The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society was founded in 1958 to accommodate the influx of artists and performers who tended to appear around the edges of the traditional Edinburgh Festival, unannounced and unplanned. Instead of discouraging these performers from dropping in, they were incorporated into the event in the slightly anarchic spirit of the performers themselves. The Fringe was purposefully formalized, but unorganized with “no artistic director and … shaped by the very initiative and vision of performers willing to showcase their work here.” Many American cities have embraced the Fringe ethos and now curate annual Fringe Festivals of their own, encouraging artists to present their work, unvetted, but loosely organized to maximize exposure and impact. Providence now joins the fray and announces its very own Fringe Festival as The Wilbury Theatre Group announces the 1st annual FringePVD, to be held July 24 through July 26, 2014. The only such festival in the New England area, FringePVD will bring together more than 50 individual theater, music, dance, multimedia and performing artists for four nights of over 30 performances in participating venues throughout the capital city.
Festival organizer, Josh Short, who is quick to distance himself from any sort of leadership role in FringePVD, nonetheless is the one who got the ball rolling after initial conversations with Trinity Rep’s Mike Gennaro. Short states that the concept started slowly, with no fanfare, just the idea to seek out the type of performance being done outside of the traditional “company” structure that is so prominent in the state. “There is so much talent around,” says Short, “and with no infrastructure (i.e., ‘working for other people’) some of them get lost and have to move to Chicago or other larger cities to get noticed. We started speaking at first to independent artists who fall between the cracks and perform in city warehouses and apartments, instead of rented theaters.” Over beers, Short slowly began to build interest in the idea of a weekend of gloriously unconnected performances in various locations throughout Providence. Eventually “for fear of not getting enough participants,” an open call went out and over 30 submissions came through. Asked if there were any rejected submissions, Short claims that there were none, only that any already established or published work would simply not fit the ethos of the event. “Otherwise,” says Short, “the only way we would reject any requests for performance would have been if the dates were already too full.”
Similar to Wilbury’s New Works program, the idea of FringePVD is not just to put on a show, but to allow artists to showcase and workshop new pieces to solicit feedback and improve their creations. With the encouragement and backing of several Providence theater stalwarts such as Trinity’s Gennaro and Curt Columbus as well as Steven Pennell of the Urban Arts and Cultural Program at the URI Feinstein Campus downtown, Short was able to secure some of the resources necessary to produce such an ambitious undertaking. Also instrumental were Lynne McCormack, Director of Art, Culture and Tourism for Providence, and a Pell Grant from the Tourism Council. This money, stresses Short, is to cover the overhead of securing the venues and associated publicity costs, not to make any sort of profit. The small fees charged at each performance will go directly to the artists involved and not to the venues or organizers.
A reluctant curator, Short hopes that he can now step back and watch the event grow organically, in the same way that other such festivals have mushroomed across the country. He does not want people to see this as a Wilbury event, but as an artist-sponsored happening that grows in scope to become an official non-profit agency outside of any one particular company or group. Theater companies may want to try out a new piece or an individual may have a new work that they cannot produce in any other way. Local artists have a chance to be recognized, Providence’s diverse audience can be engaged in a much more direct way than traditional venues allow and both sides may “engage fully in the global dialogue and global community surrounding this kind of work.”
Performances will be spread across AS220’s 95 Empire Black Box Theater, Aurora Providence, The Movement Exchange, URI Providence Campus and The Wilbury Theatre Group’s performance space at the Southside Cultural Center, along with other non-traditional performance spaces and parade routes throughout the city. Performers range from Lenny Schwartz’s Daydream Theatre to local music by Srsy and beyond. “FringePVD brings arts organizations throughout the city together to provide artists the opportunity to present their work in a way that supports each of them, as well as the continued growth of Providence as a recognized leader in the arts,” says Short. “In addition, it supports our mission to provide our audiences access to the cutting-edge works at the forefront of American theater.”
FringePVD, Providence’S Fringe Festival, opens July 23 and runs across various locations throughout Providence until July 27. Visit fringepvd.org for schedules and to learn more about the artists involved.