The National Digest

All The World’s A Stage: Inside The Raw, Raucous, and Remarkable World of North American Fringe Festivals

As the audience files into the Portland Stage Studio theater, I dance alone in the tech booth to the preshow soundtrack—a 16-minute fusion of traditional Indian music and modern electronica. It’s my ritual, this dancing. It gets my blood circulating before the show begins. In a few minutes, I’ll dim the house lights and run the cues from the script, but for the moment, I’m free to perform my own private solo show.

I’m in Portland, Maine for the eighth annual PortFringe. The global phenomenon that is fringe began as a protest movement of underground theater artists shut out of the venerable Edinburgh International Festival. Since then, the Edinburgh Fringe has outstripped the original festival in terms of participation and attendance, and has grown into the largest arts festival in the world. In 2018, it spanned 25 days and featured more than 55,000 performances.

Over the last 30 years, fringe festivals have spread all across North America as well. In Canada, a unified circuit of fringes runs from Montreal to Vancouver between May and September, making it possible for independent artists to tour the country all summer long. Several fringe festivals located in the U.S. are also a part of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF)—including PortFringe.

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