Fringe theater, as evidenced by the more than 100 Fringe festivals taking place across America and around the world, is exactly what its name describes: theater on the periphery. On the fringe.
It can mean anything from straight, scripted plays to slapstick to stand-up comedy and… well, something nondescript.
Trish Parry co-founded the Tampa International Fringe Festival six years ago and serves as its executive director. “I’ve had a long time to figure out why I’m so obsessed with it,” she says. “For me, Fringe is the advancement of the performing arts. It’s the way, in my opinion, to keep the performing arts modern, as a popular art.
The 2022 edition, July 28-August. 7 in Ybor City includes 22 shows, all with multiple performances. They cover the whole range, from Ah, Gasparella, a children’s musical by Tom Sivak from St. Petersburg, at the one-man show of the comic Bennet Caffee My First Miracle – Adventures in Bipolar Disorder.
Parry looks forward to the return of burlesque comedian Vulva Va-Voom (Golden Age Hollywood Psychic) and the Bay Area debut of Brazilian clown/magician Ewerton Martins, who goes by the stage name El Diablo of the Cards.
“Usually,” Parry says, “the more remote the thing, the more interesting it can be, depending on how theater and art have diverged, work that’s done in different places can be cool.”
The Fringe is therefore constantly evolving, “little by little moving away from standard theatre. This is slowly changing as people realize how meddling they can be in what they decide to do on stage.
About half of the 2,022 participants are local. Tampa Fringe solicits submissions through numerous theater and social media platforms, and uses a lottery system to choose who gets to show up and play.
Performers are not required to provide videos. “There’s a part on the form where they can describe their show,” Parry explains. “In theory, they can apply with just one title, and we have no control.”
There are, of course, rules to keep things within legal and safe limits. Otherwise, the maxim “anything can happen” applies. “Usually someone who’s been touring this far, has their stuff together,” Parry says, “because it’s a lot of money for them to risk coming all the way here.”
And what’s more, audiences will quickly weed out performances that might just be bad.
“The bangs aren’t censored, but it’s usually like natural selection. If someone totally blows the first time, their viewership will dwindle, so they won’t go any further. While successful people usually keep going .
Bay Area Audiences Who Missed In the night, Sarasota’s Rosalind Cramer and Linda MacCluggage play, which was on stage at St. Pete’s for just three performances in May, will also have several chances to see it at the Fringe.
The moving family drama, a collaboration with Pinellas County’s Theater eXceptional group, features two young actors with Down syndrome. Playwright MacCluggage is the director.
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The Tampa International Fringe Festival, enthuses Parry, is no ordinary theatrical experience. “Let’s be honest, a lot of people in America hear the word theater and they cringe,” she says.
“But the kind of stuff that happens at the Fringe…it’s the kind of stuff your next door neighbor might have written. It’s not like “Here’s the Pulitzer Prize-winning show of…”
“That’s one of the things I love about it, ‘Here’s a work of art that came out of someone’s brain, and you can meet it right after.'”
For the full schedule, tickets, and additional information, visit the Fringe website here.