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The Fringe Festival is back, and it’s been completely revamped

Written by
Regina Robbins

The Fringe is dead. Long live the Fringe!

After celebrating its 20th birthday in 2016, the New York International Fringe Festival decided to skip 2017 altogether, like a college student taking a gap year to gain some perspective. Now the annual showcase is back—with some major changes. It comes to us in cool October instead of sweltering August, and it has slimmed down from more than 200 shows to fewer than 90. Instead of occupying existing downtown venues, the festival is using unconventional spaces in the West Village that have never served as theaters before; audiences meet at the Fringe Hub at 685 Washington Street and are guided to the shows from there. (The Fringe has also embraced the outer boroughs, inviting companies outside Manhattan to join the new Bring Your Own Venue wing of the festival.)

Even with fewer shows to choose from, however, navigating the Fringe can be daunting. The festival offers a head-spinning array of options, and the most exciting thing about it—wading into a sea of little-known artists—can also be its biggest challenge. Here are a few of the best bets. Go forth and Fringe, New Yorkers!

1. The Classical

You’ll see familiar plots and characters at the Fringe, but they’ll have a unique spin. For example, Makbet shakes up Shakespeare by having actors switch roles mid-performance. There’s also the queer-themed Starcrossed, in which Mercutio and Tybalt replace Romeo and Juliet as the cursed couple; a kid-friendly version of The Odyssey; and AntiCone, in which ancient tragedy meets clowning and traffic cones.

2. The Musical

What would a zany festival be without off-kilter tuners? The F#@%ing Wright Brothers follows a group of kiddie-show actors on a van tour; The Last Jimmy tackles racism in the criminal justice system of a dystopian future; The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley tells the true story of an entrepreneur who risked it all on goats’ balls; and Striking Out imagines a world of gay baseball.

33 (a Kabarett)

Photograph: Courtesy Alexander Howe

3. The Historical

Trust the Fringe to teach us about history that we never read about in textbooks. Almelem goes behind the scenes of Jesus’ rise and fall (and rise); 33 (a Kabarett) takes us back to the squalor of pre-Nazi Germany; A Brief History of Colonization looks at India’s colonial period through a modern comic lens.

4. The Topical

There are plenty of Fringe options for those still coming to grips with the 2016 presidential election, including Donald Trump Dies in the End, a black-tie, adults-only performance art event, and the comedic, cathartic Hillary Clinton’s Song Cycle: Witness. Solo show The Shape of a Girl examines bullying in high school.

The Shape of a Girl

Photograph: Courtesy Terysa Malootian

5. The...What?

Perhaps the greatest gifts bestowed upon us by the Fringe are the shows that defy easy categorization. Among this year’s head-scratchers are Dishwasher, a solo show performed in your kitchen; The Existence Formula, a devised theater piece that begins in utero; James Franco and Me, a satire about mortality and celebrity; and Ants, a wordless multimedia examination of bugs and men.

The New York International Fringe Festival runs through Oct 31. Visit the Fringe Festival website for details.

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