By MARK BLANKENSHIP
When he took over as artistic director of Ars Nova
, Jason Eagan was against the idea of a theatre festival. Until he founded one he liked.
Now in its second season, Ars Nova’s ANT FEST
has quickly become a stand-out in the New York scene, both because of its adventurous programming and its breathless, now-or-never pace.
Most festivals give you five or six chances to see a show, but at ANT FEST, you get one. In five weeks (October 19-November 21), thirty-one shows will play a single performance and then be gone, making way for the next play (or musical, or magic act) on the bill.
The blink-and-you-miss-it energy can make everything feel like an event. “More than the possibility of something getting lost in the mix, I think the excitement on a particular night actually helps the shows that come next,” Eagan says. “People tend to come back after they feel that excitement.”
So what kind of people is he talking about? Ars Nova is known for its quirky, Off Off Broadway taste, and it draws crowds that crave the unexpected. That’s especially true during ANT FEST, since none of the shows in the festival have a chance to build buzz. Every time they buy a ticket, patrons take a leap of faith. (For TDF members, festival tickets are $9. Regular price is $10.)
Eagan says, “It feels like the audiences and the artists are really connected because the audience is made up of early adopters---the ones who want to show up and feel like they’re part of something new. The ticket price makes people feel like they can really take a risk.”
This year’s slate may have something for every risky taste. If you like real-life academics performing a post-punk musical about the meaning of life, then there’s The Academics in Chaos Theory
on October 30. But if you prefer a female magician using magic tricks to tell the story of her childhood, then you can sample Rites of Enchantment
on October 29. The festival is also bursting with hip-hop performance art, naughty improv, live radio drama, and political sketch comedy. Eagan says, “Someone was asking me about themes that we see in the festival’s programming, but that’s the beauty of it. We don’t.”
After thinking, however, he says that there is one theme the programming: Supporting the fringes of the off-beat performance community. “So much of the work is ANT Fest is outside the box that these artists don’t have the opportunity to do their work anywhere else in New York, even in another festival,” Eagan says. “We like to offer them a home.”
For a complete schedule of ANT FEST events, visit http://www.arsnovanyc.com/ant-fest
Mark Blankenship is TDF’s online content editor.