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BY SCOTT STIFFLER | A brush with the law. A bounty on your head. A credit rating beyond repair. Cruel schoolyard taunts that still sting after all these years. There are many good reasons to change your name — but perhaps none so noble as the mission to make sure the show goes on. In such a case, who among us would deny one’s right to be called FRIGID?
Those caps aren’t just for dramatic effect. They’re part of a wintertime tradition that has Horse Trade Theater Group turning over its two East Village performance spaces to the anything-goes FRIGID Festival — half of whose 30 participants are culled from first-come email submissions, with the remaining half determined by pulling names out of a plastic trick-or-treat pumpkin at the stroke of midnight on Halloween. A chancy acceptance policy, yes.
So kudos to FRIGID for taking that leap of faith, then backing it up with free rehearsal and performance space, tech support, PR outreach, and the promise that each festival participant will walk away with 100 percent of the box office proceeds from their show. But that’s a difficult business model from which to eke a profit, so Horse Trade is trading in its trademark name and rebranding all future endeavors under the umbrella of a nonprofit named… FRIGID.
“Horse Trade was created 20 years ago to be an entirely self-sufficient organization,” said managing artistic director Erez Ziv. “It’s become clearer over the years,” he deadpanned, “that independent theater needs funding.” With their flagship Kraine Theater seating 99, and a 45-seat capacity at the basement space UNDER St. Marks, “Those numbers are just not enough to create a situation where artists are getting paid anything near what they should be.”
Nonprofit status, Ziv said, “opens all of what we do [sans rentals] to fundraising” as well as grants and tax-deductible donations from individuals. Those sources are of particular importance, since, Ziv noted, “The FRIGID festival is not curated. That puts us out of play with private foundations that have certain opinions. They won’t fund a thing that goes against those opinions, so an open-access [uncensored] festival could easily offend.”
There’s an up side to that too, however, in that annual festivals with a special focus — like June’s Queerly (LGBTQ-themed) and November’s Gotham Storytelling lend themselves to financial support from likeminded or otherwise sympathetic sources. “This year,” Ziv said of January’s Obie-winning The Fire This Time Festival (featuring early career African and African American artists), “we got a grant from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and a nice grant from the Time Warner Foundation.”
Having spent the last few years bringing more and more of its monthly shows, co-productions, and annual festivals into the nonprofit FRIGID fold, they’ll make it official at a multitasking March 4 event. “Horse Trade is turning 20 this year,” Ziv said wistfully, “and since the Oscars moved from our middle weekend to our last, instead of an Oscar party for our mid-festival party, we just decided to do a variety show with FRIGID participants doing material specifically not from their festival show. Then, in the summer, we’ll have a 20th anniversary party for Horse Trade. Starting at the end of this season, it’s all going to be FRIGID on the front end.”
Consider that a head start on the challenge of adaptive language as it applies to FRIGID becoming a way to describe all of the in-house productions. Meantime, though, for a taste of what’s in the offering for this year’s FRIGID festival (now through March 4), see the captions in this article. For the entire schedule and to purchase tickets ($5 to $20; three-show pass for $30), visit FRIGIDnewyork.info. The Kraine Theater is located at 85 E. Fourth St., btw. Bowery & Second Ave. UNDER St. Marks is located at 94 St. Marks Place, btw. First Ave. & Ave. A.