PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The 24th annual Philadelphia Fringe Festival kicks off Thursday, and it’s sure to be unlike any other before. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the contemporary arts fest to be mostly virtual this year and with 120 works and 575 performances over four weeks, it’s no easy task.
“People will be able to look back on it and say, ‘how did artists, how did art, evolve during the pandemic?’” said Carrie Hagen of Christ Church’s Neighborhood House, which usually serves as a venue, but is producing a work for Fringe for the very first time.
Premiering on opening night at 7 p.m., “The Philadelphia Matter 1972/2020” by acclaimed NYC-based choreographer and director David Gordon had to make some changes.
It was intended to be performed live by 30 dancers at Neighborhood House, alongside a simultaneous video stream of dancers in Manhattan. Since reimagined as an all-video piece, each dancer was recorded separately and edited together.
“From such remote locations, this 84-year-old has figured out a way to bring not just audience members together, but performers as well, in a completely new virtual platform,” Hagen said.
There are works for the eyes and ones for the ears. Multi-disciplinary artist James Allister Sprang created “Aquifer of the Ducts,” a live meditation meant to be enjoyed with headphones. The shows run Sept. 29 and Oct. 1 at 7 p.m.
“A 40-minute, soundscape, or sound bath if you will, it’s meant to be kind of like a sonic balm during these really difficult times,” Sprang said.
With that in mind, the vast majority of shows, including “Aquifer of the Ducts,” are being offered for free. The few that are ticketed are pay what you wish. There is also a pass the hat option where you can tip the performers.
“We want people to come to our shows and we acknowledge that the cost of a ticket is hitting people differently in this time, and we don’t want that to be a barrier,” said Katy Dammers, artistic producer at FringeArts.
Some of the creations will take you out of your homes. TrailOff is an interactive experience that uses the city’s landscape as its stage. It launches on Sept. 16.
“People can download this app and then go to different trails throughout the Philadelphia region and listen to a story crafted by a Philadelphia-area writer that evolves as they go through the geography of the trail,” Dammers said. “It’s almost like an interactive theater experience happening in space.”
The Fringe Festival goes through Oct. 4. You can find the full show schedule here.