Read about NYC's best theatre and dance productions and watch video interviews with innovative artists
After a year hiatus, the New York International Fringe Festival returns with lots of changes
"New York City should have the best Fringe festival in the world -- and that's not what we had," says Elena K. Holy, the producing artistic director of the New York International Fringe Festival who helped found the event back in 1997. After its 20th edition wrapped in August 2016, Holy and her cohorts decided to take a year off to shake things up, and the reinvented Fringe debuts this October (that's the first change – a new month!).
The essence of the fest remains the same: a slew of productions organized into 14 genres, including comedy, drama, musicals, dance, improv, solo, FringeJR for kids and FringeHIGH for teens -- you can peruse all offerings on the Fringe site. But while Fringe, as always, promises a weird and wild time, there are many changes you'll want to be aware of. We help you navigate Fringe 2.0!.
FRINGE NOW COMES IN TWO PARTS, BUT WITH FEWER SHOWS
FringeNYC takes place October 12 to 28 in the West Village
There are only 83 FringeNYC shows (as opposed to 200 or so in years past) and tickets must be purchased online at least five minutes before show time. You don't go directly to the theatre; instead, you assemble in front of color-coded flags at FringeHUB (685 Washington Street at Charles Street) where an "Audience Ambassador" escorts you to the performance. There are ten FringeNYC performance spaces, all within six blocks of FringeHUB, and while some are theatres, others are nontraditional venues such as galleries, a church basement and even a converted apartment. Once the production ends, the Audience Ambassador brings you back to FringeHUB, where you mingle with the artists.
Fringe is purposefully not publicizing the addresses of the venues. "Some of them are pop-up spaces," explains Holy. "We've promised the neighbors that our audience is not going to be crawling all over the buildings."
FringeBYOV takes place October 1 to 31 in Brooklyn, Queens and on the Staten Island Ferry
FringeBYOV stands for "bring your own venue" and allows productions to find their own performance spaces in the outer boroughs. Unlike the 83 FringeNYC shows, which were selected out of 400 submissions by a panel, FringeBYOV offerings were not curated -- they just said they wanted to be a part of fest. That's actually the way most fringe festivals (including the venerable Edinburgh) work.
"These shows rent their own venues, set their own ticket prices and determine their own performance schedules," Holy explains. "That might be a better fit for a range of shows."
Since BYOV is brand-new and requires a lot of heavy lifting for theatre-makers, only 17 productions are participating this first year in Brooklyn, Queens and on the Staten Island Ferry. But Holy hopes FringeBYOV will expand to all four outer boroughs at future Fringes.
NEW TICKET PRICES
FringeNYC shows cost $22 per ticket (in 2016 it was $18). FringeBYOV offerings can charge whatever they want, and range from $3 to $100. That top price is for Dishwasher, an unusual show by performance artist Brian Feldman, who'll come to your NYC home at a mutually agreed upon time this month, wash your dirty dishes and then read any monologue you hand to him.
WHAT'S ON STAGE?
Even with 100 fewer productions, the offerings at Fringe can still feel diffuse and overwhelming. But, as in previous years, a few trends emerge.
Unsurprisingly, politics is a big one, with shows about specific figures including Hillary Clinton's Song Cycle: Witness (October 13-21); The Information War about right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones (October 13-28); American Carnage: A Solo Staged Reading of Select Screenplays by Stephen K. Bannon (October 14-22) and The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley, the true story of a 1920s conman who became a successful politician (October 12-28).
This Is Not A Theatre Company offers four "pod plays" which you can download to your smartphone and listen to anytime in specific places, i.e. Ferry Play on the Staten Island Ferry. The other three are Subway Plays: Damper Felts on the N, The International Local on the 7 and Spare Some Change on the L.
Makbet, an immersive musical version of the Scottish play presented by the Dzieci international experimental theatre ensemble, takes place in a shipping container at a Brooklyn recycling center (October 4-21).
Together We Are Making a Poem in Honor of Life is set in a church basement, where a couple whose child was killed in a school shooting attends a series of support group meetings (October 14-28).
Shows by Fringe Veterans
One of the goals of the reinvented Fringe is to create a more supportive environment for emerging artists. That said, the two-decade-old fest continues to attract established artists whose previous Fringe shows proved popular.
The Church of Saint Luke in the Fields (October 13-28), about three people who meet on the church's grounds, is by Jim Shankman, who's penned three other Fringe shows (The Screenwriter Dies of His Own Free Will, Kiss Your Brutal Hands and Suicide Math).
Striking Out (October 16-21), subtitled "a gay baseball musical," comes from Chicago's Annoyance Theatre, which presented the Fringe hit So I Killed A Few People in 1998.
One Christmas Eve (October 12-24) features six interlinked vignettes set in a Midwestern shopping mall by the same group of playwrights behind 2016's The Gorges Motel, including Gretchen Cryer (I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road) and Arlene Hutton, whose Last Train to Nibroc was the first-ever FringeNYC show to transfer Off-Broadway.
There Has Possibly Been an Incident (October 16-22) is by Mind the Gap Theatre, which has been at FringeNYC twice before.
A Show That Made the News
Last year, Kevin Broccoli's Franco and Me, a fictional conversation between the playwright and James Franco, was shut down by the controversial Hollywood star. But with the new subtitle "An Unauthorized Satire," it's making its NYC debut at Fringe (October 23-28).
Browse all FringeNYC and FringeBYOV on the festival's website.
BEYOND SHOWS AT FRINGE
The Fringe is debuting The Indie Convening, a sort of indie theatre convention which runs concurrently with the fest. Although many panels are aimed at artists (i.e. Day Jobs for Creatives on October 15; On the Demise of Print: Crises of Criticism and Coverage on October 24), audiences are the target for FringePLUS, a series of themed discussions about timely topics such as sexual assault (after the October 21 performance of Simple Math), gun violence (after the October 28 performance of Together We Are Making a Poem in Honor of Life) and mass incarceration (after the October 20 performance of The Last Jimmy) . You do not need to be a ticket holder to attend -- everyone is welcome. Find the schedule on the Fringe website.
Jonathan Mandell is a drama critic and journalist based in New York. Visit his blog at NewYorkTheater.me or follow him on Twitter at @NewYorkTheater. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Top image: Bremner Duthie in 33 (a kabarett). Photo by Alexander Howe.