Fringe festival in Contra Costa in the works
By Lou Fancher
Fringe festivals, by definition, are always moving to art’s edge.
Harking back to the movement’s origins in 1947, when the first Edinburgh Festival Fringe disrupted a curated international festival with non-juried presentations by eight theater groups operating “on the fringe,” the phenomenon has continued and spread worldwide. Seventy years later, the three-week extravaganza in Scotland’s capital city features over 50,000 performances and 3,269 shows in nearly 300 venues.
Fringe festivals in Europe, Asia, Canada, Mexico and the United States are multiday compilations of under-60-minute performances of dance, theater, music, visual art, film and other genres held in traditional or unusual venues with largely low-tech production elements. There are umbrella organizations, like the United States Association of Fringe Festivals, which lists festivals in 21 states, three in California alone.
Looking to get in on the movement, a group of East Bay artists, presenters and activists met April 30 to push the idea of a debut Contra Costa County fringe festival to the forefront of a summer 2018 agenda.
Concord Art Association President Lisa Fulmer said a conversation during a meeting of local arts leaders one year ago launched a Facebook page and generated enthusiasm. When local arts activist Sheila Smith founded Creative PIttsburg in February 2017, synergy formed between the two leaders. “I have the agenda of gaining support for a festival patterned on the Edinburgh festival,” wrote Smith in an email. “I was there ten years ago. Performances run all day long. The artists receive the proceeds. It’s incomparable.”
Fulmer told people at the meeting that the PowerPoint presentation and brainstorming session were meant to generate ideas and test buy-in on the festival. Those attending in addition to Fulmer and Smith included a Contra Costa County Arts commissioner and representatives of East Bay Artists Guild, Butterfield 8 Theater Company, Mills College and Concord Community of Artists, along with local performers and gallery owners.
This early stage consists of information gathering and discussion of possibilities, and the exact form the festival will take is unknown at this point. The “known” details favor the usual fringe festival elements: a wide variety of experiences, exhibits and performances; venues in addition to formal theaters or galleries; low ticket prices ($5-10 for 30-60 minute shows); mostly small groups with low-prep, quick-teardown productions; profits from concessions cover the venues’ utility and incidental costs for hosting the shows; artists are paid according to audience size, perhaps 50 percent of each ticket sold.
The organization overseeing the festival would have tickets centralized online; customers choose only the shows they wish to attend. An online program brochure would make learning about performers, selecting shows and ordering tickets a simple process.
Location and duration were discussed at length during the meeting. Opening the entries to 19 cities in the county, Fulmer suggested that a three-day format that included a weekday might suit people who are out of town on weekends. Holding the festival with Concord as the hub could anchor the event for the first year. “We want to show that Oakland and Berkeley aren’t the only places to go for fabulous, destination-worthy activity in the East Bay,” she said. Smith said the BART station opening in Pittsburg might make her hometown a good alternative location if city activities already on the calendar for 2018 conflict.
Other matters — time of year, the name, whether to have a kickoff event to mark the festival’s premiere — will continue to be discussed at upcoming planning sessions. Also to be under discussion: placing the festival under Local Routes Foundation, the umbrella 501c3 over Smith’s Creative Pittsburg; identifying stakeholder business sponsors and grant opportunities; the design and implementation of crowdfunding campaigns; and the formation of volunteer committees to work according to a calendar that establishes planning and action deadlines.
Next steps include meeting with individual city arts councils, researching established festivals to refine the model to follow, and working with local chamber of commerce divisions and city departments to coordinate the event.
Notably, the one item not discussed — and barely mentioned — was finding artists to participate. For that, everyone agreed, one need only look at local arts listings or listen to word on the street. Artists, even center stage artists, rarely hesitate when it comes to going to the fringe.