Artists have until Dec. 12 to apply to participate in inaugural Fringe Fort Myers festival
Fort Myers will soon be joining more than 250 cities around the globe that host fringe performing arts festivals. A collaboration between the Alliance for the Arts and Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, the first-ever Fringe Fort Myers will take place June 1-4, 2023.
Fringe festivals trace their origins to Edinburgh, which held an international festival in 1947 in an effort to heal some of the wounds inflicted on England’s collective psyche by World War II. Participation was restricted to established, mainstream performers and that didn’t sit well with so-called outsider artists.
“So basically around the perimeter of the city, they held their own festival as kind of a protest to the festival that was happening because they weren’t being included in that festival,” explains Fringe Fort Myers organizer Bill Taylor.
“So they were on the fringe of the city when they did that and it became a fringe festival. It’s basically for artists that were not included in the mainstream type of art.”
Ever since, fringe festivals have provided a platform to independent, experimental and alternative artists who otherwise exist on the “fringes” of the professional art world.
However, don’t conflate “fringe” with “amateur.” Actors Robin Williams, Mike Myers, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Rachel Weisz and “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah all got their start at fringe festivals. Shows including “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche,” “Da Kink in My Hair,” “Kim’s Convenience” and “My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding” all debuted at fringe festivals – as did the musical “Six,” which turns King Henry VIII’s wives into musical divas and which is currently taking Broadway by storm.
Fringe festivals are not juried. This allows artists to take risks they might not be willing or able to otherwise. For many, it’s a big step in finding their creative voice and opportunities for distribution of their work.
“Being a member of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals, we have no oversight of the shows. Whatever is picked is in the festival,” said Taylor.
“So whatever type of show it may be that you want to try ... it could be experimental, it could be something that’s tried and true … but whatever it is, it’s okay to present it at the fringe festival. So apply.”
The window for applications opened last week and runs through Dec. 12. While some fringe festivals accept applications on a first-come-first-served basis, Fringe Fort Myers will hold a lottery on Dec. 19.
“So everyone who applies gets thrown into a hat, and then one by one we draw artists or groups out of that hat to determine who makes the festival,” Taylor explained.
While there is no oversight when it comes to content, each show must be no less than 30 minutes and no more than an hour long. Other than that, pretty much anything goes and attendees can expect to see everything from short one-act plays, dance recitals, musical performances and cabaret to puppet shows, variety shows, stand-up comedy and even a sexpert comedy act.
“That’s also going to include outdoor concerts, because we’ll have bands on the outdoor stage and also part of the festival is we’ll have buskers going around on Saturday and Sunday. So there’ll be acrobats, magicians and things moving around the grounds to entertain people between shows,” said Taylor.
While fringe festivals can affords the opportunity to see a lot of terrific, and terrifically terrible, theater in a short time span without breaking the bank, Taylor recognizes that the roster of shows can be a little overwhelming. So Fringe Fort Myers will kick off with a teaser show, during which each performer or group will have 2-3 minutes to sell their show to the audience.
“So if you’re looking at the program and you’re like, “Well I’m not sure what show I really want to attend,’ come to the teaser show and you’ll get an sense of each one of those shows, what they are, which ones you might want to attend. We’ll have ticket sales that night right at the door for anything you want to buy. So it’s a good way to familiarize yourself with what shows are in the festival.”
There will be three venues – the 132-seat Foulds Theatre at the Alliance for the Arts, a cozy theater that will be set up in the Alliance classrooms and the nearby 85-seat Off Broadway Palm Theatre, which the dinner theatre boasts, has “a great view from every seat.”
Due to the proximity of these venues and the strict limits imposed on the length of each show, it will be possible for attendees to take in multiple performances Friday through Sunday of the festival.
Each performer sets the price for tickets, which are typically $12 and under. The artists keep 100% of the proceeds, although the festival charges a modest per-ticket handling fee to cover its expenses. Fringe Fort Myers comes on the heels of two of Florida’s other pre-eminent fringe festivals.
