Saturday, September 4, 2010

Summer at the New York International Fringe Festival

So I ended up this summer working as a Venue Production Assistant for the New York City International Fringe Festival. For those of you who are unaware of it, the NYC Fringe festival this year was 197 shows in 18 different venues downtown over two weeks every August ( The festival is known for presenting audiences with new and exciting theatre (Like Jurassic Parq a musical retelling of the movie from the point of view of the dinosaurs which you can still see in encores this month). For the first time in the festival's history that some of the venues had Production Assistants, of which I was one.

I was assigned to work at the Soho Playhouse, which despite being an amazing little performing space has a history of being a Tammany Hall hangout, and was once under the direction of Edward Albee. As the PA I was responsible for getting the venue prepped before the festival started, which included hanging and focusing the festival light plot as well as installing a new light board and speakers to the venue, and then during the venue I was available to be hired by the thirteen shows in the venue to run sound or lights for their five performances and I was on standby in case anyone ran into any technical problems.

(A few notes on how the Fringe Festival runs- each show can store their set pieces, costumes, and props in an allotted storage space in the venue, in our case in the basement dressing room. Each show may enter the theater thirty minutes before their showtime, they have fifteen minutes to get their materials out of storage and set on the stage, the house is then open for fifteen minutes for seating and the show starts on time- always. Since the shows are usually understaffed and all hands are on deck prepping the stage, light and sound tests don't usually get done until the last minute of prep time so usually if something goes wrong the Stage Manager of show will come running down to the bar in the basement (where I am always to be found) frantically yelling about X, Y or Z not working at which point I would have to run upstairs scramble up a ladder and fix the problem in under thirty seconds so that the festival could stay on schedule, only once did I encounter a problem that caused us to hold the house.)

I ended up meeting a lot of great people during the festival, including my Venue Director who was in charge of keeping all of the shows on schedule and giving a house speech before every performance, and Joan Rivers who came to see one of the shows in my venue Just In Time: The Judy Holliday Story, which has also been selected for encores so you can still catch a performance (did I mention that all tickets for Fringe Festival shows are a mere $18?).

One of my personal favorite shows to run in the Soho Playhouse this Festival was Dear Harvey a show based on letters and memories of Harvey Milk the first openly gay man to be elected to a public office in the United States whose story was recently the subject of the Gus Van Sant film Milk. The cast of this production were some of the nicest to come through the Soho during the festival (to be fair, all of the casts were friendly and courteous, but these men and women were especially so) and the production won an award for ensemble performance at the closing night ceremonies.

The festival proved to be a great learning experience for me since (as my Venue Director would attest) I don't consider myself a "sound guy" but had to become one for festival (thank goodness usually the sound problems were usually the channel being muted or something being unplugged). Also I made some great connections within the Technical Theater world (which is a world I might be inhabiting in a year's time) and saw some great theatre. For the next two weeks there are encore performances of shows that were chosen by a panel out of the 197 total shows for the festival so I recommend trying to get downtown and check some of them out (I get in free with my staff badge, Jurassic Parq here I come).

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