MIRACLE ON EAST 4th STREET: EREZ ZIV AND THE 2019 NYC FRIGID FESTIVAL (an interview with Michele Carlo)

Author note: After a construction calamity in the building housing the Under St. Marks Theater, West 4th Street’s Teatro Iati has agreed to run the shows slated to run in USM during Frigid. The Frigid Festival is happening now through March 10. For tickets and more info: http://www.horsetrade.info/frigid-festival-df84

New York City is known as the city that never sleeps…or stays still. But the Horse Trade Theater Group (HT) has continued to provide space, community and a yearly theater festival for a generation of theater, musical, comedy and storytelling artists–while many downtown theaters and performance spaces have closed down. HT enjoys an international reputation as a well-respected groundbreaking creative organization, and we were thrilled to get its Managing Artistic Director and Frigid Festival Founder, Erez Ziv, to share a few minutes with us.

MC: You’ve been at the forefront of alternative comedy and theater in NYC since the 20th Century (1999, right?). What made you want to open a theater? Maybe give us a brief history about Horse Trade (HT), its origins and its mission.

EZ: Actually, it’s been since 1998, but I have yet to “open” a theater. Twenty years ago I took over one, which eventually became three. All had been theaters for years or decades before me–Under St. Marks (USM) had been a theater since at least the 1950s. But yes, it was four 20-something idiots who started Horse Trade: one who grew up on welfare, one African-American kid from Hawaii, one veteran, and one immigrant. Our goal was to create a welcoming home for as many artists as possible, which evolved into creating a springboard for early and mid-career artists. At last year’s Tonys there was one winner who did his first very NYC show in one of our shows and one nominee who directed one of my favorite shows ever. Plus we did over 900 performances last season, so I would say it’s working.

MC: What made you decide to start the Frigid Festival?

EZ: Christina Aguelo who runs the San Francisco Fringe Festival talked me into it. I am glad she did.

MC: What sets Frigid apart from other NYC theater festivals?

EZ: The artists keep 100% of the box office. No other festival in NYC does that. Also, our artists get to see each other’s shows for free, making this festival great for creating new collaborations and connections.

MC: In the 12 years since Frigid was founded, how many of the shows have you seen and what were some of the more memorable ones?

EZ: I have seen every single Frigid show, with one exception: there was a show that sold out every single performance and I never had room to squeeze in. In terms of good shows, there have been so many. But there was one out-of-town show a few years ago that was so bad, after their first show they immediately left town; I thanked them for sparing our audience. My favorite shows are the ones I don’t expect much from and they blow my mind–there are at least one or two of those every year.

MC: Why do you think HT / Frigid has survived when so many black box and other performance spaces/festivals in NYC haven’t?

EZ: I have been lucky with my landlords. Most theaters just get priced out, but so far my landlords have understood the value (beyond rent), of having a successful theater in the building. That and my wife’s willingness to put up with the kind of demands involved in running such spaces. She is amazing.

MC: What do you foresee in the future for HT, Frigid and the performance community/scene in NYC?

EZ: I hope to eventually own a space that I can plan to be in forever. I expect Frigid to continue to grow and hope to bring it to a point where it can continue with a little less of my time and attention. As long as young creatives keep coming to NYC, indie arts spaces will be here. Nothing will replace live entertainment in the end.

MC: Do you think artists (and audiences) have changed over your tenure, or is there very little difference?

EZ: Not too much difference. But 20 years ago only one of our three spaces had AC and today no one would imagine doing a show in a space without one! Beyond that, just the haircuts and more recognized genders.

MC: Did you ever in your wildest dreams think you’d still be doing this 20 years later?

EZ: Nope, I still don’t think I will be doing it in 20 years.

MC: Ha, be careful what you ask for! In closing, can you provide a few words of advice or encouragement for artists and/or producers (young or veteran)?

EZ: Try to be born to money, or someone connected in the entertainment industry, this gig is tough without money and connections. Barring that, find good people to work with–and be good people to work with.