The organizers of the New York International Fringe Festival, facing the possible end to all of their programs, have launched a $100,000 fundraising effort, calling it the "$100,00 or Bust" campaign.
The monies raised by the campaign will go toward immediate overhead costs, the financing of the upcoming fourth Fringe NYC festival and a settlement with the festival's landlord. The last issue, which involves legal issues and possible eviction, is particularly worrisome for organizers who need to concentrate on annual preparations for the fringe festival.
The four-year-old Fringe NYC festival is produced by the eight-year-old Present Company, which is headquartered at 196-198 Stanton Street on New York's Lower East Side. The Present Company is headed by producing director Elena K. Holy and artistic director John Clancy.
Present Company's Fringe NYC has presented the works of five hundred theatre/performing arts companies to an estimated 75,000 audience members in its first three years.
Separately, in 1998, Present Company found a new home and opened a 7,500 square foot performance-office-rehearsal complex on Stanton Street. Late rent and subsequent late fees for this new Stanton Street location -- known as the Theatorium -- are at the heart of the conflict between the theatre group and its landlord. The Theatorium employs two full time staff and an "army of enthusiastic, heroic volunteers" who are said to have staged the works of 200 companies over the past 18 months.
The timing and success of the fundraising campaign are critical for festival organizers at Present Company, who have indicated that all of their programs could end as of Feb. 1.
"The deadline for fringe festival applications is Feb. 28," explained Present Company's John Clancy, "so if we don't have an office, and if we don't have a home, and if that situation stretches on into the spring we may have to enter a period of hibernation for the foreseeable future." Clancy told Playbill On-Line that the Present Company's landlord had served the group with a "notice of default." Arts organizations or all sizes, particularly those with marginal financial success or undeveloped funding programs are operating on a "fringe" that is not just creative, but economic in nature.
"Present Company's Fringe festival is great because it is theatre with a political conscience," explains Susan Howard, who organizes political actions and demonstrations for the CHARAS/El Bohio Community Center on the Lower East Side. At CHARAS, Howard and her colleagues have been struggling to reverse the city auction/sale of their 20-year home in an effort to preserve what they believe is their center's contribution to New York's cultural fabric.
Clancy said he had been in touch with CHARAS after receiving the notice of default. "When CHARAS was going through a lot last year, we helped them," Clancy said. "So, I called Susan Howard and said, 'Okay, the tables have turned.'" Clancy said he had received a recommendation for a lawyer from the Latino-based CHARAS center. "Right now, we're in the old 'Present Company war room mode' here," Clancy said, "which is to say, when things get down, we just start kicking.
"We've produced some of the best critically acclaimed stuff downtown," Clancy explained, "but as a company we've never sought major funding, because we never made an all-out effort. Demonstrably, there has been support for what we've done, but we've never called that in. But now we really need it. The question is, does New York City want the fringe festival and what is it worth to the public." The Alliance of Resident Theatres/ New York (A.R.T./NY) has been involved with the Present Company crisis, Clancy said.
A.R.T./NY's director of development and marketing, Mark Rossier, told Playbill On-Line that Present Company representatives had availed themselves of A.R.T./NY's Theatre Leadership Institute. In this program, Rossier said, members of the nonprofit theatre alliance can establish long range consultancies for whatever management issues they need to talk about or whatever other issues their theatre needs addressed."
"They had a meeting or two in that program," Rossier said. "Of course, we will be more than happy to assist them in whatever way we can. When any of our members have a need, we do our best to help." While the support from sister organizations and trade groups has been a welcome positive signal, Clancy said, there is also substantive progress with the fundraising campaign itself.
The Present Company board has pledged $15,000 towards the $100,000 goal. In addition, a company statement indicates, another $3,000 was raised last weekend immediately following the campaign's kick-off.
Present Company materials outline the fundraising effort as an "all-or nothing" campaign, and that all monies raised or pledged would be put aside and used "only if we meet our fundraising goal of $100,000." Asked whether all monies would be refunded in the event that the $100,000 goal was not reached, Clancy said, "Yes." Though they described being in a "legal battle" with their landlord, Fringe NYC organizers at Present Company indicated it was a battle which they believe they can win.
New York City is the seventh major U.S. city to host a fringe festival. Gotham joined Seattle, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Houston, Orlando and San Francisco as a fringe festival host city in 1997. For performance information, festival applications or details on becoming a volunteer, call (212) 420-8877 or visit www.fringenyc.org.
-- By Murdoch McBride