No one is really in control of this.
The second week of the Philly Fringe festival is under way. The more than 200 small and midsized theater productions over just 16 days are difficult to navigate even for the most well-informed theater-lover.
Even the festival director has a hard time keeping up.
Craig Peterson administers the logistics of the scheduling, cataloging, and marketing of the Fringe. During several months before the Fringe, he coached, instructed and held artists’ hands while they organized their shows.
But he has nothing to do with their content. Choosing what to see is as much a challenge for him as anybody else.
“I scope out shows early on,” said Peterson. “I certainly don’t have time to see all of them.”
There are two, simultaneous theater festivals happening–Live Arts and Philly Fringe. Live Arts shows have been carefully chosen by a curator for their quality and vision. Philly Fringe is a free-for-all. It’s open to anybody with an idea, regardless of quality, or coherence.
“I left a show–a Fringe show–the other day and the heard the whole audience go, ‘very Fringey, very Fringey,'” said Peterson. “If you don’t quite know what to make of your experience, you have a word for it now: it’s Fringey.”
Many Fringe shows are staged by performers who are experienced and sophisticated (for example, Brian Sanders or Geoff Soebel or Pig Iron Theater), or by artists significantly less so. While there can be gems in the rough, audiences tend to go to performances by the people they already know.
“Philly’s community is extremely supportive, but also fairly small,” said Peterson. “I think people build up relationships with artistic work over the course of years and they return to see certain people. Our goal is to give that person who has not presented a show before a shot at an audience.”
Peterson’s advice? Wait until a show gets some buzz before buying a ticket–but wait too long and it could sell out. Also, stack your shows; devote a day or two to seeing several performances back-to-back. That way, you have the other days of the week for real life.