One of the surest signs that summer has arrived is when our region gets "Kinda Weird." Every year, from late-May to mid-June, Cincinnati Fringe Festival descends on Over-the-Rhine with the help of Know Theatre of Cincinnati, one of the 100+ organizations and projects that ArtsWave supports.
Cincy Fringe began more than 15 years ago as a component of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s Studio Series (also supported through ArtsWave). A few years later, Know Theatre took over leadership of the festival, which now boasts more than 200 performances, projects, events and installations, making it the largest arts and theater festival — and the only Fringe Festival — in Ohio.
Fringe Festivals happen throughout the world, with almost 30 here in the U.S. Their roots date back to the 1947 in Edinburgh, Scotland, when the first festival was created to provide a way for artists to present original work, free from censorship and restraint.
While Fringe offers the opportunity for both local and national artists to explore their craft, push the envelope and above all, collaborate within the creative community, the festival is equally important in its impact on Greater Cincinnati. With such a broad scope, the festival addresses all five of the goals of ArtsWave's Blueprint for Collective Action for the arts sector.
Cincy Fringe accomplishes the Blueprint goal of putting Greater Cincinnati on the map through its long-standing and strong reputation within the Fringe Festival artist network. Cincy Fringe is unique among its peers for its selection process. The lineup is community-curated, so the local community has a say in which productions end up included in the festival. Where some Fringe Festivals charge a fee for entry, Cincy Fringe opts for a share of the proceeds and a more curated experience. That has contributed to a reputation for high quality works. Post-show surveys show Fringe organizers visiting our region from nine states, including as far away as Seattle, WA, just to see how Cincinnati does Fringe.
The festival is a strong draw for young professionals — almost half of surveyed audience members are under 40. To target a younger audience, The Fringe Bar Series was developed, which invites performers and audiences to come together at the end of each day to mingle and build new connections — exactly what the Blueprint goal of deepening roots for our region’s residents suggests. This year, the festival is partnering with Cincinnati Art Museum to present "Art After Dark: On the Fringe," pairing two successful event series that attract young professionals. The museum's popular free event will also serve as the official kickoff for the festival on May 31, including live music, food, preview performances, after-hours access to the galleries and more.
With activations in 12 locations across Over-the-Rhine, Cincy Fringe is tackling the Blueprint goal of enlivening the neighborhood throughout its two-week festival. In addition, the Festival is partnering with another grassroots festival, Second Sunday on Main, to enliven OTR in one more way. This partnership will involve multiple collaborations with arts organizations, including Madcap Puppets and Art on the Streets, two more organizations and projects funded through ArtsWave.
Cincy Fringe fuels creativity and learning by lifting up next generation artists and leaders. This year, two of Cincy Fringe's Primary Lineup titles are part of Fringe Next — shows that are entirely written, directed and produced by high school students. The picks this year come from students at Wyoming High School and Highlands High School. Know Theatre has cultivated a word-of-mouth network with various arts education groups and drama teachers in the region to encourage students to submit their work. Student groups follow the same process as any other production and will be eligible for the same honors.
In addition, the Commonwealth Artists Student Theatre, The Carnegie and Know Theatre are collaborating to provide even more opportunities for students with The NEXTival. The weekend before Fringe (starting tonight!), Fringe NEXT applicants are staging their productions in a miniature version of the Fringe Festival itself.
This year's Fringe lineup will feature some of the most innovative, diverse voices our region has to offer, working intentionally to bridge cultural divides. The producers recruit as many local voices as possible so that Cincy Fringe is not just a showcase of a segment of theater on the edge, but a holistic variety of perspectives, ensuring that both the artist and award selection process are reflective of many genres and voices.
Cincy Fringe includes African American themes in “Walking While Black in Moscow." It includes LGBTQIA+ themes in shows like "The Consciousness" and "Dandy Darkly's All Aboard." It includes women's themes in "My Geriatric Uterus," "The MILF Also Rises," "Descent: A Murder Ballad" and more. And it includes issues of mental illness in shows like "Borderline A**hole," and "Tales From the Cuckoo Club."
The 16th Annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival runs from May 31 to June 15, 2019. It promises theater, art, music, film, dance and everything between. Check out the full schedule at ArtsWave.org/Fringe.