Sunday, October 16, 2016

Q&A: Fringe Encore Series

There are so many shows at the New York International Fringe Festival that it can be hard/impossible to see everything. So, one thing I love about the Fringe Encore Series is that you get a second chance to see shows you missed. Not only that, but you can see shows from Edinburgh Fringe Festival--the world's largest arts festival--without even buying a plane ticket to Scotland.
Poster art for Homo Sapiens Interruptus, one of the shows in the Fringe Encore Series.

The series, which is happening now through October 30 at SoHo Playhouse, was founded by Britt Lafield. He and one of his producing partners, John Pinckard, were discussing how many great Fringe shows disappear after the festival, never to be heard from again. It can be difficult to move a show after a successful Fringe run, especially for younger companies, so they thought a "best of" festival would get those productions more exposure and help facilitate the next step. "We wanted to help bring more attention and notoriety to the productions we thought deserved it and try to help educate those productions about what the next step could be. I had seen so many great shows get mutilated by 'professional' producers who just took over the productions from the company in an effort to make a quick buck," Lafield says. "That was so against what I thought the festival and really theater should be about that I wanted to help change it in some way."

Darren Lee Cole, artistic director of SoHo Playhouse, got involved in the second year, when Lafield approached him about hosting the series. "Not only have I known Darren Lee Cole for years, I also know of his passion for new works and new types of theater. He and the SoHo seemed a perfect fit for the Series, especially given the amazing history of the theater itself stretching back to the late Edward Albee and his VanDam Collective in the '60s and '70s and the first productions of some of the world's most famous playwrights like Christopher Durang and Tracy Letts," Lafield says.

Read on for what the two of them had to say about how shows are chosen and more and click here for a list of participating shows and schedule.

Q: What does being a producer of a festival encore series entail?
Britt Lafield: Producing the Series starts with getting like-minded theatrical professionals to go out and scope out the shows during the New York Fringe and then spending lots and lots of time in theaters seeing everything you can. We look at reviews and audience attendance, but also talk to other audience members about what they have seen and like. Word of mouth is a very strong tool at any fringe and you just need to know what to listen for. Once the shows are identified and approached, hopefully they accept our offer to be a part of the Series. The Series works as a ticket split between the production, the Series, and the theater, so there is no out of pocket expenses for the show. We take care of all the staffing and advertising for the Series as a whole. And once it starts, we try to focus on the productions themselves and making sure they are comfortable and offer them help in any areas they might need it. Whether it is outreach to audience members for their show in particular or just feedback of the production itself. It is a lot of work, but worth it to see the productions use what they have learned to improve their show.
Darren Lee Cole: My emphasis has been on searching for the top shows that represent the best of the amazing new talent out there. Basically, it entails going to a lot of theatre and meeting a lot artists. Both things I have a passion for.

Q: Why do you include shows from Edinburgh in addition to New York?
Lafield: After a number of years just doing the "best of" Fringe NYC, we saw great opportunity in expanding the Series to try and be a true world-wide Fringe Encore Series. Edinburgh, being the oldest and most famous fringe festival, seemed like the logical choice to start with. We are hoping to add shows from the World Fringe Alliance every couple of years.
Cole: Three years ago, I went to Edinburgh with three shows I directed. Once there, I began telling people about the encore series that I was a part of back in NYC. Frankly, they flipped out and kept asking me when I was going to expand and bring shows from the Edinburgh Fringe. So I called Britt and invited four shows that year to join us. The word got out and I have gone to Ed Fringe each of the last three years searching for the best there to bring to the New York audience.

Q: What other factors are involved in deciding which shows will be included?
Lafield: We try to see every show we can that wants to be eligible for the Series. Darren travels to Edinburgh to look at shows there while my team and I work on all the production here in New York. We look at reviews, attendance, word of mouth, and just the artistic value of the production itself. The show doesn't have to be a runaway hit to be included. We love to find the great show no one has heard of or that was just getting noticed. Because at the end of the day, a great show is a great show. And with all the competition for audience in any fringe, the loudest show is not necessarily the best.
Cole: It is tough because there is no way to see all of the shows in Edinburgh; there are over 3,000. However, as artistic director of the playhouse and having produced and directed plays for the past 35 years, I now have many associates and friends that help point me in the right direction.

Q: Are there any shows in particular that you are excited about it or that you want to call attention to?
Lafield: What I love most of all is the diversity that we have in the Series this year. From incredibly quirky shows like ChipandGus to the amazing physical theater work of the production Flight. There really is something for everybody. I myself really enjoy the a cappella musical The Extraordinary Fall of the Four-Legged Woman and the ingenious performance of Dominique Salerno in her amazing one-woman The Box Show.
Cole: This year, I really love two shows that are at the tail end of the festival. Yokes Night from Edinburgh and Homo Sapiens Interruptus from New York. I love Homo Sapiens Interruptus so much I am directing the encore production.

Q: Is there anything that you've learned from past years of the series that has been helpful this year?
Lafield: We learn something new about the Series every year. But we never get to rest on our laurels because with every new year comes an entirely new set of shows and theatrical professionals. And every show is different, so we learn what types of productions play best at what time slots. What days of the week or holidays are best to avoid. But most of all, we just learn what the next generation of theater people are passionate about. And that is what make it important.
Cole: Never give up on theatre! There are always amazing new emerging artists at these festivals. I've learned that we can really make a difference in helping them move forward artistically and professionally.

Q: The fall is a pretty busy time for theater in New York (busier than the summer, when Fringe is going on). How do you stand out from the crowd?
Lafield: It very difficult to stand out, but we believe that people want to come see good theater and that there is an audience for every show. We aren't trying to compete with Broadway or other cultural events. That's a losing battle. We are competing for the audience that wants to see the next big thing and where tomorrow's Broadway shows will be coming from. That is what we try and offer.
Cole: New York is a big place with a healthy appetite for theatre. The Fringe can be overwhelming. So many theatergoers are interested in "the best of two fest" idea we put forward. There's lot of competition, but nothing quite like what we do.

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