OK, so here’s everything you ever wanted to know about the New York International Fringe Festival but were afraid I’d write my next “Seat Filler” about it if you asked. Launched in 1997, FringeNYC, the largest multi-arts festival in North America, took over Manhattan’s downtown theater scene August 14–30 in its 13th year. Each entry from around the world played five performances spread over the 16-day fest, and more than 40 shows qualified as being of special LGBT interest out of 201 total entries hosted by 18 venues. Sure, you always risk seeing some major crap, but what do you expect for $15 a ticket?
My favorite part of Fringe isn’t the possible discovery of the next Urinetown, which transferred to Broadway after debuting at the fest in 1999; I prefer the excitement of pouring over the cheesy show summary blurbs on the festival schedule to map out my attendance itinerary. My original plan was to see as many gay-themed productions as possible in two weeks, but then I remembered my low threshold for painfully low-budget theater. So by immediately nixing lesbian dramas (I’ll make it up to you next week, gals!) and grossly self-indulgent autobiographical solos, I narrowed my list down to 10 buzzed-about shows, which seemed like a respectable round number. Long hangover story short, I only made it to nine. Whatevs.
The first show I caught was The Boys Upstairs, Jason Mitchell’s sassy sex comedy about a group of cocktail-sipping gay roomies in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen ’hood — “the new Chelsea,” as one reminds the audience. Village Voice intern Josh is looking for love, stoner Seth accidentally shits his older boyfriend’s sheets, and Ashley, the flaming whore who inexplicably gets the most action of all, is a love child of Blanche Devereaux and Tara from True Blood. There’s also a hot new downstairs neighbor of indeterminate sexuality and a successful gimmick in which a fifth actor plays all the boyfriends, dates, and tricks, including a Don’t Tell Mama employee who only speaks in show tunes.
If The Boys Upstairs taught me nothing else it’s that there’s a finite number of “bottom” jokes in the world, and I’m pretty sure I heard them all used again in America's Next Top Bottom: Cycle 5! at the Actors’ Playhouse. The Hollywood import, in which the audience votes by ballot on the winner, features seven “ass-piring” contestants who “stretch” themselves in various challenges because they want to “get it in the end.” See what they do there?
All outrageous femmes, the boys get quizzed to test such essential bottom skills as dancing and “minding other people’s business.” Just barely holding it all together is Upright Citizens Brigade alum Pete Zias as legendary ’90s club kid Teddy Teddy and Drew Droege in tragic drag as messy hostess Trina Sugg. Imagine my giddy excitement when I discovered halfway through the show that Droege voices Feathers in the “Planet Unicorn” Web series. Give it up for Feathers!