As Outreach Director for the Hollywood Fringe Festival, my job takes me to a lot of interesting places and introduces me to a lot of interesting people – this year, I was given the opportunity to “outreach” the farthest I’d ever reached before: the first World Fringe Congress, a four-day meeting for festival directors from across the globe in the heart of The Big One, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
On our first day, we assembled in a lecture hall at Summerhall, a new venue featuring scores of international programming and host to most of the World Fringe Congress workshops. Within fifteen minutes, I’d smiled and shaken hands with festivals from the United States, United Kingdom, China, India, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand – the list goes on. There were “traditional” Fringes – arts and performance-based festivals that acted as the counterpart to a larger curated festival, as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe does. There were curated Fringes, lottery Fringes, Fringes to Fringes, university-based Fringes – even a Fringe flower show from Chelsea, whose program is not one of performance but of flora and fauna. We were of all ages, all nationalities, and all manner of festival models imaginable.
It had the combined feeling of a study abroad program (most of us had our accommodations at local university flats), a work conference (including scheduled industry drinks and receptions), and a sort of United Nations of the Arts (many of us took to introducing ourselves by city before our own names). At times, it was like speed-dating for arts administrators – introduce yourself, explain your festival in three minutes or less, let the other person do the same, and see where it goes. Often, there were shared stories, problems, and solutions to be be discussed. In other instances, conversation hit a barrier when the participants realized their festivals might be too different to find common ground. Sometimes, however, those differences led to the most engaging insights from one world to another.
In a discussion about festival outreach and education, Abhilash Pillai from Bharat Rang Mahotsav (International Theatre Festival of India), told stories of families in New Delhi working with artists to devise, create, and perform a piece of theater as a family. Cincinnati Fringe shared their Fringe Next program, which mentors high school students throughout the process of creating a show for their festival, and Orlando Fringe gave insight into the growth of their Kid’s Fringe program once they gave it its own distinct venue. As Hollywood Fringe’s Outreach Director, I was particularly proud to talk about our own Student Fringe program, which brought almost three hundred students from Los Angeles County to two days of free Hollywood Fringe performances.
The Hollywood Fringe Festival is a young festival in the midst of a rapid growth spurt. Festival 2012 was our third year, and we saw more artists, more performances, and 25% more ticket sales this year than we did in 2011. Like many other U.S. Fringes, we are not the Fringe to another festival – rather, in Hollywood, we are the Fringe to the entertainment industry, to the highly selective commercial world of film and television. We are an opportunity for the countless number of artists in our city to take a risk on creating their own artistic dream and sharing it with the Hollywood Fringe community, and we provided that opportunity for over 270 unique productions this year. The delegates spoke about their festivals in terms of participating artists, but there are many other figures at play – ticket sales, sponsorships, media partners, artist payout, international participants – popular topics of conversation throughout the World Fringe Congress.
As the festival directors collaborated, it was inevitable that we competed in some ways as well – it was tempting to boast numbers, show off success stories, and pretend to have the answer to some of the great questions of directing a Fringe Festival. Greater than this competitive feeling, however, was the knowledge that we shared a common ground and a set of common goals: we love our festivals, we are deeply proud of what we have done, and we all want to know how to grow, to sustain, and develop our communities – no matter how small or how large they may already be. At the end of these days filled with discussion, revelation, and sometimes even tension, the heart of the matter was this: we had all come from our own corners of the world to Edinburgh to learn more about the fantastic phenomena of Fringe – and we are all in it together.