Expect the unexpected at Atlanta Fringe Fest

Annual fest gives bootstrap creatives opportunity to subvert conventions.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Early every year, the organizers of the Atlanta Fringe Festival, held June 5-11 at multiple venues, use a lottery to choose their lineup of performers, which gives the event a wild array of flavors that they hope will surprise audiences.

Because of this method, the organizers are often the first ones surprised.

Executive Director Diana Brown said the 11th annual festival’s docket of shows features 28 acts, including their first international performer, a magician, a feminist retelling of the Book of Genesis, a multimedia puppet performance set at a madhouse, a eulogy delivered in broken Spanish and many solo storytelling shows.

“I was surprised by the amount of comedy we have this year,” she said. “There’s a lot of variety within what people are doing — what they’re telling and how they’re telling it. But on paper, it’s a lot of comedy.”

This year’s drawing, held in February, randomly selected 28 performers and 15 alternates from 97 entries. The festival gives all artists who gain a spot a chance to show all they can do, which can be a boon for local talent.

“I do feel like it’s a huge benefit for the city because it enables local artists to let their work speak for itself,” Brown said. “They don’t have to wait for someone to point and select them to create something. They don’t have to put their play in a certain contest and hope that it appeals to a certain person. It empowers you to make your own way. It also connects you to venues that want to (work with) independent artists … which you might not know is even an option.”

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Charles Parrott, an associate professor of theater and performance studies at Kennesaw State University, has brought his storytelling troupe, the KSU Tellers, to the festival six times. This year he put his name in the lottery with his own solo show, “Nebraska Backward,” in which he shares stories about growing up on a farm and feeling out of place. The performance will take place at Neighborhood Church in Candler Park.

Part of the appeal of Fringe Fest is the intimacy of the shows, which are typically held in small venues, said Parrott.

“When we make something highly professionalized and make it about money, that takes a lot of different kinds of performance and subject matter off the table because there just isn’t a big enough audience for it,” he said. “I love that about the Fringe, that they can show a very specific, weird thing, and it doesn’t have to be for everyone. Those things deserve to live and have their own artistic space, as well.”

Solo storytelling shows are often a staple of the Atlanta Fringe Festival, though Brown said the topics and methods of each show are unique. As she watches the performances, their purposes becomes clear.

“You have to really dig into your motives when you do Fringe because you’re doing everything yourself,” said Brown. “If they are going to do all of this work for this story, there’s a real reason why they’re telling it. Usually, they’re phenomenal, very moving and touching, and you can see why they felt the need to put it into the world and share it.”

Australian stand-up comedian and storyteller Marcus Ryan, who has performed in more than 50 countries, said he’s excited to bring a show to Atlanta for the first time. His piece “Eat, Pray, Walk,” about his 2017 hike of the Camino de Santiago in Europe, will be presented at RoleCall Theater at Ponce City Market.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“A huge part of doing the Camino is having an intention and new purpose,” he said in a phone call. “At the time, I was doing it for purely an adventure. I love going off on random adventures and having a story to tell, but I discovered halfway through that there were other intentions and more meaning to it for me, which has a big connection to my family and the loss of a family member.”

Throughout the piece, he embodies people he met on his travels and often makes himself the butt of the joke, but the story has deeper resonance.

“It’s more of a story about what we can do as humans if we’re willing to put our mind to it,” Ryan said. “There’s nothing really out of reach if you’re willing to give it a go, within reason. It’s one of those things where I hope people walk away from the show inspired.”

Syreeta Briggs, a Kentucky native and graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design who performs as suhREEtah, wrote “Teeth: Uh Morality Play” to explore her own childhood and how she used her imagination to escape bullying and a world that didn’t make sense. It will be performed at Neighborhood Church.

“Blue, who’s the main character, is really a version of myself, and she’s neurodivergent,” Briggs said. “She’s just this cool, funky, quirky little girl who has an inkling that she’s different from everyone else, but she doesn’t know how to articulate that.”

Atlanta Fringe is Briggs’ first festival.

“The reason why I make art is to connect and to hopefully make someone, maybe one or two people, feel a little less alone,” she said. “I spent so much of my life feeling like the odd one out. The arts were my safe place. I’m just hoping to find some folks who may not necessarily know what it’s like to be in my shoes but are willing to listen.”

One of the wildest shows at this year’s Fringe promises to be “Glass Half Full,” in which two clowns portrayed by Ansley and Nick Lynn-Rulon live together on an island of trash and try to make the most of their water while it lasts. The show will take place outdoors at Ponce City Market, which lets the cast use lots of water to entertain audiences.

“It is extremely participatory, interactive and immersive,” Ansley said. “Everyone will get wet. Everyone will have a prop. It is effectively a participation in these clowns living our darkest reality. We think of water as a renewable resource, but it is not.”

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

This year, the Fringe Festival also includes a free Kids Fringe at Brownwood Park in East Atlanta, including children’s book signings from local authors, dance installations and an indoor Baby Rave involving fun music, a bubble machine and flashing lights.

“I feel like any good rave should have a nap area,” Brown said.

The Fringe Festivals provides a fun alternative to the usual entertainment options, said Parrott.

“In a world that is so curated, where we all go out and seek precisely the thing we want from a streaming platform or from the internet, the idea of accidental discovery – and the joy of that – is something we don’t get enough of,” he said. “The Fringe is a place where that can happen.”


Atlanta Fringe Festival. June 5-11. $15-$20. 7Stages, Neighborhood Church, Ponce City Market, Metropolitan Studios. 770-847-6406, atlantafringe.org.

More highlights:

Five/5ths of “Ghostbusters.” Five local groups — Clown Corps LLC, Black AF, Havoc Movement, Candybox Burlesque and Beau Brown Puppets — interpret the classic movie during this kickoff event. 7:30 p.m. June 5. 7 Stages Mainstage

Preview Party. All 28 productions in the festival will provide a three-minute preview of their shows. 7 p.m. June 7. 7 Stages Mainstage

Fringe Enigmas: Magic & Mentalism for the Curious. Magic by Joe M. Turner. “There’s a historical element to why I love what I do, as well as a theatrical element,” he said. 8 p.m., June 8; 3:30 and 9:30 p.m., June 10. Neighborhood Church

Madhouse. Kit Fay uses puppetry, projections, interactive media, music and interviews to tell the story of 19th century investigative reporter Nellie Bly’s 10 days committed to a women’s asylum. 8 p.m. June 9; 2 and 9:30 p.m. June 10. 7 Stages Mainstage

Lo Siento mi Espanol Es Tremendo Mal. Miami writer-performer Brandon Urrutia delivers a funny one-man show about the divide between Latinx people who speak Spanish and those who don’t, using his own relationship with his Cuban grandmother as a focus. 9:30 p.m. June 9; 6:30 p.m. June 10; 2 p.m. June 11. Neighborhood Church

Late Night Comedy Showcase. Comedian David Perdue hosts a showcase of favorite Atlanta comedians, musicians and other performers. 11 p.m. June 9. 7 Stages.