2004_08_artsfringelogo.jpgThe Fringe is upon us! Since Gothamist is sure you’re every bit as psyched as we are, but less sure that others have as much time to spend poring over programs and schedules, here’s the essentials of what you need to know to get around the festival and see the coolest of this year’s batch (in our opinion, at least). You can always go to the Fringe website FringeNYC.org for the official take on it, too.

If you’ve been down Greenwich Village way in the past few days, you’ve probably seen the temporary Fringe Central headquarters, which are in a empty car garage on West 3rd. Gothamist was there on Tuesday and got to make faces at all the passersby peering in curiously at staff and volunteers milling around in a randomly decorated cavern-like space. By far the best decoration is the giant puppet of Mnemosyne, a Greek muse, who will “reveal her true face” at the FringeFAIR kickoff today (noon-4pm) in Washington Square Park Teen Plaza. Also at the fair is a program called “How to Fringe NYC,” presented by Martin Denton (of nytheatre.com), in case Gothamist’s preview leaves you wanting more. And to try before you buy, catch FringeNYTEASERS, the first edition of an event that allows Fringe presenters to do 5 minutes of their show.

One cool thing about the headquarters is the mini “stage” they have in one corner, where they’re going to hold an open mic every afternoon (3-5:30) from August 13-26. The open mic is a new addition to the roster of supplementary offerings; those continuing from previous years include FringeART, where each company donates a large prop, and FringeU, which is a lineup of seminars on topics related to emerging theatre. For instance, the actors from the Fringe show Seduction lead “Bringing the Bard to the Brits,” about the difficulties of performing Shakespeare in Britain; and “Something From Nothing: Making Puppets From Trash” is led by Colette Searls, creator of Basura!

Those extra events are free; shows cost $15, though you can also get passes for multiple shows which gives you a discount on each (Gothamist aspires to be a Fringe Lunatic, with the $500 all-show pass). You can buy tickets online or by phone, but if you want to bypass TicketWeb’s extortionist fee, you should know where to buy tickets physically. There’s Fringe Central, of course, which is open noon-8, and if you’re ahead of the game and know what you want to see, go there. If, however, you’re more the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type and you just check the website or pick up a Fringe guide (they’re at all the Borders bookstores in the city) and decide you want to go to something that day, then – unless it’s sold out already – you can buy tickets at the venue itself. Speaking of which, another improvement this year, in anticipation of larger crowds (they’re hoping for 70,000) are the large theatres, most (thankfully) with air conditioning; they’re all below 14th St., and include the Lucille Lortel, The Linhart, The Flea, and 13th St. Rep.

The big program and the official website are helpful (especially the fun “Slice-o-Matic" search tool) in navigating the nearly 180 shows at the festival. Gothamist can't tell you what you should see (at least not yet), but we did learn a lot about The Fringe just by looking through the listings. We'll be attending a bunch of Fringe shows, and here's a selection that particularly caught our eyes:

The Fringe goes to the movies
SILENCE! The Musical: The Fringe loves its musical movie-adaptation satires. Broadway gets The Full Monty and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels -- the Fringe gives us Debbie Does Dallas and now SILENCE! inspired by The Silence of the Lambs featuring songs such as "Are You About a Size 14?" and "In the Dark with a Maniac."

Movie Geek: A mockumentary presented on stage, PBS/Ken Burns-style depicting the epic rise and demise of the ultimate "movie geek" – a film fanatic so great he manages to go from big time nerd to top Hollywood mogul. A multimedia performance involving parody reenactments of classic movies and videotaped interviews of real movie stars reminiscing about the "Geek."

By Oscar Micheaux: One of the most important but often forgotten directors of the early days of cinema, Oscar Micheaux was one of the most prolific and successful independent filmmakers through the 1920s and '30s. He was also the first African-American to direct a feature-length film. Being black, however, put him on the border of the racial divide, loved and criticized by both sides, as he dealt with racism and interracial relationships during a time when The Birth of a Nation was looked at as simply popular entertainment rather than racist propaganda. Cheryl L. Hines' play explores Micheaux's battles.

The Day the World Went Queer!: When Sanctityville, USA decides to become the first town in America to legalize same-sex marriage only to unknowingly fall pray to the secret "Homosexual Agenda." Suddenly, the whole town starts changing, leaving only hetero Bill and Susie to save the day. Featuring songs like "The Boy Inside" and "Nobody Wants a Daddy Who's a Bottom," The Day the World Went Queer! is societal satire in the mode of sci-fi movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Invasion of the Body Snatchers which commented on the fear prevalent in 1950s America terrorized by the threat of communism. Hmmm, sound familiar?

The Fringe lurves New York
The Great Official Subway Musical: Gothamist, of course, loves the subway, even as it continues to make us its bitch with service delays and continuously increasing fares about which we can do nothing but complain. Victor Verhaeghe must love it even more, though, because he wrote songs and a whole show about it.

Fleet Week: A self-described "gay salute to the patriotic musicals of yesteryear," this show isn't exactly On the Town, but it seems to be shooting for that vibe. Watch the Coast Guard flex their muscles (ahem!) while saving the Statue of Liberty from terrorist attack. See, it's even topical.

