Since its founding in 2007, the Frigid Fringe Festival in New York randomly selects the plays it produces, like many other festivals that aim to highlight voices from outside theatrical establishments around the world. He prided himself on being both “uninjured” and “uncensored” because he didn’t rely on guard panels.
But that changed last fall when Frigid first decided not to stage one of her chosen productions. A staff member of the festival marked “Poems About Gender” red after writer David Lee Morgan sent a promotional piece from the show that began: “There are two genders, male and female.” Further investigation led the organizers to conclude that it “contains material we think is anti-trans.”
Frigid announced that while canceling the production of “Poems About Gender”, she would stop calling herself “uncensored” and reserve the right to withdraw future plays. “Our commitment to freedom of expression does not oblige us to lend our efforts to engage in conversations that we consider hate speech, or even just very offensive and hurtful speech,” he said in a press release. “In this case we just choose to say no,” he added.
The festival was no longer “uncensored” and became the latest example of a broader rebalancing in the world of culture, publishing and academia, as many institutions that once emphasized freedom of expression and artistic freedom rein in what they found hateful or offensive to members. marginalized groups
London-based busker and vocal poet Morgan, who recited “Poems on Gender” as a monologue by heart, said in an interview that she certainly didn’t expect Frigid to tolerate anything. “If I was presenting a recruiting movie for the Ku Klux Klan,” he said, “I’d be surprised if they put it up.”
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But he objected that his show, which he performed at the prominent Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year, deserved censorship. “Is it reactionary?” said. “Anti-trans? Is it bigotry to say that there are two genders, male and female?”
Erez Ziv, founder and general art director of Frigid New York, said he couldn’t ask his increasingly diverse team, which includes several transgender and nonbinary people, to be part of a production that denies their own truth. The Frigid Fringe Festival, which will take place in February and March, provides theater space for shows and publicity, technology and front desk workers. Productions retain all box office revenue. (Frigid relies on grants and small fees from productions.)
“In November, I bragged to a roomful of end producers in North America that I would let a show happen no matter what,” Ziv said. “But then something happened: In fact, we got a program that I couldn’t ask my team to work on.”
“I support freedom of expression,” he added. “I think all conversations should be legally protected, but not all conversations should be platformed.”
Before deciding, Ziv, who had never read Frigid’s production scripts, watched several online videos of Morgan performing other work. She also consulted with a colleague: Jimmy Lovett, Frigid’s co-artistic director, partly because Lovett is trans.
Lovett said some of Morgan’s online performances of related studies “shrunk our experience so much” and framed transitional surgery and other medical care as “more damaging to the body than necessary and healthy for the individual.”
Sometimes incompletely, “Poems About Gender” asks questions about how some people describe their gender (“Tell me I can’t be your friend/Unless I believe you’re a real woman/I can’t”) and about transition-related medical care (“You got a rainbow and put it on a knife”) you did”).
Morgan, who grew up in Washington State, describes herself as a left-wing and feminist, and said that “Poems About Gender” was partly inspired by conversations with trans friends from the oral poetry scene. “I look at people I respect and associate with a lot and then see where we disagree,” he said, adding that he believes some friendships have ended because of their own opinions.
Frigid’s evolution away from stage-any ethos is striking, as the festival exists precisely to ensure that even extraordinary or out-of-the-ordinary works have a chance to rise in New York City.
Border festivals share a task to amplify sharper sounds. The concept came about when communities not invited to the first Edinburgh International Festival in 1947 organized a counter-festival that one journalist would later describe as “on the edge of official festival drama”. They became famous for giving opportunities to new talents: VIII. The hit Broadway musical “Six” about Henry’s wives was written by college students and was one of 3,398 shows hosted by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017.
Xela Batchelder is a senior marginal producer working on marginal festivals for her PhD. In her thesis, she said that often “the audience is the curator” and it will be difficult for festivals to decide which works to stage and which to exclude. “It’s going to be very difficult for arts organizations and artists trying to figure out how to tackle all of this,” she said.
The fringe model has been tested in recent years. The Chicago Fringe Festival, which featured works that were chosen entirely by lot, such as Frigid, faced criticism for staging “A Virtuous Pedophile” in 2017. (The game’s author, Sean Neely, said the play was not advocating pedophilia.) Anne Cauley, then executive director, said the backlash was “too detrimental” to the festival, and the festival’s largest foundation sponsor refused to renew its support. next year the Festival ended after 2018.
The Canadian Border Festivals Association, whose guiding principles call for no juries to select plays and no interference with artistic content, added a new plan in 2017 that says “Festivals will promote and model inclusion, diversity and multiculturalism.”
Association spokesperson Michele Gallant said one of its members, Frigid, still adheres to the principle that “festival producers do not interfere with the artistic content of every performance” as she does not alter the show. – but simply pulled completely.
Morgan still hopes to take “Poems About the Gender” to other side festivals.
He won the Canadian association’s lottery in November, which gave him the right to participate in side festivals in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia, next summer. The Vancouver Fringe declined to comment, and an official at Victoria Fringe did not respond to a request for comment.