Fringe Festival sees low student participation
Penn students largely unaware of the University City alternative art festival
September 16, 2013, 6:02 pm · Updated September 16, 2013, 8:19 pm·
Carolyn Lim | DP
Although The Philadelphia Fringe Festival chose University City as one of its venues, Penn students are largely unaware of the celebration of Philadelphia’s alternative art scene.
Back for its 17th year, The Fringe Festival — showing until Sept. 22 — used The Rotunda and Van Pelt Library for performances. However, the extent to which students know about the festival and its presence on campus is unclear.
From Sept. 10 to 12, Van Pelt held a free, interactive Fringe Festival event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. entitled “The Quiet Volume” by Ant Hampton and Tim Etchells. Despite putting up posters and digital signage about the show in Van Pelt and putting it in the Almanac calendar, only about 25 to 30 students over the course of the three days participated in the play.
The idea of the play was that in a public library, during operations hours, two people would be seated next each other and listening to headphones that will guide them through a unique reading experience.
“The [Festival] approached our director of public services and we thought [the play] would be a nice thing to offer,” said Mindy Weinberg, communications manager at Penn Libraries. “But were weren’t confident that a lot of people would sign up.”
Weinberg wasn’t surprised with the student turnout, but was “disappointed,” she said. “Maybe the message wasn’t clear enough … Next time I would try to think of other outlets [to get the word out].”
Fringe events at the Rotunda seemed to have a similar fate to the one held at Van Pelt.
Related: Rotunda a hub of Penn’s civic engagement with Philadelphia
During the weekend of Sept. 13 to 15, The Rotunda featured a show every night called “The Storm Rider,” in which a woman reads a script based on her novel of the same name that portrays a letter she wrote to her dead son.
Yet the show seemed to only attract an older audience of Philly residents.
After Sunday night’s play, Ruchama Bilenky, the show’s director, said, “I haven’t seen any students here to see the show … but there’s something to be learned from it for all ages.” She added, “We want everyone to come.”
Gina Renzi, the director of the Rotunda, said that the first two Fringe shows held at the Rotunda earlier this month did in fact have a large student presence, in contrast to several others.
One event in particular attracted students by default: iNtuitons Experimental Theatre Group, a Penn student group, hosted the Alternative Theatre Festival at Platt Performing Arts House for the fourth year in a row. It put on plays written by and acted by students and saw a turnout of about 50 people, both Penn students and Philadelphians.
Despite the low number of students who showed up, Ed Datz, Penn’s executive director of Facilities and Real Estate Services, said that Penn is excited about their partnership with the festival and about the opportunity to expose students to Philly’s art and culture scene.
“The University is happy to again support this arts festival,” Datz said. “The locations at Penn also offer our students easy access to this annual arts celebration and exposure to cultural offerings in Philadelphia.”
Renzi said that “we haven’t advertised so much for Fringe.” The lack of advertising about the festival on campus is felt by students.
“I haven’t heard of The Fringe Festival or The Rotunda,” Robyn Saad, a College sophomore, said.
College sophomore Meaghan Harding agreed. “[Events] at The Rotunda are definitely not advertised enough on campus,” she said. “I wouldn’t know what was playing there unless I sought it out.”
Overall, there seemed to have been some effort on behalf of the festival itself to advertise the event to students.
“FringeArts targeted Penn and other universities through our guide distribution campaign, which includes student pricing information throughout, and we have some relationships with professors who like to bring student groups to shows,” Dan Comly, marketing director of FringeArts, said.
“Penn should play up The Rotunda … it’s a venue with a lot of potential,” College sophomore Elliot Allen said.