Fringe is colorful.
NS: So, Fringe, who are you?
Fringe: Wow, um, big question! I’m a performing arts festival. I’ve lived in Fort Collins for going on six years and, um, I really like it here. The audience in Fort Collins is hungry for original work. I’ve hosted a ton of strange performances like comedy magic, dance theatre, unusual puppetry, 360 film, multimedia art, you name it!
If Fringe were a person they’d be a real character. Fringe felt like an orphan but found out they have family all over the world descended from the same Scottish grandmother. You see, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival started back in 1947 when a bunch of obscure theatre companies showed up to perform “on the fringe” of the prestigious Edinburgh festival after their work was rejected. Working on the “festival fringe,” these artists started the rebellious, uncensored, and outsider art identity the international network of Fringe festivals all over the world now share. Despite their wild roots, Fringe isn’t one of those people who is all about flying their freak flag all over town to get attention; rather, Fringe is a connector keen to introduce artists to one another, seek out mavens to cross-pollinate with undiscovered talents, and match-make artists and audiences all over Fort Collins. Fringe is the kind of person who will welcome you to their party, put a drink in your hand, and then introduce you to everyone, eager to get you talking and sharing. No one stands aloof at a Fringe party unless they really, really want to. The mission on the Fringe website sums it up: “The Fort Collins Fringe Festival exists to provide a platform for emerging and established artists to perform fun, original, affordable theatre for our community while creating connections between artists, audiences, businesses, and organizations.”
NS: Here’s a softball to start off the interview. What do you like to do in your free time?
Fringe: That’s easy! I like listening to rants, jokes, confessionals; anything deeply felt and genuinely human. I like it when people open up to me and others. I guess if I wasn’t a festival I’d be a counselor because I care so deeply about people’s stories and experiences. I think that just listening and allowing people to be themselves is the key to building a relationship. God, this sounds so corny!
NS: No! That’s great! So, what do you like to listen to at the festival? What do you want to see on stage?
Fringe: Literally anything and everything!
NS: Wow! That’s terrifying…
A friend of mine recently referred to rehearsing a play as “going to the empathy gym.” I love that and I think Fringe is a practitioner of empathy through listening. Fringe is present, attentive, and motivated to help all voices be heard by encouraging others to listen as well. Part of the Fort Collins Fringe Festival’s specific mission is to create community, in part by giving voice and listening to emerging voices, sometimes for the first time. Occasionally the artists panic when handed this much freedom. When I told Fringe how nervous this liberation made me they smiled and said, “It’s a lot, huh? You’re free. Feels weird, doesn’t it? And fantastic.” Then Fringe took my hand reassuringly.
Fringe values freedom.
NS: Wait, so you’re saying I could stand on stage naked, brush my teeth for 8 minutes, demonstrate proper firewood stacking technique, and recite the Declaration of Independence screaming over a leaf blower?
Fringe: I guess…
NS: Then I could eat four canned tamales and try to kiss…
Fringe: Sure, if that’s what you want to do.
NS: I don’t, actually, but you’re saying I could?
Fringe: Yep. Anything you like. Of course, we’d post warnings about nudity and potty-mouths.
NS: Is this actually uncensored? Can I say “Go vigorously [redacted] your [redacted] with a [redacted], you anemic [redacted]?
NS: Wait, wait…You’re saying that I could, while wearing a bunny suit, simulate…
Fringe: Uh-huh. Sounds intriguing…
NS: A whole attitude of centenarians could take off…
Fringe: Why not?
NS: Wow! You’re not kidding.
Since its inception as a Festival de Refusés in the outer-darkness of the establishment, Fringe festivals around the globe have been committed to uncensored and non-juried work. That means applications are accepted on a first-come, first-welcomed basis. This is radical and demonstrates Fringe’s love of free speech and willingness to protect everyone’s right to have a spot at the table. That being said, Fringe isn’t Pollyannaish. They are aware of the world’s problems, are “fierce after justice,” and also like to tell it how it is. The festival grows in number every year, but also in courage and criticism. Fringe hopes to showcase even more work that challenges, shocks, and surprises audiences. Critical, controversial, even uncomfortable work is welcome at Fringe. There’s also the fact that each group is responsible for promoting their own show so perhaps the senior citizens, leaf-blower, nude tooth-brushing thing would be sparsely attended, but Fringe is willing to give everyone an equal chance.
