by Michael Ross Albert
Back row from left: Rita, Julia, Serrana, Cat, Adrienne, Emily, Rachel
Michael, Ali, Angelica (not pictured: Kevin and Hannah)
So, I was finishing up grad school and I didn't know what to do with the rest of my life. I'm a planner, and my five year plan was spectacularly (and rapidly) coming to an end. I was vamping, treading water. I'd never been outside of school before was looking for an experience that would be both educational and awesome. And then I was offered a coveted FringeTERNship position. Summer school for theatre nerds.
Let's face it. If you want to learn how to produce theatre independently, there are no two more qualified teachers than the full-time staff members of FringeNYC. I want you to take a moment to appreciate this, because when I first learned that this festival was the product of two (two!) full-time members of The Present Company, I was floored. FringeNYC has been around for fifteen years. Annually, the festival facilitates the production of around two hundred plays, with about three thousand total participants per year. That means that in the last decade and a half, this festival has produced approximately 3000 plays, and given creative opportunities to roughly 45,000 artists. When I was learning how to ride a bike (unsuccessfully), The Present Company was (successfully) learning how to be one of the largest, most competent, and most community-oriented producing agencies in the Western hemisphere. Or, if that sounds too audacious, at least below Fourteenth Street.
I had a lot to learn from these guys, and the FringeTERNship was a gift-wrapped lesson. Elena and Britt were always open to explaining exactly why something was being done, what the requirements for an Equity Showcase code were, how they'd been able to grow from a scrappy team carrying a piano from one un-air-conditioned venue to another into the mad scientists who'd discovered the secret formula behind FringeNYC.
The greatest lesson I learned? It's the answer to how the festival has been able to keep its head above water for the last fifteen years. If it isn't fun, The Present Company wouldn't do it. It's an aspect of this hard work that we so often take for granted. There's a reason we call them Plays. And a good producer, I've learned, should perpetuate a spirit of play, a spirit of fun.
The FringeNYC office was just that: fun. There were snacks (and that seaweed stuff that Taty mistook for a snack), there were goofy (and occasionally bougie) FringeTERNS, there was music, and there was always a spirit of community. In every aspect of putting the festival together-- from assigning shows to venues, to scheduling performances, to proofreading (and more proofreading)-- the staff put in personal, attentive care, as if each show was their own. There were occasions where I could ask a question about a production or a participant offhand, and Elena and Britt knew exactly who or what I was talking about without missing a beat. I felt privileged to be part of something so much bigger than myself, a tradition, a community. People say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a whole nation to put on plays. And I was thrilled to be a part of this particular one.
I've recently left FringeCENTRAL as a FringeTERN, to return to it as a participant. My play, Chagrin, is entering its last days of rehearsal before the festival begins and I've gone to spend time with the play. Now, I'm still vamping a little, and I still haven't concocted a new five year plan. But I know that it'll involve applying the lessons from FringeNYC Headquarters to whatever creative opportunities come my way. I can't believe how lucky I am to be part of FringeNYC, as a playwright, as a producer, as an intern, and as one of the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives were changed by the theatre produced over the last fifteen years in the New York International Fringe Festival.