In 1947 a festival was happening in Edinburgh Scotland to celebrate culture- and well, the end of a horrifying war (but let’s not focus on the negative). The story goes that there were eight uninvited theatre performers / groups who showed up to the festival wanting to perform. According to legend (or the WEBSITE) these theatre practitioners were not turned away but allowed to perform and that was that (definitely more to the story- but not now). The next year’s festival (1948) found more performers at their doorstep asking to perform and they too were not turned away. And the year that followed that even more showed. And so on, and so on… until they finally just made their own theatre and performance specific festival in the late 50’s. And that was FRINGE.
“1958 the Festival Fringe Society was created in response to the success of this growing trend.
The Society formalized the existence of this collective of performances, provided information to artists, published the Fringe programme and created a central box office. Its constitution was written in line with the ethos that brought these theatre companies to Edinburgh back in 1947: that the Society was to take no part in vetting the festival’s programme. To this day that policy remains at the core of our festival and we’re proud to include in our programme anyone with a story to tell and a venue willing to host them.”
Today that theatre festival continues and is the largest in the world. According to the Fringe people:
“In 2014 there were 49,497 performances of 3,193 shows in 299 venues, making it the largest ever arts festival in the world.”
But the festival isn’t just in Scotland. It was (obviously) a catchy idea and naturally spread to other cities across the world. And it’s not surprising. Artists aren’t always stupid. When we see an opportunity as great as that one- we tend to not only want it for ourselves, but we tend to make it work for us.
“Well, Scotland is far away, Dave, so why don’t we just start our own one here in [small city, USA]?”
“Let’s do it!”
And it happened. A lot. In many places.
Pioneers in cities across the US (also on other continents but this is an American piece now) sent out the invitations:
“Hey! How would you like to share some Art you’ve created, in a space that we’ll provide, and we won’t censor you. Also you’ll probably be sharing it with an audience filled with other artists and performers and when you’re not performing, you can go see their shows. Oh, and we’ll allow you to make money off the ticket sales but don’t worry about any of the administrative stuff- we’ll do that and cut you a check at the end of the festival. Sound good? Show up? Do your thing? Make a few bucks? Spend a week doing and seeing Art? Please come be a part of our festival!”
Yeah, that may have been a bit romanticized… but it’s true at it’s core.
That lovely ad for the [small city, USA] Fringe festival became an annual to-do. And so, Fringe festivals are happening and have been happening for a while now right here in the US of A.
Now, if you are anything like my theatre company, and you don’t really have a theatre to perform in, or a non-censoring community to be your audience, and you don’t have more than a few dollars to spend on your production, you probably think that that offer is right sexy. And it is.
The fringe festival isn’t about big dollar shows, with lots of spectacle and such. Nope, it’s a festival of raw material. In fact, they will remind you before you show up that there isn’t much room for anything BUT your ideas. The performance spaces are usually small and the technical equipment is limited (and that’s totally okay because HEY! It’s being provided to us artists for practically nothing). So don’t bring a show with a cast of forty, and don’t bring a ginormous set, and don’t try to bring a show that has more than ten lighting cues because- because- well, because… this is a festival to share your ideas and not your production potentials.
Now if you type in Fringe festival into Google, you’ll see San Fransisco, Boulder, DC, Las Vegas, Minnesota, New Orleans, NYC, San Diego, and many other cities all having their own fringe festivals… the point is American Fringe is alive and kicking!
We (America) are apparently valuing this kind of adventurous and spirited celebration of artists coming together to share ideas and beliefs and well… Art. And that’s pretty cool. We seem to be championing the little guy who doesn’t have many opportunities for exposure and platform. We are promoting the idea that big ideas don’t have to have a broadway billing to be profound. And it’s not just the performers who are showing up to this love fest of theatre and performance. No, the audiences are coming and sharing in the experience too. The community is showing up to witness and discuss and question and support and all that. They are participating. And so the proverbial conversation between artist and audience is happening. And that too is pretty awesome.
And now to Salt Lake City, Utah. The next American city to join the ranks of the Fringe festival.
The Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival happened this year. Forty performers, six venues, four days.
And me and my little company were amongst the pioneers at this very first festival. We (TSB) made the four and a half hour drive north, rented a house for the week, and showed up to to be a part of the festival. We brought with us our play (written by co-artistic directer Jesse Nepivoda): ‘A Humanities Cycle’ and in the perfect venue we were provided, we performed our show four times for four lovely audiences and it was good. We saw twelve other shows by other artists and spent the week discussing art and life. All in all it was an amazing experience.
Because I’m not totally self involved I should also mention that forty additional artists also came to Salt Lake City and spent four days doing and sharing and discussing and supporting and all that. And it was good too. (We really enjoyed some of what we saw).
So, here is yet another city to foster and promote performers and artists.
I began this run on sentence to talk about our experience at the festival but I think now my larger point is that this festival is pretty fucking awesome. It’s even a little bit (trying to reign in the hyperbole) profound. But it only works for those who engage in it. It is an offering to those who value theatre and Art and performance (if they’ll take it). It is an opportunity that many of us don’t usually get (if we can even recognize that amongst all our battles).
Yeah. Fringe. Good stuff. You should really check one out if you haven’t already. They happen in the summer (mostly- there are a few that happen in other seasons).
And just for fun…
Orlando has the oldest fringe festival in the US. They started theirs in the 1990’s I think. And Canada (of course- those benevolent and fostering moose people) was the first to start one on our continent.
I think I want to quit my adult life (in the summer) and just tour US cities participating in Fringe Festivals. I’d be like a rockstar on tour or something (probably not even close). Seems like a great idea to me.
Thus in closing I say that Fringe is possibly the thing that will keep theatre alive in this country for some time to come. And that gives me hope. I know I didn’t really explain any of that last bit but you can make your own deductions.
THE SPACE BETWEEN Theatre Company
is the resident theatre company at:
THE DIFIORE CENTER FOR THE ARTS
307 North Main Street
St. George Utah 84770 (MAP)
T (435) 216 - 5523
P.O. Box 474
Santa Clara Utah 84765
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