International Fringe Festival Integrates Performing Arts

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By Haley Luke

ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) – Clad in combat boots, a floral skirt, paint splattered t-shirt and blue hair, Em Piro warmly greeted patrons to Fringeland. The guests were there to buy their personalized Fringe buttons that would allow them to go to a variety of performing arts shows. Piro, Executive Director of the St. Louis Fringe Festival, brought the event to the city for the first time June 21-25 in order to bring the performing arts community in the city together.

“There’s a very unique theater scene here. There’s a lot of different companies that perform very distinct styles of work, by they’re not very integrated with one another,” Piro said. “I wanted to merge those audiences and show that there’s so much more that they might like. I stumbled across the Fringe Festival model and realized, ‘This is exactly what this was created to do.’”

The Fringe Festival originated in Scotland in the 1940s, and it’s a festival of the performing arts. It brings theater, music, dance, magic and more together and allows performers and audience members to connect with one another. Piro had been to Fringe Festivals in other cities and felt it was just what St. Louis needed. She and her friends decided to put the event together 6 months ago, and they used that short amount of time to gather 30 acts to perform at four different venues, street performers, workshops, sponsors and hosts for after parties. Her persistence and hard work was what it took to ensure the show went on.

“I don’t like being told ‘No’. And I like to make the people who tell me ‘No’ to say ‘Yes,’” Piro said. “I felt, ‘If this is going to happen, it needs to happen now. The timing is right, the spirit

is right and if we sit on this thing, it’s going to fester and die. We need to do it while the energy is hot.’ That’s how we did it in 6 months.”

Fringe took place in Midtown St. Louis. Fringeland, where patrons bought their buttons to attend the festival, was located in an open space on Locust St. Piro said the space was to create a common ground for artists and guests to go to between shows. The open loft space hosted various workshops, had board games and music for festival goers to relax. After buying their $5 buttons, guests also paid for the show they were to see. The entire dollar amount of the ticket to the show goes directly to the artists and performers. The $5 buttons pay for the set up of the festival itself.

Piro said she and her coordinators already have a ton of ideas they could do for next year, but overall they’re very happy with how things went their first time around.

“I think we have a really great system and structure, and I’m really impressed and pleasantly surprised with the content of the festival,” Piro said. “We had minimal malfunctions; we don’t have a weak link in our shows. That spirit of the city that I was hoping would come through totally has, we just need to support it.”

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