FRIGID Festival Provides a Wintry Mix of Exciting Shows

There’s no way around it; winter is always a long slog. Between icy sidewalks, sludge-ridden subways, and freezing temperatures – not to mention television options like the Super Bowl, Winter Olympics and show biz award shows – it’s easy to find a reason to stay inside.

In the last few years, however, a new reason to step outside has emerged: the FRIGID Festival. Now coming upon its fourth year, the festival provides a forum for many theatrical artists to expand their audience, with no judgment based on thematic concepts or subject matter.

“Our Mission is to provide all artists, emerging and established, with the opportunity to produce their play no matter the content, form or style, and to make the event as affordable and accessible as possible to the members of the community,” said Erez Ziv of the Horse Trade Group, who is the managing director of FRIGID.

From where did the original idea of the festival arise? It emerged from a conversation Ziv had with Christina Augello, who heads the San Francisco Fringe Festival. “In the summer of 2006, Christina from EXIT Theatre came in to check out one of our venues for a show she wanted to do in NYC,” he explained, pointing out that the small world of Off-Off-Broadway is exactly what led their paths to intersect. “She was referred to Horse Trade by Elena Holy from the International Fringe Festival, who knew we would get along. As it turns out Exit and Horse Trade are very similar both in spirit and substance. We run very similar spaces and cater to similar performers and audiences.”

Once the two companies realized that they clicked, it wasn’t long before they had the makings of an exciting festival on their hands. But after deciding on the what, the next step was to decide on the when. “We figured the last thing NYC needed was another summer theater festival. It also keeps us from competing with other CAFF festivals and other USAFF (US association of Fringe Festivals) festivals,” Ziv said. David Lawson, writer and performer of Floundering About (in an age of terror), agrees that the timing of FRIGID (which, of course, gets its name from the outside temperature at this time of year) is a major boon to struggling artists.

“I work selling concessions on Broadway, so I know how dead the New York City theater scene can get in late February and early March (hence, the weeks when my tips bottom out). The FRIGID Festival is a way of acknowledging that and creating a festival in which things get HOT again.”

“FRIGID is our one chance every year to stand aside and let the artists experiment with their wildest ideas,” Ziv allows. But don’t take his word for it. The facts speak for themselves. In the past four years, FRIGID become an internationally recognized member of the independent theater world. Numerous FRIGID participants have gone on to produce their shows in other venues this year, including Martin Dockery’s last entry, The Surprise, which was selected for a special extension at the soloNova Festival and earned raves about in The New York Times.

All told, the FRIGID Festival will allow 30 theater companies to prevent their work. This allows for a diverse array of subjects, styles and genres. Lawson’s show, for example, is a serious look at coming-of-age in a post 9/11 Washington, D.C, and its attendant anthrax scares (not to mention the snipers ), while Alex Bond and David Carson’s Late Nights With the Boys adapts Bond’s novel about gay life in the leather bars of a pre-AIDS 1970s scene.

On the other hand, Dockery’s The Bike Trip is a more comedic, script-free look at the effects of LSD. 1/4 Life Crisis, for example, is a one-woman show starring Alison Lynne Ward about the challenges and disappointments faced by twentysomethings navigating their way through life. And Theatre Reverb’s Bonne Nuit Poo Poo is an experimental amalgam of text, streaming video, dance, and stream-of-consciousness humor, used to tell an unorthodox story.

While there may have been some initial hurdles in selling a non-curated festival to the press, the festival quickly took on a life of its own. “Before our first year I was worried that we might have a hard time coming up with 30 shows that wanted to participate in this brand new venture,” he said, “but we had enough submissions then to hold a lottery and have had more and more applications every year. We have seen past participants donate money to the festival and I am seeing the festival appear in more and more program bios from year to year.”
Yes, that’s right – Ziv did refer to a lottery. In addition to where it falls on the calendar, FRIGID distinguishes also itself from other local festivals – notably August’s annual Fringe – for two notable reasons. The first is the how the shows are chosen. According to Ziv, there is a fairly simple selection process: the first 15 shows get in automatically. “This year the first 15 slots were gone in two minutes,” Ziv said. Following that, the next 15 shows are determined by lottery. “The second 15 show are pulled out of a hat on Halloween. It is a totally random process and we as the producers of the festival have no way of ensuring that our favorite shows get in. FRIGID New York is a rare chance to give artists a space without gatekeepers.”

