So what is there to make of the onslaught of coverage of the NY International Fringe Festival, that makes it sound like the worst way possible to spend your time? Try as we might to make light of it, the truth is, it's a rather brutal and consistent blow to the ethos of "Indie Theater." Like it or not, to many people, the Fringe Festival characterizes Indie Theater and Off-Off Broadway theater, summarizes it, and apparently, they don't love what they see.
There are definitely some great shows every year at the Fringe (I'm going to put up a post of recommendations soon). Then again, small theater loves to complain that it's unfairly characterized, even as individuals experiences seem to add up to "unsatisfactory" again and again. The brand of Off-Off Broadway has become one that's increasingly synonymous with an "aw shucks" "shoe-string budget" attitude that's about disposable gimmicks (Lisa Loeb: The Musical Tragedy!), wannabees for other mediums; or just plain mediocre writing and production values.
So...what can be done? Clearly, the quality control level of the Fringe, unfairly or no, is being called into question. There simply seems to be no desire to pull back on the number of shows, or rethink the model, even as the press treats it like the bastard step-child of NYC and other festivals (notably what's going on at the Brick) seem to have usurped their sense of being unique and thrilling.
What do you think of the NY International Fringe Festival? Are you excited about it every year? Or do you think something needs to change? I realize, honestly, that part of the Fringe model is its sheer size and that's what keeps it happening year in and year out. So I'm not suggesting they have to burn the thing down and start over. The coverage just seems to prevalent to ignore this time. What to do?
- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.