Monday, July 29, 2013

Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival grows to 384 shows spread over 11 days in August

As IndyFringe bulks up its annual festival — a chief ornament in the increasingly developed Mass Ave Cultural District — and solidifies year-round scheduling at its home on East Ninth Street, some observers wonder if Fringe has gone mainstream.

Executive director Pauline Moffat reports the comment (which could reflect anxiety or gratitude, depending on the source) and has a ready response.

As Moffat candidly told me, with the judiciousness that has stood her in good stead for nine successive festivals: "We're not quite mainstream —  not as long as the performers make the sole decision as to what to present."

That artistic independence, of course, is a watchword of the festival, which this year runs between Aug. 15 and 25 in and around the Cultural District. That, along with the return of all box-office proceeds to the artists, constitutes the foundation of IndyFringe's success.

A significant growth area, besides the ninth annual festival's increase to 384 performances (from 336 in 2012), is in the prominence of local shows. Of the top-ten bestselling shows before IndyFringe moved into its building last year and made it viable for rehearsal and performance year-round, four were local.

In 2012, nine out of 10 of the top sellers were local, indicating to Moffat that allowing artists to hone  shows on the IndyFringe stage for festival participation has boosted their attractiveness to the public. "We've given local performers opportunities to participate in more performances" at the theater "throughout the year," she said. Inclusion in the schedule is still first-come, first-served, so Central Indiana artists are not getting preferential treatment.

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Fringe festivals with their own facilities are more common in Canada than in the U.S., but the idea is catching on here. "If you have a permanent space, your Fringe will grow and mature quicker than if you're a once-a-year festival," Moffat told me, based on her ongoing study of other festivals.

With that positive direction, however, come new challenges: IndyFringe has a fund-raising campaign in progress to make its headquarters, 719 E. St. Clair St., even more useful and adaptable. Gifts to the "Trailhead" project, which when completed will add a "black box" theater and a multipurpose room to Fringe headquarters, can be directed here:

Apart from the sale of $5 "backer buttons" required for admission to any shows, IndyFringe is without the advantage of a revenue stream from the increasing flood of audience patronage. Those admissions allowed the festival to return nearly $106,000 to the artists last year, Moffat said. So community financial support of the enterprise is vital.

The 64 performing groups and solo artists will occupy eight stages over 11 days. New this year among the performance sites is the BABECA Theatre, 919 N. East St., which became available to Fringe relatively recently after the availability of another new site  (on Mass Ave.) fell through. The 90-seat facility's use has been made available rent-free to Fringe by the landlord, a festival supporter.
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Also new is magician-impresario Taylor Martin's stepping into the role of street theater coordinator. Read a Q&A with him on the festival website here:

What about the edginess of the shows?  How good a fit is a Fringe festival with greater Indianapolis? It seems as people get used to what Fringe represents, Hoosiers feel more comfortable with IndyFringe's envelope-pushing language, topics and treatment as part of their entertainment world. "The community has grown up in nine years," Moffat told me, though the festival still reviews artists' presentations to see if their warnings (printed in the program book) should be changed. There is no censorship applied, however, just an occasional adjustment mainly for the sake of family patronage.

An international trend in "warnings" that helps Fringe clarify what might be appropriate is a specific age recommendation. Shows with "adult" warnings are recommended for age 16 and older; otherwise, warnings apply to elements that may disturb some people of any age, such as gunshots or strobe lights.

All shows are 45-60 minutes long, and no latecomers are admitted. The festival's pace has to be steady, and there is at least a half-hour for patrons to get from one show to the next.

The complete festival schedule can be found within the IndyFringe website.