Meet the new big cheese of Cincinnati Fringe Festival, Katie Hartman

·4 min read
Katie Hartman, the new producer of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival.
Katie Hartman, the new producer of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival.

Katie Hartman was burned out.

It was late in February 2020. And over the course of the previous six weeks, Hartman – one of the performing duo known as the Coldharts – had been doing shows one after another after another.

“It was great,” said Hartman. “But it was not so great, too. I was driven and I was ambitious. But I didn’t know how I was going to keep going with a schedule like that.”

Then COVID-19 happened.

“I was so relieved,” she said, laughing nervously as she realized how absurd that must sound. After all, COVID threw the world into a spiral of uncertainty. And it completely upended Hartman’s theater profession. “I was terrified, but I was also relieved.”

Despite the setback for nearly everyone involved in the performing arts, Hartman can now see that the pandemic rescued her from the relentless theatrical treadmill she and performing partner Nick Ryan had been living on for many years. It gave her a chance to retrench, to step back from the grind and reassess her career.

Now, Hartman has found an additional outlet for her prodigious creativity. At the beginning of 2022, she was named the producer of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, which runs June 3-18.

No, Hartman hasn’t stopped performing. And yes, she still lives in New York, though she has opted for a Hudson River community north of the city instead of the more hectic climes of Brooklyn.

For many of us, Hartman’s appointment came as a surprise. It was hard to imagine her stepping away from the stage, however briefly, and taking on an administrative role. She’s appeared four times as part of Cincy Fringe; “The Legend of White Woman Creek” (2014), “Edgar Allan” (2015), "The Unrepentant Necrophile" (2016) and "Eddie Poe" (2018). And each time, audiences were struck by her outsized presence as a performer. She’s the sort of actor who doesn’t just walk onto the stage. She consumes it.

Hartman was one of a number of “truly fantastic” candidates for the job, said Andrew Hungerford, producing artistic director of the Know Theatre, which is the parent organization of Cincy Fringe. “But Katie had a particular combination of skills and knowledge that made her stand out.”

She’d experienced the Fringe from a performer’s point of view, which is invaluable. Among Fringe performers, Cincinnati Fringe Festival has a reputation as a particularly generous and accommodating host.

She also has a wealth of producing experience, both with the Coldharts and as the producer of the Twin Cities Horror Festival, an annual two-week Fringe-like festival in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Equally important, Hartman is highly regarded among the community of Fringe performers and producers. Their support is essential if you have hope of running a successful festival.

Erika Kate MacDonald, who lives in Covington, is a veteran of the Fringe circuit. She’s performed numerous solo shows. And she has also made several appearances working with her partner, Paul Strickland. But like everyone else on the Fringe circuit, she has struggled during this past two years, as festivals have either been canceled or gone online or found some other amended form in an effort to offer something to their patrons.

But with this year’s fringe festivals returning to some sense of normalcy, MacDonald was, at long last, hoping to be able to premiere her one-person show, “The Barn Identity.” (It will be part of the 2022 Fringe.)

A scene from “The Legend of White Woman Creek,” presented as part of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival in 2014. Seen here is Katie Hartman, one of the two creators behind The Coldharts.
A scene from “The Legend of White Woman Creek,” presented as part of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival in 2014. Seen here is Katie Hartman, one of the two creators behind The Coldharts.

“I would be lying if I told you my heart did not leap when I heard Katie Hartman had been hired to helm this thing,” MacDonald wrote in a recent email. “I don’t know exactly what her priorities will be with this year’s festival, but what I do know is that she is an artist herself who takes great care, is committed to risk-taking, and is up for a challenge. What more could I ask for when I, as an artist, am challenging myself, taking some big artistic risks, and still wanting to take good care of my audiences at Cincy Fringe?”

Like MacDonald, Hartman has spent many years crisscrossing North America, performing in festivals from Orlando to Winnipeg. There is a measure of excitement to it all. And artistically, it can be incredibly satisfying. But unlike what outsiders might imagine, there isn’t often a lot of glamor involved.

On their initial visit to Cincinnati in 2014, Hartman and Ryan traveled by what she calls the “dollar Chinatown bus. Those rides build character, right?”

And when they got here, they performed in the basement of MOTR Pub on Main Street. It’s a narrow space, cramped and claustrophobic, with low ceilings.

“But the audiences were so overwhelmingly supportive,” recalled Hartman. “And the whole atmosphere surrounding the Fringe was so positive. It was so impressive. I have loved Cincinnati since the first time we came to the Fringe.”

And now?

“The moment that job posting went up, I was ready,” said Hartman. “It was the fastest cover letter I have ever written in my life. It felt like kismet.”

Katie Hartman appeared in the 2015 Cincinnati Fringe Festival production of The Coldharts’ “Edgar Allan.” Earlier this year, Hartman was hired as producer of Cincy Fringe.
Katie Hartman appeared in the 2015 Cincinnati Fringe Festival production of The Coldharts’ “Edgar Allan.” Earlier this year, Hartman was hired as producer of Cincy Fringe.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati Fringe Festival 2022: Meet new producer, Katie Hartman