Anne Wyman, a performer in the Fancy Molasses production of pornStar, is awestuck at how quickly the festival as grown. “Audience numbers have gone up by 20% every year without fail. Last year our biggest problem was crowd control. We have found it necessary to open an offsite box office to help facilitate a quicker audience turnaround this year.”

Kristin Arnesen of Theatre Reverb appreciates FRIGID’S non-traditional spot on the theater festival spectrum. “I think FRIGID prefers…spoken word, interactive, solo, multi-media or multi-outré offerings,” she said. Since the process is non-juried, “you get in by early email entry or lottery – not a ‘panel’ that reviews your entry. Your presentation doesn’t have to be ‘theater’ in a traditional sense.” Dockery agrees, adding that FRIGID “is a place where artists have an opportunity to get their work out there without having to appeal to any one particular artistic director's taste.”

The other, more lucrative distinguishing aspect of FRIGID is that its artists keep 100% of the box office that their shows earn. “If 50 people each by a $10 ticket, then the show receives $500 for that performance,” Ziv explained. “The festival keeps no portion of the box office and no fees.” (Credit card purchases do pay a fee, but this is charged by the ticketing vendor rather than the festival and is added on top of the ticket price.)

This effect is not just financially stimulating but morale-boosting as well. According to Leslie Goshko, producer of Vodka Shoes, “That's almost unheard of. The festival says to artists, ‘Hey! You have something you want do? You have a play and need a home to do it in? Come on in, we have a spare room.’”

No. 11 Productions, which is mounting a re-telling of Medea at FRIGID, echoes the supportive vibe of the festival.. “The festival is small and personal. They really take a lot of care with each show and each performing group. Even after shows are set, they have gone out of their way to make adjustments and check in with individual artists. They let you know what will work and what won’t and have very clean and simple policies that make them easy to work with, and keep the atmosphere fun!”

Arnesen also appreciates the additional benefits of a FRIGID run. “In 2008, for the first time in our company's short existence we almost broke even financially from our production in the festival. FRIGID is probably one of the only places this is possible in Off-Off-Broadway theater where most companies pay for their own space, tech, costumes, set, marketing, and so on.

“Our participation in 2008 gave us our first review outside of ones in the Polish-language press,” she added. It was also the beginning of a continuing relationship with Brooklyn’s Galapagos Art Space. “We now have a residency there and host and perform in their weekly series, the Floating Kabarette, every Saturday night.”

For Bond, FRIGID allows her a different sense of fulfillment. “I’m too old now to march in demonstrations, so I persuade with my words,” she said. “David Carson and I have five opportunities to share my stories and to honor friends who are gone; we have five opportunities to fight intolerance.”

The festival isn’t exactly all art and no commerce, though. FRIGID New York is now an incorporated non-profit, and is in the process of applying for tax-exempt status, adopting bylaws and electing its first Board of Directors. FRIGID has also hired its first year-round staff member, Development Director Emma Katz, who will pursue funding opportunities.

Business acumen aside, though, it’s FRIGID’s indie spirit that pervades – and continues to provide for its participants. “It's a chance to produce original work in a supportive, artistic environment,” Wad says. “I think Fringe festivals are important, as they encourage fearlessness and originality in their participants. Theater, like everything else, can become very commercial – and I think it's important that we remember why we create art in the first place.”

The FRIGID Festival runs from February 24 to March. For a full list of shows, performances, and further information, go here: http://www.frigidnewyork.info/.

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