It’s seem unlikely that New Jersey — famous for Mallrats, Real Housewives and Snookies — would not already have established a Fringe Festival. But it’s true. The first New Jersey Fringe Festival debuts this weekend Hammonton.
The three-day festival features 15 productions in 13 venues, all concentrated in Hammonton’s walkable downtown, including banquet halls, a pizzeria, a dance studio, and classrooms at Stockton University. There will also be a simultaneous outdoor fair with live music stages in the surrounding streets of the Atlantic County town famous for its blueberries.
The center is the Eagle Theater, the only professional, equity theater in South Jersey operating year-round. It is part of the reason Hammonton has become a cultural hub for that region.
“It’s a starved area, for sure,” said Ed Corsi, co-artistic director of the Eagle and co-founder of the Jersey Fringe. “North Jersey does a great job of weekend festivals and theatrical endeavors. We don’t have a whole lot of that in South Jersey.”
Corsi said the 15 shows in Hammonton were selected from 65 submissions, a different curatorial process than other fringe festivals, whose often wild and wooly listings have little to no curatorial vetting. The selected shows were given performance venues, rather than leave artists to find their own (another tenant of larger Fringe festivals).
Many of the 15 shows come from artist based in New York and Philadelphia. Philly’s Tribe of Fools will re-stage their 2013 Philly Fringe hit, “Antihero,” in the Jersey Fringe (as well as in the upcoming Philly Fringe), and Amanda Schoonover will perform “It Girl,” which she premiered last winter at the Drake Theater in Philadelphia.
Three of the Jersey Fringe productions are from South Jersey artists. One of them is Amber Kusching, of Cherry Hill, who recently graduated in theater from Montclair State University. It was there she started writing “The Maryland Women,” a story about the hardships of six generations of women who lived in the same house.
After spending four years shepherding the experimental piece through rewrites and readings, Kusching will premiere “The Maryland Women” at the Jersey Fringe. She says big-city festivals in Philadelphia and New York are too large and unforgiving.
“It’s a little intimidating for artists like me,” said Kusching. “I’m fresh out of college. I’m a young woman presenting work that’s extremely sensitive but important to tell. I feel this is an amazing opportunity to present this type of work.”
The festival in Hammonton may be safer, but it’s still grueling. In just three days Kusching’s will direct 12 performances of “Maryland Women.”