Philadelphia is a city full of culture, artistic expression and passion. Every year, FringeArts, the city’s premier establishment for contemporary performances, streamlines all of those attributes to produce a 17-day extravaganza featuring 1,000 curated and independently produced performances — the Fringe Festival. The annual event highlights the incredible talent the City of Brotherly Love exemplifies in an interactive and highly personal way, and this go-around is no different. 2020 has been a year full of changes and adaptations, and just like many other events, Fringe has also decided to pivot and showcase its offerings on the virtual front, but Philadelphians still have plenty of noteworthy performances to look forward too.
With over 100 distinct shows in this year’s line-up, the Festival helped provoke and inspire artists to still participate in the popular cultural event by waiving artists’ registration fees. Many were able to adapt, but some had to rebuild their showcases completely to fit the new digital mold.
“This is the time to innovate,” says President and Producing Director Nick Stuccio. “This is so new, and so many artists are first-time digital art makers [for this.] Because this is the first time we don’t quite know —some things aren’t going to work, but then some things are going to be amazing and there are going to be breakthroughs with this in the field because so many artists are doing it. It’s just inevitable and that’s exciting.”
Deciding to switch the annual event to be virtual for the most part was not an easy decision. Every year, the Festival brings in a large amount of audiences and spectators who honor Fringe’s one stipulation—to come and view with an open mind. Normally there are showcases happening in a variety of neighborhoods around the city, some visual, some expressive, and some interactive, but all one-of-a-kind.
“We’ve had a digital fringe for 5 or 6 years already, and it’s been really cool. So we’ve had this track record of doing it, but still we thought we would have a lot more people trying for real space. This virus is real and its effects on our culture change by the day, and day by day it was evolving.” explains Stuccio. “We tried like mad to hang on to as much in-person things as we could, and so did the artists. These artists have been thrust into this new form. In a way, that’s brutal and in another way, it’s an opportunity for a new challenge and it’s a really interesting moment for that reason.”
The city of Philadelphia has always been full of artistic expression, but its no secret that this year feels a bit deflated on that front. The Avenue of the Arts typically would be filled during the fall season with theater-goers excited to start the season, there would also be a full line-up of festivals and concerts on everyone’s calendars—instead, we have masks and precautions. However, that doesn’t quite mean that the cultural strength of Philadelphia is gone.
Other establishments have figured out there own ways to still serve arts and culture to those who are still craving it, just in new ways. Opera Philadelphia, for example, recently announced their own channel which will be full of operatic performances. Stuccio also commented that if Opera Philadelphia’s channel is being compared to HBO with opera, then the Fringe Festival this year is like Netflix for those who are seeking some creative escape.
According to a release, the majority of these works (most of which are free or pay-what-you-can) will be presented virtually via Zoom, YouTube, Discord, and Twitch, among others. Some will be available to watch throughout the festival, while others will have specific viewing times and involve a degree of interactivity between performers and audiences, like the interactive TrailOff app, developed by SwimPony, which allows audiences to explore one of 10 Philadelphia area trails while experiencing an original audio drama that takes place on one of said trails in real-time. Families can also look forward to Circus Midway, an all-day virtual event on October 4, which will feature activities for kids of all ages.
Stuccio also mentioned a few stand-outs for this year’s Fringe, including Jaamil Olawale Kosoko’s digital piece ‘American Chameleon: The Living Installments’.
“He’s using the medium of the virtual platform in a really smart way,” Stuccio explains. “He made this abstract, cool, interesting and visual dance film, and while it’s playing he will be there ready to comment on his show so you can chat with him while you’re watching. After, he’s going to talk about his work and what it’s like to occupy a black, queer space in our culture. No matter what background you are, understanding that world —the black, queer world is really a very interesting and unique experience in our culture.”
Fringe will feature a varied line-up just like in years past including the part experimental theater, part magic show experience with an outer space twist from the Elephant Room; a 40-minute soundscape of layered tape recordings and modulated synths from multidisciplinary artist James Allister Sprang; and screen work featuring over 30 artists from David Gordon and The Philadelphia Matter. Gordon, who was part of the Judson C
hurch era better known for bringing “modern to post-modern” in the arts world utilized a variety of methods recording on everything from iPhones to professional cameras for this piece.
“What the Fringe Festival always does well for the community is kick off the season. We didn’t doubt for a second that we would to the Fringe Festival in some version, because to us, it’s too rooted in our community and our culture of Philadelphia not to do it,” says Stuccio. “What’s great about the city, the culture is still here and it’s not going anywhere—in a way it’s more resilient than ever. Artists are resilient, and people come to the Festival with an open mind. That’s not by design, it just evolved that way. People come to see shows that are weird, cool and different. I think we have to bring those same ideas to this, it’s a giant outpouring of all this artistic expression and it’s a new frontier. This is a place for the bold and the curious, and I think we’re going to deliver on that this year.”
A full line-up and more information on how to view shows will be available at fringearts.com