This past weekend was the first annual Chicago Fringe Festival. Developed by a group of Chicago-based individual artists and producers, it follows the footsteps of theatre fringe festivals in other major cities. This year’s ChiFringeFest featured 46 performance groups that were selected by lottery. These artists performed in six venues around the Pilson neighborhood, centering around Halsted and 18th street.
I had a desire to attend, but things got in the way this weekend, and I had to cancel my plans to catch a show I wanted to see Saturday night. I finally got my act together and made it down Sunday afternoon to see Inner Cartography, a dance work about neuroscience and learning of the brain by local choreographer Megan Rhyme. (My thoughts on that show in a forthcoming blog).
So, my thoughts on ChiFringe (based on one show and one venue):
- The entire concept. I love the idea of showcasing new talent and allowing creative new voices an opportunity to put their work before an eager audience.
- The volunteers. Everyone who works at the festival is an unpaid volunteer. Based on my one experience Sunday, the volunteers were all professional and friendly and they wore shirts and name tags that clearly identified who they were. They all seemed to know what was going on, which was nice. So, bravo/a to them!
- Support and respect. There were a surprising number of people at the theatre yesterday afternoon to see this experimental dance piece. And other artists from other shows were on hand to not only promote their show, but support the other artists’ shows. Ms. Rhyme gave a nice speech following her performance, urging us to see the many other shows playing that evening.
- The running time for each show. With a maximum running time of an hour, it’s perfect if the show isn’t your style. You don’t feel overwhelmed or trapped. It also gives you the opportunity to see a few things in one day.
The not so awesome:
- The location. I understand the Chicago Fringe Festival’s goal is to feature neighborhoods that might not typically be represented, but getting to Pilson is a major chore (and a time commitment for us northern Chicago folk), and the surrounding areas are really sketch. Let’s hope they choose a more accessible location next year.
- Promotion. I’d heard about the fringe festival mostly through twitter. I don’t know if I would have learned about it otherwise. Many of my friends hadn’t heard about it — even ones who attend the theatre on a semi-regular basis. So next year they really need to focus on getting the word out — beyond the inner circle of Chicago theatre folks.
- And, by far, my biggest gripe: the seats. On my goodness. The venue (Adelaide stage) had “benches” constructed out of a single two-by-four strapped to a pair of cinder blocks. It was positively medieval.
Thankfully, the not-so-awesomes are easily correctable (well, maybe the promotion part will require some effort). I’ll make it a point next year to make a weekend of the 2011 Chicago Fringe Festival. You should, too.