Mix together one part underground arts festival with a couple of parts sketch comedy. Throw in some avant-garde theater, performance art and a few monologues. Add a double dose of partying, and you’ll have something of the idea behind the crazy mix that will make up the Atlanta Fringe Festival, the city’s new arts festival, which will fill venues around town this week with several days’ worth of free or inexpensive events.
The busy schedule kicks off Wednesday evening with a free preview party in Decatur Square, emceed by Barbara Tushbant of Dad’s Garage Theatre Company. Participating performers will give short previews of shows in the festival, and organizers will sell tickets for the events. There will also be giveaway prizes from such local businesses as Eddie’s Attic, Raging Burrito and Sutra Lounge.
Most of the festival will take place from Thursday through Sunday, with shows mostly in the Decatur and Little Five Points areas, including Horizons School Theater, WonderRoot and CORE Dance Studios. In all, 25 shows will be performed about five times each. Single tickets are $10; a five-show pass is $45; a 10-show pass is $85; a weekend pass good for Saturday and Sunday is $110; and an all-access pass is $220. Tickets are available online or at festival events.
Performers from metro Atlanta and elsewhere will participate. Among the works on view will be Athens-based Circle Ensemble Theatre’s “Attic,” a dark Hitchcock- and Poe-inspired story about a troubled teenager; Minneapolis-based actor Ben Egerman’s one-man show “Do Not Kill Me, Killer Robots”; and “Mama Juggs,” D.C.-based Anita Woodley’s show about women’s health. The festival will culminate with a free closing party at Eddie’s Attic on Sunday night, May 13, starting at 8 p.m., with hip-hop music from Atlanta-based acts A Lady Named Pearl, Crizzy Moe and DJ Bamboozle.
“This first year is all about building the relationships,” says Atlanta Fringe Executive Director Diana Brown, whose Atlanta-based group Twinhead Theatre has been laying the groundwork for the festival since the summer of 2010. “I want to make it an experience everyone really enjoys being a part of: the artists, the audience, our volunteers. I want everyone to have a lot of fun and to feel like they’re part of something that’s going to be a lasting tradition in Atlanta.”
Such festivals go back to the Edinburgh Fringe in 1947. The unique and convivial atmosphere of a fringe, which typically gives underground performers access to large, diverse audiences and lets audiences see many acts quickly, is an important part of the artistic ecology of many cities. Popular fringe festivals take place in New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Sydney and many other major cities every year.
Actor Chris Alonzo, who recently moved here from New York, will debut his one-man show “144 Oysters to God” at the Atlanta festival. “There are a lot of talented people I’ve met since I’ve been here, but they all complain about the same thing,” says Alonzo, who has performed at fringe festivals in New York and Austin several times. “They say there’s no sense of unity, no sense of community. But I can already see the networking and cross-pollination starting even before the festival’s begun, so I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like once we’re going and everyone’s just wandering from show to show cheering each other on. I think it’s going to be incredible. The spirit of community will be there the whole time, the way that it’s supposed to be.”
Alonzo notes that a fringe affords opportunities for artists to take risks. “The most interesting thing about working in a fringe festival environment is that I can play with it,” he says. “If I was producing this show on my own and paying thousands of dollars to rent the space, I’d feel a lot more pressure about hammering everything down. But this gives me an opportunity to put something new in front of an audience and see how they respond to it. I can feel it out and see what this piece wants to be.”
Augustin J. Correro of Richmond, Virginia, who is driving to Atlanta, his first fringe, with the cast and creative team for his show “Vampire Medea,” says he values the opportunity to present the show out of state. “It’s great to come to town and dive head first into the theater scene,” Correro says. “I’m most looking forward to seeing the other shows. There are people coming from across the country and from other countries, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the offerings are.”
The preliminary response from performers, audience members and volunteers has been so enthusiastic that Brown says the festival organizers already have their eyes on 2013. “If we do a good enough job this year, it will really propel us to continue and make it happen,” she says. “If Atlanta wants this, if Atlanta likes this, we can do it annually.”