A Frugal Fringe: Navigating New York’s Most Affordable Theater Festival

08/05/2009 4:00 AM |

For anyone who loves independent, boundary-breaking theater, Christmas comes early yet again this year.

Since 1996, the New York International Fringe Festival has become a staple of the city’s summer theater scene, bringing hundreds of works from independent and fringe playwrights around the globe, introducing the slate to a community of open-minded theatergoers hungry for something new and different. The 2009 Fringe Festival (August 14-30) is notable both for the international diversity of its schedule and its vigorous attempts to rise above the recession that has ravaged so many fringe theater groups across the country – both issues that The L Magazine addressed in a recent, in-depth interview with the festival’s producing artistic director Elena Holy.

The L Magazine: Obviously the elephant in the room this year, for every arts organization, is the recession that’s affected everything from consumer spending to philanthropic giving. How do you think the Fringe fits into the ongoing financial turmoil?

Elena Holy: In some ways, we’ve become even more important to the artists who appear hear. As great a producing a bargain as Fringe NYC has been for the last 13 years, this particular year we have a lot of indie theater companies that, if they weren’t in Fringe NYC and weren’t receiving the support we provide in terms of a venue, they wouldn’t be able to make work happen at all. We’re proud of the fact that we’re still the cheapest way to produce a show in New York, and I think that’s a benefit that became even more important this year. Even for established New York groups, we get into off-Broadway venues that are typically out of reach financially. For Off Off Broadway productions, unless you just stop producing and fundraise for years for your Off Broadway production, the budget for the typical Off Off Broadway show is $20,000, but your typical Off Broadway show is $250,000. So our exposure can help these shows a great deal.

Looking beyond the support you provide the theater companies, what are you doing to reach out to the average theatergoer this year, who might be watching their pennies a little more closely?

We’re been very intentional about keeping our ticket prices low this year. The top ticket costs only $15, it’s been the same since 2003, and this year we’re considering ourselves to be New York’s “Best Staycation.” In fact, all our shows are divided up by different staycations – almost 30 different categories that can guide you through our web site, to find just the show you’ve been looking for.