What Is Fringe?

What Is A Fringe Festival?


Past Chicago Fringe events and shows. From top: the 2014 CFF performance lottery, Twisted Beats & Circus Feats by Circadelix, Our Fair City by HartLife NFP, Méfiez-Vous de la Vache by Sea Beast Puppet Company, and Hip Hop Is Alive by DaVida Chanel Productions.

A Fringe Festival can be loosely defined as a performance festival that seeks the un-tried and the weird. A movement that started in 1947 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Fringes now appear across the U.S. and all over the world. Our closest Fringes are Elgin Fringe, Minnesota Fringe, Kansas City Fringe and Indianapolis Fringe. Generally generally speaking, Fringes are festivals that are:

  • Focused on the performing arts: Theater, dance, puppetry, stand-up comedy, spoken word– whatever it is, you’re likely to find it at a fringe fest. Fringes don’t have a focus on a single discipline or genre, we are a performing-arts smörgåsbord!
  • Uncensored: Free speech! No one gets too fussy at a Fringe about swearing or nudity, but squeaky-clean content isn’t marginal or discouraged, either. Check our show listings for description of what content they include.
  • Easy to participate in: Ticket prices are low for audiences and production fees are low for artists. The artists in the festival run the gamut from amateurs to professionals.
  • Festivals: Fringes last from just a few days or a few weeks and involve lots of people at multiple venues. They are a nexus of intense creative energy, which can only be sustained briefly before exploding back out into the world.
  • Original: Fringes feature a huge array of original material, sometimes by design, but usually because that’s what Fringes naturally do well.
  • Rapid-fire: Typically, tech is minimal and time is a factor at a Fringe. Shows are brief (usually around 60 minutes in length) and technical requirements kept simple (minor sets, streamlined cues, nothing elaborate).

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: When and where will Chicago Fringe be?

A: Chicago Fringe historically takes place Labor Day weekend in the Jefferson Park neighborhood.

Q: How many shows will be in the festival?

A: We currently accept 30 performance groups to the Fest each year.

Q: How much are tickets? Where do the sales go?

A: Tickets will be $10 to each performance, with some package rates available. Performers get 100% of their box office revenue, meaning they could make back their investment many times over.

Q: I hate to be a jerk, but why do we even need a Fringe? Isn’t Chicago just a big Fringe year round? Further aren’t we a saturated market that doesn’t need this?

A: We’re glad you asked. We believe that Chicago does need a Fringe and we have engineered our festival to meet the needs of our city. This festival will, above all, create a place where Chicago performance artists can interact with performers from across town and the world in a fun immersive environment. It will encourage performers and patrons alike to travel beyond their comfort zones and go someplace new. It will allow patrons to show up and in one day get to see 5 or 6 groups all within walking distance – groups that they may not have traveled to see individually throughout the year. It will allow groups struggling to get seen to catch a buzz. It will further put Chicago on the map as a, if not the, major theatrical center of the United States.

Q: How are performance groups selected?

A: By lottery.

Q: Lottery? Whaaaaat?

A: Having a lottery selection process is important to us for a few reasons. It allows us to hold true to the Fringe tradition that has been established by other Fringe Festivals – the vast majority of which are un-juried. We believe in having a place in Chicago for amateurs and professionals to be thrown into the mix together. By not having an artistic director, we open the door for truly anything to come in during those two weeks in September. Risky? Perhaps. Exciting? Definitely. The onus is on the audience to participate with and evaluate the art. It is an absolute democracy. Over time, we hope to develop a robust audience review system (a system that was started with the inaugural festival in 2010).

Q: I have more questions. Bah humbug.

A: Please contact us at info@chicagofringe.org. We are ALWAYS open to discussion, and absolutely feed on dissent.