Alternative theatre or sometimes also known as “Fringe theatre”.
Fringe Theatre is a term used to describe live entertainment that the mainstream/establishment would not consider “normal”.
The term “Fringe” originates from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, named by a man called Robert Kemp, it was his report of such events at the second Edinburgh International Festival in 1948 as a ‘fringe’, Kemp was quoted as saying ‘Round the fringe of official Festival drama, there seems to be more private enterprise than before’.
This term has since been taken on board by the “Edinburgh Fringe Festival” and also by alternative theatres and alternative theatre festivals.
In the U.K. London theatres use the term “Fringe” as a description of small scale theatres, many of them located above pubs, and the same term is applied to New York’s off-Broadway or Off-Off-Broadway theatres. Such event as well as many others around the world, provide artists with the opportunity to produce a wide variety of interesting works, another worth checking out if you get the chance is the Adelaide Fringe Festival in Australia.
The biggest of them all, of course, is The Edinburgh Festival Fringe (founded back in 1947) it has grown to become the largest arts festival in the world. Although many shows at the Edinburgh Fringe could be considered fringe theatre, the event also covers much in the way of mainstream theatre, comedy, music and so much more.
The Adelaide Fringe Festival is the second-largest fringe festival in the world evolving in the early 1970s as a reaction against the establishment and the then ‘mainstream’ Adelaide Festival of Arts.
Today, although two events are now inextricably linked, the Fringe Festival has overtaken the main Festival of Arts in terms of attendance and The Adelaide Fringe has become renowned for its innovation, spontaneity and carnival atmosphere. It has also become widely regarded as one of the best events of its kind in the world.
The Edinburgh Fringe, has bough many acts to the forefront, one notable act being Tim Minchin, who became one of the most successful ever debut acts, selling out the 300-seat Debating Hall and being awarded the Perrier Award for Best Newcomer.
He subsequently went on to fly the flag for Alternative Entertainment at the Dark Side at the Soho Theatre and the Lyric Theatre in London’s West End.
The U.S.A. can boast some stunning fringe festivals as well, held in North America there is the Edmonton International Fringe Festival, launched in 1982 and the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, founded in 1988. Edmonton and Winnipeg have become the number one stops on the Canadian fringe tour.
The Canadian fringe tour, arguably one of the biggest of it’s kind, has become a semi-official series of fringe theatre festivals that permit performers to travel all across Canada from June to September, giving Canada the privilege of hosting more Fringe Festivals than any other country in the world, while adhering to the philosophy that a “Fringe Festival” will be unjuried, returning 100% of box office proceeds back to the participating artists. Although, the oldest Fringe Festival in the United States, is the Orlando Fringe.
Other long running fringe festivals are the Windsor Fringe (founded 1969) and Malvern Fringe (founded 1977). One of the oldest and largest, purely, fringe festivals in England is the Brighton Festival Fringe, which has provided Fringe activity alongside the main Brighton Festival since its creation in 1967.
Some of the elements of Fringe –
Shows are often technically sparse; they are commonly presented in shared venues, often with a shared and limited selection of technical people and sets. Other technical theatre elements are kept simple. Venues themselves are often adapted from other uses.
The casts tend to be smaller than a typical mainstream production; since many of the performing groups are traveling, and venues as well as the income tend to be fairly minimal, expenses usually being kept to a tight budget.
Fringe festival are a great way to catch plenty of Alternative Theatre with productions offering showcase’s for new scripts, as well as some more obscure, edgy or unusual material. Often cheaper than more mainstream theatre, as well as much more challenging, thought provoking and generally funnier. Not to mention, this is where you will find the ground breaking styles that will be the mainstream in time to come.
Alternative theatre in Britain
This can be dated to around 1965 when the theatre group CAST was formed.
From it’s outset it was an eclectic term that had its roots in the earlier fringe tradition.
During its nearly forty year history alternative theatre has manifested itself in a multitude of different ways, on one hand establishing a political agenda and, on the other, concentrating on an avant-garde theatrical strategy. For those of you who need a reference point for this, think of shows like Bottom, the Young ones, even the great Monty Python, a number of these great shows grew out of alternative comedy and alternative theatre.
It has continued to define itself in so many ways, as opposition to the mainstream, sometimes even taking it over, this has resulted in much alternative theatre being presented on the Fringe circuits, with a performance style including physical theatre and multi-media performance. The label “Alternative Theatre” can be seen in many ways as one of concealment, disguising the plurality of visions, strategies and discourses that it incorporates.
There is, of course, always a fight for anything that strives to be different, In the early 1990s Time Out removed nearly half the venues from its “Fringe Theatre” listings, moving them to an “Off-West End” section, and in 1993 the British
Alternative Theatre Directory removed “Alternative” from its title.
At the time these seemed appropriate moves, but the following decade was to see a quite remarkable revitalisation of the alternative theatre world, contemporary culture, politics and new developments in theatre form, as well as, institutions and technologies. These developments have redefined political/alternative theatre and its relationship to the mainstream.
Alternative theatre can often be seen dealing with issues such as, multi-culturalism and globalisation , environmentalism, gender, nationalism/ nationhood, disaffection with traditional politics and a rejection of the State of the National Theatre, as well as questions around body modification and interventions, cyborgs and virtual bodies, etc, the list can go on forever and is as long as the imagination of every human in the world.
In recent years, alternative theatre has never seemed a healthier or a more vital part of the artistic world. With the prime aim of engaging us with its variety and bringing some challenge to the world.