BWW Interview: Kate Kataja of Wilbury Theatre Group Talks Third Annual PROVIDENCE FRINGE FESTIVAL

Promising to be bigger than ever, and not just because of added performance venues, the Providence Fringe Festival returns for its third year on July 26. I spoke with Kate Kataja of The Wilbury Theatre Group, which has produced the festival in each of its first three years, about her role and what audience's can expect at this year's Fringe.

What has the Fringe process been like for you up to this point?

I am the director of festival as a whole, meaning that I oversee all aspects of producing it - from the big ideas to the tiny details. Any artist will tell you that producing a play, a performance piece, or a festival is really hard work, but it's exhilarating, too. Having served as the associate festival director in 2015, I came into this process with a good idea on what to expect, and it's certainly not something I undertake alone. We have a small, but mighty, team of people making this happen.

A big change this year is that you've added venues, but what else is different or new about the Fringe this year?

The festival is about 2x larger than its inaugural year in 2014. This year, just about 50% of our participating artists aren't local, and we've expanded our nontraditional theater spaces, including a new partnership this year with The RISD Museum. We are stoked to be co-curating their "Design the Night" event on July 30, where three Fringe acts will be performing and interacting as part of the event.

And we've also grown our Family Fringe Day, which will be taking place at Riverside Park in Olneyville, also on July 30, from 1-4 PM. It's totally free and open to the public, with a full roster of performances from local groups like Project 401, The Providence Youth Slam, Trinity Rep's Young Actors Summer Institute, and Dance BFF, along with fun workshops in improv, playwriting, and slam poetry. RI Food Fights and Warwick Ice Cream will be donating sweet treats for the day, and it's going to be great. In addition, we have workshops for kids happening all Fringe week long at The Wilbury Theatre Group. They're totally free, and at 4 PM Tuesday-Friday, culminating in a monster parade with Big Nazo at Grants Block at 4:00 on Friday, July 29.

About those added venues, what are they, exactly?

In addition to longstanding Fringe venues Aurora Providence, AS220, Mathewson Street, the Avenue Concept, and The Wilbury Theatre Group, this year performances will happen at The Dean Hotel (for the second year in a row), The Steel Yard, and Better Off, which is a great little studio on Broadway, right next to The Grange.

How and why were they selected?

We're interested in both traditional and nontraditional theater and performance spaces. It can be incredibly exciting to see a live piece of theater in a space you wouldn't normally think of; for example, artists at The Steel Yard will be playing on a flatbed truck, or at The Dean Hotel, things take place in an actual hotel room. These venues are generous both in terms of making room in their already busy schedules for us, and in helping promote the festival. Some are venues that are already set up for performance, and some are simply great spaces with great locations and great people running them. They cover a lot of ground and help us to keep an element of surprise and unpredictability in the festival.

How were the artists for the Fringe selected?

Anyone can apply. Artists are selected by a blind lottery for a certain numbers of slots. The festival is completely unjuried. That results in a really wonderful range of mediums and points of view being represented.

Fringe festivals are often all about variety. What kind of variety or diversity of performances can audiences look for?

You name it, it's probably there. We've got everything from traditional theatrical performance and dance to storytelling to comedy to acrobatics to circus performers to singers to poets to painters. It's exciting to see the energy and work that our regionally-based performers will bring to Providence and to share the awesome talent and passion we already have in this city with patrons of the festival.

Fringe festivals can also showcase art and artists that are daring or risky, even stuff you wouldn't see anywhere else. Is there anything this year that falls into that category?

Some of that is subjective to the viewer, so I'd encourage people to keep an open mind and see things they might not normally try out. In their own way, each of these performers is putting forth risky and daring work. Some artists have what one would consider a more polished product right now, and some are debuting totally new, raw work.

Are there any artists or performances that you are specifically looking forward to seeing?

I'm really excited to see all of them! I never get to see as much as I'd like to, but it's always really interesting to hear what other people saw and loved.

Do you think the Fringe plays or fills a certain role in the Providence arts/theatre scene?

FringePVD is the only festival of its kind in our area and close surrounding states. It's imperative to the festival and to The Wilbury Theatre Group that we retain the ethos of why it was created: to celebrate art and artists. It started super locally, and has seen tremendous growth in just three short years. There is a lot of incredible, interesting, provocative, and important work happening in our city - and across the country - and I think that right now, people feel the need to express themselves more than ever. Artists often process what's happening in the world around them through their work, and we are really proud to be able to provide a platform for that creative expression.

Providence also has many artists creating and performing incredible work that much of the public never sees. The Fringe festival provides opportunity for people to be produced at very little cost to them, and to showcase their skill to a wider group of people. All proceeds from door sales go directly back to the artists as well; neither the festival, nor the venues, make any money off of the artist, outside of the initial application fee.

What do you hope, overall, will be the experience of audiences who check out this year's Fringe performances?

I hope that audiences come prepared to be surprised, provoked, entertained, and engaged. I hope they walk away with a deeper appreciation for all kinds of art making, or that their idea of what "art" means is challenged a little. Since the festival is totally affordable, $0-$15, cash only, at the door, see several things in a night - and then tell your friends.

The Providence Fringe Festival runs from July 26 to July 30th. For a complete listing of performances, venues and show times, visit the Festival's website at www.fringepvd.org.

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From This Author Robert Barossi

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