Fringe's tin anniversary filled with heart

In the 10 years since its inception, Cincinnati's Fringe Festival has pushed boundaries and borders, built new audiences and nurtured artists, all while drawing record crowds to Over the Rhine. 

In the final stages of its tin anniversary year, Fringe Producing Artistic Director Eric Vosmeier, who brought his own show to Fringe in 2007 and took over the festival in 2008, reflects on why the two-week celebration of performing arts not only survives, but thrives in Cincinnati, and what he needs to make sure it continues to do so.

Slow and steady
This year, Vosmeier and his team accepted 32 out of 87 Fringe applicants. That's in addition to three FringeNext productions, shows created by high school students and staged in OTR's School for Creative and Performing Arts Black Box Theatre

"This was a record year," Vosmeier says. "Our previous high was 68 (applicants)."

In his sixth year overseeing Fringe, Vosmeier remains committed to slow and steady growth. "We have seen growth every year, without fail," he says. "I have purposefully kept it to a certain size."

He credits thoughtful planning to the festival's ongoing success. The recipe is both simple and challenging: Quality shows, quality artists and enough variety to satisfy all ages and demographics, with the focus on nurturing quality artists.

"We like to think at the end of the festival we have created 250 artistic ambassadors for the city of Cincinnati," he says.

In addition to choosing shows that appeal to returning and new Festival-goers, Vosmeier notes that Fringe offers entertainment for all ages. "I think the term Fringe Festival turns some people off," he says. 

But Cincy Fringe includes family-friendly shows, interactive dance and international entries, in addition to high-school entries. "You should come and try something, because you are going to find something you like," Vosmeier says.

Future Fringe
This year marks remarkable "firsts" for the fest, Vosmeier says. For the first time ever, a show that has not even opened ("LOON") has already sold out; and the number of advance passes sold was up more than 50 percent. Both of these are major accomplishments for a festival typically dependent on walk-up, day-of ticket sales.

"Operationally, that helps us a great deal," he says.

What hasn't helped? Ironically, the neighborhood renaissance that Fringe (and its parent the Know Theatre) has made it harder for Vosmeier to find friendly hosts for the range of Fringe performances that span neighborhood blocks and fill storefronts for the festival's 12-day run.

"For the past two years, I have struggled to get the number of venues we need," Vosmeier says. "I am going to need assistance from new neighbors and old neighbors. . . .I have reached out and have gotten very little cooperation."

And that lack of capacity may be, in the end, what takes the Fringe out of OTR and into more welcoming spaces. "One of the solutions that we are looking at is moving the festival to a different home or a different part of the neighborhood," Vosmeier says.

For now, though, Vosmeier is happy to see connections growing between the Know, Fringe and Jackson Street Market, bridging gaps and building audiences and the continued appeal of Fringe to more than theater-lovers.

"It's a helluva good time," he says. "It's more than a theater festival; it is a community experience. The thing that is most moving to me is the sense of community. It's small enough that you can come of out it with a sense of something bigger than ourselves."

Elissa Yancey is Managing Editor at and an educator associate professor of Journalism at the University of Cincinnati. You can follow her on Twitter.
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