A theatre student walks into a bar

CU Fringe Festival seeks to meld outsider art and non-traditional venues

Courtesy of CU Fringe Festival

YOU head over to the theatre building when you hear that Romeo and Juliet is being performed for free at the University of Colorado Boulder. However, things take a turn when you realize students are dancing in the hallways, a capella groups are performing before the play starts and you can hear laughter from the stand up comedy in the next room over. What starts off as traditional Romeo and Juliet, takes a sudden and unexpected turn for the avant-garde. The lack of props only accentuates the creativity, and you realize something: You’re not in the artistic center anymore; you’re at the fringe.

CU’s Fringe Festival, going down April 25 to 27 at various locations on the CU campus, is an all-art, all-free, all-student weekend, a time when students are free to create their own work, and are not restrained by content or experience. Consequently, the theatre and dance department is getting ready for one of the most exciting, entrepreneurial times in its history.

“Fringe Festivals are a place where new work starts. A lot of plays that eventually make it [to] Broadway start out at [a] fringe festival,” says Rya Dyes, the vice president of CU OnStage, a student-run group that collaborates with the theatre and dance department to put on the Fringe Festival. The festival is the biggest event that OnStage puts on all year.

The fringe festival concept started in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1947, and now takes place all over the world. Fringe festivals generally combine different elements of the performing arts, such as theatre, dance and film, in an open environment where it is easy to participate. 

“The goal of Fringe Festival is to give as many people as possible the chance to do art, and then show it off to the community for free,” says Hana Christenson, president of CU OnStage.

Students have put together a total of 32 plays for this year’s festival, more than CU has done in its past two seasons.

The plays range from classics such as Romeo and Juliet to originals such as Luna’s Magical Hair, which is the story of Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter novels, but when she’s not around the title character.

“There’s a lot of student influence on the plays. Even if they’re not written [by students] — which a good deal of them are — they still get to put their own style in it,” says Dyes.

An established play performed at a Fringe Fest is different from other theatre performances in that everyone is there to have fun and make art, Christenson says.

“There’s the stereotype of the serious artist, who is fully in it to expose your soul. And I mean, yes, you can do that,” she says. “But you can also just have fun, singing songs and doing Shakespeare. Art can be as fun as you want it to be and that’s kind of what fringe is. It’s all sorts of art and all sorts of students.”

Christenson says that students at CU are pushed to be creative during Fringe for two reasons.

“There’s creativity necessitated by how much money you can get, and then creativity for the sake of, ‘let’s do it differently.’ And fringe is both,” says Christenson.

OnStage allocates its budgets to students trying to direct a play, and students have to go through an application process to run their show.

“It’s not like you have to be an experienced director to get a project,” she says. “But the application process is to show us that you know what you’re getting into and you have all of your materials together to make it as good as it can be.”

The reason why so much of the work that comes out of Fringe Festival is as successful as it is, is because it gives the students a space to experiment. Alex Reed, a CU alum, produced two original plays through CU Fringe Festival, one of which, Bentathlon was performed by Obscene/Courageous Theatre. His second play, Believe, is premiering this year.

“It’s a really great place for artists to try things, and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t,” Reid says. “But it’s a safe creative space, which is definitely important. Since art exists, critics also exist. And it’s not judgmentfree, because, I mean, if you’re terrible, you’re terrible, but at least you tried.”

The CU Fringe Festival brings together people not only from different theatre backgrounds, but from other departments too.

“A lot of film students do it because they get to make a different kind of film that they might not get to make in class,” says Dyes. “It’s an opportunity to get to show their work to a larger group of people.”

The festival will take place at CU’s main stage, The Loft and The Black Box in the theatre building, but as with the rest of Fringe, the students are not restricted.

“We have one dance piece that’s going in the hallways in between shows that are going on, and there will be a couple a capella groups who play in between,” says Dyes.

In other words, students are given an open space to experiment in their area of interest.

The Fringe Festival helps students learn what it is like to work through a production without any outside help from faculty.

“For me, the biggest thing about it is that it’s a great opportunity for students to learn how to collaborate on their own work, because as artists that’s definitely something they need to learn,” says Dyes.

The CU Fringe Festival affects more than the people involved with it by exposing the local community to a side of CU that does not always get a lot of attention.

“When people think of CU, they don’t think of our arts,”says Christenson. “They think, ‘Oh yeah, we’re so good at physics,’ or ‘We have really great parties.’ But with Fringe Festival, we get to just have this entire arts explosion weekend which just says, ‘Guess what else Boulder does?’ And it’s great.”

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