The summer is full of theatre festivals, and the Fresh Fruit Festival, a multidisciplinary LGBTQ arts festival, offers something for everyone.
By Kimberly Lew (Playwright/Blogger)
While Greg has been participating in the summer festival season as an artist, I've found myself on the opposite side of the table, having taken a summer gig helping do marketing on the festival-organizing side for the Fresh Fruit Festival. An LGBTQ multidisciplinary festival for artists, Fresh Fruit will present several plays, cabarets, dance pieces, and films over the course of two weeks (July 8-21) at The Wild Project, with some additional programming at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and Leslie Lohman Museum. It's been a pleasure to work with a lot of talented, enthusiastic artists, and you can view the full line-up of the festival--which includes the US premiere of a hilarious comedian, a Fringe-award winning one-person show, and one of the earliest portrayals of homosexuals in film-- here.
In the meantime, I thought I would share a Q&A with Artistic Director/Founder Carol Polcovar about Fresh Fruit's origins and what it's like running a festival now in its 11th year:ME: What was the origin of the Fresh Fruit Festival? Considering its political roots, how did you decide to incorporate all the different genres of performance and art?
CAROL POLCOVAR: One rainy afternoon, three members of the New Village Productions Board of Directors, Kevin Brofsky, Keith Angora and myself were sitting in an empty theater asking each other what’s next. The focus of New Village Productions was diversity and putting on plays about people who were not usually presented on the commercial stage. It was not queer oriented theater but many of us working in the organization were gay. As we imagined our next steps, our conversation drifted to all the people in the LGBT community who were seldom featured artists and how past great LGBT artists were never acknowledged as such. Everyone enjoyed the work of LGBT artists, singers, writers, etc., but so often the public failed to note that these artists were members of the LGBT community. It was also true that the many groups within the LGBT community did not really connect with one another and that, in fact, there was sometimes even prejudice within our own community.
We agreed art was universal and LGBT artist’s continuing contribution to world culture throughout the must be recognized and celebrated in order to break through the walls that separated us from each other and from the greater community. As working playwrights and writers we knew the problems of getting our work seen, especially when it was not mainstream work. We agreed that we would want to deal with diversity, and offer opportunities for LGBT art and artists. A festival, we agreed, could do that, could open doors. The three of us wanted to present the work of LGBT artists past, present and future, artists in all disciplines. We believed seeing the richness of our community's creativity would fight prejudice both inside and outside the community. Next we needed a name, something that would sound like fun and let people know we were a LGBT group presenting exciting, new work by our artists. Keith Angora listened to this description and said, half joking, "Then it has to be called 'Fresh Fruit.'" Kevin and I laughed and thus the journey began and the Fresh Fruit Festival was born.
CAROL: The goal of the Festival was to open doors. As a playwright and poet I know how hard it is to have the space to grow, develop and be seen. We have always reached out with calls for submissions but sometimes people approach us with a good idea. We are open to listening. Alexis Handwerker who curated our last art show and is curating this year’s show, Queers In Exile, at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art came to us through her interest in Queer Youth and talked to us about her ideas for an art show about youth. Another producer, Robert Urban, came to us with ideas for some musical evenings and presented us with some of our best show including “Transgender Rock” and the “Two Spirit Evening: A Tribute to Native American LGBT People”. Last year, Kelli Dunham who has been doing readings about LGBT Lives called “Queer Memoirs” suggested she do an evening, and she will be doing another one this year. It was one of our best events.
One of our goals is to a form community of LGBT artists so being open to creativity is an important part of who we are. Sometimes our artists come back with a show they had started developing with us. In 2012 Bill Bowers, an amazing mime, presented his show Beyond Words which had begun as a piece done in an earlier Fresh Fruit Festival he has presented his work in a longer production at Urban Stages and is now presenting it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. What we look for in a show is its unique view of our world. Being Gay or Lesbian or Bisexual or Transgender is not the center of anyone’s world but it does shape our vision and it is that unique vision and experience we look for in any work we present.
(From dance piece "The Truth Within")
CAROL: We've changed only in so much as the world has changed. It is interesting how the work submitted is different each year in terms of groups represented and subjects approached. Over the past two years we have had many transgender artists telling their stories. This was rare ten years ago, although we did do a wonderful art show about gender, and former Board of Directors member Clover Honey curated a variety show featuring all the many artistic possibilities of drag. Our organization has changed quite a bit in its administration since we began. We are no longer three people sitting around a table. For the first five years All Out Art's Vice President Dr. Jeffrey Leeds and I did a lion's share of the work, but , fortunately, over the years we have been attracting more people to help with the many tasks need to make such a big enterprise happen. We are still working to move from a kind of “Mom and Pop” enterprise into a more focused and organized administrative structure, while making sure continue being open to LGBTQ artists. By the way, we also now include LGBTQ friendly artists and are talking about new definitions of our community as times and definitions change.ME: What have been some of the highlights of festivals past? What are you most looking forward to this year?
CAROL: There's something that happens sometimes at our festivals that is very special and when it happens it is thrilling. Sometimes it is just seeing the variety of people who have stepped through the door. Our plays are not only diverse, but they attract a diverse audience which is something that you don’t always see in theater. It also happens when an artist touches some universal chord and the audience and the work seem to be one, when you can actually feel the audience being part of the process. Those are the shows you remember.
(From punk opera "At the Other Side of the Earth"
There have been so many moments over the years. Singer Nhojj hit our stages early in his career at an open mic, I can still remember the clarity of his voice. He has gone one to win various music awards but that night is the one I remember. David Koetles' play After the Chairs will be in this year's festival and I, also, remember when his play the Bald Diva lit up the stage eleven years ago going on to a longer run and a GLADD award. I even remember a young blond singer at the piano with an interesting voice at an Out Music event perhaps a decade ago hosted by James Trantor. I don't remember her name then, it's Lady Gaga, now.
So each year I look for the same thing, those moments when the magic happens. I already experienced it at our Short Play Contest this year when seven terrific plays took the stage. Each play was perfect in its own way and the audience was with them and what an audience it was. I think not one ethnic, age, race, religion sexual or gender group was missing. The four top plays (decided by judges and audience ratings) by Joan Lipkin, Germono Toussaint, Richard Ballon and John DeBenedetto will be presented at the Festival this year.ME: What do you hope to be the future of the Fresh Fruit Festival?
CAROL: Ah, my wish is the wish of everyone in America running an arts organization. I want lots of money and volunteers. I want to implement more opportunities for artists’ development, I want to enlarge our youth programming, I want to collect the stories of our aging population.....but really we are a community organization and we exist only with community support. My dream, however, is to pay living salaries to our staff and expand programming. Right now we are bursting at the seams with ideas and have gone about as far as we can go without a lot more monetary support, so the future is up to you. Gifts to Fresh Fruit Festival are really paying forward. Artists and audiences help us so we can in turn help them.
KIMBERLY LEW is a playwright with two published one-act plays for high schools, as well as full-length Searching for Candi (co-written with Gabriella Miyares), which debuted at Mt. Holyoke college. Her play, Other People's Children, was featured as a part of The Beautiful Soup Theater Collective's new works reading series and was a semi-finalist for the 2012 O'Neill Playwrights Conference and Ashland New Play Festival. Her latest play, The Memory Queen, received a reading at The New Ohio in January 2013. She also created/manages the Emerging Musical Theatre blog. www.kimberlylew.com
EMAIL HER | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | OTHER POSTS BY THIS AUTHOR