When you’ve been planning a festival for months and a global pandemic hits, creative minds look for alternatives.
For five years, Carmel Clavin operated as Spectacle & Mirth, producing her own work, establishing her own venue, the Kettle, and launching her own festival, the Shenandoah Fringe Festival. She spent years searching for other like-minded performers who wanted to build the co-op model and once she found some, Spectacle & Mirth became a creative production cooperative anchored by four femme performers in the mid-Atlantic region.
Making up the cooperative are Richmonders Clavin and Jo-Rie Tigerlily, plus Sarah Joy from Ohio and Satya Jvala from North Carolina, all performers — belly dancers, singers, aerialists, burlesquers, actors, cos players and songwriters — and producers in their own rights.
After moving to Richmond, Clavin was dumbfounded to discover that Virginia had no fringe festival other than the one she’d produced in Staunton for three years.
“I was troubled by the idea of that - not just Virginia not having one, but Richmond!” she says. “This city is rife with talent and DIY culture.”
The issue, she learned, was that with the city going through some steep cultural and classist transformations recently, venues are harder to come by and prices have risen rapidly.
“I heard over and over that the work being offered was safer and safer and there were few spaces for risk taking. A fringe festival is an excellent place to explore all those things.”
With Spectacle & Mirth already familiar with the existing network of indie fringe festivals, a loose association of like-minded people globally, the group hit the ground running. Already, the Richmond Fringe is a member of the U.S. Association of Fringe Festivals and the World Fringe Network.
As to what constitutes fringe, Clavin says it’s a home for the homeless.
“For work that cannot breathe outside a festival format, for humans too under-resourced to solo produce, for patrons who cannot connect any other time of the year, fringe festivals unite cultures and stories and hearts in an invitation to risk and adventure,” she explains. “That even when you fail or see something you don’t love, the festival buoys you up and you keep coming back, because it welcomes you back.”
Spectacle & Mirth had originally scheduled the inaugural Richmond Fringe Fest for April 3 through 6, but the arrival of the coronavirus required a backup plan. Instead, their digital mini-fest will launch April 4 with four events including three featured performances and one public variety show live stream-a-thon via Crowdcast. Being Bad from Norfolk will stream at 2 p.m., Cirque-ocalypse will stream from Charlotte at 4 p.m., Ripples in the Water, the only family-friendly option, at 6 p.m. and the Variety Stream-a-thon Spectacular Fundraiser at 8 p.m. Most shows will stream from the Orbital Music Park, one of the festival’s original venues along with Gallery 5.
Initially, the festival was to be financed with 50% of the ticket revenue from the nearly dozen performances scheduled. Initial costs were paid from the Spectacle & Mirth coffers, but without the shows and the ticket split, the group has pivoted to raise funds through the digital streaming pass and a fundraiser. Artists and organizers are donating their time in exchange for high quality video and photos of the performances. Digital streaming access to the three featured shows is available for a $15 ticket or people can donate directly during the fundraiser.
For the creative spirits behind the Fringe Fest, canceling wasn’t an option because the opportunity to pivot to something new was too obvious. Even before the virus put the country on high alert, Spectacle & Mirth was planning to live stream events with an eye toward addressing accessibility issues.
“Frankly, accessibility measures are things that all producers tend to deprioritize until they have the resources, but that is ableist and cowardly,” Clavin says. “We aren’t the best, but we are taking this moment to be better.”
With a goal of creating a sustainable cooperative of artists who not only create new opportunities but safeguard people in times of turmoil, the group aims to add more new members. Next up, it’ll work towards becoming a certified B corporation, a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit by legally requiring it to consider the impact of decisions on staff, customers, suppliers, community and the environment.
Until then, members plan to produce flagship projects like the Richmond Fringe Festival as a collective and support each other’s individual endeavors throughout the year. The latter nods to the specialized skills each has contributed to building this long-term project while maintaining their own brands and working on their own art.
“So here we are, smack in the middle of the experiment,” Clavin says. “The timing, although colored by catastrophe, is still right for Richmond Fringe to launch now.”
See ticket and fundraising spectacular infprmation at spectacle-and-mirth.square.site.