DEC 2007

What is a Fringe Festival?

Some of us working on this festival take it for granted that everyone knows what a Fringe Festival is. In reality, I’d say 75% of the people I talk to about the Hollywood Fringe have absolutely no idea. In this blog post, it is my mission to clear up the confusion.

Fringe Theatre was a concept begun in Britain in the early 20th century. It was considered a part of London’s Off West End theatre scene. Fringe referred to theatrical performances that strayed from the mainstream. Fringe was on the edges of what was acceptable, it was experimental and bold. It cast off the conventional moors of performed art. There was the theatre that the conservative, upper crust of society sought out and then there was the Fringe. In American terms, you might refer to fringe theatre as “off-off-Broadway”, although it has spread far beyond the Big Apple.

The first official Fringe Festival – that is a gathering of Fringe artists – was “established” in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947. I put the “established” in quotes as it wasn’t the most organized affair at the beginning. Eight theatre companies decided to crash the much larger Edinburgh International Festival to take advantage of the scores of theatre audiences attending. Because they weren’t at the center of the International Festival, they labeled themselves as the fringe. So began a legacy that would continue to evolve to this day.

Fringe shows are usually technical sparse as the artists participating are generally not established. Houses trend towards the smaller side (30-75 seats). Venues are not always traditional in their makeup: I’ve heard tell of fringe shows performed in garages, cars, coffee houses, and offices.

Fringes are becoming more and more common in American cities – New York, Philadelphia, Des Moines, Kansas City, Washington DC, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, and Indianapolis all have their own fringes. Surprisingly, Los Angeles has managed to escape the Fringe craze … at least until now. It is estimated by many that fringe festivals are the only growth business in the theatre world, which has been in a steady state of decline for decades.

The good news is that fringes generally revitalize theatre communities in their towns. As it creates a community-based event, people who otherwise never attend theatre start to come out of the woodwork. A good percentage of these new audience members, their appetites whetted, will continue to attend theatre throughout the following year. As fringe becomes an annual tradition for a community, so to does the theatre industry begin to prosper. Nothing would make us happier if that were to happen in Los Angeles.

And that brings us to-date. The Hollywood Fringe will be the first festival of its kind produced in the city of Los Angeles. By uniting theatre companies across the community, city, state, country, and planet, we hope to join the upward trend of theatre in our society.