On the Fringe

This week the Chicago Fringe Festival wraps up, which seems as nice a peg as any for a post. I’ve got the pleasure of having not one but two troupes of friends with shows in the Chicago Festival: the lovely ladies of Sea Beast Puppetry and the vile, depraved League of Miscreants (led by Go Go Go’s own Fellow Traveler, Alan Brouilette).

Fringe festivals, for those of you not up on your theatre-with-an-re culture, started in Edinburgh in 1947 when a bunch of young rabblerousers turned up at the official Edinburgh International Festival uninvited and decided to put on a show anyway. Fringe shows tend to be squeezed into small storefront theaters and unconventional spaces because they’re a little too out there to pack ’em in at the arena-sized theaters downtown. This isn’t your conservative auntie’s crowd-pleasing mass entertainment. Fringe shows are full of filthy humor, blood and guts, weirdo performance art that no one including the actors themselves understands, navel-gazing one-person shows, some super awesome super small pieces that you’d never otherwise stumble across from people who just haven’t made it big yet, and sexsexsexdrugssex.

If you were of a mind to schedule carefully and buy a round-the-world ticket, you could make a circuit and watch the strange plays of the strange people on every continent.

Edinburgh, the original, is still going strong, so you should start there. Then you can jaunt over to Prague, where there are likely to be more than a few marionette shows. Make a quick stop in Acco, Israel, before moving south to Johannesburg. I’ll admit to being surprised that a place as straitlaced as Singapore has a Fringe, but apparently, they do! The stop after that should likely be Australia, because it’s a whole continent full of freaks, and they do Fringe to the nth degree, with multiple Fringe festivals in a few of the major cities, like Melbourne. Continue on from there to Curitiba, Brazil, for what is likely the most attractive of the Fringes, before heading on up to the USA, and then take your pick of any city that has any people under thirty in it.

If you think theater is always dudes in tights talking funny or jukebox operas based on the hits of your misspent youth, take a chance, broaden your cultural horizons, and check out a show at whatever Fringe festival is closest to you. What’s the worst that could happen? (A lady in a frog suit will scream in your face and shoot fake blood at you from a squirt gun. That’s probably the worst.)

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