Theater Review - Atlanta Fringe Festival is making theater space in the margins

The new four-day event draws on a long history of underground performers

The newest addition to Atlanta's theater and performance scene isn't seeking a center stage spotlight. As the Atlanta Fringe Festival's name suggests, event producers are happily looking to create some space in the margins for underground artists. The festival will utilize five venues for performances by more than 20 theater groups, both local and national. The event's executive director Diana Brown talks about the long history of fringe festivals, the lottery-style selection process, and what performances not to miss.

What's the background with Fringe Festivals? What's the idea behind it?

Fringes got their start in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1947. The Edinburgh Arts Festival had just begun, which was founded by a lord. He and his committee invited selected artists to showcase at their festival. Other performing artists didn't want to be left out, however, and decided to capitalize on the crowds the festival would draw by setting up camp on the outskirts of the festival grounds. A theater critic noted the interesting work being performed "on the fringes," and so it would be called forthwith! Since then, Fringe Festivals have popped up all over the world to provide a platform for underrepresented, indie, underground performing artists.

How did Atlanta Fringe come about?

It's taken two years to put the festival together, so a lot of different hands and ideas have been on it. But the steering force behind it is Twinhead Theatre, a local fringe theater company that's been producing original work for almost 10 years. We want it to be easier for people to bring theater to and make theater in Atlanta. We already have a great theater scene, an established scene with major players and wonderful productions. We just wanted to help establish the underground scene more, do our part to make it a more viable, vibrant, and exciting scene that would not only attract outside artists, but keep the ones we've got here from leaving.

You're bringing in performers from around the country. How did you decide on what acts to include?

There is no selection process or jury with a fringe. Anyone, regardless of experience or background, is welcome to share art. This gives Fringes a special vibe: a safe place to try new things, to take risks, to fail and try again. Some fringes do a lottery and some do first come, first served. We decided to do a lottery. So a week after the submission deadline, we held a lottery where each show was given a number, those numbers went into a hat, and each of the Fringe staff got to take turns picking numbers out of it until all 27 slots were filled.

The lineup is daunting. If I only had time to see three performances, where should I go?

That's tough, but I would say go to Horizons School. Two of our venues are there, so you would be able to choose from nine productions without going too far out of your way. In the Horizons School gym are five shows that involve video projection, aerial rigging, and/or sword swallowing. And in Horizons School Theater, you have a smorgasbord ranging from Medea with vampires, raunchy comedies, and plays about serial killers. You know, something for everyone!

What's the one thing you'd like audiences to know before heading to Atlanta Fringe?

All 27 of the shows in this festival are 100 percent original material, so you're going to be seeing stuff you might have never experienced before. Embrace the experiment! Go see something really outside your comfort zone, or a show you know you're not going to be able to catch somewhere else.

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