There are two mindsets emerging from artists and arts organizations on the road to recovery from the pandemic. The first is an eager reopening and return to past practice. The second utilized the forced shutdown to examine internal methodologies, business and artistic models to shift focus towards a new way of creation.
Five companies participating in this year’s Hamilton Fringe Festival consider themselves to be firmly in this latter camp. These companies have identified themselves as the future of the Fringe Festival through a hashtag, #NextGenFringe, and are finding new and unconventional ways to chart their own path collectively in a theatre world that is still facing many uncertainties.
“Artist evolution is about flexibility and change, moving with the times, and being able to re-acclimatize yourself to your changed situation.” said Joseph Burdi, producer of Fly the Nest Productions’ Black Deer in Blizzard, one of the #NextGenFringe show. Creators of the show utilized their background in film production to develop their theatrical experience; something that has emerged to greater and greater success over the past year.
Carlyn Rhamey, a Fringe veteran, knows the importance of these efforts all too well, having shifted her performance work online this year. In a video introducing the #NextGenFringe concept and contest for show attendees, she acknowledges that online theatre is hard; however, when asked, acknowledges the opportunities it has provided as a creator.
“I’ve been getting creative with blending my comedic storytelling style with the digital medium.” Rhamey commented via email. “My work often uses multimedia elements with projection, so moving virtual has only opened more doors to what we can explore through film. I can’t wait to share it [new show Chaotic Good] with Hamilton audiences.”
A Fringe Festival is the perfect place for an emerging artist to take a risk. By nature, Fringe Festivals are open access events; anyone can perform any kind of show, since there is no curation. Performances are chosen on a lottery system instead, meaning that an artist presenting their first show has an equal chance of being selected as a more established artist with greater experience or means. The Fringe Festival provides equal venue, technical, ticketing and marketing support to all participants, making the Festival a great and low-risk way for a new performance company to premiere their first production.
Afterlife Theatre is an example of this. For founders and long-time collaborators Patrick Teed and Carly Anne Billings, an extended shutdown was the perfect time to launch a new theatre company. Their first official work as Afterlife Theatre, It’s a Beautiful Day for Brunch and to Arrest the Cops Who Killed Breonna Taylor, will premiere at the Hamilton Fringe Festival.
“From the outside it might seem a strange time to start such an endeavour but for us, it has made more sense than we ever could have imagined.” noted Billings. “We’re both theatre artists, not primarily digital artists, so while the heart of our work is what we have always intended, so far the praxis has been solely digital allowing us to create It’s A Beautiful Day for Brunch and to Arrest the Cops That Killed Breonna Taylor, a verbatim piece made by and for our digital age.”
Inspired by events over the past year, the new company aims to confront historical issues to move audiences into a transformative future. In keeping with the spirit of community, a portion of their ticket sales will be donated to PASAN; a community-based prisoner health and harm-reduction organization.
Although the methodologies may be different, the #NextGenFringe companies agree that community integration and building excitement is critical to develop an impactful production. To assist with these goals, #NextGenFringe companies are also offering a contest; simply take a photo of yourself at each performance, upload it with the hashtag #NextGenFringe, and be entered to win a fifty-dollar gift card.
While the contest is heavily promoted, there’s no sense of competition among these artists; many of whom have collaborated together in the past. This spirit is typical amongst in-person Fringe shows, with shows promoting eachother throughout the Festival, noted Porch Light Theatre’s Aaron Jan, producer of TIN CAN TELEPHONE, another #NextgenFringe show which encourages audiences to physically attend four separate Hamilton spaces to insert themselves into the show and surrounding communities.
“Next Gen Fringe is a celebration of new and next generation voices in this year’s fringe.” Jan said. “The contest/coalition of producers can then look out for each other if one show is not doing well.”
While #NextGenFringe isn’t an official program through the Hamilton Fringe Festival, the Festival itself supports emerging artists through programs such as its annual ALERT program, which offers mentorships and performance opportunities. For artists, particularly those who consider themselves to be the next generation of creators, opportunities and collaborations such as ALERT and #NextGenFringe provide much needed resources and connections to build a strong foundation to launch, evolve and grow to lead Hamilton theatre into the future.