The Kansas City Fringe Festival usually means new and innovative theater exploring themes rarely mentioned on the mainstream stage. This is where you’ll find a queer cult horror show inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and burlesque shows of all shapes and sizes. (Read our accompanying story on the show about colitis, titled, yes, “The Taming of the Poo.”)
And, while boundary-pushing theater remains a mainstay, organizers this year are tripling their focus in another area: arts opportunities for performers and audience members who wouldn’t even make it through the door of those R-rated shows.
This year’s festival, which runs July 20-30, will offer expanded opportunities to young artists in its Teen Fringe program, where developing artists can test their works in front of peers and grown-up audiences alike.
Cheryl Kimmi, Fringe Festival director, said the success of last year’s Teen Fringe open mic night and play writing workshop inspired her to do more.
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“We really want to help these students find an opportunity to learn and grow but also find an outlet for expression,” she said. “That’s so important to help kids process all these pressures that they’re dealing with in today’s society — and there’s a lot.”
For years, the festival has partnered with the Coterie theater for a teen play writing workshop, and now Kansas City Young Audiences is a partner for the first time. The organization has offered up its Midtown location for more teen workshops and performances. Expect comedy nights, dance nights and, of course, theater nights — all produced and performed by teens.
“It gives them a chance to test their chops in front of real audiences, not just moms and dads,” she said. “The teens who have participated in the past have just been thrilled that people are coming to see them. It validates their work.”
Children of all ages and their families can find G- and PG-rated experiences at the Fringe. The Plaza Library will once again host family activities, including a clown and free art classes.
But, in the spirit of 1947’s original Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, there are still plenty of nontraditional theater works to experience, as well. The festival includes more than 88 performing groups (18 from outside the KC area) putting on 435 performances. Don’t forget the visual art, too; two galleries will be displayed in Union Station and at the Just Off Broadway Theatre, and four original films will be shown at Musical Theater Heritage in Crown Center.
Here’s how the Fringe works: A $5 button serves as a cover charge for the entire festival. Each event costs an additional $10, with proceeds going to the artists and the venue. The button also covers free events such as Late Night at the Fringe, a closing event July 30 filled with music and performances at the new Haverty Yards outdoor venue outside Union Station.
But, with so many performances across 17 venues, how to decide what to see? Kimmi suggested attending the opening night party on Thursday, July 20, at the Folly Theater, where more than 50 artists will perform two-minute teasers of their works.
“What’s beautiful about the Fringe is that there really is something for everybody, from family fare to date-night-only fare,” she said. “There is improv, music, you name it — you can find it.”
The 13th annual festival runs July 20-30 at various venues. Attendees must purchase a $5 Fringe button. Tickets to each event are an additional $10. Visit kcfringe.org. Information and tickets are also available at the venues, at the Fringe 411 Boutique in Union Station during the festival or by calling 816-359-9195.