Date Night, Get it Right: Fringe Festival

Planning a really good date is an art. Sure, you can always pull out the classic dinner-and-a-movie, or the ol’ picnic at the park, but a truly memorable date means finding the right mix of comedy and drama, the right change of pace. It’s a subtle balance. And striking that balance can be difficult when your boss wants that spreadsheet yesterday, or your kid’s soccer coach needs you to bring three-dozen cleat-shaped cupcakes to the game on Saturday. Just finding the time to plan where to go and what to do can be difficult, I know, I do. That’s why I’m taking the pressure of planning the date completely off of your plate.

Every other week, I’m going to talk with entertainment insiders to find the best of New York City’s offerings. From art fairs to zebra-taxidermy contests, and everything in-between, I’ll outline choice things to do as a couple, with a few added tips of where to go before—and after—the main event.

This week’s date:  New York International Fringe Festival.

Remember that mix of comedy and drama I mentioned? This provides exactly that. With nearly 200 of the world’s best emerging theatre troupes and dance companies appearing in more than 1,000 shows, the Fringe Festival is chock-full of the variety every relationship needs to stay fresh. Just ask Elena K. Holy, who met her husband there. Of course, Holy is a special case—she’s one of the festival’s founders.

Holy started the FringeNYC in 1997, when New York became the seventh city in the country to host an offshoot of the legendary Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Since then it’s presented more than 3,000 groups from every continent. In its history, the festival has sent a number of shows onto greater fame—including “Urinetown,” which won a few Tony Awards in 2002, and Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers’ 2002 FringeNYC Award-winning satire, “Matt & Ben,” about the early friendship of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. By going this year, you may just find the next big thing.

Like a good mother, Holy can’t favor one show over another, but if you’re overwhelmed by trying to pick from the myriad number of offerings, she’s come up with a solution that’s new this year: the Find Your FringeNYC Quiz, a quirky online show-suggestion generator. It asks six questions, ranging from “What’s your favorite color?” to “What’s your dream job?” (choices include “Park Ranger,” “Astronaut,” and “Robot”), and then returns which type of theatre-goer you are (sample answer: “Your FringeNYC is passionate and feisty. Your soul is fed by wild adventure, but you’re not afraid to be a little bit goofy when it’s called for”). It then suggests shows that you might like.

The FringeNYC events are spread out over 16 venues in lower Manhattan—adding just another excuse to make a date night out of one of the shows. “The East Village and Lower East Side are great for late-night walks, and then just popping into some place new,” Holy added. “It’s like each block is its own little microcosm or universe.” One of Holy’s favorite spots is Schiller’s Liquor Bar (she recommends the brisket). It’s near The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center, which holds three of the festival’s venues. “Chop-Chop-Zig-Zag-Woyzeck,” an updating of Georg Büchner’s classic unfinished work about murderous lovers is playing there. Directed by Leanora Lange, this version has the audience determining the scene order in a “swirl of non-stop non-linear action.” Too experimental? The Clemente is also home to the new play “Pickles,” which its authors and actors describe as, “a unique action-packed superhero tale seen through the eyes of a sassy cosmetologist.”

If you’re feeling confident about your relationship, “Your Love, Our Musical” could be a good choice. Created by Rebecca Vigil and Evan Kaufman, it finds those two performers interviewing an actual couple in the audience about how they got involved. The two then create an instantaneous, improvised musical about the couple’s love story. One advantage of this show is that Amuse, a wine bar, is situated right below the venue, so the romance can continue after the applause ends. Amuse has small plates of food, live music, a welcoming ambiance, and, most importantly, a pair of owners, Rebecca Lemon and James Chiang, who care more about making it easy for you to enjoy wine than they do about anything else. It’s an ideal spot to end the evening.

If “Your Love, Our Musical,” sounds too touchy-feely, “The Absolute True Science of Nerds,” may be more your speed. Here, the actor and comedian Shyaporn Theerakulstit will give three satirical, semi-scientific lectures on Batman, the technology in “Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” and the biology of Godzilla. Theerakulstit, whose videos on YouTube have more than 5 million views, promises to enhance his show with music and burlesque guests.

All romance involves risk, and one more new feature at FringeNYC is perfect for those who like to embrace uncertainty: FringeFaves. At the end of the festival, the best-selling show in each venue gets an added performance. So if you have no idea which show to attend, you can crowd source the choice. Tickets for those shows are already on sale, “for those who like to gamble,” Holy says.

Going solo? Good for you. FringeNYC is a great way to meet someone. New this year are FringePLUS Meet Ups, which bring together the audience and the cast members after specially marked shows for drinks and mingling at a nearby bar or restaurant. So if you’re single and take the quiz, you just might meet a like-minded person. “If your results are ‘Passionate and Feisty,’” Holy points out, “and you go to a meet-up after one of the recommended shows, you’ll likely meet folks you have a lot in common with.”

Ready to get your tickets? Check out the full lineup of FringeNYC shows here.