Organizers of the annual Chicago Fringe Festival are happy to describe their event as "weird."
In fact, the performance arts festival -- which draws acts from the city, suburbs, like Rally Theatre Production out of Arlington Heights, and other spots across the country -- prides itself as being different and offering "boundary-pushing performing artists paired with daring audiences," organizers say.
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Chicago Fringe FestivalWhen: Times vary; fest runs Thursday, Aug. 28, through Sunday, Sept. 7
Where: Various venues in Jefferson Park. See chicagofringe.org for specifics.
Tickets: Guests pay a one-time entrance fee of $5, and individual performances cost $10. Festival package rates include a five-show pass for $45, a 10-show pass for $80 and an unlimited show pass for $175. Tickets are sold online at chicagofringe.org and at each venue on the day of a performance; the general festival box office is located at Fringe Central at Fischman's Liquors, 4780 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.
Info and schedule: chicagofringe.org
In its fifth year, the fest returns Aug. 28-Sept. 7 in Chicago's Jefferson Square neighborhood, offering 48 one-hour shows and more than 200 performances. The action will be centered at five venues around Milwaukee and Lawrence avenues.
The goal of the event, which has been called the city's "Best Performing Arts Festival" by the Chicago Reader, is to seek the "untried and the weird," organizers say. The aim is for artists to interact with others from across town and the world in a fun, immersive environment. The festival encourages performers to go beyond their comfort zones and allows struggling groups to catch buzz and audiences to see new groups, says executive director Vinnie Lacey.
One of those new groups is Arlington Heights' Rally Theatre Production. Company founders and co-CEOs Caitlin Bieda and Rebecca Muszynski wrote and produced "Sessions," a serio-comedy following the in-session lives of three patients and their therapist as they struggle through group therapy. The show will be performed multiple times throughout the event at the Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.
"We're trying to find the humor in tragedy," Muszynski says, "because life is tragically hilarious. There are times when things can be very funny, even in the most tragic of times. We want people to see what others are going through and understand that everyone has problems and not necessarily be so quick to judge people."
Bieda called taking part in Fringe "the best decision we could have made."
"We're honored to be a part of it. They offer a lot of guidance and contacts," she says. "There's a lot of camaraderie and good buzz about the event. And it's just fun."
The festival theme is actually part of a bigger, worldwide movement that began in Scotland in 1947, with festivals spread across the U.S. and around the world, Lacey says. Some of the larger festivals in America are held in New York and Minnesota.
"The festival resonates with people because it's different," Lacey says. "It has the vibe of an outdoor festival, but it's accessible. When people come out, there's a special kind of energy because the shows are happening at once in a totally walkable area. It's hard to describe that magic, when people haven't seen that kind of theater before, and now, it's right in their backyard."
Performances from this year's event include: "Black as Eye Wanna Be," by Po' Chop, a burlesque piece that explores themes of oppression and victory while featuring sounds from African-American women musicians through history.
"The Body Image Project: A Documentary Play" by Danielle Pinnock explores definitions of beauty and the media's perception of body image through funny and touching real-life stories. And "Teenagers From Outer Space!" by New Pluto recalls a simpler time in life -- when, according to the play description, grandma's apple pie was cooling in the kitchen -- and aliens with death rays lurked around every corner.
In past years the festival has drawn a crowd of up to 5,000 over its nine days, Lacey says. Artists are chosen by lottery, with about 150 performers applying for up to 50 spots. Though each festival chooses its performers differently, Chicago organizers aim to ensure everyone gets a fair shot at participating. "The truth is every great performer was a first-time performer," Lacey says.
Artist networking also is a big part of the festival, Lacey says, with a specific spot set up for people to eat, drink and meet. "That's where a lot of the networking and magic happens," he says, "when someone who has seen a show now has an opportunity to talk to an artist or get recommendations to see the next show."