So it’s entirely possible, even likely, that folks attending Fringe Fort Myers will get to see quality acts that performed previously in Tampa and Orlando.
If you have, or want to develop, an act that you’d like to showcase at Fringe Fort Myers, Taylor and the Alliance for the Arts have made the application process surprisingly easy.
“Go to artinlee.org, search for fringe festival on our website. It will take you to our application page. There is a $25 fee to apply to the festival. That’s one of the ways we’re trying to make a little bit of money to support ourselves,” said Taylor.
“It’s open to everybody whatever your show is.”
Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next star of stage or film to be discovered at a fringe festival. Maybe your show will be the next “Drowsy Chaperone” or “Six.”
- Fringe Fort Myers is the newest fringe theater festival in the U.S. and maintains long-standing fringe traditions of being 100% uncensored, 100% unjuried and 100% inclusive, with all ticket sale proceeds going directly to the artists. Fringe offers one-man shows, operas, burlesque, clowns, and improv comedy among its theatrical buffet.
- Although fringe festivals were popular in England following the inaugural festival in Edinburgh in 1947, fringe did not cross the pond to North American until the 1980s. Today, there are more than 250 fringe festivals around the world.
- “The Drowsy Chaperone” (Bob Martin and Don McKellar) premiered at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 1999 and went on to Broadway in 2006. It was produced locally be Creative Theater Workshop. Directed by Kimberly Suskind, it starred Tricia Hennessy (in the title role) and Samuel Pucin, Jesse Massari, AJ Ford and Kristen Noble.
- “5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche” was a hit at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2011. Theatre Conspiracy at the Alliance for the Arts produced it locally in 2019. Directed by Stephanie Davis, it starred Karen Goldberg, Lucy Sundby, Anna Grilli and Dena Blauvelt.
- “Da Kink in My Hair” (Trey Anthony) was part of the 2001 Toronto Fringe Festival. It went on to enjoy successful runs in the U.S. and U.K. and also ran as a TV series on Global TV from 2007 – 2009.
- “My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding” (David Hein and Irene Sankoff) debuted at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2009 before going on to enjoy an extensive North American tour.
- Emma Thompson (the only person to ever win an Oscar for both writing and acting), Hugh Laurie, Robin Williams, Mike Myers, Rachel Weisz (who won an Oscar for her role in “The Constant Gardener”) and “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah all got their start at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
- Bill Taylor, the Alliance for the Arts and Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre had intended to introduce Fringe Fort Myers to Southwest Florida in 2020. They even produced “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” in the Alliance Classroom Theater as a fundraiser for the event before the coronavirus pandemic struck. “We had sold tickets and everything and then, of course, the world came to a screeching halt and so it stopped,” relates Taylor. “We’ve been wanting to redo it. Last year, we looked at doing it, but we had the Caloosa Connect Water Project go through our property so we didn’t want to have a fringe festival when our property was going to be torn apart for that water project, so we decided to wait another year, and here we are.”
- Bill Taylor is best known in Southwest Florida as a producer, director, actor and founder of Theatre Conspiracy at the Alliance for the Arts. Since founding the latter company in 1984, Bill has produced more than 120 shows, directed 40 productions and performed in over 50 others including three one-man shows, “Sex, Drugs & Rock and Roll,” “Barrymore” and “Tru.”
- Among the many initiatives Taylor has launched at Theatre Conspiracy are its perennial New Play Contest, an emphasis on productions written by women playwrights and providing strong female characters, and programming that provides opportunities for area actors of color and discourse on the Black experience in America (in shows like George C. Wolff’s “A Colored Museum,” Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” Lydia Diamond’s “The Bluest Eye,” Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf” and several productions from August Wilson’s Century Cycle.
To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida visit Tom Hall's website: SWFL Art in the News.
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