Cincy Fringe Festival: The inside scoop on making the most of the eclectic theatrical lineup

CINCINNATI - For a fun way to see a different side of Cincinnati and support enterprising artists, check out the 10th annual Cincy Fringe Festival produced by The Know Theatre. This smorgasbord of performing arts starts with a kick-off party Tuesday, May 28 and ends with a closing-night awards party Saturday, June 8.

Without spending a fortune (or attending the whole event), you can sample short nuggets of cutting-edge drama, improv and stand-up comedy, dance, vaudeville opera, multimedia productions, and interactive mysteries presented by artists from the U.S and abroad. Performances last 45 to 85 minutes and are held in nine venues throughout the OTR/Gateway Quarter District. Walking from one venue to another is easy.

A Fringe fan

Mike Boberg is all-access pass holder who has attended the Fringe Festival for the past six years.

"The Fringe Festival is a wonderful opportunity to experience the type of theater that you don't normally get in Cincinnati," he said, emphasizing, "It's not all weird stuff."

Boberg has seen bittersweet comedies, powerful dramas, and interactive shows in which the audience plays a role.

The Cincy Fringe Festival attracts thousands of fans and more than 200 performers. This year, about half of the performers are coming from places other than Cincinnati, including New York, California, Oregon, Indiana, Minnesota, Arizona, Washington, DC., England, and Australia.

Patrons come from cities throughout Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and other states to enjoy the wide variety of high quality shows presented at Cincinnati's Fringe Festival.

Supporting entrepreneurial artists

A key goal of The Cincy Fringe Festival is to support independent artists and encourage the creation of new works. Artists don't pay to participate and receive 50 percent of the ticket sales for their performances.

"We don't commission these shows or put money into them," said Cincy Fringe Festival's producing artistic director Eric Vosmeier. "It's about creating artist entrepreneurs who can do things on their own instead of waiting for opportunities to come to them."

The artists create and produce their own shows, and then they apply for inclusion in the festival. A jury of experienced actors, dancers, and performers recommends which applicants to accept. Vosmeier relies on the jury recommendations, but also takes steps to ensure that the final performance program is a well-balanced mix of shows that appeals to all tastes..   

To continue to attract high-quality performers, Cincy Fringe Festival organizers strive to create both a supportive working environment and a memorable experience for the artists who come to Cincinnati. Artists who have participated in previous Cincy Fringe Festivals speak highly of Cincinnati when they perform in other cities or return home.

Origins of the Fringe

The first Fringe Festival was held in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947 as an alternative event that operated on the "fringe" of the Edinburgh International Festival. Today, dozens of cities around the world host Fringe Festivals. When The Know Theatre launched The Cincy Fringe Festival ten years ago, only a handful of cities in the U.S. were hosting Fringe Festivals. 

According to Boberg, The CIncy Fringe Festival is developing an international reputation for quality.

"One artist who does the Fringe circuit told me he loves coming to the Cincy Fringe because it has such a diverse audience," said Boberg. While many Festivals primarily attract people in their twenties, the Cincinnati version attracts theater lovers of all ages, from high-schoolers to senior citizens and everyone in between.

Fringe extras

Seeing a variety of performances is only part of the Cincy Fringe Festival experience.

Fans in the know say some of the most fun moments occur when people gather in The Know Theatre's Underground Bar to talk about which performances worked and which ones didn't, and meet Fringe Festival volunteers and performers.

According to Vosmeier, some artists come to the Festival to try out new material or to create new work:

"It's a bold thing for them to do," he said. "They like to get audience feedback, so they can improve their work."

The Know Theatre Underground Bar also hosts theme nights such as: Fringe Prom, Fringe Olympics, Game Night, Fringe-a-Oke!, Segway Night, and Night without Technology.

Other special events at Cincy Fringe Festival include an improv workshop, a stand-up comedy extravaganza, a tour of the Christian Moerlein Brewery, and a "TrueFringe" storytelling session about what goes on behind the scenes at the Festival.

Another element of the Cincy Fringe Festival is FringeNext, which gives high-school students the opportunity to produce shows of their own. The students love being part of the event and bring a blast of energy, said Vosmeier.

"We give them a free workshop day where we talk about the festival as a whole and set them up with other professionals and producers."

The Visual Fringe involves a 12-day mural-painting project plus a crowdsourced photography initiative called "The Cincy Photomob."

Tips for FIrst-Timers

Because it's called the Fringe Festival, "Some people think it's like crazy, avant-garde, controversial, in-your-face theater all the time," said Vosmeier. "While there are certainly some shows that fit that description, that is not the majority of them." 

There are traditional plays, solo comedy performances, and dance productions. The program can help you choose something you like, whether it's a dark comedy with adult content, a narrative dance adventure, a drama about coal miners struggling for survival, or live-action "Pixar" with masked performers. One show is described as a "one-man comedy film noir magical, mentalist murder mystery."

To get the full flavor of the Festival, Boberg and Vosmeier both recommend attending more than one show, even if some performances leave you scratching your head.

"If nothing else, it spurs discussion," Boberg said. Lively exchanges about performances occur as people walk between the venues or stop into the Know Theatre's Underground Bar.

Many Fringe-goers post instant reviews on social media so they can guide others to check out buzz-worthy performances. Fans can vote for their favorite performances, with the winner receiving an "Audience Pick" award on the last night of the Festival.

Multi-Show Passes

While some Fringe Festival fanatics spend $200 (and some vacation time) for the all-access, 11-day pass, you can attend single shows (for $12 or $15 each) or buy a multi-show pass for $25 or $60.

The $60 "Voyeur" pass lets you attend six shows on any day of the festival. The $25 "One-Night Stand" pass entitles you to two shows on the same night plus a drink at The Know Theatre's Underground bar.

Vosmeier encourages first-timers to experience the strong sense of community that surrounds the Cincy Fringe Festival.

"It's not just about sitting in a theater, but about walking between theaters, meeting other patrons, and exchanging comments," he said. "It is about having a drink at the bar, hanging out with the artists, and getting to know them."

Boberg believes attending the Cincy Fringe Festival can be an eye-opening experience for anyone who hasn't visited Over-the-Rhine area lately.

"All shows are close together and there are hundreds of people walking among the venues." he said. When you attend The Cincy Fringe Festival and see all of the new and bustling restaurants in the area, he added, "you will see how the arts can transform neighborhoods."

Connect with the Fringe

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