Fringe theatre

Performers at the 2013 Brighton Fringe Festival

Fringe theatre is theatre that is experimental in style or subject matter.[1] The term comes from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.[2] In London, the Fringe is the term given to small scale theatres, many of them located above pubs, and the equivalent to New York's Off-Off-Broadway theatres and Europe's "free theater" groups.[3]

In unjuried theatre festivals, all submissions are accepted, and sometimes the participating acts may be chosen by lottery, in contrast to juried festivals in which acts are selected based on their artistic qualities. Unjuried festivals (e.g., Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Adelaide Fringe Festival, and Fringe World) permit artists to perform a wide variety of works.


The term was founded in the 1940s, when eight theatre companies showed up at the Edinburgh International Festival, hoping to gain recognition from the mass gathering at the festival. Robert Kemp, a Scottish journalist and playwright, described the situation, "Round the fringe of official Festival drama, there seems to be more private enterprise than before ... I am afraid some of us are not going to be at home during the evenings!".[2] Edinburgh Festival Fringe was founded in 1947. The first movement in Britain started in the 1960s,[3] and is considered similar to the United States' Off-Off-Broadway theatres and Europe's "free theater" groups.[3] The term came into use in the late 1950s, and the show Beyond the Fringe premiered in Edinburgh in 1960, before transferring to Broadway and West End.[3] Some of the early innovators in fringe theatre were an American bookseller, James Haynes, who in 1963, created the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. Also noted in this period is the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, Jerzy Grotowski's Theatre of 13 Rows, and Józef Szajna's Studio Theatre in Warsaw.[3]

Haynes, while at the helm of the Traverse, was receiving state support and even got a new theatre in 1969. In 1969, Haynes created the Arts Lab in London, but it only lasted for two years. Peter Brook along with another American Charles Marowitz opened the Open Space Theatre on Tottenham Court Road in London in 1968. Young British writers, after the May 1968 events in France, wrote agitprop plays, including David Hare, Howard Brenton, David Edgar.[3]

Meanwhile, in the United States, experimental theatre was growing due to the political protest of the Vietnam War. The Living Theatre, founded by Julian Beck, is considered the leader of the "flower power" and "hippie" movement.[3]

By the early 1970s, many fringe theatres began to receive small subsidies. After the 1973–74 stock market crash, many fringe companies were forced to close. New playwrights were established at the Bush Theatre and King's Head Theatre, both of whom survived the crash. 7:84 and Red Ladder Theatre Company were some of the surviving touring fringe groups.[3]

Fringe theatres were attractive to people in the 1960s due to their adventurousness, became less wild in the 1970s while the standards of production rose.[3]

In 1982 the first fringe festival in North America was started in Edmonton, Alberta. It was then a theatre component of the larger Summerfest, but evolved to become a stand-alone event. The Edmonton International Fringe Festival, one of the largest annual arts events in Canada and still the largest fringe in North America by attendance. The oldest fringe festival in the United States is Orlando, FL, founded in 1992. There are more fringe festivals in North America than any other continent.

Fringe theatre festival organization

One distinction between fringe festivals and conventional arts festivals is the method used to choose participants. Typically, conventional festivals use a jury selection process, whereas many fringe festivals do not use a jury process in their selection criteria. There are exceptions to this; some fringe festivals (e.g., New York International Fringe Festival) do employ a jury-based selection process.

All performers are welcome to apply, regardless of their professional or amateur status. No restrictions are made as to the nature, style or theme of the performance, though some festivals have children's areas with appropriate content limitations. Festivals may have too many applicants for the number of available spaces; in this case, applicants are chosen based on an unrelated criterion, such as order of application or a random draw.

The number of performances varies among different fringe festivals. Larger festivals may have thousands of performances (e.g., Edinburgh's 2013 festival had 45,464 performances).[4]

Fringe festivals typically have a common organising group that handles ticketing, scheduling and some overall promotion (such as a program including all performers). Each production pays a set fee to this group, which usually includes their stage time as well as the organizational elements. The organising group and/or the venues often rely on a large pool of volunteers.

Ticket pricing varies between festivals. UK fringe festivals, groups can decide their own ticket prices and some sell tickets at fixed rates in one or two tiers, or in groups of 5 or 10.

Although it is unusual for the organising group to choose any winners of the festival, other organisations often make their own judgements of festival entries . Productions can be reviewed by newspapers or publications specific to the festival, and awards may be given by certain organisations. Awards or favourable reviews can increase the tickets sales of productions or lead to extra dates being added .

Elements of a typical fringe theatre production

The limitations and opportunities that the Fringe festival format presents lead to some common features.

Shows are not judged or juried. Depending on the popularity, some fringe festivals may use a lottery system to determine which shows are selected.

Shows are typically technically sparse. They are commonly presented in shared venues, often with shared technicians and limited technical time, so sets and other technical theatre elements are kept simple. Venues may be adapted from other uses.

Casts tend to be smaller than mainstream theatre; since many of the performing groups are traveling, and venues (and thus potential income) tend to be fairly small, expenses must usually be kept to a minimum. One-person shows are therefore quite common at Fringe festivals.

Fringe festival productions often showcase new scripts, especially ones on more obscure, edgy or unusual material. The lack of artistic vetting combined with relatively easy entry make risk-taking more feasible.[5]

While most mainstream theatre shows are two or three acts long, taking two to three hours with intermissions, fringe shows tend to be closer to one hour, single-act productions. The typically lowered ticket prices of a fringe theatre show permit audiences to attend multiple shows in a single evening.[6]

Performers sometimes billet in the homes of local residents, further reducing their costs.[7][8][9]

List of fringe festivals

North America

New Zealand

See also


  1. "Fringe theatre definition and synonyms | Macmillan Dictionary". Retrieved 25 March 2016.
  2. 1 2 Kemp, Robert, More that is Fresh in Drama, Edinburgh Evening News, 14 August 1948
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 The Cambridge Paperback Guide to Theatre. Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  4. "Edinburgh Fringe ticket sales up 5% - BBC News". Retrieved 25 March 2016.
  6. "How Fringe Tickets Work". Retrieved 25 March 2016.
  7. "Billet HOST Form | Boulder International Fringe Festival". Retrieved 25 March 2016.
  8. "Toronto Fringe Billet OFFER form | Performers Site: Toronto Fringe July 2016". Retrieved 25 March 2016.
  10. "| Boulder International Fringe Festival". Retrieved 25 March 2016.
  11. "Charm City Fringe Festival". Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  12. "Hamilton Fridge Festival". Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  15. Holman, Rachel HOLMAN (May 23, 2016). "First-ever Paris Fringe seeks to challenge 'traditionalist' French theatre". France 24.

Media related to Fringe Festivals at Wikimedia Commons

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