Philadelphia’s largest arts and culture event is back in 2021, and this year, the Fringe Festival will be celebrating all of its years past as well as the present.
For its 25th anniversary, the citywide celebration of progressive, world-class art will be offering both digital and in-person performances—all diverse and located in different neighborhoods around the city. There are ample chances to catch a show as well—Fringe will officially run from Sept. 9 to Oct. 3.
“This is the pivot back,” says Nick Stuccio, President and Producing Director of the Festival. “Last year was a giant pivot towards virtual and now boom, we’re back to in-person—because a lot of it is back in person.”
As Stuccio explains, even though the Festival is reverting back to mostly its old style of in-person performances, there were some obvious hurdles while planning from the pandemic. Budget-wise, the organization has been hit and most of their staff was furloughed even up to as early as three to four months ago. There’s also La Peg—the restaurant Fringe partners with—and just like the rest of the food and beverage venues in the city, 2020 and 2021 have been a rollercoaster ride.
“We are still dealing with a much smaller organization in terms of budget and business model, we’re still not working the way we used to and we’re down in revenue. But we want to honor the anniversary and all that’s come before us to make sure we celebrate the institution’s accomplishments,” explains Stuccio. “It’s been a heck of a challenge, but hey, if it was easy, anybody could do it. That’s stock and trade for nonprofit culture, there’s a ton of uncertainty. I think that’s our general MO, we live in a lot of precarious uncertainty and that’s okay. We’re a bunch of optimistic folks who have a passion for culture and the arts that we love… so, thank God we’re fueled by it.”
According to a release, the 25th Annual Fringe Festival call for artists produced 199 submissions, a record for the organization. Fringe audiences can expect an assortment of live theatrical and dance performances, art installations, circus arts, and genre-bending experiences that highlight the wide variety of local and national talent that the festival attracts. The artistically daring performances include live and in-person national and international artists curated by FringeArts, and both live and digital works that are produced by independent artists from across Philadelphia and beyond and promoted by FringeArts.
Some standouts include ‘Sun & Sea,’ a five-hour opera that was produced with Arcadia University. This particular project, which features 13 singers from Eastern Europe, is touring around the world and will only hit four cities globally, including Philadelphia. For the Philadelphia stop on the production’s U.S. tour, a portion of the former Budd railcar plant will be transformed into a bustling beach with singers and beachgoers sourced from the community, all viewed from above on a four-sided mezzanine.
Another standout Stuccio mentions is ‘Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge.’ In 1965, James Baldwin and William F. Buckley, Jr. were invited to The Cambridge University Union to debate race in the country. The piece is an exact transcript of that debate and as Stuccio notes, what they’re debating has remained unchanged. It’s theatricalized with lights, sound, and interpretation from the artists and actors.
“It’s a really powerful piece of theater. It speaks to a lot of important issues that we should think about and are thinking about wrestling with,” says Stuccio.
Aside from the curated shows however, there are also a bevy of independent artists that will be showcasing their talents throughout the three-week festival.
“The independent artist’s response has been phenomenal, there are over 200 shows,” continues Stuccio. “We were surprised that so many artists who had been affected by the pandemic in so many ways really responded and really want to put their shows on. It’s fantastic.”
For its 25th anniversary, Fringe wants to commemorate the festival that former Mayor Ed Rendell previously said “gave our city a cool factor and helped to jumpstart it.” To do just that, Fringe wants you to share your memories for an online archive.
“Tell us your favorite memories, tell us your worst memories, tell us your favorite shows, ones you hated, experiences you had for all the neighborhoods we’ve been in. There are so many stories and we have no idea just how much impact the festival has really had,” says Stuccio.
Some memories have already made their way back to the Producing Director. One tech guy from Fringe, for example, remembers seeing a co-worker meet a dancer, fall in love, get married and have kids. Another memory comes from a woman who met Stuccio in a coffee shop. Back in the early years of the festival, Joe Canuso with Theatre Exile had put on a show where two men try to park in the same spot, then they get angry with each other and cause a scene before delving into more of the performance. Unbeknownst to passerby, this fight turns into a piece of theater they would never forget. While in that coffee shop, the woman said to Stuccio “I heard a fight outside my window last night and thought, oh, probably another Fringe performance.”
“We’ve got some fans,” finishes Stuccio. “People come out and it’s awesome, we’ve really had an impact and effect and have given a lot of meaning to so many people’s lives. It’s so great to have that. I just think it’s worth it to see that archive. The other thing we’ve realized over the years is that we didn’t have a lot of resources to have documentation for all of these shows. We recorded 1% of them. So, the festival and its archives live only in people’s minds.”
Apart from the virtual memory archives, there will also be a more physical archive where Philadelphians can check out some props, keepsakes and more from Fringe Festivals past. All of these memories and the opportunity to record your own is available on the Fringe Festival’s official website.
One thing to note for the Festival, most performances will require proof of vaccination only. For additional information and a full schedule, visit fringearts.com