San Diego International Fringe Festival unfolds this week in its new Balboa Park home


After six seasons of lighting up our city’s urban core with all manner of alternative performance, the San Diego International Fringe Festival is getting out of (down)town.

Of course, the annual celebration of hard-to-classify art isn’t going far: It’s moving just a few blocks uptown, to the Palisades area of Balboa Park.

But the shift in location does come with some other changes for the scrappy festival, which offers up a feast of (relatively) cheap entertainment that arrives in quick bites of generally less than an hour’s running time.

The biggest news is that there’s less fest this year. While Fringe (which opens Thursday) still will run 10 days, it will consist of about two dozen acts, as opposed to the 90-some individuals and groups that have performed in past editions.

But there are good reasons for the shift in size, says Kevin Charles Patterson, founder and CEO of the nonprofit festival. And the location is a big one.

“It’s very much on purpose,” Patterson says. “We turned down many, many artists. It was to make sure it was completely manageable in a new location that we’ve never tried. And also that we weren’t overwhelming the park.

“Nothing would be worse than to create a big ruckus and block the streets.”

Secondly, much of the fest’s previous operation was centered in and around Horton Plaza, which has become something of a ghost town as it awaits a major redevelopment project.

Given the security worries accompanying the nearly vacant shopping center, “that alone was enough to say, OK, let’s wait until they finish,” Patterson says.

The Palisades area at the south end of Balboa Park has had its own issues, what with the longtime vacancy of the once-grand Starlight Bowl and the relative lack of foot traffic in those environs.

But Patterson, who’s on the board of the Save Starlight Foundation — a group trying to revitalize the bowl — hopes the presence of the fest might help “activate” the area.

Fringe Central will be at the top area of the bowl, which will house the box office as well as a lounge. Nearby show venues include the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater, the Centro Cultural de la Raza and the WorldBeat Cultural Center, with some performances happening farther afield.

As always, proceeds from ticket sales go directly to the artists, a few of whom are coming from abroad (although Patterson says several international groups had to cancel over visa concerns and the like).

Patterson says that if the Balboa Park experiment works out, he could envision it being a long-term home for the festival —ideally with the park’s museums and other institutions getting involved.

“The truth is that every organization that’s in there could have Fringe-related activities happening there in future years,” he says. “So for sure I think it’s a good fit.

“They could be the biggest complement (to the festival) down the line.”

Five to watch

Here’s a look at a few of the artists who will be rolling out shows at the Fringe:

“Space Force!,” Lonesome Whistle Productions: The San Diego actor-director Tom Steward’s company offers up this futuristic comedy that takes off from the recent real-life announcement of a new military branch that would patrol the cosmos.

“Your Best American Girl,” MaArte Theatre Collective: Ciarlene Coleman, a co-founder of MaArte — a San Diego company centered on the Filipino-American experience — wrote and stars in this solo music-and-dance piece. The work, directed by Yari Cervas, “grapples with what it takes for a mixed-race military kid to become the ideal American girl.”

“CRAPSHOOT! or Why I Voted for Trump: a love story,” Todd Blakesley: This solo satire from the longtime San Diego theater artist Blakesley, a Fringe regular, focuses on a (fictional) first-time voter from 2016. The audience is invited to “join this political neophyte as he copes with the blowback from his fateful decision.”

“Get Free,” bkSOUL: The San Diego hip-hop collective bkSOUL put up one of the most riveting shows of the 2017 Fringe Festival with the spoken-word/music/dance piece “The Lioness,” which won an award for outstanding production. Now the company returns with this new work that “centers on the possibilities after destruction and the recourse for holism and healing.”

“REAL[ISE],” Tangata Circus Company: “All sorts of silliness ensues when a bag of unfamiliar objects fall from the sky,” goes the blurb for this show from the New Zealand-based circus troupe. (Tangata will be extra-busy at the Fringe: While the festival’s presence in Mexico has been dialed back this year, the circus will cross the border to perform at a Tijuana orphanage for children affected by HIV/AIDS.)

San Diego International Fringe Festival

When: Thursday (June 6) through June 16

Where: Palisades Area, Balboa Park

Tickets: Most performances $10; discount multi-show passes available; One-time purchase of $5 Fringe tag required.