Fringe: Big Tent


In another life I was the assistant production manager at the Exit Theatre in San Francisco. Mostly that meant mopping and house managing and babysitting load-ins but the Exit is also the home of the San Francisco Fringe Festival. I loved that month every year. We work in a field that is mostly siloed into small work groups, so to have a month of Festival to see each other and each other’s work is a gift.

There is a tendency when discussing Fringe to leave it in the realm of production, focusing on the low-cost low-tech quick n’ dirty aspects rather than aiming at any sort of overarching artistic goal for the medium.It’s all sort of viewed through a lens focused on the time you’re allowed on stage rather than on the totality of what’s on stage, and the fluidity of the walls between the stage and the hallways and streets around the stage.

Most theatrical production is a dinner party thrown with a preplanned menu and a controlled schedule. Some are better at dinner parties than others and the food at some parties will be fancier (or at least more expensive) but it’s all very clearly run by your host and while your attendance makes the party what it is, you don’t get much off a say in how it’s run.

Fringe and similar festivals have hosts and structure, but that structure is more like a modern campfire around which we can gather to tell stories. A large portion of Fringe audiences are other Fringe artists and while that can seem like a negative to a producer (all those lousy comps)… there are few constituent groups more in love with stories and the telling than other artists. There are no constituent groups that understand better what you have gone through to bring this story, these characters to this stage, or loft, or lake, or park.

Revel in that.
As an audience member and as a performer.

And then take the next step. Begin talking to the other performers, the other producers. Buy them a beverage. In those moments after enjoying a performance you have a shared vocabulary and some time to use it. Take advantage. Around this sort of campfire, divorced from traditional structures and  outside of anyone’s personal theatrical home there is a freedom to cross-pollinate in a way we rarely enjoy.

Be artistically promiscuous.

Share your biggest reach ideas, ideas that only sound even feasible under the influence of gin, with people you would never talk to any other time of year. Don’t hold back that one amazing project you’ve been wanting to do forever, because the key to making that project may be that man wearing the Hefty bag cleaning off his makeup.

Go headhunting for the shadow puppeteer of your dreams to back your adaptation of the Oresteia. Beg the video designer from that spoken word piece to show you how she did it. Admit you raging actor crush on that guy that did, “Not a Monster: Letters to my Doctor”.

And then in a year we get to see the fruits of all those artistic liaisons, the little Fringe babies… for me, that’s magic of Fringe.

  • September 4, 2012
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