New York City is the kind of place where you can witness a mariachi love song, beat-boxing acrobats or an African drum circle on your morning commute. But if you want to catch even more of this kind of performance, on stage, the New York International Fringe Festival kicks off this Friday. It features nearly 200 staged off-Broadway plays over the next two weeks.
Since between 800 and 1,000 amateur and professional playwrights apply to be a part of the Fringe, the festival's artistic director, Elena Holy, says that there's lots of innovation and diversity. "There is something for everyone – puppets, dance, a lot of new plays," she says. "It doesn’t serve anybody to have several shows about the same topic."
One of the playwrights who did make the cut for this year's Fringe is Manhattan attorney Matt Saldarelli. He says when his play, Getting Even With Shakespeare, was accepted, he was ecstatic. "I’ve gotten what I wanted out of the festival and it hasn’t even started," he says. "I’m going to have my work playing in an off-Broadway theater in New York, and it’s a dream come true." His play, a comedy about five tragic Shakespearean characters meeting their maker in a bar, will have five performances at the Players Theatre at 115 MacDougal Street.
Saldarelli adds that at least two moderately successful plays from the festival's 14-year history--1999's Urinetown and 2002's Matt & Ben--came out of the Fringe.
New York Post Drama Critic Elisabeth Vincentelli isn’t as excited about this year’s Fringe prospects as others, especially because she says the program lacks the curation and some of the better-known names of previous years. After seeing snippets of plays in a preview Fringe event, Vincentelli says the performances were "completely unprofessional." "You can’t get on stage just because you think it’s going to be fun," she says. Though she said the $15 advanced ticket prices are accessible, "the price you pay is that you lose two hours of your life that you won’t ever be able to regain. And of course, your soul is crushed."
Vincentelli worries that getting into the Fringe Festival will have people practicing their Tony speeches when they might be better off thinking about an audition for community theater. "The batting average is very low considering that they have put out literally hundreds of shows," she says.
Nevertheless, buzz on social media sites is building about the Fringe, and the excitement of earnest theater-makers seems like a force of its own. Several of the shows are already sold out, and the price of a $15 advanced sale ticket might be worth taking the chance.
Elisabeth Vincentelli is interested in some of the fringe plays. Here's her short list:
Burning in China, written by Gary Moore and directed by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, at the 4th Street Theatre at 83 E. 4th Street
The Hurricane Katrina Comedy Festival, written by Rob Florence and directed by Dann Fink, at the SoHo Playhouse at 15 Vandam Street
Just in Time - The Judy Holliday Story, written and directed by Bob Sloan, at the SoHo Playhouse at 15 Vandam Street