The New York City International Fringe Festival is a massive creativity explosion unique in its scope, variety, unbridled courage, and extreme experimentation in human expression. It is the largest multi-arts festival in North America with more than 200 shows from all over the world performing 1100 events during 16 days (August 12-28) in more than 20 different venues throughout the New York City area. If you live in the greater NYC area or have plans to be in the city during this time, and are committed to building your creativity and innovation efforts for your business, do not pass up the opportunity to “fringe.” Here's the website: http://www.fringenyc.org/
Be forewarned (or hopefully further piqued) that fringe performers are very expressive people with many having highly developed senses of being politically, socially and intellectually incorrect. They live to challenge and provoke highly charged reactions from your day-to-day sensibilities. They want to shock and rock your world!
This becomes a perfect environment and learning opportunity for anyone who wants to be more creative and innovative in their day jobs. It is an optimal, experiential training ground for learning how to creatively mix and stretch ideas, how to communicate for connection, and witness teamwork at its most synergistic.
My article “Business, the arts and innovation - not so strange bedfellows” makes the case of how the business world can and has successfully borrowed from artistic processes to develop better bottom-line results, competitive differentiation and to further build and evolve their employee engagement and business models. Daniel Pink, best-selling author of 5 books on the changing world of work, goes so far as to say that “The MFA (Masters in Fine Arts) is the new MBA…. An arts degree is now perhaps the hottest credential in the world of business”. While that may be overstating the case slightly, Pink is right to call attention this increasingly valuable skill set. The New York Fringe Festival is a perfect opportunity to explore this potential connection by participating and bringing back ideas and techniques you gathered to see if you can apply them to your business.
How to fringe – Suggestions from the trenches
Lay of the land – There are a number of different formats for fringe events. While some are full-length 2-2.5 hour traditional play formats, the vast majority are condensed hour long experimental structures; so multiple play viewing in a night is easy to do. Common formats include one-person performances, comedy skit reviews, multimedia installations, irreverent comedies, unstructured performance art and brutally dramatic explorations of the human psyche.
They can be further grouped accordingly:
1. The really, really good plays – Some will move you, shock you, with their unique perspective or visceral delivery. Some reach beautifully poetic and sublime heights of human expression and theatrical creativity. You will want to revisit in discussion and in your mind what it was in these plays that made that powerful connection with you. This leads you to the question: How can you build powerful connections with others?
2. The really, really bad plays - They are not just bad, they are very, very bad. Impressive in their sheer pretentiousness, flatulence or just downright bad taste. Some make you wonder: Are some of these performers acting under their psychiatrist’s orders? Are they purging the nightmares or dark places of their minds? Is performance art the only way they can balance themselves out? Whatever the case, because they are so bad we are left with a lot to talk about and an experience we almost have to share. Most importantly, though, it leads us to the question: How did they have the guts to get up on a naked space and do what they did? How can we muster the same courage in attempting to reach out to others?
3. The plays you frankly don’t know what to think about – Due to the competitive nature of the festival among the theatre companies, the supremely experimental approaches and big artistic chances they take, there have been many times that I have walked out of a highly charged performance not having a clue as to what I had just experienced or how I felt. Not just about the performance, but that my whole body /mind felt numb. I was momentarily confused about where I was and what I was doing there. It may lead you to a deeply metaphysical question like: Why am I here? Take what comes and just run with it!
Gather a small tribe – The fringe provides one of the greatest opportunities to unplug from social media and truly be social by sharing unique experiences together. Invite and mix friends from different areas of your life to fringe with you. You cannot help but create rich and lively discussions.
Binge - Immerse yourself in the festival by doing deep dives. As mentioned before, most of the plays are an hour long so you can manage multiple experiences of a wide variety in a single evening outing. Create a theatrical vortex: Plan an early show then drinks to discuss, then do another show, then dinner and drinks, then see a late show, then a nightcap. Talk about mental calisthenics!
Mix crazy with dangerous – In reading the fringe play descriptions, don’t shy away from those that sound potentially disturbing or absurdly ridiculous or silly. Those actually can provide the best takeaways.