The first fringe festival happened by accident in Edinburgh, Scotland, back in 1947.
Eight theater companies arrived at the Edinburgh International Festival, hoping to get some recognition from the big crowds.
Robert Kemp, a Scottish journalist and playwright, wrote, “Round the fringe of official Festival drama, there seems to be more private enterprise than before.”
The term came into common use in the late 1950s and thrived in the radical changes of the 1960s.
Fringe festivals are still thriving, and there are more of them than ever.
Beginning Wednesday and running through Sunday, Aug. 25, the second York Fringe Festival is being held in York.
“We really exceeded our expectations last year, selling out most of the shows,” says Karin Swartz, executive director of York Fringe.
More than 40 acts will perform in all kinds of venues. Last year, there were 27 acts.
The goal is to bring innovative, lesser-known performers, such as Best Party Ever, an improv group from Washington, D.C., to audiences.
Another highlight will be “Sex Talk: A Cheeky Cabaret,” in which the group reworks some classic musical theater songs to fit the theme of the show.
“I Love York Comments” will feature a staged reading of Facebook posts, which will be read by community leaders who are often the targets of the posts.
“They are good sports,” Swartz says of the leaders.
Shakespeare on the Rocks will feature abbreviated versions of “Twelfth Night” or “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” When an audience member throws a flower on the stage, the actors take a shot of liquor.
In a New Play Showcase, visitors can see a show called “Tales from the Lips: The Coochie Chronicles.”
Magicians and puppets will be part of the fringe, and several dance groups will be performing outdoors.
All events require reservations.
“We’ve grown quite a bit,” Swartz says. “The logistics of putting it all together have been quite time consuming, but it was fun to work out.”
Swartz is a York native who left the city to go to college in Philadelphia. She worked as a stage hand at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival
“I learned about them and when I moved back to York, it was always on my mind. (Last year) was a time when I thought I could handle it.”
She called on friends, including fellow former theater kids, to make it happen.
“It’s something we don’t have here,” Swartz says. “We have great community theater and touring shows, but we didn’t have anything that’s quirky or fringy.”
A theater and business double major, Swartz got a job at York College in the Center for Community Engagement.
And that was her gateway to finding performers.
“All of us board members of the Fringe are highly active in the community. That helped,” she says. “We were able to fundraise. People didn’t know what a fringe fest was, but they knew us, we had the community’s trust.”
And getting venues to open their doors has not been tough at all. They range from restaurants to ballrooms to the Appell Center for Performing Arts to town squares and plazas.
Admissions range from free to $10 or $15 or by donation.
“The most expensive event is $20, and that includes a brunch,” Swartz notes.
And, sort of like that first fringe fest in Edinburgh, it will be taking place across the creek from the very much established Yorkfest Fine Arts Festival, taking place Aug. 24 and 25.¶