"The reason we launched at the Fringe was the cost of entry was very low to reach a bigger audience," says Sackerson producer Dave Mortensen. "We thought it was a great opportunity to reach a lot of people who are there to take a chance on new types of art."
Welcome to the second year of the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival, which has doubled in size, boasting a lineup of 50 companies that will perform 250 shows over two weekends, says communications director Dannielle Moriondo, 22, a Westminster College graduate in her second year of promoting the festival. Nearly 2,500 people attended last year's four-day event.
Fringe opens with performances and a dance party Friday, July 29, at 9 p.m. — complete with a nude photography shoot by Utah photographer Bruce Aoki (inside the Fringe Factory) that was a popular draw last year. On the festival's website, organizers are quick to qualify the shoot this way: "Don't worry. It's tasteful." Performances continue Saturday and Sunday, and next week, Wednesday-Sunday, Aug. 3-7. The idea is to inspire companies to generate word-of-mouth based on early performances in order to draw larger audiences for shows the second weekend.
This year's Fringe will take place in the same two main venues — in and around the Fringe Factory, the old DI building at 2234 Highland Drive, and at Westminster College's Jewett Center for the Performing Arts, 1250 E. 1700 South, Salt Lake City.
Admission to the festival costs $5 and scores festivalgoers a Fringe temporary tattoo, with proceeds earmarked for the festival's $42,000 operating budget (which includes sound and lighting equipment and renting the city-owned DI building). Show tickets are $10 (plus fees), and all ticket proceeds are earmarked for performers. Last year, the festival raised $16,500 in ticket sales, with an average payout of $550 per company.
"We take a tally at the door and we try to be transparent, so [companies] know right away what they're going to make," says Michael Vought, head of the theater department at Westminster and the Fringe's executive director.
"Most fringe festivals make their money from selling alcohol, but we have to figure other things out," Vought says. "In the future, we're probably going to need to."
Beyond the ticketed shows, there will be performances on Sugarmont Plaza and a free children's show at Sprague Library. Fringe tattoo-wearers can score discounts at local Sugar House businesses and view Visual Fringe art exhibits in venue lobbies. "Last year we were trying so hard to get artists to come," Moriondo says. "This year, we had a wait list."
For organizers, just about everything feels different the second time around. "For one thing, we have an idea of what we're doing this year," says Vought, who oversees an army of festival volunteers, most of whom are Westminster students or former students. "Seriously, last year when we jumped into this, we were over our heads."
The Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival draws upon the model of the granddaddy Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which launched in 1947 when eight uninvited theater companies performed outside the established Edinburgh International Festival. Those performances sparked similar festivals all over the world.
Organizers don't curate the work at fringe festivals, which is part of the charm, that sense of "no promises and no guarantees," Vought says. Content is billed as ranging from "squeaky-clean to risqué," as the festival aims to showcase "affordable, unadjudicated, unrestricted and original works."
For Vought and his colleague and wife, Nina, attending Fringe festivals around the country caused them to fall in love with the model, which encourages shoestring productions and experimental work, similar to the way indie film festivals disrupted studio-produced and distributed movies. The Voughts appreciated the close proximity of audiences to performers. "It's a wonderful approach to theater," he says. "I get so tired of theater being accused of being so stuffy. And sometimes, quite frankly, it is."
For local dancers and actors and writers, Fringe offers a chance to have their work seen.
Jared and Tiffany Greathouse, founders of Salt Lake City's 5-year-old Hive Theatre, enjoyed the way last year's Fringe brought together so many kinds of artists. This year, they're returning to the Fringe as performers to launch an original work, "Waiting for the World to End." It's also an absurdist comedy, but one that features two rabbits, Twinkie and Snowball, who have survived a nuclear war.
"The play's really about loneliness and how we adapt and deal with loneliness," Jared Greathouse says.
Utah playwright Bryan Stubbles used the festival as a chance to reunite with actors who had performed his work previously. "I wanted to work with them again and the Fringe was coming up, so I wrote a play with them in mind."