The best fringe since Fashion Week, FronteraFest 2015 promises a month of exhilarating alternative performance
After the Christmas wrappings are thrown out, the Kwanzaa kente is folded up, the Chanukah dreidel stops its spinning, the Yule log ashes are discarded, the Festivus grievances are aired, and the new year has been rung in, Austin performers and performance enthusiasts gear up for a second round of celebrating and events. January is when Hyde Park Theatre and ScriptWorks' FronteraFest begins, kicking off a month of some of Austin's best fringe theatre, music, choreography, and improv. With few exceptions, every evening from January 13 to February 14, FronteraFest showcases the peculiar, unexpected creativity and vibrant talent that Austin attracts.
Keeping with tradition, FronteraFest 2015 has four components: the Short Fringe, in which five short performances (under 25 minutes each) play back-to-back each night, with the "Best of the Week" reprised on Saturday; the Long Fringe, with lengthier shows (90 minutes or less) performed four times each; Bring Your Own Venue, for performance crafters who have secured their own spaces; and Mi Casa Es Su Teatro, a one-day mini-fest of site-specific performances based in individuals' homes and other unexpected contexts. Given the ridiculous volume of showtimes among the various parts of this staple of Austin theatre, you'll be able to make more than a few performances no matter your schedule.
ScriptWorks Executive Artistic Director and FronteraFest producer Christi Moore was kind enough to shed some light on what's new this year, tell a little history, and provide pointers for festival first-timers.
Austin Chronicle: It's a busy time of year for everyone, but on top of the holidays you're organizing a month of back-to-back, at times overlapping, performances. How do you do it?
Christi Moore: I figured out the first year I did this that the holidays would not be a down time for me. The same is true for [Hyde Park Theatre Artistic Director] Ken Webster and the Short and Long Fringe coordinators. Fortunately, after this many years producing the festival, we have a good routine down for preparing for it and we try to have as much done before the holidays as we can.
AC: This is your 13th year of directing FronteraFest, which is now in its 22nd run, yes? How would you describe this year's program in comparison to previous years? Are there any major themes or trends that you can tease out of the chaos of the upcoming 100-plus performances?
CM: This is the 22nd year of the festival and my 14th as the producer. The beauty of FronteraFest is that, even though we have the same format, the content varies quite a bit from year to year. Because the festival is unjuried and we haven't seen the pieces that will be presented, it's hard to predict trends or themes. We have the show descriptions provided by the participants for press purposes and from those it looks like we have a pretty even mix of all different types of performances this year. Interestingly enough, we are split almost dead even between first-timers and people who have done FronteraFest before.
AC: Specifically, what are you most excited about this year?
CM: I'm thrilled that the Long Fringe will be opening a brand-new performance space: the Ground Floor Theatre on Springdale at Airport. Honestly, I am always excited by the unpredictability of the festival. I love discovering new artists that I haven't seen before and being surprised by the ones who return year after year. FronteraFest is such a great forum for experimentation that every year we see something we've never seen before, whether it's pushing the boundaries of form or an unusual take on a current event or other subject. There's no requirement that what's presented in the festival be original work, but 95% of the pieces are original, which I love, as a new-work junkie. I am also elated to have the women of Paper Chairs curating Mi Casa Es Su Teatro this year. I can't wait to see what they put together for that day!
AC: Any new faces you have your eye on?
CM: This is tough. With roughly half the participants being new, that's a lot to choose from. Austin Jewish Repertory Theater is making its FronteraFest debut in the Long Fringe with a new musical, which I'm looking forward to. Xynergistas! Productions is doing an interdisciplinary piece that sounds really interesting in the Long Fringe with a teaser in the Short Fringe. [See "Fringe-Worthy 2015," at right.]
AC: It can be a bit daunting for those out of the loop. How would you recommend someone new to Austin or new to performance approach the festival?
CM: My first piece of advice would be to check the website regularly [www.hydeparktheatre.org] where they can find the most up-to-date information, including descriptions for all the shows. The Long Fringe works just like a regular theatre experience where you buy a ticket for a single performance. There are a lot of performance times which are outside the normal weekends-at-8pm time frame, so it can be a great way to see a lot of shows. In the Short Fringe, you're buying a ticket for an evening of five varied performances. If you're not the adventurous type, you can come to the Best of the Week – selected by that week's panel and audiences – every Saturday night, or the Best of the Fest – selected by the Saturday panelists, audiences, and the Short Fringe staff – the last week of the festival. I hope people won't wait until the last week, though.
AC: If you were to map out the arc of FronteraFest over the last couple decades and where it may be headed in the future, what would that look like? What do you hope that future will be?
CM: I have to give complete credit to the FronteraFest founders – Vicky Boone, Annie Suite, and Jason Phelps – for creating the template that we still use today. We've made some tweaks along the way and are always looking for ways to improve the experience, but they created the foundation of the four festival components – Short Fringe, Long Fringe, Bring Your Own Venue, and Mi Casa Es Su Teatro – over the first six years of the festival. As for the future, I'm hoping to return to a two-venue format for the Long Fringe next year. It's been difficult since the loss of the Blue Theatre, and this year we don't have Salvage Vanguard Theater either, so Ground Floor is coming on the scene at exactly the right time for us. As for the long term, I'd be happy if we were still here, providing the opportunity for artists to get their work in front of an audience, for another 22 years and beyond!
FronteraFest 2015 runs Jan. 13-Feb 14. Short Fringe performances are Jan. 13-Feb. 14, Tue.-Sat., 8pm, at Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd. Long Fringe performances are Jan. 19-Feb. 1, Mon.-Sun., times vary, at Ground Floor Theatre, 979 Springdale. For more info, visit www.hydeparktheatre.org.