Henrik: What inspired you to create FringeArts, Philadelphia’s annual theater arts festival—“a city-wide celebration of innovation and creativity in contemporary performance”?
Nick: We went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. And we were so excited by what we saw that we wanted to make a version of it for Philadelphia.
Looking back at those first few years, what worked and what did not?
We had to grow in order to get better. People who have been involved with the Festival for a long time, myself included, look back on those early years with a lot of fondness. There was an energy in the air, because you never knew what might happen. But that also meant that there were shows that no one showed up to, because they couldn’t find out when and where it was.
In order to present the work we do, like Jérôme Bel [from France, Gala] or Romeo Castellucci [from Italy], we had to grow as an institution. With that comes things like salaries and benefits and finance committees—the things people don’t think about when they see the work we present.
When do you usually start planning the next festival?
It’s a moving target. We’ve got some shows locked in for 2017 and even for 2018, but I’m sure we’ll be adding up until the moment the 2017 guide goes to print. Being a performance curator is different than say, a visual art curator, because we have to deal with artists’ schedules, tours, and contracts. It often falls together at the last minute. We never take a break! We have year-round programming, too, and are working on how to build and market the Fall and Winter seasons right now—even in the midst of the Festival.
What acts are you ultimately looking for to bring to Philadelphia?
There are no set criteria. We’re looking for artists that are moving their craft forward, that are finding new edges to the cliff. We want to surprise people, to keep them off-balance. We look for high-quality work that takes risks.
How do you and your team find out about those avant-garde performers and/or performances, without traveling around the globe all year round?
We do travel the globe. My colleague and Co-Curator Sarah Bishop-Stone and I travel quite a bit to Festivals all over the world. I’m going to Paris as soon as the Festival is over.
With the many Fringe festivals around the world, how do you manage to consistently get world class performers and cutting-edge ensembles to come all the way to Philadelphia?
We pay them. These artists tour their work professionally. It’s what they do. We give them a prestigious platform on which to share their work, cover their airfare, put them up in hotels, and pay them their fee.
Each September you present over 1,000 acts. Some of the leading theaters in Philadelphia open their doors to the performances that you have selected, including the FringeArts Theatre, while many other events “explode into every nook and cranny in neighborhoods across Philadelphia and online”—including performances in people’s homes. Take us behind the curtain on how you organize these myriad events and locations.
It depends on the festival and on each show. Our staff balloons during the Festival, particularly in production. We hire virtually every stagehand in the city. The artists often have criteria that they would like the venue to meet, and we do our best to find the right spot. For instance, Romeo Castellucci needed a particular space for Julius Caesar. Spared Parts. It took a long time to find the right industrial space, but we found the perfect spot in the Navy Yard.
PlayPenn receives over 700 applications from playwrights every year, but only six get accepted into the play development conference. How good are the chances for theater artists and groups to get their shows featured in the Philadelphia FringeFest?
To be clear, there are two segments to the Festival. There are curated shows, which are composed of artists that we invite to perform on our platform, which are given the weight of our organization behind them.
And then there are the independent shows, which make up the majority of the shows in the Festival. Anyone that has the passion and courage to mount their show can be a part of our Festival. There is no application process, and we encourage people to take that risk and dive in.
Is there an application process for individual performers and groups?
There is no application. We have a Festival coordinator who works with the independent artists. There is a registration fee, which gets them into our Festival guide and gets them PR and box office support. Again, anyone that wants to be in the Festival and pays the fee gets into the Festival.
Philadelphia theaters offer a wide range of plays and performances all year round—from traditional dramas and musicals to new plays and avant-garde performances. From your perspective, what attracts local theater and music lovers to this year’s FringeArts?
We present shows you won’t see anywhere else. Festival is the time for taking risks, for being bold, both as an audience member and as an artist. The goal is to be subsumed by it, to go to a show having no idea what is going to happen, and to just surrender yourself to the art.
What makes us different is the enormous diversity of work happening in the Festival. You could see a show one night by a first-timer, and then the next night see one of the premier choreographers in the world. They feed each other. You see the breadth of human and artistic experience in that.
Looking back, what changes have you made for this year’s Festival and what events have you planned for FringeArts after the 2016 Festival is over?
We present work all year round at FringeArts, and we have events coming up very soon. Jérôme Bel, the artist behind Gala, is returning in November with one of his early works. He’s a very important artist to this organization, and we are committed to presenting his work in the future.
Presenting local artists is also important to us, so we’ll be working with Kelly Bond & Melissa Krodman, Annie Wilson, and others on their world premieres. John Jarboe of the Bearded Ladies continues his late night raunchy Get Pegged Cabaret in La Peg, and Sam Tower and Jess Conda are teaming up to recreate the world 2015 Fringe show 901 Nowhere Street in a new cabaret they’re calling NOWHERE FAST.
Do you also partner with other organizations?
Yes, we have this growing partnership with Ars Nova Workshop, an experimental jazz presenter in Philadelphia, so we’re co-presenting composer George Louis only a few weeks after the Festival ends. We always want to be presenting, always activating our Arts Center on the waterfront.
Nick, is there anything else you would like to share?
Read DCMetroTheaterArts’ 2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival reviews.