In seven years, the New Orleans Fringe Festival grew into an annual alternative theater spectacle featuring everything from aerialist dramas performed on ribbons and trapeze to mashups of cabaret and circus arts to shadow puppet shows. After the 2014 festival, organizers announced the concept was changing, and NOLA Defender founder Ben Mintz became director of the renamed Faux Real New Orleans (www.fauxrealnola.com) festival. The bigger, broader three-week event takes place citywide Nov. 4-22, but there's a heavy concentration in Marigny and Bywater. With a year to plan, Faux Real grew into a big tent of theater, literary readings and culinary and drinks events such as pop-ups, pub crawls and specials at participating bars and restaurants.
"The core of the festival is fringe," Mintz says. "We've added all these food and drink events. There's still an element of fringiness to the food and drink stuff — taking creativity and pushing the envelope."
Culinary events include eight (one- or two-day) restaurant pop-ups, guided pub crawls, bar events and more. Bartender Chris Hannah steps from behind Arnaud's elegant French 75 bar to mix a punch and lead a pub crawl of popular second-line parade bar stops in Central City. Bar owners Cole Newton of Twelve Mile Limit and Mark Schettler of Bar Tonique co-host a punk rock karaoke event featuring the best cocktails they can make with low-end spirits. Chef Jason Klutts of Cane & Table sets up a French country cooking pop-up at Faubourg Wines. Marcus Jacobs, formerly a sous chef at Herbsaint, turns his travels in southeast Asia into a Vietnamese and pan-Asian pop-up at Kajun's Pub.
Faux Real's theater offerings build on a model developed by Fringe, which featured jury-selected shows and "Bring Your Own Venue" (BYOV) productions, in which participants found their own spaces to present shows and were included in the festival's umbrella of promotion and ticketing. Faux Real is entirely BYOV, and producers include local groups ranging from the NOLA Project to the New Orleans Opera Association and its production of Die Fledermaus. NOLA Project presents Clown Bar at Little Gem Saloon. The immersive show is designed to take place in a bar, which serves as the den of a gritty clown underworld.
Faux Real has 40 visiting groups and solo performers, many of them veterans of Fringe. Many of the theatrical productions are grouped in mini-festivals with similar offerings. Razor's Edge is a slate of solo performances (drama, comedy and musical) staged at the Fortress of Lushington and Byrdie's Cafe and Gallery. Dancing Grounds serves as a hub for the dance mini-fest called eDGe. There also is a "nerdlesque" mini-fest and others are being finalized.
Like Fringe, Faux Real requires attendees to make the one-time purchase of a festival button to get into events. (The button fee goes to Faux Real; ticket fees go to the show producer.) Buttons also will be good for specials at 100 participating restaurants and bars, Mintz says. While the festival takes place across the city, there's a concentration of shows, food events and parties in Marigny and Bywater. The food and drink extras and events and parties are meant to extend the festival into social spaces, especially after the shows, Mintz says.