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Why FRIGID Fest Chooses Shows at Random Lotteries and luck create a unique artistic vision

Artistically speaking, the FRIGID New York Festival---which runs through March 3 at the The Kraine, the Red Room, and Under St. Marks---is often about the value of losing control.

Every year, the festival features 30 shows and hundreds of artists, but it finds them through chance, luck, and random drawings. Even though FRIGID is produced by the team at Horse Trade Theater Group, their tastes and opinions have  no bearing on what gets on stage.

"We get introduced to such amazing new talent every year, and sometimes, it's people we never would have picked on our own," says Erez Ziv, Horse Trade's managing director. "Sometimes shows that don't look good at all on paper end up being amazing pieces of work on stage, or vice versa. It's always exciting."

Here's how it works: Out of 30 annual slots, 15 go to the first people who apply online. ("That usually takes about two seconds," says Ziv.) The remaining 15 productions are chosen by drawings in two lotteries. The first lottery includes participants in the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF), which FRIGID joined when it launched in 2007. In that lottery, artists name at least five CAFF festivals where they want to perform, and if their names are drawn, then they take their shows to every festival on their list.

This year, FRIGID got two productions from the Canadian drawing. The remaining thirteen productions were chosen from a lottery in New York, and that pool included everyone who applied online but wasn't one of the first fifteen through the door.

Thanks to this method, this year's line-up is remarkably eclectic. On Saturday alone, audiences can see eighteen shows, including  My Three Moms, a solo drama about a woman who has to bury three women who shaped her life; A Day in the Life of Miss Hiccup, a multi-media comedy by a troupe from Tokyo; and The Vindlevoss Family Circus Spectacular, a physical comedy show about a professor who decides to put a zombie in a circus. (Thanks to the off-Off @ $9 program, TDF members can get tickets to every FRIGID show for $9.)

Meanwhile, late-night audiences can experience the Canuck Cabaret, which features singing, dancing, burlesque, and assorted mayhem. Now in its fourth year, the Cabaret proves that randomly selecting artists can have long-term benefits. It's overseen by Paul Hutcheson, a Canadian artist whose solo show got selected for FRIGID in 2009. "I would never, ever have scheduled that show if I had been curating," Ziv recalls. "It didn't seem interesting. But then I sat down to watch it, and it was amazing. Paul was a terrific performer, and we've been working with him ever since."

Hutcheson keeps returning to FRIGID and the Canuck Cabaret because it drops him into such a unique artistic community. "It's interesting what happens when money's not at play," he says. "None of us are being paid anything, hardly. You come in to do five shows, and you're proud if you've got eighteen people in the audience. But that's amazing when you don't know anyone in New York City. And some of the best shows have been the ones with the smallest audiences. That's part of the beauty of it, too, when no one's in it for the money. It's just about having fun and giving those eighteen people a reason to tell eighteen friends."

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Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor

Photo of A Day in the Life of Miss Hiccup by René Ferrer