This past week saw the fifth anniversary of World Fringe Day. Beginning in 2017 on July 11th, it’s a celebration of the worldwide phenomenon that is fringe theatre, as well as the countless moving parts that make up each individual Fringe Festival- artists, volunteers, techs, venues, and so much more constantly whirr in the creation of these iconic events. The world at large didn’t see a Fringe in 2020, so this year’s World Fringe Day is especially bright as audiences are once again able to attend live performances across a great deal of the globe.
For the uninitiated, fringe theatre at large is the theatrical content and productions that exist outside of mainstream, high-profile productions and theatre companies. Often daring, odd, rough around the edges, and driven to accessibility, fringe can be likened to a punk form of theatre. Fringe Festivals are annual events produced around the globe that see scores of independent artists staging their works for hungry audiences for a fraction of the usual production cost. It’s the place where most budding theatre artists test their mettle and veteran indie and international touring artists are able to make a vibrant living.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which is both the original Fringe Festival and still the mecca of all Fringes, put tickets on sale at the start of the month. While it will be decidedly reduced in number compared to previous years’ 3000+ shows, the fact that it is going up at all is a beacon of light after a dark 365 days. The importance of the Edinburgh Fringe can’t be understated, having been home to truly resonant works—including Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s beloved Fleabag. Her catapult into worldwide recognition and President of the Fringe Society also has her releasing a Fleabag-inspired gin to help raise funds for the festival and its artists.
Elsewhere is seeing much the same, with late-game announcements of Fringes intending to go up within the next several months. From Edmonton to Hollywood, Prague to Milan, festivals are coming back into the lives of theatre lovers around the world. Some are maintaining isolation practices through recorded theatre, while others are seeing a genuine return to lives performances. Adelaide Fringe in particular was able to gross a whopping $56.39AUD, an impressive feat in the still-recovering context.
With Fringe Festivals serving as a decent barometer for the general theatre climate, it is relieving to see these returns to form, as diminished as they may be, as a sign of better times ahead for the performing arts. Many of the qualities we have come to cherish and miss over the past year—community, connection, intimacy, live artistry, shared experience—are encapsulated by the Fringe. So with World Fringe Day flying a proud flag of this unique theatrical forum’s return across the globe, what it truly signals is us once again being able to step into that unparalleled joy found between a stage, an artist, and an audience.