"It was the first time I've ever heard an entire theater gasp in unison," said John Clancy, artistic director of The Present Company, over a telephone call from his Lower East Side home. The horrifying event that elicited this gasp was the announcement at a recent benefit that the doors to The Present Company's storied Theatorium are in danger of closing forever.
The Theatorium is not only home to The Present Company's regular season, but also serves as the headquarters of The New York International Fringe Festival, an event which over the last three summers has virtually redefined the Off-Off Broadway world. Now heading into its fourth year, the Fringe Festival has emerged as one of the most important testing grounds anywhere for new work by independent theater artists. The treasured Theatorium felt the distinct rumble of distress under its feet when The Present Company received a landlord's notice demanding what Clancy describes as "unwarranted and unreasonable fees."
By the end of their benefit that night, The Present Company had already raised $20,000 toward the estimated $100,000 needed to stave off closure and calamity. Part of the fundraising effort is to cover expenses - to settle with the landlord, meet monthly overhead, and continue to present and produce new work - but part of the fundraising effort is also earmarked for ensuring the next Fringe Festival, scheduled for August 2000. Sadly, if the rest of the necessary funds don't find their way to 196 Stanton Street by January 31, hundreds of artists around the world who are preparing for the Fringe may find themselves without a festival, and The Present Company without a home.
In the Fringe, not only do artists have a greater chance of seeing each others' work and discussing it after the show, but one value-added bonus is an almost unlimited networking opportunity between artists.
Consider, for example, Julia Lee Barclay. A playwright and director, Barclay taught a class in last summer's "Fringe U," an adjunct series that is a hybrid of symposium, colloquium, and meet-and-greet. In the class, Barclay worked with performers to develop their skills in improvisation, creation, and simply listening to each other in their work.
The workshop then caught the attention of choreographer Sophia Lycouris, herself in attendance at the Fringe with her dance piece, Stories in D. A professor at a university outside London, Lycouris took an interest in Barclay's political work and invited her to do a "webcast" in England. A dialogue between the two women developed and Lycouris subsequently invited Barclay to travel to England this May to teach her technique at the Chisenhale Dance Space.