What Fringe Means for Local Playwrights
The Kansas City Fringe recently held its 8th festival, and if there’s one thing the festival has become known for (besides burlesque) it’s as a breeding ground for new plays by local writers. There are several theatre companies in Kansas City that will occasionally produce works by local playwrights, but none that are devoted exclusively to the task or that do much to foster the creation of new works within the community. Consequently, the Kansas City Fringe Festival is where local writers go to test their mettle. With its low barrier for entry, an atmosphere of risk taking, and an audience eager to try something new, playwrights are using the Fringe to hone their craft and build their reputation.
This year’s Fringe saw the debut of more than two dozen new plays, and many of these playwrights are also producing the plays themselves: finding directors and actors and sometimes performing. They are getting a crash course in production – often handling scheduling, design, and publicity in addition to writing the script. They’re quickly learning what works and doesn’t work in a Fringe environment where tech is minimal, competition is fierce, and budgets are miniscule. Most importantly, Fringe playwrights are forming strong relationships with directors and actors that will enable them to grow beyond Fringe.
Ultimately, they must grow beyond Fringe. A playwright needs more than one production of their play to thrive, but the biggest problem with being a Fringe playwright is that most of the plays are only an hour long. Aside from other Fringe Festivals, there aren’t a lot of places you can take a Fringe show. A few writers in Kansas City have taken shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, New York Fringe, and New Orleans Fringe. Many playwrights just toss the script aside and start writing something for next year’s festival. In my own experience, writing and producing a show for Fringe is a year-long endeavor, and financially it’s hardly lucrative. The only reason to keep doing it is partly to build up a reputation in the community that might lead to bigger and better things, and to partake in the exciting, community atmosphere of Fringe.
Playwrighting isn’t the only thing benefiting from the Kansas City Fringe. Burlesque has been rediscovered thanks largely to the Fringe Festival, and Fringe provides a forum for performances that just don’t fit into anybody’s season calendar, like magicians, improv, sketch comedy, poetry, and spoken word; not to mention several off-beat forms of dance: fire dancers, aerial dancers, belly dancers, hoop dancers, and Indian dancers. As the Kansas City Fringe continues to grow, it hopes to bolster other art forms like visual arts, dance, film, and music. This year they launched the Experimental Music Showcase to highlight avant garde composers, and they’re also building a strong youth component. For the most part, however, the Kansas City Fringe is regarded as a theatre festival, with the whole theatre community eager to jump in and take part, and a great place for playwrights to get their start.