In 2002, members of Mayor Bart Peterson’s Cultural Tourism Initiative hosted a conversation, “Theatre City Indianapolis 2012,” with local cultural thinkers and doers. After hours of brainstorming, conversation and dreaming, the group came up with the idea of an Indianapolis Fringe Festival. Modeled after the original Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, Indianapolis’ Fringe would feature an eclectic offering of theatrical events designed to entertain audiences in a new way and to spur patronage of theatrical events in general.
|A fire performer at the 2011 IndyFringe demonstrates the diversity offered by the festival's eclectic mix of performers and shows.|
In 2005, with support from the Efromyson Family Fund and The Indianapolis Foundation, the first “IndyFringe” attracted just under 5,000 audience members. Since its launch, IndyFringe has become an annual summer event that has entertained more than 25,000 people, and the 2012 festival begins on August 17.
“In a small city, you can make big things happen,” says Pauline Moffat, Executive Director of the IndyFringe Festival, reflecting on the history of the organization.
Over eight years, the number of shows and venues has grown for IndyFringe, and the organization has also expanded. In 2008, the group moved into its current location on Massachusetts Avenue, a building the organization purchased with support from local funders in January 2012. In addition to IndyFringe, the organization serves as a year-round host to theatre groups, other festivals and community groups.
Home Court Advantage
|IndyFringe building, before and after renovations|
For the first three years of IndyFringe, the festival utilized a variety of venues to host the mix of local groups and troupes from other parts of the country and world. Like other Fringe events, the festival celebrates an uncensored and often experimental mix of plays, puppetry, dance and cabaret. The combination of venues has been a key part of the festival since it began, but the IndyFringe organization saw a need for a place of its own. In 2008, the IndyFringe found its home in a downtrodden building at the corner of College and Massachusetts Avenues.
“We were gypsies as an organization,” says Moffat. “And when we decided to have our own space, it only made sense to have a home on Mass Ave.”
Today, the theatre provides practice and performance space to many local groups and productions for up to 100 audience members, as well as DivaFest and Onyx Fest, festivals that celebrate women and African American playwrights. But in 2008, when IndyFringe moved in, the little theatre required extensive renovations including a new roof and new windows. Renovations incorporated a number of “rescued” pieces, including the old Indianapolis Civic Theatre’s stage curtain. A grant provided money for a lighting system. After it was purchased in January 2012 the building was renamed the IndyFringe Basile Theatre in honor of philanthropists Frank and Katrina Basile. The Indianapolis Foundation has provided regular support to both the festival and IndyFringe's facility.
The original “Theatre City Indianapolis 2012” group envisioned that a Fringe festival, with its mix of locals and outside companies, would provide a creative spark to central Indiana.
“When we thought about what Indianapolis’ theatre community could become, we wanted to create a cultural exchange with local and out-of-town audiences and artists, better opportunities for emerging artists, and a festival-like environment,” says Brian Payne, CICF CEO and President, and a panelist at the “Theatre City Indianapolis 2012” event. “A Fringe event seemed ideal for achieving that vision.”
As IndyFringe has connected diverse performers and themes to local audiences, it has also showcased Indianapolis’ ability to provide a welcoming space.
|The IndyFringe TrailHead project plan includes new theatre and practice space, as well as amenities for Cultural Trail goers.|
“Performers love coming here – from other states and all over the world,” says Moffat. “They have local people who house them, and several performers have built loyal fans in Indianapolis and even moved here. The connectivity of the city and our audiences is exciting.”
Similarly, IndyFringe leaders are seeking to build an even deeper connection with both Massachusetts Avenue and the Indianapolis Cultural Trail: A Legacy of Eugene and Marilyn Glick. As the group looks ahead to more building improvements, they plan to build both new performance space and amenities for trail goers, including restrooms, as part of a “TrailHead” addition. When the TrailHead addition is complete, IndyFringe plans to open its doors to both cultural groups and to local community groups.
Photos courtesy of IndyFringe.
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