Midnight was back at The Fringe for the third time and second year in a row. Joe had found Mark Ravenhill's PRODUCT, a vicious Hollywood send up with a side dish of outrage about the hate and prejudice fueled by 9/11 and its aftermath. Joe thought it was an incendiary script (he had looked at doing it in January of this year, but the Paris attacks in late '15 scared him off.)
That was probably the right decision, but the terrorist attacks and threats that have become almost commonplace eased any concerns for this production. Still, Joe anticipated complaints about the subject matter, but Fringe audiences saw PRODUCT for what it was – a satire, with Hollywood the primary target. The bombs and Bin Laden were just plot points.
Fringe audiences were small this year. This was Emily Piro's last year (as she heads to Canada for graduate school) after founding the Festival five years ago. She will obviously be missed, for she was missed at this year's event. Emily's enthusiastic presence wasn't felt on the Festival grounds. There's a new administration for the Fringe, and there was a new feeling afoot. There was not a lot of "buzz," not a lot of press coverage, and therefore not a lot of audience.
More than ever, The Fringe Festival was fueled by its own youthful energy, with less follow-up than ever before.
It will be interesting to see where they go in the year ahead.
From the beginning (and that included conversations with Em around a campfire when The Fringe was just a buzz in her head), I spoke against their "non-juried" entry format. That means anybody – you don't have to know what show you want to do – you don't have to ever have done a show – can enter and be part of the Fringe. Fiercely democratic, but seldom the agenda for great art. From the beginning I advocated four or so "Headliners," groups from St. Louis and out-of-town with reputations and shows in their pockets or in their seasoned heads. This would serve to give Festival-goers a destination, after which the Fringe could sell them on attending several other shows. Right now, far too few people in town view the Festival as a must-see, or actually have ever heard of it.
This may be a moot point as one of the Festival administrators described the Fringe as a place for people who can't or haven't had their work produced elsewhere. Again, that really doesn't sound like a successful formula for artistic success, but it is a clear demarcation.
The second point I'd want to make about the Festival's future is that, as far as I know, Fringe Festivals (in New York, In Philadelphia where Midnight performed, and others) mean theatre – not dance, music, comedy, improv, magic – unless those art disciplines can be shaped into what one would call a theatre piece. Making the St. Louis Fringe Festival about theatre – with theatre pieces as the central draw of the thing – could go a long way towards establishing just what this thing is to St. Louis audiences. They could still offer dance, music etc., but on the fringe of the Fringe.
Those are my suggestions, and I'm sticking to them.
Unlike most follow-ups to Midnight shows, this one won't be supported by reviews. A couple critics showed up, but didn't follow up with anything in writing.