By Jennifer O’Reilly
Every summer the New York Fringe Festival sweeps into town, momentarily transforming the city into a smorgasbord of performances for those eager to see the latest works from the independent theater community. Downtown theater connoisseurs, however, know that the eleven-year-old Fringe doesn’t have a monopoly on summer theater festivals, which often serve as a launching pad for bigger productions. In the shadow of the Fringe are several performance series, one dating as far back as 1989, that offer an attractive alternative for those who love the festival atmosphere but want to escape the Fringe frenzy.
The oldest theater festival is the city can be found at HERE Arts Center (here.org) on Sixth Avenue between Spring and Broome. The American Living Room Festival has been entertaining audiences for 18 years now, transforming HERE into a comfy place to kick back, with armchairs and couches replacing a portion of the normal seating. American Living Room features shows every night at 8:30 p.m. through September 2 with a wide variety of content encompassing everything from a meditation on terrorism (“We Declare You a Terrorist,” August 22-23) to a dance theater piece about salt nymphs (“Salt Lake, A New Ballet in 3 Acts,” August 28-29).
Another festival with an impressive record of longevity is the annual HOT! Festival, which has been running for the past 16 years. The HOT! Festival is a celebration of lesbian and gay theater, which host theater Dixon Place (dixonplace.org) colorfully bills as “theatre, dance, music, literature, performance art, puppetry and homoeroticism for the whole family!” This year’s HOT! Festival has already featured performances from talented performers like writer/actor Peter Neofontis, whose one man show, “Concord, VA,” tells the story of a host of captivating characters in a quaint Virginia town. Still to come before the festival’s closing date on August 25 are performances by HOT! Artist in Residence Michael Cross Burke (his show “Ice Queens: The Faggot Wars” takes a comic look at the world of figure skaters), and several showings of “Grey-Eyed Dogs” by Red Terror Squad, a theater company which describes itself as the love child of Mao Zedong and John Waters.
Two other festivals closing this week include Soho Think Tank’s Ice Factory festival (sohothinktank.org), which is celebrating its 14th year of debuting new work to Downtown audiences. Throughout July and August at the Ohio Theater at 66 Wooster Place, Ice Factory ’07 featured work from Inverse Theater, The Bushwick Hotel, New Georges, and John Kaplan. Performances wrap up this Friday, August 17, with “The Seven Battles” by The Best theater company, described on the Ice Factory website as a “webcast fraught with explosive situations, feats of technological prowess, and kick-ass music.”
Though slightly out of the range of the Downtown theaters, The Strawberry One Act Festival moves into its 12th season this year, showcasing premiere one-acts at the American Theater of Actors on W. 54th Street. Cycles of three and four debut one acts which can be viewed online at www.therianttheatre.com/video/ are grouped together and then reviewed by audiences and the theater’s judges. The winning selections go on to compete against each other in future rounds culminating in two final rounds on August 18 and 19. The winner of the competition receives a grant and has the opportunity to have a full-length play produced at the Riant Theatre.
Finally, there’s good news for those preparing themselves for post-festival withdrawal come September. Fall theater festivals include the New York Musical Theater Festival beginning September 17 at various theaters in Midtown, and the Manhattan Repertory Theater’s Genrefest 2007 and their Fall One-Act Play Festival, which both begin October 3. And for those who have affection for goofy guys with big shoes, the NY Clown Theatre Festival 2007 opens at the Brick Theater in Williamsburg October 5.