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San Diego Fringe has a new ambassador for the arts

 May 18, 2023 at 12:04 PM PDT

S1: You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. The San Diego International Fringe Festival kicks off its 11th year tonight in Balboa Park. And if you do not know what Fringe is , then here are some fringe artists to explain.

S2: What is fringe.

S3: Uncensored on juried unafraid.

S4: Fringe is creativity , exciting.

S5: Passion , wild. Community.

S4: Community. Fun.

S5: Fun.

S6: And visibility.

S7: Fringe is loud.

S8: Fringe is discovery.

S2: Fringe is an adventure.

S9: Fringe is unapologetic. Fringes.

S8: Fringes.

S9: Everything fringe is just fringe.

S1: Fringe is also 11 days of wildly diverse live theater that KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando loves. She spoke with Fringe's new producer and ambassador for the arts , Austin Dean Ashford , who started the interview with a little throwback to the first time they spoke in 2018 when he was debuting his first fringe show , Island Trap in San Diego.

S4: What was the first thing I played on here ? I think I did.


S4: Ha ha ha. We are back. I'm sorry. I was so excited to be back at the SD Fringe. I am. Because this was , like , big for me. Okay , I don't mean to , like , directly talk to you people with the camera , but check this out. Yo , yo , Beth did this for me five years ago , and it was amazing. It changed little. It changed my life. So the reason why I. So I know. Okay , Austin , bring your excitement down a little bit so you can communicate to humans. So the reason why I'm so excited , I think this is so awesome is because it's very tough for a lot of artists to go from Hobby Amateur to feel like they've had a professional moment. This festival did this for me. When I tell people around the world , Hey , I won the San Diego International Fringe Festival , it's very validating. I want to be one of the people who help. Fringe Festivals have an even larger name that's like a music festival , just like a film festival. And I think it's even important more now than ever because of how the live arts are trying to thrive back from the pandemic and and COVID. And I love music. Music is awesome. I love arts. Awesome. Dance is awesome. All of you come to me , please. But storytelling needs to be amplified. And I think that's the thing that we could do very , very well here.

S10: And I got to experience your storytelling when you had the Play Island Trap here at San Diego Fringe. And I just wanted to play a little clip from that.

UU: So I'm going on an epic voyage like Black Ulysses. Yeah , I'm going on a vacation and I'm never coming back. Oh , yeah , I'm going to sell the seven seas like black.

S11: Ulysses who tells stories about survival because things are.


S4: The first time I got to do like a run of shows , I never got to do like five performances. It was the first time I got to do like five performances , have a registration , do some previews , have have coverage. I never had a media coverage or an interview about a play ever before in my life. No one asked me ever about my play. And then we are fortunate enough to anchor online. We were lucky. I don't know if this helps the very first time coming in 2018 , I was fortunate enough to win like three incredible awards and I still remember to that day when I won that first year , I was fortunate enough to win Best One Person show , which is I want to say , is incredible because there's phenomenal one person shows that year because even though I participated , I watched as many shows as I could. Got to win Best in Fest. That surprised me. I was like , Oh my goodness. But there's so many plays. And then also the New Zealand Exchange Award , which also changed my life too , because prior to that moment I'd never left the country to ever do art. So San Diego Fringe took me to another level. So I got to be part of the New Zealand fringe and the the needle and fringe , and then we won awards at those fringe festivals by IS. You can tell my excitement for what how this was my very first fringe I ever participated in and I've done like all of them have done like Edinburgh we've won a whole bunch. But it all started here for me. So to come back now , it's so full circle. I know that I'm not a native , but I'm hoping to be adopted by the city. I have the papers. I just hope that San Diego will accept me.

S10: Well , you have been adopted by San Diego Fringe because you now have a new job here , a position , and you are the producer of the festival and ambassador.

