I love meeting places. I love places where people meet and I love places where artistic ideas meet. I love opera and I love punk rock, and I love finding places where these seemingly disparate genres of music overlap. (Look in the direction of John Cale.) I love when centuries old compositions by dead European men are discovered by young kids. I love that I teach young kids whose families have come from all over the world and that they get as much out of Mussorgsky & Dvorak as they do out of Eminem & Drake. And I love it when they find connective tissue between Mozart and Evanescence.*
I love being an audience to much of the same things. I love being able to attend artistic events that are full of both highbrow fine arts as well as vulgar comedies that feature two-chord songs about monkeys.
For this reason, I love Fringe Festivals. I was first introduced to the concept in my beloved hometown of Orlando, which hosts the longest running Fringe in North America. Any given Fringe Festival is an unjuried showcase of theatre, music, and visual arts, running for a certain period of time in a city. In the U.S., Fringes occur in New York, New Orleans, Boulder, CO, and many other major cities. The Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals is highly organized, running a circuit throughout the summer. But like I said, Orlando was the first and has been the longest continuous annual Fringe Festival in North America.
In doing some research and writing about the Orlando Fringe for the first time in 2004, I learned that the Fringe was born in Edinburgh. As I became more involved in and enamored of the Festival in Orlando, it became a life goal to attend the festival in Edinburgh.
And 10 years after my first Orlando Fringe, having faithfully made the trip back every Memorial Day weekend after I moved away, I made it to Edinburgh. After my graduate study abroad in London was finished, I took a very long bus ride through the British countryside and my best friend met me in Edinburgh. There, we attended the Festival Fringe as well as a night of the Edinburgh Tattoo (another life goal completed).
While the Festival Fringe Edinburgh was suffice to say, totally overwhelming, especially after a month abroad, it fulfilled all of my dreams. In one night, we saw a tiny & magnificent production of La Boheme (with the most wonderful Rodolfo I could imagine) in an Edinburgh church and then ran across town to see a show that had been cancelled, seeing a strange bearded man sing & tell absurdist jokes in what was apparently an empty comic book shop instead. We saw typical stand-up acts as well as French contemporary dance. Even seeing the Tattoo, which is steeped in military & musical tradition, went pop and involved a mass ensemble of marching bands from around the world playing "Happy".
Even beyond all that, there were many student groups involved in the Fringe and several ensembles full of young people. Fringe is known primarily as the domain of theatre people, but to be honest it's just as much a musical event as it is a storytelling event.
For the Festival Fringe, the entire city becomes a venue for performing and visual arts, and it's unlike anything else I've ever seen. It's the largest performing arts festival in the entire world, and I think I would have to plan a lot more before I made it back to Edinburgh in August, but around this same time, two years after my trip, I start to feel incredibly nostalgic.
I miss Scotland, and I hope to go back there soon. Moreover, I hope to bring the spirit of the Fringe into everything I do in my job: bring some culture to the masses, breath a little new life into what we consider culture, give everyone who is prepared a space to perform, and to paraphrase Kermit the Frog, make lots of people happy.