Cincinnati has long had a reputation for excellence and longevity in the classical arts. We boast the second-oldest opera in the United States, the fifth-oldest symphony orchestra, and the oldest choral festival in Western Hemisphere. But that’s hardly the whole story of Cincinnati’s art scene. Know Theatre of Cincinnati is cultivating Cincinnati’s reputation as the home of art that is brand-new and, maybe, a little weird.
The Cincinnati Fringe Festival brings 150 artists, 45 productions, and over 170 performances to the Queen City each year. Performers from across the region and the globe look forward to this innovative and cutting-edge theatre festival to put new works in front of new audiences.
Back in 2003, the Cincinnati Fringe Festival was conceived and produced by the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. This summer theater festival moved the following year to Know Theatre of Cincinnati, which has produced it ever since. As Know Theatre’s Associate Artistic Director Tamara Winters says, “The Fringe is, in many ways, the heart and soul of Know Theatre. It’s the embodiment of our vision for Cincinnati: to be the Queen City’s theatrical playground.” The experimental nature of the Fringe Festival means that works run the gamut from polished to in-progress, but for theatre lovers, the risk and reward associated with the festival is a gamble worth taking.
The arts in our region can shine a positive international spotlight on Greater Cincinnati, and the Cincinnati Fringe Festival is a great example of that concept in action. In its early days, many of the shows featured local theaters and dance companies. These days, Cincy Fringe is drawing acts from around the country and the world. This year’s line-up includes acts from New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Oregon, Minnesota and Washington, D.C., as well as Tokyo, Japan; Johannesburg, South Africa; Ontario, Canada; and The United Kingdom. Artists tell the Know that they appreciate both the strong support the festival offers visiting artists and the warm welcome they receive from Cincinnati audiences.
Cincy Fringe also affords a number of local high school students the opportunity to write, produce, and appear in their very own Fringe shows through the FringeNext program. This year’s Fringe will spotlight four productions by high school students from both sides of the river. One FringeNext example is the production Escape Routes, about a promising student and potential valedictorian who is forced to pair up on a philosophy project with a delinquent slacker. For young artists, the chance to exhibit their work in a festival format alongside professionals builds their confidence and their skills.
Arts festivals like the Fringe create vibrancy at the street-level; at Cincy Fringe, you will feel the palpable vibe of something “cool” going on around you. Every hour during Cincy Fringe, you’ll see scores of theatergoers rushing from the Know Theatre to the Art Academy of Cincinnati or to an empty storefront on Main Street that’s been transformed into a performance space. You might bump into one of the artists headed to another group’s show, looking to find a quick bite to eat at one of the dozens of OTR restaurants (which are often packed during the Fringe). Pop into the Know’s Underground for a drink and catch Fringe-a-oke, where you never know who might take the stage to belt out a favorite cover tune.
A thriving arts scene needs a wide variety of artists, disciplines, and organizations. The more art experiences are available, the more people participate and extend the benefits of the arts to a wider community. Being the home of the oldest chorus festival and a wonderfully weird Fringe Festival is what makes Greater Cincinnati an exciting and inviting place to live.
More information on this year’s Cincinnati Fringe Festival is available at http://www.cincyfringe.com/.