S4: Being able to go right now I'm getting my PhD in interdisciplinary fine arts , so now I'm able to maneuver through the tech space. I'm Latin Grammy nominated for music , so I know people in the music space now. I know people in the one person show space. I know a lot of bipoc people who don't even know Fringe exist. So I'm trying to find a way to , like , let people know that this is the party , this is where it's at , trying to find a way to have more programs and workshops so people can really elevate their experience because I know what it did for me. So I'm trying to come and bring a new shine and a new polish to a very beautiful , traditional concept that we look at in art and we do Ambassador of the Arts. I want to try to open up the doors for people of the other arts know they have a home with us too , I think because I'm fortunate enough to notice , like to be in the art space , the music space , the dance space , a lot of those people in those disciplines feel like everything's separate. And I want to remind them , No , no , no , no , no , no , no , You can do that here. We want to see , like your art show within this time frame. We want to see your music show. You want to see your dance show. So I think I'm trying to find a way is an ambassadorship because I was also formerly working for the US Embassy. I was an ambassador for them with some programs , so I was working in Colombia and I was working in Ecuador doing programs for social change , arts , education and arts entrepreneurship. But I want to bring the same thing I was doing for them. Here for the fringe. So how are we able to get , like more schools , more people in education , more people who have created work and haven't really had that nice , beautiful bump to a platform of having five performances and the victims ? Look , this is a big thing for the fringe. The artists get back 100% of their proceeds. A lot of people just don't know about that. And this festival is so , like , important because the way that I have such a beautiful international lens. So hopefully we want to remind people who we might not have seen from Nigeria or Belize or from Colombia or from Amsterdam or the UK or Toronto. Come on down here. It is awesome down here and we want to collaborate with you after the pandemic. I think it's been so difficult on live events for the arts. I think music found it quick because you could just but as far as like live events , people come together now. Everybody's just now starting to get to the space where people are comfortably outside and sharing their work. And when they are , I just want them to know , here's a place you need to share it. We want to see it. We have the audience that wants to see. Did people not know ? This year tickets are going crazy. This is like one of the best year that tickets have been sold because we're now are letting people do tickets in advance. But it's one of the best years , which I think is like an indicator that audiences want to see awesome stuff. But artists don't know that. So I think I'm taking on and they're not they're not forcing this on me. This is the helmet that I'm putting on. But the the crown and the burden that I'm coming to bear to say I'm trying to do my best to go around the world and in the community to bring people here so we can give them the platform that they deserve. And the uncensored part , too , I think a lot of people and just me coming because I come from the education , please don't be mad at me schools. But you know , coming from the education space , the censorship is so tough that you can't really always say what you want to say. But the beautiful thing about this fringe , literally in our mission statement is on censorship. We invite that. We invite the inclusivity , we invite the uncensored tip. I'm not the person judging you , so you can't be like , Oh , that's the fringe people from executive Or like , No , we want the people who are watching the audience members who are thriving and wanting your work. People are buying tickets because they want to see the work. People are excited to be coming out of the pandemic , but we would love to have even more artists from around the world to come. I just don't think they all know about it. So me , I am putting on this cape and this Green Lantern ring and I will find you from around the world and strongly urge you to come. You are strongly invited.

S10: Now , for people who haven't experienced a fringe festival , describe what this is like and what they can kind of expect.

S4: It's an amusement park of storytelling. And the beautiful thing is there's going to be shows that are between 45 minutes to an hour long , but because at that time frame , you can watch multiple shows in a day , I could be able to see like 3 or 4 shows in a day , just in one day , and then the next day see another 3 or 4 because they're between that 45 minute to 60 minutes long and they're like slotted at a really cool time where you could see multiple ones. And the best thing about being at this festival , you can go from one side to another side. You can create your own. It's like it's like a buffet , honestly. You can look , you can look at the descriptions , you can look at the previews that shows like Greens , this shows like Macaroni and Cheese , this shows like Alkaline Water , and you kind of put it together and you have the perfect meal of how you like to enjoy theater with. Also room for you to to put some things on your plate. You typically may not eat , which I think you should experience. Now.

S10: Now. I was recently at the New Zealand Fringe Festival and the person in charge of that was a performer as well.

S4: I don't want to make it seem like a pick your favorite. Everybody should be awesome. But I got to meet I got to meet Mark. His name was Mark. Please. Right. He came all the way from Manila. He took the train , he showed up , he introduced himself , and I was so happy. I'm not playing the cool because I want to have the favorites. So I played it cool and he tells me how he's excited. He's asking how he wants to do previews , but he came here because this is his first fringe. He's never fringe before. So when he said that , I'm like , Dang.

S12: I remember my very first time fringing was this festival exactly where he's at right now , 2023. I know exactly how that felt five years ago. So because of that.

S4: I get so excited Now. How can I make Mark's preview experience that much more better ? How can I help Mark be able to navigate and meet the people that he wants to navigate or things that he may not know would make the experience a little bit more. A little bit more. I think it allows me to say , no , I'm not going to be the pilot of your experience , but I'll be the flight attendant. If you need some crackers , you need some water. I could get you. That is still your journey to to guide through. But I'll be able to be there just to help you. I think I know how nervous performers again , and I think I could be able to hear their concern through whatever may be happening nerves wise , I think. Yeah , I think there's the excitement that I have because I know what it's like to be on the other side.

S10: Well , and the great thing for artists and the thing that Fringe can offer with this uncensored juried is you have a much better opportunity to get kind of these unheard voices or people who don't have as much opportunity in mainstream theaters.

S4: Okay , you going to set me up to start talking about a whole dissertation in this place now , Beth , because you're talking about language. The Bipoc letter for theater came out for a reason. It came out for a reason. I don't want to say that a lot of change didn't happen. But what's beautiful where we are at , we could actually put our platform where our mouth is so we could actually say , Hey , these people may not have the same opportunities as some of these spaces because of the typical shows that may they may run. But here we want your new voice. We want your inclusive piece. I want to hear the indigenous play that you and your ensemble put together. Now I want to hear the Asian play. I want to hear the African play. I wanna hear the Japanese play. I want to hear the Latinx play. I want to hear the queer. I want it all. I want it all here and I want it all Now. That doesn't happen with every place. And even on top of that , I want it in every discipline. That's why I get very weary to not always say just theater. And I love the word fringe , and I love the phrase of storytelling because you dancing is telling a story to me. I love dance. You're doing song , you're doing music that's telling a story to me. You're welcomed here. If you do art and you're able to tell me a beautiful story within your 12 art pieces , and now this art installation is you and a couple of.

