Justin Brady has every reason to feel a little nervous this month. As the newly minted chief executive officer of IndyFringe, he replaces Pauline Moffat, who put her stamp on the organization’s August theater festival as its first and (until now) only leader. The transition couldn’t come at a more precarious moment. COVID-19 scrubbed the 2020 festival, leaving Brady to figure out how, and in what format, to bring it back. Yet he isn’t at all anxious. Mostly, he says he feels something that doesn’t come easily to him: optimism.
“I wouldn’t normally classify myself as an optimistic person,” he says. “But I’ve just decided there’s no reason not to be.”
His association with IndyFringe began in 2007, when Moffat selected him as the program’s first intern. He then spent three years as its marketing coordinator before eventually decamping to New York City in 2014 for a post at the Clinton Foundation, followed by a stint at the New Victory Theater as its annual fund and events manager. Last year, Moffat approached him about coming home.
“My immediate reaction was, ‘Oh my gosh, no, I love my life and I love New York,’” Brady says. “But I had always dreamed of this when I worked at IndyFringe. Plus, my family is here, and I still have a ton of connections. It was just an exciting opportunity.”
For months after his transfer to Indianapolis, exactly what form this year’s IndyFringe would take remained an open question—one that was settled only recently, with the arrival of COVID vaccines. “Since January, we’ve been planning for different circumstances based on where we thought the pandemic might be by August,” Brady says. “When the vaccine became widely available, that really shifted how we thought about things.”
Fans returning to the festival will find a very different IndyFringe. Instead of running for 10 days straight, this year’s version will span three weekends from August 19 to September 5, with performances running Thursday through Sunday. Approximately 92 percent of this year’s artists are Indiana-based. About 30 percent of the shows are written by, directed by, or feature artists of color; 35 percent are written by, directed by, or feature LGBTQ individuals; and 35 percent are written by women.
That’s an even more diverse group of artists than usual, but one thing all of them seem to have in common is an overwhelming enthusiasm to get back onstage—an eagerness perhaps matched by the festival’s potential audience, grown tired of Netflix and Hulu. Internal surveys predict a solid turnout for the new format. Brady figures that afterward, the staff will note what worked, fix what didn’t, and carry on. All in accordance with an old piece of advice from Moffat.
“She told me that sometimes you have to be bold enough to just do something,” Brady says. “The first time will be hard, but the next time is easier. So just get out there, see what works, do some editing, and do it again. It’s something I’ve come back to over and over again throughout my career.”