Theater archives

Festival Madness: Is More Necessarily Merrier for Audiences?


Paris may be a movable feast, but New York certainly has the most festivals. This year alone, the city will enjoy no fewer than 40 fringier-than-thou theatrical festivals, some joylessly titled “series.” The ballsier newbies, just like the New York International Fringe Festival back in 1997, have already prefixed themselves with “First Annual.” The variegated titles range from unfussy bluntness (Summer Play Festival) to cheeky catchphrases (the Moral Values Festival) to ennobling alliteration (Brits Off Broadway). Some festivals’ shows—like Fringe NYC’s The Last Two Minutes of the Complete Works of Henrik Ibsen—are even proud little mini-festivals themselves.

The more useful festivals shore up an audience for obscure, hyphenated dramatic niches. But let’s face it: Many are really just random slices of a theater company’s regular season, a package of unheard-of shows, hyped by the noun festival, from unheard-of playwrights, made hip by the adjective emerging.

Every state in the Union has at least one Shakespeare festival (some Bard-a-thons are even mandated by state constitutions!). But only in New York will audiences stomach so much crap to discover that one diamond in the fluff. Perhaps it’s the appreciation of theatergoers’ indefatigable devotion that’s inspired the new Bad Play Festival, shows “so bad [they’re] good.” It won’t be long before the eternally self-conscious rialto discovers the next new marketable self-parody: Festival of Festivals: The Festival!