The Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival, or as one fan so lovingly described it “…Disneyland for theatre lovers,” is Salt Lake City’s pinnacle of live theater. The annual festival garners fans, actors, writers and theater lovers alike from across the state for a two-weekend lineup of performances. Festival Director Jay Perry notes, “As the forge for independent theater in Utah, we are very proud to foster opportunities for independent artists to engage with local audiences without the same barriers they normally face when trying to get their work out there. Fringe is an unadjudicated, unrestricted, and accessible way for artists to share their work while supporting each other and making new connections.” As COVID-19 restrictions on live gatherings have loosened their grip in recent years and the thirst for community gatherings grows, fans can expect a unique and unifying atmosphere and center of deep connection for the theater community like no other.
This is the festival’s ninth year and, running from July 28 through Aug. 6, will feature a shocking 17 shows in just two weekends, many of them free to the public. However, a feat so adventurous does not come without its set of challenges. “With 17 productions sharing the same stages, we don’t have the luxury of a traditional ‘Tech Week’ or ample time in the performance space,” explains actress Sam Torres, who will appear in the comedy “Savage Resources.” “Instead, we must rely on our training, adaptability, and unwavering focus to accomplish what needs to be done within the short timeframe provided at the venue.” Stage Director Sammee Jackson shares the same sentiment of the need for quick adaptability. “[The] most challenging part is preparing for anything to happen with only past Fringes as knowledge. It is kinda a big guessing game that I enjoy playing! I am always up for a good challenge and Fringe keeps me on my toes,” says Jackson. With any live performance, the chance of malfunction generates the need for rapid problem-solving and improvisation. But hey, that’s show business, and the show must go on.
Despite the festival’s intrinsic challenges, its benefits to artists, writers and the theater community are boundless. Torres has a lot to say about how meaningful Fringe Fest is to artists, especially being a new actor in the Salt Lake scene. “By attending even a single show, you contribute immensely to the support of your local artists,” says Torres. “Despite Salt Lake’s big-city facade, the Fringe festival creates an atmosphere of unity and camaraderie, where it feels as though all your friends have gathered in one room. It’s akin to a lively show-and-tell event, where each of us brings something deeply meaningful to share with our favorite peers.” The festival gives actors the opportunity to learn and grow, all while boosting networking opportunities, support, and resumes. Not only that, but the festivals’s performance spaces are highly accessible at the Alliance Theater, in Trolley Square.
For writers, the festival provides a unique and hidden opportunity to test new materials in a safe space. “In most performance environments, the expectation is a polished presentation, but at Fringe, I get to experiment with a newly created work … It allows me to be messy,” reveals playwright Olivia Buck, creator of “Pretty, Dirty.” “Additionally, the minimalist spirit of Fringe allows me to focus on the text as opposed to getting so caught up in the spectacle of the show that I lose sight of the play’s message. Seeing my writing come to life feels a little like magic.” It seems that the relaxed yet validating atmosphere of Fringe Fest releases the confinements of traditional theater productions, which allows for the joy in performance to take center stage, especially when it comes to new work and play debuts. While it is clear that the festival holds unique benefits for its participants, it is impossible to make it happen without its loyal attendees. “Your presence gives the performance meaning. The artists involved in these shows have dedicated so much time to creating a powerful experience for the audience. All you have to do is show up,” explains Buck.
“Regardless of your personal taste, there is a bit of something for everyone at Fringe Fest,” says Torres. “From uproarious comedy to gripping drama, from thought-provoking original works by talented local playwrights to clever satires, avant-garde masterpieces, world premieres, and even musicals — the possibilities are endless.” Torres is sure a play like “Savage Rescourses” will spark something in a vast majority of the audience, as it strikes at core issues that characterize today’s public. “If you’ve ever found yourself trapped in a monotonous corporate job, scoffed at the hollow gestures of performative activism by companies big and small, and even if you’ve been critical of TikTok culture (yet still couldn’t resist hours of scrolling), this show is bound to ignite something in you. Oh, and it’s fucking hilarious.” Changing gears, Buck’s “Pretty, Dirty” shares the tale of the empowerment of three women in their experiences in wild places. The play is sure to touch hearts and uplift spirits. Audiences of Fringe Fest are guaranteed to find a performance that matches their taste from the plethora of shows on the docket, and are highly encouraged (and expected) to immerse themselves in the world of each performance.
The Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival provides a much needed and highly special space for local theater to thrive. Perry shares some final, parting advice to any interested attendees, “If there’s something you don’t want to miss, try to catch it on the first weekend before the buzz. Also, Fringe is about making new discoveries, so try to see as much as you can. Your chance to witness this concentration of Utah’s cutting-edge theater, dance and avant garde only comes once a year, so plan a day or a whole weekend of it, and come enjoy the atmosphere.”
Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival, Alliance Theatre, Salt Lake City, July 28 – Aug. 6
Avery Greig always has something to contribute. Whether lost in an art exhibition, meandering in downtown salt lake, or haunting a museum, she always has something to say when it comes to art. With her BA in Art History from the University of Utah, she loves sharing her passions for art and writing wrapped up in one.