"The Fringe is more of a concept than a type of show," explains Ron Lasko, FringeNYC's publicist. "The spotlight is on Off-Off Broadway and what it means."
Over the past three summers, for the Present Company (under the leadership of Clancy and producing director Elena K. Holy), this has meant the ambitious staging of a large number of submitted plays at diverse venues centered around the Lower East Side, always during the last two weeks in August. Each, year the Fringe has grown by 10 to 20 percent. Fifty-thousand people are expected to attend this year's 180 productions, which represent 17 U.S. States and 12 countries. The shows will be performed in nearly two-dozen venues, some of which the Fringe has never before used (such as the Paradise Theater). Also new this year: financial aid from corporate sponsors and fellow thespians, including the Blue Man Group.
"There is nothing exactly like the Fringe," explains Lasko, noting the all-day schedule of performances (3pm to midnight) required to squeeze almost 200 plays--as well as the festival's panel discussions, workshops, kids activities, reading series, and art exhibits--into 12 days, August 16 through 27.
The production of the festival, intended to "unite the next generation of theater artists" and "increase the public's awareness of live performance," requires an enormous effort. Surprisingly, this, in addition to FringeNYC's established popularity (one of this year's plays, the Tiny Ninja Theatre's Macbeth, is already sold-out), hasn't intimidated but has enticed other theater companies to follow their lead.
Opening the same day as FringeNYC is the Nada Pure Pop Festival, a six-week extravaganza produced by Aaron Beall. A co-founder of FringeNYC, Beall last year created his own festival--which he says "complements" the Fringe--after a falling out with the other co-founders. "It's the fringe of the Fringe," he laughs. "We're the first festival to comment on the Fringe, to be the outsider of it."
The Pure Pop Festival runs both downtown at the below-storefront Nada Classic, where Ian W. Hill directs the Natural Born Pop festival (20 productions from the 20th century, including a staging of Ed Wood's films), and midtown at the former porn-show site Nada Show World, where Beall oversees the series 33 Swoons: A Portrait of Anton Chekhov.
Beall, known for his high-concept theater, explains that the 33 Swoons illustrate "how Anton became a great writer from a backwater town" using Beall's newly invented form of "super theater," in which the cast will "DJ, or sample, as many different acting and directing techniques as possible. It's sort of a post-Stanislavski take."
The Chekhov part of the festival, in a previous incarnation, has actually been running since May. Even Beall admits that "Nada itself is a festival format, running festival after festival throughout the year." This has caused some critics to claim that the Pure Pop Festival is merely the work Nada would be doing anyway, labeled as a summer festival to compete with the Fringe. But, Beall maintains, "We are completely different from the Fringe. We have two art directors who direct a near-impossible amount of work and curate a semantic festival."