This August, the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival clocked its fourth successful season. Since its inaugural season in 2015, the GSL Fringe has been growing steadily, offering a performance space not only to Utah groups, but to performing artists from across the country. The GSL Fringe is not quite like any other theatre experience in the state.
The GSL Fringe is, in the words of its founders, “uncensored, unadjudicated, and unrestricted.” Their mission statement goes on, “Artists hold the power, and have the opportunity to create the art that matters to them.”
Performances at the GSL Fringe cover a wide range of style and genre: from dance to music concerts to performance art and theatre classics. According to their website, the GSL Fringe’s four short seasons have hosted more than 50 world premieres of new one-act plays.
Several years back, theatre professors Nina and Michael Vought attended several performances at the New Orleans Fringe. Excited and inspired by their experience, the Voughts came home with a question: Why didn’t Salt Lake have a fringe festival of its own? They shared the idea with a number of their past and current students at Westminster University, and the group decided to attack the question as a challenge.
For many, the GSL Fringe is a labor of love, not only for producers and playwrights but for the organizers, many of whom are volunteers. Shows gather buzz on social media, and the non-profit festival as a whole has been gaining more traction on the Utah arts scene.
The rules of the GSL are similar to other fringe fests: shows run no longer than an hour and require simple set-up and strike, with a focus on content rather than technical elements. In that first summer of 2015, the GSL Fringe presented more than 100 performances of 29 shows in a handful of days.
This season was the biggest yet, with the GSL Fringe setting up shop for two weeks among the storefronts of the Gateway, an open-air mall on the west side of Salt Lake City. The Gateway hopes to become less of a shopping center and more of a cultural destination over the next few years; they already provide spaces for the Wise Guys comedy club and Wasatch Theatre Company and seem to be a perfect fit for the Fringe.
Guild member Morag Shepherd is a proud participant and supporter of the GSL Fringe. Her short play Do You Want to See Me Naked? won two awards last year: Critic’s Choice and Best One-Person Show. Morag directed Naked and returned to the Fringe this year to direct Jesse Nepivoda’s new piece, In the End There Was Snow which, coincidentally, won this year’s award for Outstanding Original Script. One of the great things about the GSL Fringe is the way professional offerings like Morag’s are interspersed with shows from local high schools and community theatres. It really does make for a fascinating mix of work.
Having participated in several myself, it’s hard to put a finger on what exactly makes a fringe festival work, and the only phrasing I can think of is a bit of an oxymoron: a carefree intensity. There is something about the close quarters, the camaraderie between artists and audience, the quick turnaround between shows, and the incredible variety of work that, together, create an atmosphere that simply isn’t found anywhere else.