Two of Houston's alternative performing arts companies are in a bit of struggle - a very quiet struggle, because neither wants to attract attention to a situation they hope can still be handled by lawyers, but a struggle nonetheless. The companies involved are Boo Town and FrenetiCore. At stake? The name Houston Fringe Festival, which both groups claim as the title to their summer multi-media arts extravaganza.
Executive Director and Co-Artistic Director of FrenetiCore Rebecca French declined to comment on the record, citing the fact that the group is still in the midst of legal proceedings "We don't want to publicize the dispute until it's settled through the courts because that's not really the publicity we want. We want to be known for the quality of our festival. This dispute is kinda a footnote." She did, however confirm some dates and relevant facts.
Between background from French and comments from BooTown Artistic Director Emily Hynds, Hair Balls has come up with a basic time line.
- 1997 to 2001: TheatreLab produces the Houston Fringe Theatre Festival.
- February, 2008: FrenetiCore receives a $10,000 grant for the Houston Fringe Festival.
- May 2008: Boo Town produces a show called BooTown presents the Houston Fringe Festival.
- August 2008: FrenetiCore, working with TheatreLab, presents the FrenetiCore Fringe Festival. (Hynds says it was the Houston Fringe Festival, but confirms that over the years, they have called it by a variety of names including the Annual, the Houston, and the FrenetiCore Fringe Festival. Newspaper reports and FrenetiCore's own list of past events on its web site list the 2008 event as FrenetiCore Fringe Festival).
- Following the festivals, the two companies discuss merging their efforts, decide against it after which FrenetiCore asks Boo Town not to use the name Houston Fringe Festival and Boo Town declines.
- May 2009: Boo Town presents the Houston Fringe Festival.
- June, 2009: FrenetiCore takes a screen shot of their web site to use in an effort to register the trademark Houston Fringe Festival.
- August 2009: FrenetiCore presents the Houston Fringe Festival.
- At some point in 2009, FrenetiCore applies to trademark the name Houston Fringe Festival. French says they received the trademark. Hynds believes FrenetiCore was denied the trademark and was instead placed on a supplementary listing. Boo Town lawyers are now petitioning to have FrenetiCore removed from the supplementary listings, saying the group provided false information in its application.
- In late 2009: FrenetiCore registers the domain name www.houstonfringefestival.com. Boo Town already has the name www.houstonfringefestival.org.
- In 2010, both Boo Town and FrenetiCore are planning to present their own versions of the Houston Fringe Festival this summer.
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So what's the big deal about the name Houston Fringe Festival? Why doesn't each group just name their event after itself? The Boo Town Fringe Festival and The FrenetiCore Fringe Festival are perfectly good names. French confirmed that was the initial compromise they offered to Boo Town following the first festival, which was declined. Since then the group has changed its mind and says that as FrenetiCore is the larger of the two festivals (11 nights versus five nights of performances), draws bigger crowds, has established its organization through hard work and is a better representative of the city, it now deserves the name Houston Fringe Festival.
Boo Town, unsurprisingly, disagrees. First, Hynds insists her group never called their event anything other than the Houston Fringe Festival, with Boo Town presents the Houston Fringe Festival as its full title. "I think that Houston Fringe Festival, in the Fringe community, is a better representation for the type of festival we produce," says Hynds. "It's typical for the festival in a city to be named after the city, you have Philadelphia Fringe Festival or the Cincinnati Fringe Festival.
So what's next? Lawyers. Then a few more lawyers, and finally a judge. And somewhere in between court dates and appeal rulings, a couple of monster theater/dance/art/music festivals that have the same name.