It might seem odd to use the word tradition in connection with a festival as independently-minded as the St. Lou Fringe, but with the first fringe festival held some 60 years ago, St. Louis is indeed following in the tradition of Edinburgh, Scotland and hundreds of other cities in hosting its own Fringe. The festival is dedicated to providing performing opportunities to an eclectic group of artists, and making those performances accessible to a wide-range of people.
“The thing about Fringe is that everything is independently produced. So you might have someone who is totally a fresh new face that you’ve never seen before, or you might have someone who is more tenured on the scene who just has a project that they want to produce that falls outside of a conventional medium,” said St. Lou Fringe Festival Executive Director Em Piro.
The Fringe Festival has been called “uncensored” and “un-juried,” but Piro prefers the term “open-access.”
“Yes, we are uncensored and we are un-juried. Sometimes when people hear those words they can be trigger words, so they go to extreme parts of the spectrum. But really the people who are producing this work are very committed to it and committed to its success. So you don’t tend to have stuff that is particularly abrasive in the festival. But what we do is we really try to step away from the content of the work and we trust the artist to bring work that they find valuable,” said Piro.
As part of the effort to reach a broad audience, the festival has a two-day Fringe Family event located in Strauss Park, across from the Fox Theatre.
“We wanted to make sure that the festival was accessible to families and the young artists that we hope are cultivating in St. Louis, so we decided to create a family-based event,” said Fringe Family Director Amanda Pintore. “It’s meant for all ages and it is completely free.”
The Fringe Family event will be held on Saturday and Sunday and includes air brush art, improv dance, American Sign Language workshops and pancakes from Dr. Dan the Pancake Man. And it won’t be the only family-friendly event at the festival. The festival schedule notes which offerings are appropriate for children and teens and which are intended for adult audiences.
Beginning June 18 and ending June 22, there will be a total of 120 performances at the festival performed by 35 acts. The venues are all located within a half-mile of each other in Grand Center, some indoors and some outdoors.
First Time Puppet Theater is one of the 35 festival acts, returning for a second year with “Landside,” a story produced in collaboration with the Helix Effect about a middle-aged woman diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
“It’s a very tragic personal experience, but I’m hoping that what we do is have a redemptive piece to it,” said First Time Puppet Theater Director Bonnie Taylor. “It’s interesting to tell that story with a puppet because a puppet is sort of in the same condition as a person with Alzheimer’s.”
Because of the seriousness of the subject matter, Taylor says her show is more appropriate for teens and adults rather than children.
Other shows in the festival include Japanese drumming, a didgeridoo performance accompanied by classical violin and oboe, Leverage Dance Theater, music and dance from the 20s, 30s and 40s performed by The Four Fronts of Nashville and a reinterpretation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury performed by Act Two Theater.
St. Lou Fringe finds this unique group of performers by removing juries from the selection process, said festival director Em Piro.
“By removing a jury panel we get a really true unbiased cross-section of the work that’s happening in the community,” said Piro. “You don’t have a group of worthies sitting here saying well this is what we should have and this is what our community needs to see. No, we’re just a reflection of what the people in our city and around the country want to bring to St. Louis audiences.”
3rd Annual St. Lou Fringe Festival
June 18 - 22, 2014
Various Locations; Fringe Central, 3526 Washington Ave, Fl 2
For more information, call 314-643-7853 or visit the St. Lou Fringe Festival website.