Now you’re probably asking yourself, what is a Fringe Festival and why does it look so strange? Well, imagine a circus, art exhibition, a burlesque show, and avant garde play decided to tango, and you’ll have some notion of what a Fringe Festival is: something very strange.
Born from the experimental and unconventional, Fringe Festivals are generally public art festivals that include street performances, art exhibitions, solo or group theatre productions, slam poetry, stand-up acts, and just generally “strange” attractions. Usually centered around a main hub or venue, the shows take place in lake concert halls to intimate states in small bars, lasting a week or more.
While most art festivals require performers earn the favor of juries before being allowed to perform, most Fringe Festivals merely require they complete a registration form and fee, meaning you can step into untested territory when you go to a Fringe viewing.
And, in my experience, that’s the best part. When I went to the Melbourne and Sydney Fringe Festivals, I was delighted to see acts no one had ever seen before. The venues were small and intimate, the tickets inexpensive, and shows unique (and I cannot even mention the notable “closet show” at the Melbourne Fringe, as it is protected by a vow of silence). And I had only touched the border of Fringe.
To my surprise there were events all around the world, and the two I’d been to were not even close to the largest. Every continent but Antarctica (though one day, it may join the movement) hosts Fringe Festivals, and there may even be one in your home city without you even knowing it.
To cover them all would be nearly impossible (and a dream) so I selected 4 of the most well-known and sought after Fringe Festivals from around the world.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe (The Fringe)
Centered in Edinburgh, Scotland, this is the mother of all Fringe Festivals, quite literally. Born in 1947 when 8 theatre companies performed unofficially performed a the Edinburgh International Festival, the first Fringe set two standards for Fringes: the lack of invitation to perform and the use of unconventional venues. Despite its lack of major marketing, this “secret” festival continued for many years before officially forming. As it grew in popularity, a general structure formed in the shape of an official ticket office, scheduled acts and marketing for events. It has even spawned many notable actors and performances, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead being the most well known.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe takes place each August, this year running from the 5th – 29th.
Adelaide Fringe Festival
Just behind Edinburgh is the second largest Fringe Festival, the Adelaide Fringe. Running for 24 days from mid-February to mid-March, the event draws over 4,000 artists from out of the woodworks to perform in everything from cafes or hotels to alleyways and public parks. Beginning in 1960, Adelaide is one of the oldest festivals and begin as an alternative to the Adelaide Festival of Arts for less known artists. And its succeeded, giving rise to over 330 venues in 2012 of various sizes alongside a massive and eye-popping parade through the city. For visitors, this event takes place at the same time as Adelaide Festival of Arts and the Adelaide Writers’ Week, letting you enjoy all three at once!
The New York International Fringe Festival is by far one of the largest art festivals in North Americ, spawning two weeks every August throughout downtown Manhattan (where else would it occur, I say, sarcastically?) The event was born in the 1990s by The Present Company to build a forum for local artists and audiences to explore their craft together (and because flying to Edinburgh was too expensive). Unlike the other festivals, NYCFringe is jury based, but even after selections are made the event hosts up to 200 shows and 1,000 performances!
2016 will mark the 20th Anniversary of NYCFringe, which runs from August 12th – 28th.
Last but not least is the largest of all Fringe Festivals in North America and founding member of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary from August 11th – 12th. Based in the gorgeous state of Alberta, Canada, the event takes place in Old Strathcona, the historic district of Edmonton, which a handful of permanent theatres alongside temporary venues set up for the event.
One of the friendliest events for budget artists, the festival will sponsor selected artists with a venue, marketing, two technicians, and ticketing services. Or, like Edinburgh, artists are free to “Bring Your Own Venue,” or BYOV. Extremely diverse, the event offers hundreds of shows and acts with up and coming artists and senior members of the local community.
And while these are the major Fringe Festivals around the world, there are many around the world from as far as Grahamstown, South Africa, to the local Hollywood Fringe Festival. Who knows, there may be one in your home town, so check with your local performing art centers to see! And if they say no, why not start your own?