What the heck is a Fringe Festival?

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by Matthew A. Everett • July 2, 2008 • One time when I was talking to a friend about my Fringe Festival obsession and why I like the whole thing so much, my friend responded, “What’s a French festival?”

Sigh.

I forget sometimes that it’s not part of everyone’s vocabulary. So, what the heck is the Minnesota Fringe Festival anyway?

Single White Fringe Geek (and Mom) is the blog of Matthew A. Everett, one of five bloggers covering the Minnesota Fringe Festival for the Daily Planet.

Since the Minnesota Fringe site just went live with the information for this year’s festival, it seems only fitting to toss out a little context, eh? Here’s what “About The Fringe” has to offer by way of explanation…

Minnesota Fringe Festival is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization that organizes an eponymous, annual, 11-day festival.

(Wikipedia? “In contemporary English, the term eponymous is often used to mean self-titled” The organization Minnesota Fringe Festival runs an annual event also called the Minnesota Fringe Festival. And so the whole thing folds in on itself.)

This year marks our fifteenth anniversary.

(Happy Birthday, Fringe! Welcome to puberty. Next year, you will be allowed to drive.)

Since 1993, Minnesota Fringe has grown by leaps and bounds into the Midwest’s largest performing arts festival – and the largest nonjuried, uncensored Fringe in the United States.

The organization does not judge, jury or censor the work of any artist – our goal is provide a platform for performance, and we leave it up to the audience to evaluate the results.

For artists, a $400 application fee gets a venue, liability insurance, technical and front-of-house staff, ticket sales service, press promotion, a high-traffic Web site, complimentary artist passes and a tremendous amount of support as they produce their show.

The artists also receive 65 percent of the box office proceeds for their show.

The combination of the producing support, the box office revenue and the opportunity to see the work of literally hundreds of their peers is invaluable.

For audiences, the deal is equally good.

Our maximum single-ticket price is $12 (plus a one-time button purchase for $3),

(That button’s like gold the rest of the year, by the way. Theaters and performers all over the metro area offer discounts with your Fringe button, so the thing pays for itself a dozen times over if you use it even casually throughout the year. I keep one in my car. You never know.

Well, actually, you do know. The Fringe site has a list of all the discounts, and if you subscribe to their discount newsletter, they send out a biweekly update with the latest news on discounts that have arisen of which you can take advantage – everything from little hole in the wall operations to very popular events. Mighty handy. Thus endeth the interruption…)

and discounts are available for students, seniors and people buying multiple tickets.

In exchange for their ticket, Fringe provides audiences with a show that will almost certainly be something that they’ve never seen before (the vast majority of Fringe shows are original work), presented by a wide-ranging group of local, national and international artists.”

As for the very first Fringe, still going strong in Edinburgh, the granddaddy, or grandmammy, of them all, www.edfringe.com says…

“The Fringe story began in 1947, when the Edinburgh International Festival was launched. It was seen as a post-war initiative to re-unite Europe through culture, and was so successful that it inspired more performers than there was room for.

Well aware that there would be a good crowd and focused press interest, six Scottish companies and two English decided to turn up uninvited and fend for themselves.

We’ve just lived through the 61st Fringe and it’s still young! It lives in the present, shifting and changing from year to year to accommodate all of the people who want to attend. Over the years, as the Fringe Organisation got bigger so did the programme. Companies began multiplying as soon as the Fringe got its own phone, and by the time the computers were installed over 30 years later, hundreds were coming.

Whilst still remaining true to our founding principle of open-access for all performers, the Fringe has come a long way since its organisational beginnings in a disused pub with a leaky roof just off the Royal Mile.

We now sell over 1.6 million tickets worth more than £10m, and employ a year-round full-time staff of 13 which increases to around 120 in August.”

Entering his sixth year of blogging about the Minnesota Fringe Festival (and bringing Mom along for the ride as a guest reviewer), Matthew A. Everett is also a local playwright and three-time recipient of grant support from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Information on Matthew and his plays can be found at matthewaeverett.com.