The Atlanta Fringe Festival is back with its biggest lineup yet. Every year, the festival allows artists from far and wide the chance to put their most daring and experimental work in front of an enthusiastic crowd. This year will feature a record-breaking 28 productions to be performed from June 5-11. Many of these productions will feature mediums and performance venues that are brand new to the Fringe, contributing to what director Diana Brown calls their “Year of Yes.”
Since its inception in 2012, the Atlanta Fringe Festival has served as an annual celebration of self-produced, experimental theater. The selection process is entirely random; all participants are drawn from a lottery, ensuring that no preference is given based on subject matter or development history. Once chosen, artists are assigned to performance spaces and given their dates, as well as a guidebook on how to go about marketing their shows.
However, like many other arts entities, the festival was forced to shutter in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. It returned in 2021 for a virtual festival, followed by a scaled down festival in 2022 with fewer productions to accommodate a still-skittish theater-going public. This year, however, with audiences more emboldened to return and a devoted roster of artists, the team at Atlanta Fringe is ready to bring the festival back in full.
ArtsATL spoke with several artists — both native Atlanta theater folks and those from out of town — all of whom expressed excitement at the artistic opportunity they have been provided.
Most of the artists have been overwhelmed by the warm welcome they have received from Diana Brown and the rest of the Fringe team. “They could not roll out the carpet fast enough,” says Hope Lafferty, a solo artist.
“They’ve been fantastic. They’ve been really super nice, very supportive,” says Nannette Deasy of Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble.
Each artist, or group of artists, is responsible for mounting their own show using whatever performance space is provided. However, the team at Atlanta Fringe is still available for whatever their artists might need — whether it be marketing advice or a Christmas tree around which a little-girl killbot can wreak havoc.
“The appeal of the Fringe Festival was that community and having this larger umbrella that you’re included in so that you’re not doing it all on your own,” says Stephanie Purcell of Comedy Errors.
“It feels like a space where you get to do what you want as an artist, where you’re not limited by ticket sales or a board,” says Melissa Simmons, director of The Picture of Dorian Grey.
What is particularly remarkable about the Atlanta Fringe Festival (and really about fringe festivals in general) is the level of passion for the work. Says artist Megan Stern, “No one is just doing it for the job. Everyone’s doing it because it’s something they’ve made or they’ve been involved in making and that they’re passionate about. It’s very much not a commercial theater enterprise.”
That lack of focus on materialism brings out the weird, the wacky and the fascinating. Among the productions slated this year is a stand-up comedy show about dispensing fatherly wisdom when you don’t have kids (Big Dad Energy with Jamie Campbell); a one-woman show about the ups and downs of multi-level marketing (Upline: It’s Not a Show, It’s an Opportunity by Megan Stern); a gender non-conforming, devised adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey, directed by Melissa Simmons; a one-woman deep-dive on “the fine art of getting in your own way” (Inhibitionist (!) by Hope Lafferty); and a structured improv show about an android child actress who kidnaps her onscreen family for an apocalyptic Christmas special (Wow Wee! Adventures of a Little Girl Killbot Christmas Special by New York City’s Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble).
Of course, the Fringe also serves as an opportunity to showcase the variety of Atlanta theater. Local artists are given opportunities to bring their work to a wider audience, while non-locals get to see firsthand what Atlanta artists are capable of generating. Playwright and director D. Norris says, “Outside of Atlanta, our talent gets slept on. People say ‘Hey, to find the best talent, you need to go to L.A., you need to go to New York, you need to go to Chicago.’ I hope they can see the enormous talent pool that we have here and realize that they don’t have to outsource to get actors and directors and writers from elsewhere for projects here.”
Among the new and improved programs that will be running this year is the Kids Fringe, a four-year-old program helping parents determine what shows are family-friendly. However, this year, the Kids Fringe has pivoted from simply publicizing age-appropriate shows to creating its own performance opportunities for children and their families.
This year, the Kids Fringe will partner with Bookish, a local independent publisher, and Lyrric Jackson, a local dance company, to give kids and parents the chance to engage in performance activities based on books. The event will feature three authors reading selections from their books before leading interactive activities focused on engaging the children’s imaginations. Dancers from Lyrric Jackson will help the children and parents to get on their feet and start getting the narratives into their bodies. There will even be a “baby rave” where children can dance and play surrounded by bubbles and brightly colored lights.
Kids Fringe will also feature 45 minutes at the start of each day for sensory-friendly fun to accommodate any child with sensory differences. This change has been implemented with the help of Larry Mason, who has extensive experience working with disabled communities.
Evelyn Danielle Butler, one of the minds behind the Kids Fringe as well as one of the spotlighted authors, voices that her greatest hope is for people to walk away with memories that will last: “Really happy memories of creating something together.”
If you are on the fence about what shows you want to see, there will be a preview event on June 7 at 7 Stages Theatre where each production will perform a three-minute snippet, giving audiences a chance to decide whether they want to sample a fun yet moving comedy show, a hard-hitting drama or something insane that defies genre.
Whatever you decide, this year’s festival promises to be a full-on celebration of creativity, boldness and innovation. So find something that you’ll enjoy — or go see all of it. You’ll be supporting local artists either way . . . and perhaps igniting your own creative spark.
Luke Evans is an Atlanta-based writer, critic and dramaturg. He covers theater for ArtsATL and Broadway World Atlanta and has worked with theaters such as the Alliance, Actor’s Express, Out Front Theatre and Woodstock Arts. He’s a graduate of Oglethorpe University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, and the University of Houston, where he earned his master’s.