The Playgoer: Is the Fringe a Fraud?

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Is the Fringe a Fraud?

My blogcation was momentarily disrupted by these cutting words from Jason Zinoman in today's Times:

Does it matter that New York has a drearily mediocre Fringe Festival?
I have long thought not, since the annual August assembly line of toothless political parodies, dumb musicals, navel-gazing solo shows and occasional gems always seemed harmless. It gave hundreds of young artists a chance to shine and filled a niche for the press during the dead quiet of summer. As I have visited much more audience-friendly Fringes in Edinburgh and Philadelphia, however, the New York International Fringe Festival now appears needlessly bland and poorly organized. It also does no favors for the reputation of downtown theater. We deserve better.
Talk amongst yourselves...


Playgoer said...

Here's a question to get you started--Let's think not just whether the Fringe is worth it from the audience's perspective, but how about the performers'? The thinking used to be that doing a show at the Fringe was always tough conditions, but at least you got built-in marketing and space. But do you think that still makes it worth it, or are you better off doing a regular Off-Off B'way showcase on your own?

Same applies, for that matter to those other summer Fringe-ettes, Midtown International Theatre Fest and New York Musical Theatre Fest

stax920 said...

You put up a Fringe show one year. What was your experience like?

Anonymous said...

I think it's a total waste of time. The marketing you get is bad bad bad. Companies would do much better off mounting their own showcase, or banding together with other companies to combine. Hell, I think companies from the states are wasting precious time and money to take a show to one of the international fringes (E'burgh, Dublin). Add up the cost of 8 people flying, staying for a month, and supporting themselves (because 90% aren't getting paid anything), and you have the makings of a nice little pool of money to host your own stand alone show at a moderately equipped theatre in the city.

I'm glad you brought this up - I often shake my head about the fringe(s).

Bob said...

A little off-topic here, but I think the Fringe made a major error at it's inception that it may never recover from.

In the microcosmic world of downtown theater in the '90s, there were companies and artists who had been seizing those slow summer months as a time when people were available, space was inexpensive and audiences were, for the most part, around. Ambitious, professional and cutting-edge shows were made on the cheap, in less-than-forgiving spaces. Rather than gathering this already-established and well-seasoned fringe community together, the Fringe Festival alienated us (or me, at least) right off the bat, dumping nearly 200 shows on the minuscule scene, all in the name of being fair in their selection process.

Suddenly actors, designers and technicians were unavailable, spaces were more expensive and, worst of all, audiences were flooded with hundreds of shows to sift through and either throw up their hands and go see a movie or, worst of all, see something mediocre or bad and vow to never return to the theater.

Once "Urinetown!" hit, it was all over. Artists then looked at the Fringe as a potential ticket to commercial success and, as we know, that is one slippery slope.

RLewis said...

JZ is right.

I'm sure that it's a good thing for the artists, although most will never do another show in the city; but what does it do for the NYC audience? That's the most important thing, and I worry that it gives audiences a reason to paint year-round, 99-seat theater with the same brush, and they leave saying, "Ya see, that's why I don't go see downtown theater."

Giving the artists an opportunity to skip the reading and workshop stages where the cream can rise to the top, and to use the city's professional environment as a testing-ground, is the kind of thing that keeps the amatuer label just one swat from being stamped on all downtown theater.

RVCBard said...

My response is at my blog.

Anonymous said...

I'm a few days late to this party, but I'd like to thank Mr. Zinoman for his article and briefly weigh in as a Fringe veteran who has gone cold turkey on the whole damn thing.

I've been involved in just about every capacity at FringeNYC: Volunteer, actor, writer/producer, adjudicator, reviewer. I was there when it started and I love many of the people involved. However, its problems are problems of vision (as has been said elsewhere). This is systemic, and cannot be fixed overnight--especially since the festival is a relative financial success which contributes to the founder's belief that all is well and people should stop bitching.

Go to COIL. Go to UTR. Go to the Incubator or the Brick. Those resources take care of their artists and produce truly risky work; you may not like what you see, but you'll at least be exposed to artists working at the tops of their game. The Fringe is a bloated, stale fish that has rotted from the head down. NYC deserves better.