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NYC Has a Fringe Festival Again! But Is Off-Off Broadway Back?

By: Joey Sims
Date: Mar 28, 2024

April's Fringe fest is an exciting addition to the indie theatre scene during a challenging time


New York has been without an official Fringe festival for five years, after the high-profile New York International Fringe Festival, birthplace of Urinetown and Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical, never restarted after the pandemic shutdown. But the smaller, scrappier FRIGID Fringe has been presenting cutting-edge shows in the East Village since 2007, and this year, it's rebranding as the New York City Fringe at a critical moment for the still struggling Off-Off-Broadway scene.

Running April 3 to 21, the rechristened Fringe is produced by FRIGID New York, a not-for-profit bastion of Off-Off work that hosts many beloved annual fests, including The Fire This Time Festival and Queerly. This lottery-based Fringe is also expanding in scope: 47 shows, almost twice as many as last year's edition, will be presented over three weeks at five venues, including FRIGID's home base Under St. Marks, the Wild Project and 14Y Theater.

"It's the right time for a new Fringe festival," says Erez Ziv, cofounder and managing director of FRIGID New York. And he's doing it with the blessing of the former producing artistic director of the New York International Fringe Festival, Elena K. Holy, who says her event has no plans to return due to dwindling audiences, venue closures and other challenges.

"I'm glad that Erez has persevered," she says. "I sincerely hope younger generations can develop a model that is both sustainable and supports new, noncommercial theatre."

While this new Fringe is not nearly the size of Holy's at its height (in 2016, the original NYC Fringe offered 200 shows across 16 venues), it's still an ambitious undertaking featuring new works spanning a huge array of styles and genres. Bonus: Many shows are also being live-streamed to at-home audiences.

Highlights include Miami Madness (April 4-20 at the Wild Project), writer-performer David Rodwin's hilarious tale of staging a musical about the history of Miami on a boat owned by a Russian oligarch. Kim Barker's searing Blocks of Sensation (April 5-20 at 14Y Theater), about a scientist and mother battling America's opioid crisis in her lab and at home. The darkly comic Brokeneck Girls: The Murder Ballad Musical (April 6-19 at the Wild Project), exploring violence against women in folk music. Clown, drag and magic collide in Edu Díaz's A Drag Is Born (April 6-20 at 14Y Theater), a movement-based celebration of queer empowerment. And the multimedia lecture Stroke of Genius: Pantomime Masturbation Throughout Performing Arts History (April 7-17 at the Wild Project), which is self-explanatory.

Comedian Sara Raj, who's performing Yoga for Billionaires (April 6-16 at 14Y Theater) about a megalomaniacal Indian yoga guru, appreciates "being part of a larger artistic community," she says. Although she previously presented her show at SOLOCOM NYC and PhysFestNYC, she believes the Fringe will help her reach new audiences thanks to FRIGID New York's profile.

Also, it's "a really fair deal" adds Raj. The participation fee ranges from $900 to $1,800, depending on the venue, and covers a lot: a technician to run the show, ticketing services, publicity support and insurance. All box office revenue goes directly to the artists.

After operating out of the 99-seat Kraine Theater on East 4th Street for 20 years, FRIGID New York vacated the space last December. "It was just becoming too heavy—productions are not back to the numbers they were pre-pandemic," explains Ziv. His company kept its lease on the nearby Under St. Marks, but for Fringe it's partnering with other East Village venues, all ADA accessible (unlike the Kraine, another reason for leaving).

"The Kraine was an emotional loss for the community," acknowledges Akia Squitieri, a former FRIGID New York staffer who now serves as the Director of Arts & Culture at the 14th Street Y and is welcoming Fringe shows into her 14Y Theater. "The [Off-Off Broadway] spaces that are still here are finding fewer folks wanting to take the risk of flat rentals without support and grant money. It's a tricky time."

Ziv sees further difficulties ahead, particularly in terms of fundraising.

"Individual giving has plummeted in the last year," he says. The outlook on government and foundation giving is murkier but, anecdotally, Ziv fears these sources will also pull back in the coming year.

"Something does have to give within the industry where people become more generous with their donations to help these theatres keep going," says Elizabeth Flemming, founding producing artistic director of the Off-Off company Out of the Box Theatrics.

Still, there's reason to be optimistic, which Flemming knows firsthand. Her company recently took over 154 Christopher Street, the space vacated by the New Ohio Theatre, and has announced an impressively varied 2024-2025 season.

154 Christopher is also the new home for two long-running favorites, Naked Angels' Tuesdays@9 and The New York Neo-Futurists' The Infinite Wrench, after both weekly programs lost their space at the Kraine.

There are other promising signs that Off-Off Broadway is rebounding. During the past year, indie theatre incubator The Tank has donated 6,500 hours of free rehearsal and performance space to artists and seen 40% audience growth. IndieSpace continues to provide grants and funding to NYC's smallest theatre companies. Random Access Theater is preparing to open a brand-new black box in Dumbo dubbed The Rat NYC.

And on April 3, NYC biggest Fringe fest in five years kicks off.

"New York needs a Fringe," says playwright Adam Szymkowicz, whose noir-thriller-comedy Clown Bar 2 (April 14-21) is playing The Parkside Lounge as part of this year's festival. "I'm excited to see indie theatre begin to come back in larger numbers."

Clown Bar 2 director Andrew Block, who also works for TDF as the Manager of Off & Off-Off Broadway Services, noted that Fringe fests foster the artists of the future. "Fringe was where I cut my teeth as a director," he says. "It was easy to spot the enormous hole its disappearance left for the entire NYC arts community." Thankfully, Ziv and his collaborators are in the process of building it back.


As of press time, several New York City Fringe offerings were available to TDF members. Log in and search for New York City Fringe.

Joey Sims is a freelance theatre journalist who has written for The Brooklyn Rail, Vulture, American Theatre and others. Follow him on Twitter @joeycsims or subscribe to his theatre substack Transitions.