For us theatre lovers, summer means blasting the original Broadway cast recording of our favorite musicals while driving down to the beach (or lake or other body of water), attending the final performance of every theatre camp in town, and heading to the fringe festival in our nearest city.
Now, you may be asking, what the heck is a fringe festival? By Wikipedia’s definition, fringe theatre is “theatre that is not of the mainstream”. The term can be used to describe smaller theatres that stage more experimental productions, but generally, it refers to the unjuried festivals that accept productions on a first come, first serve basis until all of the available performance spaces are full. The programming of these festivals usually isn’t limited to theatre. All kinds of performance art, from cabaret to spoken word poetry, are welcome at fringe festivals.
What makes the fringe festivals so attractive to young audiences is that tickets to festival productions are inexpensive and occasionally free!
The term “fringe” was first coined in Edinburgh, Scotland at the 1947 Edinburgh International Festival, when eight theatre groups turned up uninvited and staged their own productions outside of the festival, or “on the fringe”. Since then, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has become the largest and most exciting of its kind. This festival features performance art of all kinds, though in recent years it has been known to attract big names in comedy such as Ricky Gervais and Tim Minchin. Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, one of the most highly acclaimed plays of the twentieth century saw its first full performance at the 1966 Festival Fringe. This year’s festival runs through August 27.
A more recent addition to the fringe festival scene is the Chicago Fringe Festival, founded in 2010. Featuring about 50 performance groups each year, the CFF, “unites daring theatergoers with emerging and boundary-pushing artists from around the world.” This festival provides a win-win situation for both the artists and the audience; tickets are only $10 and 100% of the proceeds go to the artists. Though it is a younger venture, the Chicago Fringe Festival is definitely one to check out. This year’s festival runs from August 30 to September 9.
The Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe bring cutting edge art to the Philadelphia area for two weeks in September. Productions range from dance to film to things that defy categorization altogether. Tickets to many of the productions are inexpensive, and the festival offers great student discounts. This year’s festival will be particularly exciting for me, because I will be performing in MONUMENT, the Drexel Players’ first production in the Philly Fringe. The process of creating this piece has been exciting and we can’t wait to share it with the world. We also have a blog where we are documenting the creative process, which you are all free to check out!
Have you been to a fringe festival? What did you think of it? Comment below with your fringe stories!