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Arts Watch: Edinburgh’s Forest Fringe Microfestival Comes to Abrons

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Forest Fringe

This weekend an Edinburgh Festival Sensation, Forest Fringe, will be transforming the Abrons Arts Center into an experimental, building-wide microfestival for its New York debut. I recently caught up with one of the three co-founders, Andy Field.

TLD – Why did you see the need to create the Forest Fringe Festival?

AF – I love the International Festival and the Fringe and all of the other festivals in Edinburgh – it is extremely exciting to be there in the city during festival time. I love the size of the Festival and brilliant ethos of the Fringe–the free for all.

Over time however, the costs and conventions have grown and have tended to prohibit small-scale experimental work. It has become prohibitively expensive. The Fringe is over three weeks long, and most venues expect you to present (for) that many weeks. The slots are also an hour long, and the festival tends to privilege shows you can do in a conventional black box space–as much as you can make in that conventional model.

We make a space for a broader range of artists who are not making conventional work–a space in which experimentation and adventure are cherished. And there is plenty of experimental work that can be made outside of that black box.

Deborah Pearson’s The Future Show, for example, is a performance piece she has to rewrite each time for the space and the night. It would be unsustainable in the other model.  We need space in both the figurative and literal sense. Artists come and hang out in the space. They work in the venue. They take tickets. They work in the physical space. So it feels as if the artists are inhabiting the space.

TLD  – How will you be transforming Abrons this weekend?

 AF – We are trying to use as many spaces in the building as we can- –all three performance spaces, spaces outside the building. We want to give people the full manic experience of Edinburgh. The building will be full of installations. We are even converting the scenic dock into a space where we will present work.  There is a piece called Travelling Sounds Library that is made up of audio pieces. The idea is to come and get a copy of the sounds library and an mp3 player, and to find some where in the garden to listen to that.

I have a performance for two audience members in a car parked outside the building called Motor Vehicle Sundown. It is based on a composition by artist/composer George Brecht. The two audience members sit and listen to the score, and imagine going a journey together. We are trying to make the most imaginative use of the spaces that are available.

TLD – You describe Forest Fringe as “Not a theater. Not a company,” but as “an international community of artists who create a space for risk and experimentation.” How does this translate to what audiences will see?

AF – It does in a number of ways. We place an emphasis on a space that feels like a community, where the workings are very much on the outside. We are always present in the building–we introduce the shows. The companies are very present. We also value the idea of experimentation. Theater for us can be a place where people can try new things, be fluid and easy, present finished things, or, the more experimental and never finished things.

When audiences come to our shows they are invited to have a slightly different relationship with the artists–to be a part of the openness and the process. We really want the process of developing new shows to be more open and visible to audiences, so the audiences feel like they can get to know the artists, rather than simply seeing the finished production.

TLD  – Are there themes connected them to the works?

AF – We don’t program through a theme. As a community of artists we just trust those artists to do what they want. We do what we can to facilitate it. If there is something that unites the work, it is a sense of playfulness and formal experimentation. Rather that connect themes, the structures, forms, and format that performance can take, unites the work.

TLD  – Was it hard to choose who you were going to bring to NY to represent Forest Fringe?

AF – We wanted to try and bring a range of things and artist in different stages. Deborah Pearson has toured her show here in Austin and also to Vancouver. Made in China’s Gym Party has never been done here. We also have different styles of work in the Festival: literary text based; physical based; other pieces more intimate. We wanted to give audiences a range of the possibilities that can be made.  In the simplest terms, a range of very different theatrical experiences.

TLD  – What do you hope audiences will take away from their experience?

AF – I hope that they will be taking at least one or two experiences that will touch them and stay with them. A sense of the enthusiasm and excitement for what we do at Forest Fringe, and for the artists that make up that community. An understanding of the different things you can do with live performance –the full range of possibility, the hope and enthusiasm for experimentation, and an understanding for what they have seen.

Forest Fringe Festival // Abrons Arts Center // 466 Grand St. // October 3 –  5 // $10

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