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What is a Fringe?

Edmonton Fringe (Courtesy of David Chapman)

(Voyez cette page dans le français.) Theatre, as an art form, is one of the most expressive means of education and communication. However, the ability to participate in a wide variety of theatre is often limited by the availability of venues, money, and audiences.

The North American Fringe circuit overcomes these barriers by providing artists and the audiences a theatrical experience like no other in the world on an unjuried, first-come, first served or lottery basis.

The Fringe Movement

Courtesy of The Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia, with additional information provided by Alan Lovett, Richard Cheoros, Jeff Haslam and Anne Nothof)

Although the Fringe movement originated in Scotland at the Edinburgh Festival, Canada has more Fringe Festivals per capita than any other country in the world. The first and largest Fringe in Canada is the Edmonton Fringe Festival (established in 1982). Fringe theatre is the most democratic and accessible theatre in the world. Each festival follows a series of basic guidelines which can include:

  • Admission prices must be kept low (the average ticket price is $10)
  • Companies for a festival are chosen on a first-come first,-served basis at some festivals and by lottery at others. Companies which go the former route act as follows: the Fringe organization sends out applications to all companies interested, and the first applications returned after a given date and based on the postmark and handicaps, i.e., distance of an applying company from the organization offices, are the companies which appear in the festival for that year. Certain quota guidelines may apply to some festivals. For instance, the Montréal festival tries to assure that there are a certain number of French-language companies.
  • There are no limits on content or title, no censorship is applied. There are two recent notorious Canadian Fringe works which had some censorship applied to them by outside-the-Fringe community pressures: The Happy C**t and The F**k Machine.
  • Some Fringes charge guest companies extra for the length of a work; longer works limit how many works can play the same theatre on the same day.
  • Fees paid by the participating companies must also be kept as low as possible. In Canada, they range from approximately $250 to 1000.
  • Many Fringe Festivals provide billeting (housing) for international companies.
  • All monies paid by spectators at a given show go to the creators/performers.
  • No latecomers will be admitted. There has been some loosening of this rule at various Fringes.
  • Audience-members are encouraged to spread the word about shows they liked. Word of mouth can make or break a Fringe production. Some festivals actually set up bulletin boards where audience members can post opinions.
  • No refunds.
  • Typically, a production has one hour to set up and one hour to take down, though this rule can vary from one festival to the next.

The Fringe has become the essence of theatrical development in Canada and abroad. It is also becoming clear that Fringe Festivals are serving as alternative or experimental festivals for works which, outside of Toronto, would never be performed. There is a higher quota of Gay and Lesbian works in an average Fringe than there is in an average city’s theatre season.

Also, and this is an important evolution in Canadian theatre, the Canadian and international Fringe circuit is keeping many artists working all year round on a theatrical product which they have often created and wish to keep alive.

For more information on the Fringe movement, please visit the Canadian Theatre  Encyclopedia.  The Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia is maintained by Athabasca University as a service to the Canadian theatre community.

(With thanks to Louis Longpré for editing content.)


Fringe™ and Fringe Festival™ are registered trademarks of
the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals.


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