Uncurated slate of artists at Elgin Fringe Festival allows audiences 'to take a chance'

The Elgin Fringe Festival is back for its eighth year, and Executive Director Erin Rehberg hopes people who don't consider themselves “fringy” will give it a shot.

“There's something for everyone who has an appetite for art,” Rehberg said. “There is more traditional work that anyone can find the beauty in, and then, hopefully, you take that next step to be pushed a little out of your comfort zone to evolve what you're going to fall in love with in the future.”

Fringe festivals focus on performing arts but can include most any art forms. The first Fringe Festival started in 1947 in Edinburgh, Scotland as an alternative festival that played concurrently with the Edinburgh International Festival. There are more than 20 fringe festivals throughout the United States, with more in Canada and Europe.

Taking a risk is what fringe art is all about, Rehberg said.

“As an audience member, you have to take a chance, just as the artists are as well.”

Twenty-one performing artists will have shows around downtown Elgin beginning Thursday, Sept. 9. Venues include Blue Box Cafe, the Martini Room, Elgin Art Showcase, the exhibition hall at the Hemmens and the theater at Side Street Studio Arts. A gallery show for the work of 20 visual artists will open Friday, Sept. 3, at the gallery at Side Street, which serves as the hub of the festival.

The festival is unique because it is open to all artists on a first-come, first-served basis. The committee doesn't choose the artists so much as the artists choose the festival.

“There's a beautiful risk about it because it's uncurated,” Rehberg said. “All of us involved in Fringe for years have seen some of our favorite performances here, and then some things we were like, 'well, I never need to see that again.'”

Returning this year are previous favorites Melanie Moseley with “Polyamory: The Musical!”, satirical songwriting superhero Captain Ambivalent and the Elgin Theatre Company. Many artists are from Chicago and the suburbs, but other acts come from Indiana, Colorado and New York.

New York comedian Mike Lemme said he's excited to bring his show to Elgin.

“Even if I have to wear a mask while performing, I know it's going to be a great week,” Lemme said. “My eyes were made for theater.”

Lemme described his show as a mix of theater and comedy. “You'll definitely enjoy it if you've ever had to deal with roommates.”

The full schedule of performances is available at

The shows are essentially a la carte pricing, with the admission fee for each performance set by the artist and going completely to the artist. Most shows are $5 or $10, Rehberg said, and some are free. Most performers do multiple shows during the week. Patrons do need to buy a $3 Fringe button to go to any event. A $70 festival pass is available that covers all the shows.

After holding a virtual event last year, Rehberg said, she can't wait to pull back the curtain on this year's live, in-person events and see what evolves.

“Since day one, we've said that whatever happens, happens,” she said. “That's the Fringe tagline, and I can't wait to see what happens.”

Comedian Mike Lemme from New York will perform multiple shows at the Elgin Fringe Festival, Sept. 9-12. COURTESY OF ELGIN FRINGE FESTIVAL
Jacob and Shane Mayfield will demonstrate ESP and telepathy at the Elgin Fringe Festival. COURTESY OF ELGIN FRINGE FESTIVAL
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