S12: We want that. Come on down , please.

S4: But we want you. We want you to come over here. We want you to hang out. We want you to be able to figure it out. We want you to be able to be part of this beautiful community like me. I've met so many different people , like within Fringe. I remember the year that I won , I was able to meet the person who won , who was able to go to Perth. And then when I people from this Fringe festival set me up when I went to like United Solo. So it's also a community you're able to meet. And yes , if you are a person of color or you are queer person or if you are a woman , I am hunting you down to invite you to come to this festival because I want your work. I selfishly , I selfishly want your work , all of your work , because there's also an explosion of it now , right ? Like there's so many people who are creating things that are worried , like , is there a platform for me ? Is there a place where I can have my authentic voice and share it with people and people would want to hear ? And I can say a resounding , unapologetic yes. Here at SD Fringe , we want your work , the work that you're scared and you're sharing in your room. You're in the living room. You don't know if you want to tell anybody if you don't fill out this application. So we could tell you where we want you. Well , I.

S10: Want to thank you very much for talking about San Diego Fringe.

S4: Hello , San Diego. You better come see some shows at this fringe now. And this is for the performers and listeners. You don't have to force it. Darling , you're so gorgeous.

S13: But that's not why I adore you. You sound like California.

S12: I want to see you get tickets. You can get a multi pass.

S4: Make sure you follow us online and subscribe.

S1: That was Beth Accomando speaking with Austin. Dean Ashford San Diego International Fringe Festival runs tonight through May 28th with its home base in Balboa Park and one show running at Lee Girls.

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

Meet the newest member of the San Diego International Fringe Festival team, Austin Dean Ashford.

He's ready to suit up and fight for the arts.

"I am putting on this cape and this Green Lantern ring, and I will find you from around the world and strongly urge you to come. You are strongly invited," Ashford exclaimed.

Ashford starts at an 11 and goes up from there.

"Okay Austin, bring your excitement down a little bit so you can communicate to humans," Ashford instructed himself as we sat backstage at the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre.

But it's no use. He's bursting with enthusiasm and that is exactly what Kevin Charles Patterson wanted. Patterson founded San Diego Fringe in 2013 with help from Circle Circle dot dot, and this year he wanted to add someone to the team who would amplify the Fringe's message of diversity and inclusivity.

"What I'm really excited about with having him here is the new energy and a new voice for our festival that helps represent the direction we'd like to take the festival," Patterson said.

And that direction is to bring in more artists from San Diego, across the nation and around the globe to tell stories from diverse communities.
"We want your new voice play. We want your inclusive piece," Ashford said. "I want to hear the Indigenous play that your ensemble put together. I want to hear the Asian play. I want to hear the African play. I want to hear the Japanese play. I want to hear the Latinx play, I want to hear the queer play. I want it all. I want it all here and I want it all now."

 Ashford has energetically embraced his roles as producer and ambassador for the arts.

"I want to bring some innovative ways for us to grow and invite new voices to come to the Fringe," Ashford said.

Austin Dean Ashford was one of those new voices in 2018.

Austin Dean Ashford expressed genuine surprise when his show "(I)sland T(rap)" won Best in Fest, which included a trip to New Zealand Fringe Festival. He accepted the award at the Spreckels Theatre. July 1, 2018.
Beth Accomando
Austin Dean Ashford expressed genuine surprise when his show "(I)sland T(rap)" won Best in Fest, which included a trip to New Zealand Fringe Festival. He accepted the award at the Spreckels Theatre. July 1, 2018.

"I get to get amplified off of everybody else's first time because I remember my first time," Ashford said.

And that perspective allows him to understand what artists need and how to attract a first-time Fringer like Mark Vigeant to come down to San Diego from LA with his show "Mark Pleases You."

"It's very tough for a lot of artists to go from hobby amateur to feel like they've had a professional moment," Ashford said. "This festival did this for me,"

And it continues to do it for others. Plus it upholds the international Fringe tradition of giving 100% of the box office to artists and providing an uncensored and unjuried platform.

And part of Ashford’s job is to answer the question artists may be asking themselves as they are trying out new, crazy, provocative or just plain silly ideas in their living rooms.

"Is there a platform for me? Is there a place where I can have my authentic voice and share it with people, and people would want to hear? And I can say a resounding, unapologetic yes," Ashford said. "Here at San Diego Fringe, we want your work."

And so do I. Because every year I look forward to these eleven days of sensory overload, stepping out of my comfort zone, and just being open to anything Fringe wants to throw at me.

San Diego International Fringe Festival runs May 18 to May 28 in Balboa Park at the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater and Centro Cultural de la Raza, and with one B.Y.O.V. (Bring Your Own Venue) show at Les Girls.

Check out the Fringe 2023 YouTube playlist and more stories.

And here's the video I did back in 2018 with Ashford.

SD Fringe Top Pick: '(I)sland (T)rap'