By MARK BLANKENSHIP
You've got to love the scrappiness of FringeNYC. As it presents over 200 theatre and dance productions, the festival always seems energetic and raw, like it's running on excitement and artistic ambition.
However, it takes an enormous amount of work to create that bohemian vibe, and planning for this year's festival began just weeks after last year's ended.
Just ask Elena Holy (pictured above), who's been the Fringe's Producing Artistic Director since its very first summer in 1996. "I've had a couple of beloved audience members say, 'Oh, I just love the Fringe Festival, and I love how it springs up out of nowhere," she says. "To which I say, 'Yeah! I'm glad it feels like that!'"
The advance work is meant to make everyone in the Fringe community---including artists, audience members, and staff---feel as welcome as possible. Applications for this year's fest started arriving in January, for instance, so that a team of adjudicators would have plenty of time to select shows and orient the creators to Fringe living.
"It's pretty daunting, as an emerging artist, to get an acceptance letter that has this sixty page participation manual," Holy says. "It's a lot of information, and we try to break it down into bite-sized chunks."
The "chunks" include several events in New York City that bring Fringe participants face to face. This year, there have already been "speed dating" events to let writers meet potential directors, to let creative teams meet festival staff, and to let artists meet potential production managers.
On June 5, the Fringe will also host its annual Town Hall, a festive gathering that packs hundreds of Fringers into a single room and welcomes them to their madcap summer. And even participants who live across the world can stay connected, thanks to a private website that allows artists and administrators to discuss what they need and what they're planning to do.
If you're a Fringe audience member, then you can start participating, too. FringeNYC.org already lists plot summaries for all of this year's shows, and the festival is always looking for more volunteers. Meanwhile, to celebrate the festival's fifteenth season, a program called FringeBENEFITS is remounting old favorites every Thursday night from now until August at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. (For a complete schedule of FringeBENEFITS programs, visit http://www.spincyclenyc.com or call 212-352-3101)
Reflecting on all these events, Holy says, "There are thousands of people involved in every festival, and all of this allows more people to be part of a community. That's what we want."
Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor
Photo of Elena Holy by John Johnson