Why Fringe Festivals Are Important

Fringe shows can be anything!  You never know what to expect.

Fringe shows can be anything! You never know what to expect…

The 2014 Hamilton Fringe Festival is almost upon us!  It opens a week from today on July 17, 2014.  There will be some great theatre to be seen and some not-so-great theatre to be seen… or not-seen.  But the Fringe is an important part of the theatrical environment in any city and Hamilton is lucky to have Fringe to call their own.

What is a Fringe Festival?  It is an unjuried festival of plays, monologues, dance, musicals, and any other type of performance.

Unjuried?  Yes, that means that your submission is not judged or assessed to determine if it is “worthy”.  For the Hamilton Festival, it is first come, first served; but most Fringe Festivals have a lottery system because of the volume of people applying to get in.  In Toronto, for example, the odds are about 5 to 1 against a company trying to get into that Fringe.

The beauty of an unjuried festival means that you, the artist, get to decide what to put in front of an audience.  It’s open to anyone and it doesn’t matter who you know or don’t know.  You don’t need to have a certain amount of credits to participate — all you need is the entrance fee.  And whatever you do doesn’t need to fall into anyone else’s definition of “theatrical” besides your own.  You can put on the play you’ve written, do some magic tricks, tell a story about your grandparents or cover yourself in mustard and flop around the stage for 50 minutes.

Of course, some people complain that there is a lot of crap that goes on at the Fringe.  You don’t always know what you’re getting when you go to a show by someone “new” to you.  People say that a lot of the writing and acting sucks.  Or that, at best, shows are uneven.  But that doesn’t necessarily have to be a “con”.

Going to the Fringe can be a place to discover new voices and performers.  Yes, it is sometimes hit and miss, but it’s like winning a prize when you discover something or someone wonderful.  And at $10 a pop, it isn’t a huge loss if the show is a dud.  Imagine how you’d feel if you spent over $100 to see a show at Stratford and it sucked…

Last week, I spent the day at the Toronto Fringe and saw 5 shows.  Two of them I loved (Myth of the Ostrich and Roller Derby Saved My Soul), two of them I enjoyed (Everything’s Fine and Bard Fiction) and one…  Well, 4 out of 5 ain’t bad!  And to be honest, there were qualities about the not-so-great show that were good and I spent some time wondering about how I would improve the show if I had been involved; so in the end it was a good learning experience for me even if the show wasn’t very entertaining.

But the very best thing about Fringe Festivals is that it gives artists an opportunity to grow.  Theatre is a performance art and to improve your skills, you need to perform in front of an audience.  And as an audience member, we participate in the growth of the artist, too.

Laurence Olivier was probably the greatest actor of the last century, but he was a terrible actor when he was starting out.  He forgot his lines and he cracked up on stage.  He only got better by performing over and over.  Fringe Festivals give today’s artists the opportunity to develop and hone their skills, too.  Who knows, maybe you’ll discover this century’s next Olivier at a Fringe Festival…


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