by Anthony P. Pennino · July 28, 2014
Anthony P. Pennino is moderating the FringeU panel "Everything Old is New Again" on Tuesday, August 12 at 1pm.
I came across this statement the other day from Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange, "Art is rare and sacred and hard work, and there ought to be a wall of fire around it." As we head into that manic crazy time right before the curtain rises on the first FringeNYC show, I have been thinking a great deal about why I am doing the Fringe. I am a college literature professor. August is my vacation. It's hot and humid. We are working under festival conditions (which means little tech time, virtually no storage space, and an idiosyncratic performance schedule). I have zero expectation that my little show based upon an obscure Jack London story will be the Urinetown of the 2014 festival. Yet, here I am. Why do it? If one work of art -- in our case, a play -- is sacred, then surely a theater festival of 200 some odd plays and musicals must be the entirety of the Vatican vaults. And for two-and-a-half weeks in Lower Manhattan we have a wall of fire around us. So it is into this cathedral of hard work that I hope to create some truth for my audience -- not capital T objective truth, but human emotional truth with a sprinkling of entertainment along the way.
Art -- and theatre especially -- is often in conversation with itself. During the Golden Age of Athens, the city would stop to attend the Dionysia for not one but a festival of plays. In Elizabethan London, Philip Henslowe was not producing open-ended runs of Hamlet. One could see Hamlet today, Titus tomorrow, and Midsummer the following day. Further, one of the roles of the theatre, historically, has been to take a pre-existing work (a myth, a narrative told in another medium, an historical event) and reimagine it for the contemporary audience. And herein lies the reason that I like to bring adaptations or plays that are in dialogue with other works to FringeNYC. My play, A Thousand Deaths, is based upon the early science-fiction short story by Jack London. London himself was wrestling with some of the themes Mary Shelley brought to play in Frankenstein. I came to the short story with over a century of scientific progress between London's time and our own. I will be presenting this work alongside another 200 theatrical events. Some of my audience will have seen a number of these other events, some a few, and some none at all. How all of these possible connections between different works will play out in each performance and create a conversation for each audience, nay, each audience member, is pretty much incalculable, but the excitement for me as an artist is to be part of this exchange of seemingly infinite possibilities.
For FringeU, then, I hope that the discussion will allow audience members and participants to consider and voice the experience of engaging with a number of discreet works of art that, paradoxically, also are a part of a greater whole. And perhaps we can explore the writing process in detail as well. Why choose to reimagine a certain work? What was the inspiration? What touched the artist emotionally or intellectually? How did the process of interpretation lead to understanding?