Fringe Festival back for its sixth go-round as celebration of all-over-the-map art


As it gets set to launch its sixth edition, San Diego’s sprawling celebration of unorthodox performance might be in danger of an identity crisis.

After all, what happens when a fringe festival is no longer on the fringes?

What started in 2013 as a group of local arts enthusiasts taking a flyer on an ambitious idea is turning into something of a cultural institution, as the San Diego International Fringe Festival once again descends on downtown and other parts of the region (including Tijuana) for 11 days of offbeat creativity.

Co-founder and executive director Kevin Charles Patterson says he envisions a day when — as has happened in other cities that have launched similar events — the Fringe Festival becomes the biggest annual entertainment happening here.

That’s a tall order in a town where Comic-Con still reigns supreme in summertime — not to mention the profusion of nationally known theater that San Diego hosts.

But then, the Fringe fest — a hotbed of upstart artists fueled by creative passion — is all about big dreams on small stages (and budgets).

For those who have yet to indulge, a Fringe primer: The festival rolls out scores of short performances (most running an hour or less) in a wild variety of forms, from theater to dance to acrobatics to highly personal and sometimes political solo shows.

The artists are a mix of locals and out-of-towners, although Patterson says there’s a bigger-than-usual contingent of visiting acts this time around.

Tickets are typically $10 per performance, with package deals available; all proceeds from the fest, produced by Contact Arts in association with the Actors Alliance of San Diego, go straight to the artists.

The 2018 edition, which offers some 500 performances all told, will unfold in 17 venues, most of them in central San Diego. There are some new locations this year, including downtown’s Bristol Hotel, which is donating the use of a former restaurant space for performances, a development Patterson calls “kind of magical.”

The free Family Fringe event — a showcase of storytelling, music, puppetry and more that appeals to all ages — will return on the festival’s first Sunday, but this time in a new location: the Upper Palisade of Balboa Park’s Starlight Bowl.

That site has a kind of spiritual connection to Fringe: Patterson is also involved with the Save Starlight organization, which is trying to revive the historic bowl, and that group’s chairman, the longtime San Diego arts activist Steve Karo, passed away June 14.

Karo is best-known for championing the eventual renovation of downtown’s long-disused Balboa Theatre, which reopened in 2008.

On Thursday, he’ll be honored in front of the Spreckels Theatre at 121 Broadway, as Assemblyman Todd Gloria cuts the ribbon for the Fringe Festival’s opening around 4 p.m. (That event, says Patterson, also will include an attempt at setting a new Guinness record for most people in a “selfie” photo.)

“We’re dedicating the festival to him,” Patterson says of Karo. “It feels so appropriate.”

San Diego International Fringe Festival 2018

When: Thursday (June 21) through July 1. Multiple performances run daily; check website for schedule.

Where: 17 venues around San Diego and in Tijuana.

Tickets: Admission for most single shows is $10. (Some events are free.) Multiple-show passes are $27-$72. In addition, one-time purchase of $7 Fringe Tag is required for most festival access.


Twitter: @jimhebert