Fringe’s new digital category explores intimacy, accessibility and the nature of performance
Now, 19 years in, 16 of the festival's shows are happening entirely online.
The Fringe Festival has always been about more than live theater, featuring shows from the dance, visual and multidisciplinary worlds, too.
Now, 19 years in, 16 of the festival’s shows are happening entirely online, across a variety of media — from prerecorded web footage to an Instagram account to smartphone animations accessed via QR codes in FringeArts’ beer garden.
It’s called Digital Fringe, and it “came out of our desire to showcase artists whose work wasn’t easily presented on a stage or just took place online or in an application,” says Jarrod Markman, festival coordinator. “We’re just opening up that opportunity to present new and different works of art that didn’t have the opportunity before.”
All digital shows must be free, so anyone with access to the Internet can see them, and artists were only charged $50 to be featured, compared to the usual $350 participation fee.
“Digital media fills our main goal of creating accessibility through theater and through art,” says Joshua McLucas, web developer of This Damned Body, a multimedia documentation of collaborator Swift Shuker’s male-to-female gender transition. “There will always be some sort of barrier, but a digital medium really reduces that to a very, very small one, as opposed to a live show,” which many people may be unable to attend because of lack of time, transportation or funds.
The website for This Damned Body serves as an archive of videos and diary entries, and in them, Shuker bears all, literally and figuratively, in what Shuker sees as a more intimate performance than can be found on a stage. In a video titled “E Day,” for instance, Shuker is seen self-administering the first shot of estrogen at home.
“If I made it really personal and really intimate and very much about myself, then it has that aspect of theater which is that it’s a real life and you’re actually responding to a human being,” Shuker says. “It feels like theater to me, to experience this kind of work.”
Also premiering is “@AstroJennie,” the fictional tale of an astronaut who returns home to Philadelphia following a stint on the International Space Station. The show takes place entirely on Instagram, which allows the main character to interact (through the work’s creators) with followers in comments on posts.
Presenting art in this way is a “timely challenge,” said Martha Stuckey, who will play Jennie. “It’s unavoidable that technology is going to come up against our work as theater artists.”
That’s what makes the section so valuable, according to Markman.
“That line keeps getting blurred more and more … between what is theater, what is interactive, what is more performance-art-based,” he said. “I think that conversation, both in Digital Fringe and in other parts of the festival, will continue to evolve as well.”
For all Digital Fringe listings, visit fringearts.com/all-presentations.