It all depends on the lottery. Literally. That’s the premise of the Atlanta Fringe Festival, where artists submit their work, bite their nails and wait to see whether their number gets pulled out of a hat for a green light.
Now in its third season, the 2014 Atlanta Fringe Festival — running June 5–8 — is the creation of Atlanta-based Twinhead Theatre, showcasing programming not likely to be seen at other venues. After Diana Brown, the festival’s executive director, visited other cities with colleagues to check out their fringe events, she decided the time was ripe for an Atlanta one. Yet it hasn’t been easy. “It’s been pretty difficult creating this, mainly because the people working on it, we just started with an idea,” she says. “None of us have a background in planning a festival. There was a learning curve for a while.”
They started planning in 2010 and were able to produce in 2012. Finding funding has been a nonstop challenge, however. “It’s a grassroots event,” she says. “We didn’t have a lot of funding to begin with. We had to go to a lot of places and say, ‘Can we use you for free?’ But it’s gotten easier. We are starting to receive support from all corners.”
Twenty productions make up this year’s event, representing 11 states and Canada, and half the work comes from Atlanta talent. The offerings run the gamut from romantic comedies to puppetry to solo shows to belly dancing and combine veteran playwrights with newer ones, such as the KSU Tellers, producing their comedic The Unbelievable True Story. “We don’t judge the material; we don’t even know what we’re picking when we pick it,” says Brown. Yet it is important for the festival to have a cross section of talent and make sure Atlanta is well-represented. Each year, that’s never been a problem.
The playwrights are financially involved — artists have to pay a small submission fee but get 75 percent of their show’s grosses — and are responsible for directing and casting. A festival such as this allows opportunities to artists who may not otherwise be able to produce their work.
“Some fringes are juried, others are not,” Brown says. “Ours is not. First off, there are a lot of people who have something to say, a show in them that they have that they don’t know how to do on their own. They are not necessarily going to go through a playwriting competition. This is a place to try it out, the experimental research lab — mix all your chemicals together and see what happens.”
Brown has never had an issue dealing with inferior quality submissions. “We don’t get a lot of awful-sounding anything,” she says. “Since the artists have to pay to be part of the festival, that’s a way to separate artists from those who just say, ‘I just want to scream in a room’ as their artistic statement.”
An annual preview party — this year on June 4 — includes three minutes of all the shows. Brown calls that her favorite moment of the festival. “People have a great time and it’s a nice way to get the festival vibe,” she says. In years past, she’s admittedly seen clips from work she didn’t think she’d be interested in and later decided to check out the full productions.
One bit of feedback Brown has gotten from patrons is a desire to move the shows nearer to each other. The company is working on that. “We don’t really have an arts district,” she says. “The first year we were in Decatur to Little Five Points, very spread out. This year we are closer together.”
The festival’s events are all within a 2.5 mile radius. “You could walk but it would be a long walk,” she says. 7 Stages will serve as the festival’s headquarters and the additional venues are all located in Little Five Points as well — the Highland Inn Ballroom, the Big House on Ponce, the Horizon’s school gym and the Wrecking Bar Brewpub’s Marianna event space.
Some of the plays in this year’s lineup include Daniel Glenn’s Portraits of People I’ve Never Slept With, in which song and dance — and Play-Doh — intertwine as a 29-year-old man examines those he has not slept with; Vanguard Rep’s Tragic Women, where Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and Othello come together as Desdemona and Ophelia talk to Juliet as she is contemplating taking her own life; S’park Theatre’s Amelia the Brave, the story of a young girl who has to deal with her fears when a loved one gets ill, performed by high school students and utilizing animation, puppetry, pantomime and live music; and Will Go Far’s The Stockholder’s Meeting, an absurdist farce using a play-within-a-play format, where aggrieved stockholders get revenge on corporate greed, leaving the bad guys shamed and naked.
Brown feels having a fringe festival in the area is vital for Atlanta area artists and patrons. “It’s all about empowering artists,” she says. “You are creating a place that is no hold barred. We don’t censor. It’s your space for an hour. I think it gives people the freedom to do what they want. I think the audiences also realize they are allowed to like or not like this. It’s easier to get a dialogue going after.”
Local playwright Corey Bradberry, who will be debuting his The Autobiography of Sir William Topaz McGonagall, feels the Fringe Festival is an ideal place for its first audiences. “Having the festival here is very important,” he says. “I’m very excited. This is an experimental show and how people respond here will determine our next steps.”