The Fringe is a one-woman man … er, fest
The Miss Education of Jenna Bush: We've read about it in the news, and now we can see first hand what it might look like if First Twin Jenna Bush actually went ahead with becoming a public school teacher in Washington D.C. VH1's Best Week Ever talking head Melissa Rauch becomes our favorite First Family drunkard preparing her very first lesson plan in this one-woman show.

Weight: Writer Melanie Hoopes also stars in this solo show about everybody's favorite issue: weight. Taken from interviews conducted with women of all shapes and sizes, Hoopes becomes a whole slew of different characters to addressing eating disorders, body image issues, and how different people regardless of background or body, address one thing that we all have in common – literally feeling comfortable within our own skin.

Tarot Reading: Love, Sex and Mommy: Regular Moth storyteller Kimberlee Auerbach premieres her new solo piece, exposing her own journeys of self-discovery for your viewing pleasure.

The Fringe likes guys too
The Rude Pundit in the Year of Living Rudley: Gothamist hears that blogs have become a big deal. Who knew? It seems political ones are especially popular, at least among the mainstream media. The Rude Pundit takes his political criticism to an extreme that might be OK in The Aristocrats but would suffer a bit too much bleeping on CNN. Watch him come out from behind the cloak of anonymity in this one man show.

Jesus in Montana: Adventures in a Doomsday Cult: Aspen Times humor columnist Barry Smith takes the stage to tell us what the hell he was thinking when he quit his job, packed-up his life, and hitchhiked to Montana in order to join some other people who decided to believe some guy claiming to be Jesus, back on earth in preparation for the end which obviously must have been nigh. True story. Somehow, Smith eventually returned to his senses and wants to share.

Three Ring Circus: Israel, the Palestinians and My Jewish Identity: Maybe Gothamist simply relates a bit too much to the title, but Daniel Thau-Elaff's one-man show discussing " politics, religion, romance, family, email list-serves, dreams, fantasies, sex (or lack thereof…) and how we get along with other people," sounds interesting, even if it does originate from that other country somewhere north of here.

The Fringe is kind to animals … or something
Animal Farm Project I – Version White: Funny Pigs: An adaptation of George Orwell's "Animal Farm" from Korean company Theater Sang Sang. Acrobats, dance, music, a perfect example of the international flavor of the fringe and a show that hopes to stretch artistic imagination.

Fluffy Bunnies in a Field of Daisies: Sounding like a theatrical equivalent of what NBC's awful and cancelled Coupling wanted, to be, this comedy about 20something singles negotiating the social landscape looking for sex, fun, sex, love and sex just finished a nearly two year run in Los Angeles and now comes to New York for the first time. The program guide warns that Fluffy Bunnies is "not for the kiddies." Sounds like it's right up our alley, then.

The Fringe enjoys messing with the classics
The Salacious Uncle Baldrick: Moliere-style french comedy updated with a modern outrageous sense of humor (read: it's probably in bad taste) blend together in this show that comes with the following parental note: "The Salacious Uncle Baldrick contains excessive amounts of gratuitous profanity and a few bizarre sexual situations. It contains no adult themes." Uhm, ok.

The Last Two Minutes of the Complete Works of Henrik Ibsen: Most famous for their show Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind during which they perform 30 plays in 60 minutes, the Neo-Futurists are back at the Fringe, this time compressing all of famous Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's endings into a neat little package. Why bother with hours of depressing set-up before tragic climax when you can watch an innovative comic collage of endings all by themselves?

The Fringe is a Deadhead, just like you
Shakedown Street: Jerry Garcia died 10 years ago this past Tuesday, but Grateful Dead fans are as fervent as ever. How might the most diehard Deadheads feel about hearing classics like "Truckin'" and "Scarlet Begonias" re-orchestrated into a '40s jazz-band standard? Well, now's the time to find-out in this original noirish musical comedy featuring Dead songs as well as five new ones co-written just for the show by Garcia's old songwriting collaborator Robert Hunter.

The Fringe enjoys the birds and the bees
Swimming Upstream: A Sex-Ed Escapade of Genetic Proportions: A musical written by a father -son team Al and Marshall Pailet (the latter of whom is currently a student at Yale), Swimming Upstream tells the tale of artsy high school student Todd who's primary goal in life is to write a full-length musical. The announcement of a major health awareness award encourages Todd to use sex-ed class as inspiration, and the result is "Sperm! The Musical." How super-meta.

LOL: Obviously Gothamist can't ignore this show with a major online component. A guy gets so frustrated with dating that he decides to learn more about women – by becoming a virtual one. Creating an online female persona, he starts exploring bifem chat rooms, until suddenly this fictional personality seems to take on a life of her own. And just in case you're wondering, according to playwright Tony Sportiello, "Yes, There's also lots and lots of sex."

The above constitutes just 10% of this year's Fringe program. For all kinds of other shows featuring straight plays, interpretive dance, puppetry, comedy and performance art, visit FringeNYC.org.

-- Mallory Jensen and Aaron Dobbs