A Revamped ‘FringeNYC’ Returns in October: A Conversation with Producing Artistic Director Elena K. Holy

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Following last year’s hiatus, FringeNYC – the New York International Fringe Festival – returns in October with a new structure and focus. Elena K. Holy, Producing Artistic Director of The Present Company (which produces the Fringe) and one of the Festival’s original founders in 1997 (along with Aaron Beall, John Clancy, and Jonathan Harris), took time out of her busy pre-Fringe schedule to answer some questions about the reorganization process and what changes audiences can expect this year.

A former Tony Award Nominator (2008-11), recognized by the Indie Theater Hall of Fame as “Person of the Decade” in 2015, Holy led FringeNYC to being honored with the Ellen Stewart Award (presented by the New York Innovative Theatre Awards for its “significant contribution to the Off-Off-Broadway community”) in 2016 – the Festival’s 20th anniversary year. Under a recently-devised three-year strategic plan, Holy continues her leadership by ushering in a new era for North America’s largest multi-arts festival.

Elena K. Holy.
Elena K. Holy.

Deb: What considerations led to the cancellation of the 2017 FringeNYC and the interest in reorganizing?

Elena: Well, cancelled makes it feel a bit last minute, Deb, like audiences were lined up at venues! But I do know that lots of folks were surprised when we announced, following our 20th Annual Festival, that we wouldn’t be producing a festival in 2017, but instead taking a year to conduct our “Blank Canvas Project.”

There were a lot of factors that led to our decision . . . not the least of which was we founded our festival in the mid 1990’s! A lot had changed, and we felt like our best approach to ensuring the longevity and sustainability of our festival was to start from scratch and to build it from the ground up. It’s hard to remember what it was like – but when we started nobody even had email! And NYC was very different, as were the needs of our audience and artists and alumni.

What did the revamping process entail, and who was involved in the discussion?

It was a great deal of research and our “Transition 1” Board of Directors was intimately involved with program analysis. Our former staff and volunteers did some SWOT work, and then a series of convenings in person with all of our various constituencies, and conversations with my friends and colleagues at World Fringe Congress and US Association of Fringe Festivals really helped, as well. The resulting three-year strategic plan (FringeNYC 20/20) was announced just about a year ago.

Why did you decide to move the Festival from August to October?

We evaluated everything from weather to when other Fringe festivals around the world happen, and were informed by the changing NYC theatrical landscape, as well. Basically, by year two of our three-year plan, we hope to have begun positioning FringeNYC as the “National Fringe Festival.” And in October there are no others: NYC multi-arts festivals in NYC; US Association of Fringe Festivals festivals; World Fringe Alliance festivals (Cape Town Fringe ends in early October).

All of these festival leaders and even their shows can attend and participate in FringeNYC. Additionally, college students will be back in the city (with housing paid for) and can intern for us. And my favorite – IT’S NOT AS HOT!

Can you tell us a little about the new format and categories?

Sure! The New York International Fringe Festival is now FringeNYC + FringeBYOV, all powered by the FringeNYC Alumni Association. FringeNYC is our smaller, adjudicated segment in Manhattan, all within one small area. FringeBYOV is our “bring your own venue” segment in the outer boroughs, much like the mama Fringe festival in Edinburgh.

Who is involved in the adjudication process, and what criteria are used in selecting the works?

FringeBYOV isn’t adjudicated at all, the indie venues in the outer boroughs or our alumni association members just register their shows and get listed in our program guide, ticketing services, etc. FringeNYC is still adjudicated – and our adjudicators and panelists are alumni, artists, leadership from other theaters, and even some audience members!

Do you have any concerns about criticism that the Fringe is becoming less on the fringe and more mainstream?

I think those have been addressed in this new model. We maintained an adjudicated segment in part so we can, over the next years, begin to bend our adjudication process toward creating cultural equity. It’s important to us that we’re providing an opportunity for those who don’t have it elsewhere. WHO the applicant is matters. But that only works because we’ve also created the FringeBYOV segment – where those who just need a marketing push, want to rent their own venue, and have only 8 pm curtain times can still be a part of the festival. And FringeNYC’s new Indie Convening at our FringeHUB is where we all huddle, kind of “bring it all in” from the other boroughs, and talk about what the community wants to accomplish in the next year.

What do you hope to achieve with the new version of the Festival?

I hope that since we have an amazing loyal audience and wonderful adventurous artists, but aren’t an organization burdened by real-estate demands or producing a season of shows, that we can leverage our strengths in support of the entire indie community so that the next generation has a reason to try to make NYC their home.

FringeNYC 2016, at The Clemente. Photo courtesy of FringeNYC.
FringeNYC 2016, at The Clemente. Photo courtesy of FringeNYC.

Where will the shows be presented? Is there a central venue, as in past years with The Clemente?

Our new home is the West Village. Our audiences for FringeNYC will meet at the appropriate colored flag at the FringeHUB and be escorted to the venue by an Audience Ambassador. Then the ambassador will return them to the FringeHUB after the show, so they can meet the artists and chat about the work, what else they’ve seen, maybe attend an Indie Convening event

Have you received any applications or confirmations to date for artists or shows that you’re especially excited to present?

Oh, now you know I am excited about all of them! The FringeBYOV shows are registering right now, and looking great! And our FringeNYC shows have been amazingly supportive as we build this new model. They’re really our “beta” class.

What can audiences look forward to in future years with FringeNYC, as a result of your new three-year strategic plan? Is the Festival still a work in development?

The festival is still very much a work in development! In fact, one track of the Indie Convening is specifically about building FringeNYC 2019 and beyond. We figured as long as we’re all gathered, let’s chat about accessibility, audience safety, even how we might get temporary permits for very small audiences to gather at DIY spaces as a part of FringeNYC. Oh! And what about the importance of criticism in developing new work, right?

Many thanks, Elena, for taking the time to give us the background on the FringeNYC reorganization and a preview of the 2018 festival!

FringeNYC plays October 1-31, 2018, performing at venues throughout NYC. For Festival passes, go online; single tickets go on sale September 1, 2018.

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