The Fringe Festival concept was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1947 when a group of stage play writers, directors and performers snubbed by the Edinburgh International Festival decided to stage their own event.
Here in New Orleans, a small Fringe Fest was started in 2008, and it has exploded in popularity.
The Sixth annual New Orleans Fringe Festival, which runs from Nov. 20-24, will feature 76 productions in dozens of venues, most in the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods.
And, in typical New Orleans fashion, the festival is celebrated with a parade and other artistically theme events.
Self-styled as “the festival of the wild, weird, fresh and original,” Fringe Fest gives budding writers a chance to showcase their work in the hope that their creations will be among the gems that rise above the pack.
Agents and talent scouts may be in the audience, as has been the case before. Several works that premiered at past Fringe Fests have gone on to greener pastures in larger markets such as New York and Chicago.
This year’s performances will include drama, comedy, dance, improvisational, pantomime, musical theater, storytelling and other forms of the performing arts.
Productions are held in small neighborhood theaters, outdoors in private yards and on stages in barrooms.
Six official “Fringe-Managed Venues” in the Marigny and Bywater will present 24 of what the festival selection committee felt to be the most promising productions.
The remaining 52 shows will be staged in “Bring Your Own Venue” locations around town.
A complete listing of shows and their venues can be found on the Fringe Fest website.
Among the other festival offerings are Family Fringe, with free activities for kids; the Yard Art Tour (YAT3), a self-guided public tour of neighborhood art installations; the Good Children Parade on St. Claude Avenue, with pop-up “Hot Spots” at four locations along the route where 75-90 minute performances will be staged; and a “Weaving Bee” at the Marigny Opera House, 725 St. Ferdinand St., where the public will help decorate a fence with used Mardi Gras beads.
The “Free-for-All” Tent, the festival’s main focal point for tickets, information, food, beverages and related services, will be in Architect’s Alley, adjacent to the Den of Muses and Mardi Gras Zone between Port and St. Ferdinand streets.
Fringe Fest Executive Director Kristen Evans has been with the festival since the start.
“I think one of the most flattering comments that we frequently hear from performers is how much they love New Orleans audiences,” Evans said. “One performer told us, ‘New Orleans audiences want you to win. They want you to have a great show.’ We feel the same way.”
In addition to coming from all over the United States, Evans said performers and production companies taking part in past festivals have come from Canada, Mexico and Europe.
“A large part of the appeal of Fringe is that is scrappy,” Evans said.
“We’re different, experimental, edgy. You come here to see things you’ve never seen before. And we can guarantee that you’ll see something at the Fringe you’ve never seen before.
“There’s also this connection to the place,” Evans added. “A large part of what we do is grass roots. We’ve never been a big-budget organization. We’ve had discussions about becoming like a fulltime arts organization, but that’s not where we’re headed. We like where we are now.”
One of the New Orleans Fringe Fest’s proudest success stories was a production it premiered several years ago called “Crawling with Monsters.”
It went on to win “Best of Show” at the New York Fringe Festival and later received critical acclaim in Chicago.
In an ironic twist, the company’s hometown shares the name of the city where the whole Fringe concept originated: Edinburg (minus the h), Texas.