatting with festival participants/local celebrities, and offering some advice about how to get the most out of FringeNYC. I want you to come to the Opening Ceremonies if you can, so I won't give away all of what I'm planning to say here.


But I would like to reflect here in the nytheatre i on how I learned HOW TO FRINGENYC. Every year I think I do it a little bit better; and every year I try to share what I know with as many people as possible.


At the first FringeNYC festival, back in 1997, I didn't have any idea what to expect. But as soon as I arrived at FringeCENTRAL that year (which, as I recall, was at The Piano Store on Ludlow Street), I was greeted by a man who I now know was named Mark Lonergan, who handed me a postcard and said, "Hi, come see my show!" (It was called WHITE/NOISE/JUMP and was unlike anything I'd ever seen before--I loved it.)


Mark taught me my first lesson of HOW TO FRINGENYC, which is that traditional advertising doesn't matter very much in this festival, but the personal touch means absolutely everything.


The next year, that lesson was amplified by several artists who had become aware of the then still-new website nytheatre.com and invited me to cover their work at the 1998 festival. (Among them were Tim Cusack and Ken Urban, both of whose work I continue to follow to this day.)


In 1999, I sat down one day in late July with the festival's co-founder (and then-artistic director) John Clancy for a walk through the program guide. From John I learned two important lessons that I repeat to this day: (1) Get recommendations from your friends; and (2) Don't always listen to them. This is true, I swear: John was near the end of the program guide, in the "U" section, and came to a show and said: "Now this show here, this is like 3 hours long and I just don't know -- it could be great but it could be absolutely terrible. You can probably skip it." The show was, as you've probably guessed, Urinetown.


In 2001, NYTE produced our very first FringeNYC preview event in conjunction with the opening of FringeCENTRAL. By this time, we had published a couple of volumes of our Plays and Playwrights anthologies and gotten to know many of the artists participating in the festival; we had folks from five of that year's shows appear in a mini-variety show at the Present Company Theatorium to give audiences a flavor of what was in store. This modest show--which featured such titles as Halo and The Elephant Man-The Musical--turned out to be the prototype for our nytheatrecast FringeNYC preview series which we started last summer. The lesson here being, obviously, that nothing gives you a better idea of what you might like to see at FringeNYC than some free samples.


The following year I was invited to co-host the FringeCENTRAL Grand Opening. We started with a presentation at the Theatorium where, for the first time, I presented my public "lecture" on HOW TO FRINGENYC. (The entire crowd then traipsed, in the rain, several blocks to Orchard Street to the first free-standing FringeCENTRAL location in the festival's history.)


I am proud to say that the FringeNYC folks asked me to repeat this little "course" at FringeNYC Opening Ceremonies in 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, and now this year.


Every year I think about what I should say when I'm asked HOW TO FRINGENYC--i.e., how to make the most of a festival that, for its sheer size and scope, is impossible for any single person to navigate. Every year, my bottom line answer is: immerse yourself in the festival and have a blast. This is your once-a-year chance to see theatre of every shape, size, and style for a relatively low outlay of time and money. Don't follow the crowd or follow the hype; follow your curiosity instead.

nytheatre.com provides previews written by festival artists and will this year (for the 7th year in a row) review every show in FringeNYC. Why do we do this? So that audiences can make their own decisions about what to see in the festival, rather than relying on the limiting and reductive choices made in other media outlets. FringeNYC, ultimately, is all about choice.

Join me at the Opening Ceremonies on Friday and then stay tuned to nytheatre.com as we cover every one of this year's 201 productions. You will see our reviews by August 9th.

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