Like all live theater, the performances selected for each year’s Asheville Fringe Arts Festival are intended to be experienced in person, alongside fellow appreciators of experimental works. But with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic making such gatherings impractical, festival organizers are following the creative leads of their collaborators and bringing these unusual offerings to audiences in Western North Carolina and around the world.
For its 19th iteration, Asheville Fringe will present a predominantly digital slate, Wednesday, Jan. 20-Sunday, Jan. 24. Katie Jones, who serves as co-artistic director with Erinn Hartley, says that the shift to online home viewing — featuring a mix of prerecorded and livestreamed shows — gives participants the opportunity to enjoy more acts than usual since they won’t have to travel from venue to venue. And while the traditional sense of community will be missed in 2021, Jones is confident that the benefits of a digital festival will make for a distinctly engaging and memorable week.
“It really opened up who we were able to work with,” Jones says, noting that this year’s performers include participants from Italy and Malaysia. The virtual format also inspired the launch of an international film festival, a curated puppet slam and multiple interactive programs.
Among the standouts in the final category is “#txtshow,” in which Brian Feldman, portraying a “humorless” character named txt, reads whatever audience members type into the Zoom chat box.
“It seems so basic, but it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen,” Jones says. “He’s really charismatic, and he does such a good job because he’s completely deadpan about everything he says, and so people can really take advantage in a great way.”
Along with the plentiful online choices, there will be two socially distanced, outdoor Random Acts of Fringe. In ticketed events on Wednesday, Jan. 20, and Thursday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m., Susan and Giles Collard of Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre will meet up to 10 people outside the BeBe Theatre, then walk to an undisclosed location for a guerrilla dance performance. And on Saturday, Jan. 23, at noon, Butoh dancer Jenni Cockrell presents “residuum,” a free, three-hour improvised durational dance performance, during which viewers may come and go as they please.
A $65 Freak Pass provides access to the entire festival, and three-show passes are available for $30. Individual show tickets cost $12 each. ashevillefringe.org