Monday, August 18, 2008

FringeNYC Redux

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

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

West Egg Revisited

Last weekend I drove down to North Carolina with Virgodog, where I was his guest/Sig Oth/arm candy at his 20th high school reunion.   After arriving in Little Chicago, North Carolina*, we hung out with a good friend of Virgodog's from high school and his wife.  They were both delightful.  This was a huge relief, as I hadn't at all known what to expect.  Aside from the Virgodog support aspect, I was attending in the spirit of anthropological zeal.  I didn't grow up in a place anything like Little Chicago.  I grew up in a place called West Egg.

Tacky North Shore suburb, over-indulged, over-privileged, gold-plated pressure cooker that it is, I hated it.  I left as soon as I could.  I did my best to carve out a life for myself that wasn't too informed by what I perceived as the narrow values of the place in which I grew up.  And then the two fold way back machine of my own high school reunion and joining facebook happened.  

It's nice to have perspective, or so I've heard, and I don't know if I do.  At my reunion, I felt exactly as I did when I was in high school and I didn't terribly enjoy the acid flashback aspects of the event much.  I looked around the room, and thought "who are these people?" and was sorry I'd come.  Most everyone was nice, some extremely so.  But everyone seemed a little shell-shocked, or maybe I'm just projecting.  Thank god for the open bar.  The people I liked in high school, I still liked.  The psychopaths were still psychopaths, and it was mildly comforting to find that my opinions of these people weren't completely colored by the hormonal hysteria of adolescence, but were, in fact, accurate.  Everyone looked good, everyone was successful in their own way, which, I think speaks more to the self selecting nature of reunions than anything else.  At the end, I would have regretted not going.

And then I joined facebook, which engendered another, slow motion high school reunion.  A particularly interesting aspect to this is that I link my blog entries to my facebook account, eschewing all anonymity.  I have reconnected with lots of people.  In a nice controlled way, I've messaged and chatted and said hello to lots of people I grew up with.  Which has been fun, really. 

I have no animosity for anyone I grew up with.  We were raised in strange circumstances, in a place where none of our parents were from.  (I remember the day when me and four friends all discovered that our fathers had attended the same high school.  We thought it was a remarkable coincidence, we didn't realize we were the product of a cultural cliché.)  Our school system was a sophisticated mechanism devised to achieve exactly one end:  to get its students admitted into an array of elite colleges and universities.  Inevitably, one of the byproducts of such an education are the acquisition of the tools required to analyze and dismantle the machinery in which we were caught.  If, like me, any of us chose a different path, we knew we could.  Like Gatsby before us, we saw that green light.

*all names have been changed to protect the easily embarrassed, i.e. Caviglia