Friday, August 14, 2009

On FringeNYC - installment 1

The last time I attended a media junket, they sat me next to the New York Times. (Gulp.) So, this time, I show up in business casual with my laptop and ipod recorder ready to go.

The blogger sitting next to me is wearing a worn T-shirt and shorts. He doesn’t even have a pen handy.

Welcome to the press conference for the New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC). It’s my first Fringe, and it becomes quite clear to me that things are much more “chill” down here. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re any less legit.

Featuring 201 shows from Aug. 14 to 30, FringeNYC is the largest theater festival in North America. And despite a sparse attendance at the press conference, Producing Artistic Director, Elena K. Holy assures that advance sales are up 48 percent.

Holy serves as the cruise director for this preview of the “New York’s Best Staycation”—as the Fringe is marketing itself these days. With each ticket at the chump-change price of $15, the Fringe is trying to attract New Yorkers who may not have the dough to escape to the Hamptons, or even Hershey, in this recession summer.

The sampling of performances shown to us insiders at the Minetta Lane Theatre ranges from campy (Devil Boys From Beyond) to tongue-in-cheek (The Event – my personal favorite). We witness Japanese sword fighting set to drums and flutes (Scattered Lives), and see variations on Looney Tune characters brought to life by puppeteers (Powerhouse).

With so much to see and so little time (16 days), FringeNYC offers package deals, the most intriguing of which is the Lunatic Pass. For $500, you get the golden ticket to everything Fringe. (Of course, there’s still that $500 out of your pocket, so perhaps Wonka references make for a faulty analogy here.) I ask Holy just how many of these Lunatic Passes they sell each season, and she says around 12 or 15.

“A number of people may see one or two shows a year, and then they may see 20 in 16 days” says Holy. The price is right, she explains, and the Fringe selects work that draws in the younger crowds.

In fact, I was amazed at a statistic on their website that says that 60 percent of audience members in 2007 were 18-35 years of age. Given that no one seems under 70 in most Sunday matinees at Broadway and prominent off-Broadway houses, this number is astounding. Holy takes it even one step further:

“We can’t afford to do super fancy research, but anecdotal evidence shows that not only have a lot of them [18-35-year-old Fringe-goers] never been to an off-off-Broadway show, but a lot of them have never seen live theater.”

This is hard to believe at the press conference, where I am surrounded by folks that may or may not have ties to one show or another; perhaps they’re friends of a certain actor or actress. It’s unclear. One woman sitting two rows in front of me is armed with a digital camcorder and pans to me as I watch the performances.

I hope she caught my good side.
Coming up in FringeNYC coverage:

- Comments from the people behind Scattered Lives, Far Out, and Powerhouse.
- An interview with Andrew Unterberg, writer of The Crow Mill.

For now, check this out. From Graveyard Shift. Anyone who’s ever had to give up their lunch break to watch office safety videos ought to appreciate.

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