A Fringe geek's tips for navigating San Diego's wildest theater celebration
San Diego International Fringe Festival returns to Balboa Park for eleven days of sensory overload.
I have been fortunate enough to have attended every single San Diego International Fringe Festival. I was also lucky enough to have followed my friends in "Re-Animator: The Musical" to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the inspiration for all of the Fringe festivals that now thrive around the globe.
Two of the most astounding theater experiences I have ever had were courtesy of San Diego Fringe: Tin Shed Theatre Company's wildly inventive "Dr. Frankenstein's Traveling Freakshow" and Farmacia Zooè's heartbreakingly brilliant "9841/Rukeli." And there have been dozens of others with amazing performances or spectacular displays of dance and circus.
I can't lie, however. A couple of my worst theater experiences were also at Fringe. Most notably, a Shakespeare performance where the lead forgot his lines and everyone on stage froze in panic as they waited for him to remember his speech. I almost yelled the lines to him just so we could finish the show and get out of there. But the trauma of experiencing bad theater can be beneficial. I feel like you cannot fully appreciate the good until you experience the genuinely bad. Plus, each show is less than 60 minutes and then you can get a palate cleanser at the next.
But those are the risks and rewards of diving into any Fringe show, because the festival is uncensored and unjuried. There are no gatekeepers saying what can be put on stage or deciding who has a right to get in. That is part of what makes Fringe exciting. And, if the official Fringe venues fill up, then any artist can be included in the program through the BYOV program, where you simply Bring Your Own Venue. So the only limits are those an artist brings.
Tips on how to Fringe
As a veteran of navigating San Diego Fringe, here are eight tips on how to successfully Fringe.
💻 Visit the website. You can sort by venue, genre, country, rating or keywords so that you can assess which shows seem the most interesting.
🗒 Get with the spreadsheet. This is the single most helpful way to see what’s playing when and where, and if there are conflicts with other shows. There will be printed ones at the box office and an online version.
🎟️ Purchase your tickets (ranging in cost from free to a maximum of $10) and a Fringe tag — this is a one-time $5 festival fee (referred to as your Fringe Tag) to cover the organization's expenses as ticket sales go 100% to the artists.
📍 Know your environment. The home base is Balboa Park with its two venues of the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater and Centro Cultural de la Raza, so figure out where the venues are, where to park and where there’s food. And then make sure you know which shows are at which venues.
🍪 Pack a survival kit! Balboa Park is beautiful, but it has few easy, quick food options, especially if you are in a hurry between shows or attending after dark. The World Beat Center has delicious food and coffee, but only 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday, and I suggest calling in your order to speed things up. The Prado is pricey and not fast, and Panama 66 is downright slow — so not good if you only have a half hour to eat. Bring a jacket if you are starting early and going late, and wear comfy shoes in case you have to run between shows or to get food.
🚗 Pick a day to venture out from the Balboa Park home base to catch the single BYOV (or Bring Your Own Venue) show at the historic Les Girls or to just explore the park and museums.
💬 Talk to people. With multiple shows over 11 days, you can't see everything — although, at this year's scaled-back festival, you actually might! — and you don't want to miss a great show. Ask artists and Fringe-goers what they recommend you see and also what to avoid.
🦸 Be fearless! Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and just try something that you know nothing about or even something that might not appear to be your cup of tea. With shows being only $10 and less than an hour long, this is the best place to experiment.
San Diego International Fringe Festival returns to live and in-person shows May 18 through 28 at multiple venues and with a home base in Balboa Park.