Performing Arts on the Fringes
This week we’re inspired to explore the “fringe” movement and its growing influence in the performing arts. The 21st annual Minnesota Fringe Festival (MFF) concluded last Sunday, after presenting 169 different productions at 19 stages across Minneapolis over 11 days – nearly 900 total performances. Strong attendance figures for the opening weekend showed a similar trajectory to 2013, when the entire festival sold 50,000+ tickets.
Open Expression. The U.S. Association of Fringe Festivals (USAFF) describes the movement’s eclectic nature:
In the U.S., no one organization or individual owns, controls or regulates the name “Fringe.” There are no national rules for how each individual festivals operate; the festivals’ content, finances and structure vary from city to city. Generally…festivals are committed to an open forum of expression that minimizes the financial risks for both artists and audiences. Fringes…keep production fees and ticket prices low so that more people can participate…
The first such event was held in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1947. It was envisioned as an alternative to that city’s International Festival and described as “fringe” by a local journalist. Across the U.S., fringe festivals can be found from California to New York, which each of these states boasting four. International fringe festivals span the globe, from Singapore to Sydney to Saskatoon.
Low Tech & Low Cost. In a fringe festival production, stage technology is generally minimized, with props and scenery sparse. Time is also limited: most shows run 60 minutes or less. Shows are also affordable; at the MFF, individual adult tickets cost $12 after a one-time $4 button purchase. Multi-show passes offer savings and kids under 12 pay less.
Dancing in Waders. Along with being an avid MFF attendee, our friend Cathy Podeszwa of Duluth, Minn., has performed in two MFFs, traveling 160 miles each time – once aided by an MFF travel grant. One show was a dramatic riff on evangelical religious tracts, the other a comedic dance production for which she donned fisherman’s chest waders.
“For artists, fringe festivals are a way to test new material and see if it flies,” she says, adding that not many such paying opportunities exist. Each MFF producer is guaranteed 65% of box-office receipts. MFF shows are selected randomly by lottery; other fringe festivals use a juried process.
Thanks to exposure received at the MFF, Podeszwa’s dance troupe obtained a grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council to perform their show across northern Minnesota.
“As an audience member attending a fringe, you never know what you’ll see,” explains Podeszwa. “Some shows are terrible – others are unbelievably good.” Her personal MFF favorite was a poignant puppet show about the life – and untimely death – of entertainer Tiny Tim.
Nurturing the Arts. As part of its outreach to greater Minnesota, MFF leaders travel around the state throughout the year, meeting with local arts groups. “They are a really great organization – their goal is to support theatre groups in all shapes and sizes, providing tools for success, such as promotional ideas,” remarks Podeszwa.
With a fringe festival’s wide range of entertainment and affordable ticket prices, she believes they can help “open the door to theatre” for people who have never attended a show before. We applaud the effort and encourage you to check out your local fringe!