“Sometimes brilliance happens,” announces Susan Collard, director of Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre. “Experimental art in festivals is spontaneous” — and, she concedes, “almost accidental.”
ACDT’s latest project, the Fringe Festival, “was inspired by a festival I saw in Toronto last year,” she relates. “Giles [Collard’s husband] and I came across the festival on the Web, so we went.
“It was so inspiring to see artists collaborating with other artists,” Collard continues. “Individual artists working together with other individual artists was exciting to me because, in our community, I don’t feel that artists collaborate enough. We can get out of our niches and expand our horizons.”
This past August, Collard began working on the Fringe Festival, reviewing applications from performance artists as far away as Pennsylvania.
“There’s a guy doing puppets,” she reveals, explaining how the Be Be Theatre — an intimate, 70-seat space — can be closed in to create a small stage for puppetry. The theater will also host transplanted French dancer Severine Gaubert-Rousseau and movement- and sign-language artist Shiner Antiorio, another local, who will collaborate with dancer Jenny Oldham.
“Jenny will be improvising her piece while Shiner spontaneously signs,” Collard explains. “She also uses her voice with her hands. It sounds like a duet.”
Painter Tami Lu will create a visual work, using dancer Giles Collard as her canvas while he performs his own piece. Dancer Joyce Nash is collaborating with her brother, saxophonist Daniel Nash. And Julie Becton Jackson will direct a piece about Parisian street performer/cabaret singer Edith Piaf, featuring the vocal stylings of local retro chanteuse Vendetta Cream.
“She sounds just like Edith Piaf,” promises Collard.
Even as the 13 different works come together, Collard admits that she hasn’t even seen them all. “That’s sort of the beauty of it,” she ventures. “We didn’t want to curate this; it will be a real surprise.” Collard believes that curated shows end up reflecting the curator’s desires more than the artists’ vision.
“Artists whose work is curated don’t need venues like this,” says Collard. “We want to create opportunities for artists whose work is on the periphery.” In other words, the kind of creative activity that doesn’t end up on a ballet or opera stage or in one of the high-end galleries.
“Mainstream artists are doing fairly safe work and not jarring the public,” she explains. “Fringe artists are taking some risks, making statements about religion, society and culture. These artists are on the edge; they don’t have a venue.”
Not having a built-in audience is one of many challenges fringe artists face; they’re also restricted by lack of funds.
“Usually when you perform, it’s done in a large group,” Collard points out. “A play or a dance concert foots the bills. Most solo artists can’t afford to perform alone.”
An event like the Fringe Festival, then, gives such performers a common space. And the intimate Be Be Theatre, owned by the Collards, is highly conducive to such a gathering. “When we do experimental theater here, we know we’re not going to have a large following,” says Collard. “We can’t make it financially if we put a show like this in the Diana Wortham [Theatre].”
“Sometimes we want to get 500 people to see the show, too,” adds Giles, “but we’ll do it over eight shows [seating 70 people at a time].”
And both Collards agree that having a longer run leads to a more fully realized performance.
“Here in Asheville, lots of creative work is happening, and as more happens, it snowballs,” says Giles.
That snowball effect helped produce the recent rash of black-box theaters, such as Area 45 (on Wall Street) and 35Below (an offshoot of Asheville Community Theatre), which now join the Be Be on the downtown scene.
Echoing her earlier wish for a more closely knit artistic community, Susan Collard suggests that “if [all the small theaters] get together next year and run a weeklong Fringe Festival, including musicians and visual artists, it would be quite an event.”
She envisions audiences being able to attend different shows each night at different venues around town.
“There are so many different artists moving here each year,” she exclaims. “I just hope they can stay.”