I'm Faith Lapidus.
I'm Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today we travel to
the boundaries of artistic production by visiting fringe festivals around the
world. Something that is on the "fringe" means it is on the edge, outside established
boundaries. Fringe festivals celebrate all kinds of art in many exciting,
unusual and experimental forms.
The roots of these independent festivals
are in Scotland. In nineteen forty-seven, eight theater groups showed up
uninvited to the first Edinburgh International Festival. Every year, more and
more artists came to town during this festival to perform outside, or on the
"fringe," of the official festival.
In nineteen fifty-eight, the performers formed a Fringe
Society to organize their event and provide tickets and programs. The central
aim of the Festival Fringe Society was not to have a selection process deciding
who could or could not take part. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is open to
anyone who wants to perform.
Today, it is the largest
arts festival in the world. Starting on Friday, this year's festival will run
for more than three weeks. Over two thousand shows will be performed in over
two hundred and fifty different places around Edinburgh. Performers and
visitors travel to the city from around the world for this event.
You could hear
local performers like the Scottish folk singer Jake Cogan.
you could listen to the experimental music of Greek singer Marika Klambatsea.
The Fringe also includes theater, dance, comedy, and
performances for children. There is something for everyone at these events. Local
galleries also hold exhibits of art work and other forms of culture. A show
might include some of the most important names in modern art. Or, a gallery
show could include art made from aprons, protective clothing worn when cooking. Some Fringe shows are very strange and
experimental, while others are more normal, or mainstream.
At any given moment, there is a good chance a fringe festival is going on
somewhere in the world. Like in Edinburgh, these events are open to any artists
who want to perform. Many festivals even give the artists part of the money
raised from ticket sales.
There are fringe events in Britain, Canada, Australia,
the Czech Republic and Singapore, just to name a few of the more than eighty
examples. In the United States, there are about twenty official fringe
gatherings. One of the first American fringe festivals was in Orlando, Florida.
Some festivals, like the one in Adelaide, Australia, are very large and have
been going on for many years.
Others, like the Capital Fringe Festival
in Washington, D.C., are relatively new.
LYNN OLSON: "I love the Fringe. I think it's the
absolute best event in DC. You get to see all different types of performances,
you go to things you might not normally go to."
That was a volunteer at this year's Capital Fringe
which ended last month. The festival is in its fourth year. This year, most
performances took place in the center of Washington in a group of old buildings
that used to be businesses. The abandoned buildings added to the experimental
"fringe" feel of the event. Visitors to the festival could see all kinds of
performances with all levels of artistry and talent.
Capital Fringe describes itself as rebellious and
adventurous, alive in the present moment. Festival organizers asked visitors to
put their worries aside and laugh, cry, clap, dance and hug.
JULIANNE BRIENZA: "Local people, individuals and their
voice are important."
That was Julianne Brienza, the executive director of
the Capital Fringe Festival. Here she explains why she thinks fringe festivals
are so popular.
JULIANNE BRIENZA: "And no matter where you are in the
world, that is a very important thing, to be proud of who you are and be able
to let people hear what you have to say, whether they like it or not. That is
what Fringe enables people to do. You don't have to be from the theater world
to do a show. It's not pretentious, it's not expensive to attend, and there are
Julianne Brienza says the fringe
festival will never be mainstream. She says it remains fresh and unusual
because the event does not try to tell society's views about the performing
arts. It is about giving individuals freedom to create.
the Capital Fringe Festival, members of Opera Alterna skillfully performed the
opera "Magnum Opus." It tells about a troubled writer named Robert who makes a
deal with women with magic powers to help him finish his play.
muses promise to give him artistic greatness. But the agreement comes at a
price for Robert.
many of the performances at Capital Fringe, this opera is not about costly and
complex production values. The sets on the stage are very simple. The
performers look like they used their own personal clothing for costumes. But this simplicity helps bring attention to
the creativity of the music and the strength of the actors' performances.
Some of the performances at the festival are very
strong, while others are less skillful. But it is the energy of the artists and
their willingness to share their work with others that makes the festival so interesting.
We asked the Washington, D.C., arts
blogger Bob Anthony how this summer's festival compared to those of past years.
BOB ANTHONY: "It's better and better. It's very
professional this year. It used to be more mediocre-type stuff. This year there
are some two-hour plays. There used to be just an hour play and a lot of
from Old Lore Theater performed the poem "Annabel Lee" by the nineteenth century
American writer Edgar Allan Poe. The performance combined dance with song and
The dancers expressed the sadness of the poem which
tells about the deep love of a man for his sweetheart, Annabel Lee. The dancers
used their bodies to express the setting where the poem takes place, in a
kingdom by the sea. "Annabel Lee" won this year's audience award for best dance
of the performances at Capital Fringe were for children. Many others were for
adults only. One of the very popular theater shows was called "Bare-Breasted
Women Sword Fighting."
WOMAN: "What a magnificent night we have in store for
you! A scintillating spectacular of swords!"
For this event, a group
of women acted out a series of funny performances. At the end, two women had a
sword fight while dancing to tango music. Every time a woman lost a round of
the fighting, she had to take a piece of clothing off. It was the sort of
performance that you do not see very often. But you can see this kind of show
daily at the Fringe.
is a busy month for fringe festivals in the United States. There are fringe
events in cities including Minneapolis, Minnesota; Boulder, Colorado, and
The Fringe New York City will help organize over
one thousand performances this month. Like
many fringe events, some performances at the New York City fringe are free,
while others require visitors to buy tickets. These tickets are generally less
costly than the price of going to a New York theater or arts show. Tickets
alone do not pay for the festivals. They receive support from companies, local
organizations and individuals.
In Washington, Julianne Brienza notes that next year it
will be more difficult to get donations for Capital Fringe. The recession has deeply
cut the number of groups willing to give money.
Yet, the recession did
not keep people from attending the festival. She says they sold four thousand
more tickets this year than last year. And, Mizz Brienza noted another thing
that made the festival special this year.
JULIANNE BRIENZA: "People
made friends more. I noticed that people would sit with strangers and have
conversations, so that was a great thing. It is about coming out and meeting
new people and listening to different ideas."
This program was written and produced by Dana
Demange. I'm Steve Ember.
And I'm Faith Lapidus. You can
find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our reports at voaspecialenglish.com.
Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.