Fringe festivals usually start from the vision of one or a few individuals — or one performing arts organization — and often take years to attract performers outside of the city bearing the festival’s name.
In that department, the Fort Worth Fringe Festival is off to a promising start.
The inaugural event, which will be March 18 and 19 at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, features 16 theater, dance, spoken word and comedy/variety performances, with six of the acts coming from outside the DFW area (mainly South and Central Texas).
There was a call for submissions, but the Fort Worth Fringe had a leg up on bringing in outside groups, thanks to an organization based in Cowtown that already has a network of theaters in every corner and open space of a very large state: Texas Nonprofit Theatres Inc.
“We studied a lot of fringe festivals around the country, including ones in Minnesota, Washington, D.C., and New York,” says Linda Lee, who has been executive director of TNT for about half of the organization’s history, which goes back to the early 1970s.
“What we’re doing is a combination of what we learned from a lot of them,” she says.
Looking to expand
Every year, TNT has a conference in a different Texas city, and it also holds events such as the American Association of Community Theatre competition (AACT, a separate organization, is also based at the FWCAC).
This year, the Fringe Festival happens in conjunction with the TNT conference, but Lee was cognizant to invite other disciplines from the performing arts, with the hope to turn the fringe into a multi-week event that could spread throughout the Cultural District and even into venues in downtown and the city’s south side.
For this first year, the event (produced in conjunction with the Fort Worth Community Arts Center and the Arts Council of Fort Worth) uses the two major theaters in the FWCAC, the 400-seat Scott Theatre (which turns 50 years old this year) and the Hardy and Betty Sanders Theatre, a 70-seat black box. Performances begin at 2 p.m. March 18 and 19, with three more performance blocks each day.
The headliners are Dallas-based comedy duo Girls Gone Weird, Dallas musician/accordionist Ginny Mac, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (a Dallas-based group that performs in Fort Worth) and Fort Worth’s Lisa Dalton performing her adaptation of the Chekhov short story The Darling, which she took to the country’s largest fringe, New York International Fringe Festival, in 2011.
Other local performers include Fort Worth’s SceneShop, Plano’s Fun House Theatre & Film, and Arlington magician Grant Price.
From outside DFW, San Angelo performer Cynthia Jordan does a one-woman musical showcase called Pearl’s Review, Baytown Little Theater presents the play Kindred Spirit, Beaumont actress Patricia Barry Rumble performs a one-woman show about World War II fighter pilot Sandy Thompson, and a Russian theater company in Houston, Antrepriza, performs the original work The Open Couple in Russian.
And from Austin, Silver Key Theatre presents a workshop of the new musical Debate Team, by New York composer Toby Singer.
For Singer, who will be in Fort Worth as musical director of what he describes as “a dystopic futurist musical about the confluence of technology and ego,” or “a cross between Candide and The Book of Mormon,” a fringe performance is the perfect way to get an early look at how the musical plays to audiences.
“It’s in between a workshop and a full production, simply because the timing is so quick with just two days to perform; it’s great for the context of a fringe festival,” he says.
“We can see what’s there and work out some of the kinks before putting it into a bigger production. The stakes are lower than if it’s thrust into a full production process right away.”
Making the circuit
Some fringe festivals benefit from performers who travel the fringe circuit, including the aforementioned festivals, as well as major ones in Orlando, Fla., Chicago, Edmonton (the largest fringe fest in North America), L.A., New Orleans and elsewhere.
In Dallas, WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival (which closed last week) and the 2-year-old Dallas Solo Fest in June follow that track, mixing national and local performances.
At most of the big festivals, it takes some investment for the performers, as there are often entry and performance fees and costs for technical staff, not to mention travel and accommodations.
Many festivals offer performers a portion of the box office but, as they often perform in small theaters, that isn’t much.
In Fort Worth, at least half of the entry fee (a relatively inexpensive $50) will go back to the performers, and there are small fees for rehearsal time. Tickets are sold per performance block ($10-$15), and festival passes begin at $75 (more if you include conference events like workshops and panels).
Lee says she feels they are off to a solid start for an event she plans to expand soon, probably moving it to the fall in 2017.
“There’s such a broad variety of performing arts that could learn from each other, and bringing them together in a festival is a way to do that,” Lee says. “Engendering respect for each type of performing arts is important, from the amateur to the professional, including youth and community theater and in every performing arts discipline.
“[The city of] Fort Worth does a great job of showcasing talent we already have,” she continues, “and hopefully this will make Fort Worth a little bit of a destination for performing artists and audiences.”