Fringe theater, frontera and center
FronteraFest, Austin's long running fringe theater festival returns Tuesday night, and it will be celebrating quite a milestone throughout its usual five week run. This year marks the 20th anniversary season of the event that has long since brought together oddities and marvels — ranging from improvisational comedy and cabaret singers to avant-garde dance and “cutting-edge puppetry” — to Hyde Park Theatre.
The festival consists of two divisions, the “short fringe” and the “long fringe." The former hosts productions that under 25 minutes, the latter under 90 minutes. One of the more interesting aspects of the festival besides the amount of raw, off the wall talent it attracts, is how that talent is discovered.
FronteraFest does not hold auditions, instead, it sends out an application form — which is still accepting submissions, in the case spots open up — and the lineup is selected from those admissions on a first-come, first-served basis. Selected acts perform in front of packed houses for the course of a month.
The unusually liberal programming method is founded in a belief held by the festival’s co-founders, Vicky Boone, Jason Phelps and Annie Suite, that there is a certain limitation attached to an audition process that could potentially weed out over-looked genius.
“Sometimes the most interesting performers just don’t make it through a traditional juried process. What if someone is a really crazy genius and just doesn’t have the ability to conform," Boone told Austin360 about the festival’s programming philosophy.
For 20 seasons, following that courageous plan, Boone and her cohorts have put on one of the city’s most important festivals, in a city nationally recognized for its festivals.
This year, FronteraFest will be bringing back some festival favorites from the past 20 years. Each Thursday, during the Short Fringe, a carefully selected performer from the event’s history will perform a new work.
And to help celebrate the festival’s 20th season, the organizers have put together an impressive opening week party to be held on January 19, after the first of the weekly “Best of the Week” programs. The event will be held at Gallery Black Lagoon, located directly across the street from Hyde Park Theater. Asti Trattoria, the Parlor and Beverage World will be catering the party, and it will surely be a great place to meet the performers and fellow fans of fringe theater.
The phrase “Keep Austin Weird” definitely gets thrown around too much these days — and usually by the wrong people — but FronteraFest is a prime example of why our city garnered the “weird” reputation in the first place, before it became a cash-grab slogan.
Unpredictable and unpolished, yet friendly and forgiving, the festival encourages performers to reach beyond conformity, and maybe touch on something truly “weird."
FronteraFest begins January 15 and runs through February 16. You can purchase tickets for individual shows, Best of the Week performances or Best of the Fest performances. A full calendar can be viewed here.