Back when I was a New York International Fringe Festival staff member ('98-'03), it would sometimes be almost forgotten that theater, and play-going and performance-attending was the point of FringeNYC. The running of the festival was such an overwhelming, all-consuming job, that few staff members saw much at all. Nancy Walsh and I had a running joke where we would sidle up to each other and say "Hey, you know what? I just found out there's theater going on around here!" "No way!" After all, as we often said, from our point of view it was a Festival of Envelopes. (see bottom right photo. Those are envelopes.)
Now, all these years later, this is really the first year in which I am really seeing the festival from the vantage point of an audience member. In 2004, I was still the ultimate insider. I hung out with the staff, ran some box offices and hoped I wasn't turning into some kind of version of that weird guy who hangs out with the undergraduates after leaving school. In 2005 I was in rehearsal for a show I was taking to the SF Fringe and wasn't around much. In 2006 Virgodog had a show in the festival, so lots of that year's experience was about that. Last summer I was once again a participant, so I was focused on my own play. This year, finally, I am an audience member only. Granted, an audience member with a VIP pass, but audience member nonetheless. Let me tell you, it's completely fantastic.
I've seen about a dozen shows, some that friends were involved in, some random picks, and it's all just glorious. In 2004 I had an inkling of what it was all about and wrote Elena K Holy an email telling her that "I get it. I finally get it." Maybe I forgot, but I seem to have gotten it all over again. It's about the facilitation of art. It's a platform that didn't exist before 1997, and now it does. I think the theater world of NY would be essentially different had the festival not begun. I wrote earlier about LIT and the Theatorium and it's all part of the same whole. There are so many complaints about the festival, I've heard every single one of them, but the one I haven't heard is that New York would be a better place if FringeNYC wasn't here. Because it wouldn't be. Whatever the complications and problems, and nobody's feelings about the festival are more complicated than mine, when it's all said and done, on this dying planet of ours, this is a good. Because there is work being done, some great, some less than great, but there is work being created by real live people with very little chance of any sort of material gain in return who are doing it anyway, so this is a win.
This life is hard, this life is short. Why limit anything? 200 plus shows? Why not? See some theater. Buy a ticket. Be in the same room with people who are making something while you watch. It's all quantum mechanics, you know. Your presence effects what's going on. That doesn't happen with TV or movies. Isn't that exciting?
Photos: Dixie Sheridan & George Rand