Sunday, September 2, 2012

Flying High with the Fringe!

The Juniper Tree
by Warwick Goble, 1913

"Out of the fire flew a beautiful bird,
who, singing deliciously, flew
high into the air."

Everything Old Is New Again...
By Mike Speller © 2012

What’s 65 years old and still as edgy as a teenager at a formal wedding?  The Fringe Festival.

What began in Edinburgh, Scotland, as a groundswell gathering of artists has become a world-wide buzzword in the storytelling sphere.  Many story conferences and festivals have added “fringe” performances but to communicate properly with Fringe Festival artists (and curious potential audience folk), first-hand Fringe-ing is a good idea.

As a performer seeking this ‘Holy Grail’, you must answer three questions:

1.      What is your ‘name’?  The reputation or image you wish to maintain may not be the best Fringe fodder.

2.      What is your quest?  Sharing a new genre, experimenting with show-format, or finding a fresh audience?  This is a proving ground for any and all of the above.

3.      What is a true Fringe?  If you don’t know--Go and See.

Answering the last question first isn’t difficult.  There are more than 40 annual Fringe Festivals around the globe and at least half are in North America.  They each last 1-2 weeks; each contains a smorgasbord of live music, drama, comedy, and schlock; AND all display a rare community of local and visiting performers. Every Festival has its own website complete with show descriptions & reviews, how-to-produce tips, etc.

I started adult life as a theatre performer.  By age 30, though, I had yet to experience a Fringe Festival.  So the city where I lived—Orlando, Florida—created one (Just for me??).  I volunteered for the initial Orlando Fringe and witnessed a mud-covered man spouting angst, blah improv and inspired improv, even a juggling duet with drama ‘chaser,’ among other shows.  Since then, I’ve been to dozens of Fringe performances all over the continent.

Generally, the shows that let me down—a decided minority--as an audience member were the ones that were not prepared.  The Fringe is a do-it-yourself arena where people pay to see you take risks:  Risks with your message, your body, or your audience-interaction.  An audience should respect the work, but don’t expect respect if you-the-performer don’t care what state the show is in.  Fringe audience turnout is largely based on word-of-mouth…’nuff said?

IF I was an aspiring Fringe performer, I’d look at those festival websites to see what’s involved in applying for a festival (entry fee, application form, lottery or jury selection process).  Then, I’d assess the necessary investment in props, costume, PR materials, housing, etc. Next, my script must be vetted & rehearsed in front of a good director-coach.  Finally, I’d market the hell out of said show to my ‘target’ audience! 

Some years ago, I did all that homework.  I did produce and perform my own six-character show.  I took HUGE risks and got hate mail, sob-filled hugs, and a writing award out of the experience!  Last year, after a lengthy hiatus, I took up the gauntlet again and got rave reviews as well as break-even ticket sales.

I plan on returning to a Fringe next year.  You’re literally never too old to try it…so how ‘edgy’ are you feeling now? 

Mike Speller is a veteran performer and teacher based in Illinois. His one-man productions of “The Road Less Traveled” and “Fear Itself” have been Fringe favorites. By day, Mike Speller is an interpreter (teacher) at a fur-trade history museum outside Chicago, Illinois; by night, he is a freelance actor-writer-director. During the in-between times, he is a storyteller who enjoys sharing the good old days of horror literature or living his dream as class clown or 'traveling the world' with audiences of all ages. Mike Speller is also Vice-president of Illinois Storytelling Inc. For more info about him, visit

Mike Speller is a guest blogger for Karen Chace and Catch the Storybug blog. All rights to this article belong to him. Distribution, either electronically or on paper is prohibited without his expressed, written permission. Of course, if you wish to link to the article via Facebook or Twitter, please feel free to do so. I you would like to be a Guest Blogger contact Karen at for the details.


noa Baum said...

Thanks mike
I'm actually thinking if doing the dc fringe next year and this was a helpful encouragement

Best of luck to you!
Noa Baum

Glenda said...

Mike, you have inspired me. For quite a while. I have been thinking about a possible Fringe performance, but haven't moved beyond the idea. This could be because the piece I'm considering is so far out from my comfort zone. Your words may finally get me out of this rut and on my way.

Jeff Doyle said...


Great post. I have been thinking of this for some time. I think you just pushed me over the edge.

Jeff Doyle

Mike Speller said...


I'm glad you all have the mind-set. Knowledge is power (and confidence) in this realm. Perhaps we'll cross Fringe paths next year??

PatStories said...

Nice going, Mike. We're always young enough to try the new. Preparing for the fringe is important and you have given the keys to that preparation.

Jai Joshi said...

Some of the best things in the world come from Scotland. This is one of them! Mike, this has inspired me to keep doing what I'm doing because fringe is great!


storyspace said...

Thanks Mike! I have a friend that has been debating the Edinburgh Fringe for some time. I'll point your article out to him. ,Andrea Lovett

Linda Gorham said...

Well said Mike! Hey, did you all know about the Fringe hosted each year by the National Storytelling Network? It's part of the annual conference and it has been growing in popularity since the beginning a few years ago. I'm on the fringe committee.

The dates are August 1-4 in Richmond, Virginia. Here's the link: