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The Fringe Festival: A History

by Photo of Natalie Sacks

What you need to know about the massive theater festival coming to NYC this August.

The Fringe Festival: A History

The New York International Fringe Festival, running from August 8 to 24 this year, is the largest multi-arts festival in North America. Now in its eighteenth year, the festival will feature 205 different shows in 18 venues in downtown Manhattan, with artists from thirteen countries and across the US. There will be drama, comedy, classical theater, dance, performance art, puppetry and children's theater. It will be huge. It will be great. But how did it get this way?

Fringe Festivals: Background

Today, there are fringe festivals all over the world. The original Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland is the oldest and largest, founded in 1947 as a reaction to the exclusionary Edinburgh International Festival. They invented the term "fringe" to describe theater outside the mainstream, beyond the West End/Broadway and national opera companies. Fringe theater is about access, about anyone being able to create a piece of art or theater and exhibit it to an audience.

Most fringe festivals have no selection process whatsoever; anyone can be in it, provided they can find a performance space in time. The New York Fringe is one of the exceptions, using jury-based selection to determine who performs in the festival. It serves as a form of quality control, so while Edinburgh shows can range wildly from fabulous to painfully under-rehearsed, New York shows already have a stamp of approval. And with over 200 artists and companies chosen to perform, the commitment to providing audience access to new theater is still clear.

The Fringe Today

Fringe shows are always new pieces of art, whether they have been performed at a few smaller festivals already or this is their world premiere. There will be traditionally scripted plays, drastic reinterpretations of classics, movement-based ensemble pieces and one-(wo)man shows based on the performer's life. Some will never be seen again after the festival is over, while others will go on to achieve great successes. Well-known plays coming out of the New York International Fringe Festival include Urinetown, Dog Sees God and Debbie Does Dallas.

FringeNYC includes many component events, such as FringeU (educational events), FringeART (art events), FringeAL FRESCO (free outdoor performances), and FringeJR (children's events). They have multi-show passes to encourage audiences to come to a wider range of shows and try one or two they wouldn't have expected to see. There are shows about everything you could possibly think of, and more--titles from this year include The Internet!: A Complete History (Abridged), Seven Seductions of Taylor Swift, Fatty Fatty No Friends, Urban Momfare, and Gary Busey's One Man Hamlet (as performed by David Carl).

Next week, we will be writing about some of the FringeNYC events we are most excited about, and there will be reviews available on the site during the festival itself. It may seem overwhelming at first to the novice theater-goer, but fringe festivals are all about opening up access to new audiences, and the performers will be thrilled to see you there. The complete catalog of shows is available on their website, so check it out!

Want great tickets but hate paying fees? Check CHARGED.fm to find tickets for less and NO FEES!


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