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San Diego International Fringe Festival is back in Balboa Park

San Diego International Fringe Festival celebrates not just 11 days of wildly diverse live theater but 11 years of bringing artists and shows from around the globe to San Diego audiences.

This year, Fringe returns but is scaled back from the height of its days in downtown San Diego, when hundreds of artists performed in dozens of shows across the county. This year there will be 19 shows at only three venues. But the plus side is that I will be able to see every single show during those 11 days and not have to worry that I might have missed something great.
RELATED: More Fringe Coverage


On the fringes

San Diego Fringe takes cue's from the more than half-century-old Edinburgh Festival Fringe. That festival started as a rebellion against the status quo. It began in 1947 when the Edinburgh International Festival, a separate invitation-only festival, did not allow certain artists to partake. So a group of artists who had not been invited simply set up their own festival on the fringes of the official one, and Fringe was born. Now other cities, such as San Diego, have jumped on board to create their own festivals and establish a Fringe circuit where artists can tour a show around the world.

The pandemic hit all arts organizations hard but San Diego Fringe had to contend with not just COVID-19 but with having to relocate the festival from downtown San Diego to Balboa Park. And then, this year it had to move the festival up a month from June to May because of scheduling conflicts in the park.

"I would say a big challenge for us has been not only changing dates to a different month but it means that we may conflict with school schedules of participants," said Kevin Charles Patterson, founder and executive director of San Diego Fringe. "But another thing that's been very difficult is going from downtown, where we kind of had free rein with venues that we were using, to now being in this shared space that is much more difficult for us to navigate."


But Patterson is committed to staying in Balboa Park, which has the potential for a lot of venues if he can coordinate with the park and museums.

"We'll figure it all out, but I just have to be honest, it's a little difficult," Patterson added. "I think that it's crucial that we find a way to stay here with new programming, but also find a way to get ourselves back downtown and help with the movement for building a theater district downtown or an arts district."

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Beth Accomando
Austin Dean Ashford is San Diego International Fringe Festival producer and ambassador for the arts. May 16, 2023

But this year the festival got a shot of adrenaline by bringing Austin Dean Ashford on board as producer and ambassador for the arts. Ashford won a trio of awards at San Diego Fringe back in 2018 for his show "(I)sland (T)rap." Now he is back and bursting with enthusiasm to spread the word about what Fringe can offer to both artists and audiences.

Uncensored and unjuried

For artists Fringe offers an uncensored and unjuried platform. That means no one is looking at your show and saying you can't do that or you need to take that out. That freedom appealed to Loud Fridge Theatre Group’s Kandace Crystal.

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Loud Fridge Theatre Group
Loud Fridge Theatre Group serves up the world premiere of Christian St. Croix's "Normal Heights."

"It allows for artists to be that artistic," Crystal said. "They can get a little crazy and maybe we go off script a little bit and we have some fun with it."

Kate Rose Reynolds is also part of Loud Fridge Theatre Group, which is presenting the world premiere of Christian St. Croix's "Normal Heights" at this year's Fringe.

"I think it's really exciting to work on something that is unjuried, uncensored. It lets you throw out crazy ideas and try things that you wouldn't necessarily try, and feel like you're in this really safe, exciting, creative opportunity where you can do anything that you want and just see what happens," Reynolds said.

Like many artists, Reynolds is someone who also enjoys attending Fringe.

"Fringe is just such an incredible theatrical experience because you can see so many different things in this really short period of time," Reynolds said. "You can go see a circus show, and then you can go see a very serious drama, and then you can see a dance piece, and then you can see a brand new musical that's never been done anywhere before. And it can sort of fill your artistic cup up so quickly in this really incredible way. And there's this energy that's really palpable."

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Teatro Oscuro
Teatro Oscuro opens late in the 2023 San Diego International Fringe Festival and is an ensemble of three bilingual plays.

What is San Diego Fringe?

Ashford embodies that energy as he tries to sum up what Fringe is.

"It's an amusement park of storytelling," Ashford said. "And the beautiful thing is, there's going to be shows that are between 45 minutes to an hour long, you can watch multiple shows in a day, and you can go from one site to another site."

"It's like a buffet, honestly," Ashford adds. "You can look at the descriptions. You can look at the previews and that show's like greens. This show's like macaroni and cheese. This show's like alkaline water. And you kind of put it together, and you have the perfect meal of how you like to enjoy theater with room for you to put some things on your plate you typically may not eat, which I think you should experience."

Offering substance at this buffet is playwright and veteran broadcast journalist Sasha Foo. She is presenting "Choice Words," a collection of monologues she created about the fight to save reproductive rights.

"I think Fringe is really great because it allows artists to put their work forward in a way that doesn't involve a lot of the trappings of institutional restraints or constraints," Foo said. "So we can go out there and express ourselves and hopefully find an audience that resonates with what we're trying to do."

Actress Gabriella Sosa performs one of the monologues in "Choice Words." She suggests just coming to Fringe with an open mind.

"Be prepared to be, wowed," she said. "It may not be as polished as what you may see on a Broadway show, it's more real and guttural and relevant."

And that is key to getting the most out of your Fringe experience. You need to take risks. The artists are taking risks and so should you. Each show is only $10 and less than an hour so just head out and watch four shows in a night or more on the weekend.

Golden Corpse Productions
The only show not in Balboa Park at this year's San Diego International Fringe Festival is "Censored Heart" at Les Girls.

B.Y.O.V. or Bring Your Own Venue

The only B.Y.O.V. (Bring Your Own Venue) this year is "Censored Heart" at Les Girls. Once again Les Girls owner Kata Pierce-Morgan has created what she described as "a sax-infused dramedy, with a dance cast of 1950’s harpies, hooligan poets, and molting activists."

Every year I look forward to these 11 days of sensory overload, stepping out of my comfort zone, and just being open to anything Fringe wants to throw at me. I will be posting daily videos featuring previews of shows and interviews with artists so you can get a sense of what shows you might want to see.

I cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.
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