I’ve just spent two days at the Philadelphia Live Arts and Philly Fringe Festival. It’s been animating the city for two weeks in early September for 15 years. Often festivals are formed around a cluster of high profile, international works performing in major venues. The “main” festival. That’s how the world’s largest arts festival formed in Edinburgh. Then after a few years a kind of alternative movement forms – frequently called “fringe” – to include local artists and others under represented in the main festival. Fringe projects perform in every small theater, ballroom, warehouse, store front, street corner, club…you get the point, any space whatsoever where an audience can gather with performers. I once saw a wonderful Chekhov production performed in an 18th Century public pissery or pissoir if you prefer the more gentile French. (Note to the Mayor, Boston has one too, abandoned on the Common!)
The Edinburgh Fringe is a prime example. This year on any one day in Edinburgh you could select over 2,000 productions from the fringe alone. It’s actually mind boggling. In Philadelphia, the main and fringe festivals operate under one banner. It’s smaller in scale than Edinburgh with just over 200 projects overall, but it’s focus on new work, new trends, and innovation give it a niche in this country not unlike the distinct festival in Avignon, France which just held it’s 60th edition (with 1,800 fringe projects)
I saw 4 productions in 24 hours. If nothing else it’s an efficient way for someone like me to keep up with the rest of the world – or to be accurate, a small corner of the planet.