Fringe acts all year round.
NS: Ok, so you throw this huge multi-day, multi-venue festival in July every year, but what do you do the rest of the time?
Fringe: Thanks for asking! I’m working on building community, producing, and forging a booming performing arts scene in Fort Collins. And because I want to bring everyone together, I am always going to see my friends’ shows. You know how that goes.
NS: Oh yes, I do.
(Fringe and NS share a commiserating look and clink their pint glasses together)
NS and Fringe in unison: To friends’ shows!
Fringe throws the most creative, inclusive, and multidimensional party in Fort Collins every year. This year the festival is July 26th-29th at The Lyric, Wolverine Farm Letterpress and Publick House, Bas Bleu, Art Lab, and the Otterbox Digital Dome at the Museum of Discovery, but Fringe continues as its personality dictates all year. Fringe supports its friends and partners like the Weekend Warrior Film Festival or Slouch and Grouch by promoting and encouraging their work many times a year. As a connector in the community, Fringe is always trying to get everyone under one roof to collaborate, share, and ultimately, to produce more work. Several artists I know, myself included, used Fringe’s encouragement as a jumping off point to do DIY projects at various pop-ups around town. Fringe showed us how making art is actually just as simple as waking up in the morning, making art, and taking it to the public.
Fringe loves artists.
NS: So, why do you do all this?
Fringe: That’s another huge question. Wow. I guess because I love giving artists the chance to meet new audiences and the audience the chance to find new work. I’m just the connector. It’s really not that hard, even, just getting people together and helping them speak and listen. (Fringe blushes)
NS: You’re so humble. I’m so glad I got to meet you. No, seriously. You’re amazing.
Fringe: Awww, shucks.
NS: Come here.
(They kiss. Music swells. A wave crashes on the shore. A flower blooms.)
Too often artists’ work is unpaid, undervalued, viewed as a commodity, or disrespected. Working for an institution can often leave an artist feeling like their creativity is stifled. In school, they are often censored or boxed into certain kinds of work. The Fort Collins Fringe Festival loves artists and treats them with respect by giving them the freedom to say and do what they want, the financial reward of keeping 100% of their own ticket sales, and providing support throughout the entire development process. Out-of-town artists are given food and housing within the heart of the Fringe family. The venue fee is modest. Most of all, Fringe takes an interest in getting to know each artist as soon as they walk through the door. If you’re an artist coming to Fringe’s house party for the first time, Fringe would hug you and say, “Hi! Welcome! What’s your thing? What do you love? What’s your potluck dish?” They’d immediately make you feel open, vulnerable, and honest with them and suddenly you’d be pouring your heart out to Fringe and thinking, “I haven’t even had that many drinks!”
Fringe wants more art in Fort Collins.
(NS and Fringe share a cigarette contemplatively.)
NS: At the end of the day, what do you really want out of all this?
Fringe: That’s easy. More art, more variety, more people doing scrappy work instead of sitting around talking about the amazing work they could make if only they had a bunch of money. I want to motivate people to open that book of dream projects and give it a shot. I want to make artists feel safe, wanted, needed, and supported.
NS: I think I love you, Fringe.
In the last five years, the Fringe festival has hosted a vast swath of work from physical comedy to ballet, one-woman musicals, and equestrian plays, but Fringe wants even more variety. Almost all the shows at Fringe are original, created by local artists, and often specifically made for the festival. Fringe would love to see more immersive theatre where the environment envelopes both the audience and performers in a common space. Fringe would love to support more moving performance pieces where the audience travels through space to stumble across various acts. Fringe wants more puppets, more multimedia work, more collaboration across arts and technologies to create strange, enigmatic, and daring new art. Fringe wants you.
If you want to participate as an artist in the Fringe festival, applications open March 1st at fringefestivalfortcollins.com. If you’d like to attend, stay tuned for performance profiles in this magazine. If you’d like to sponsor the event, get ahold of the producers through the website. Thanks to producer Heather Ostberg-Johnson for talking to me about our friend Fringe. Thank you, Fringe, for everything.