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Living on the Fringe

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Photo by Paige Gerhard Pictured is a close-up from a 2021 Oregon Fringe Festival installation: “When You Build a Bigger Bed, You Get More Bed-Room but Less Bedroom!”
Photo by Nick Capella Actor Michael Hayes performs at the 2018 Oregon Fringe Festival. There will be both live and online events in this year's festival.
Oregon arts festival brings back up close and personal performances

From family-friendly to bawdy and burlesque, the Oregon Fringe Festival will celebrate unconventional art in unconventional spaces on the Southern Oregon University campus in Ashland.

The hybrid festival, which runs April 27 to May 1, will incorporate live events and performances for the first time since 2019.

“With COVID-19 restrictions being lifted, we decided it would be both responsible and OK to reincorporate live components,” said festival Director Paige Gerhard, “as long as necessary protocols were in place.”

A key factor was the importance of ensuring stimulating experiences for viewers while providing more accessibility.

“Those who are comfortable engaging with live creative work can do so,” Gerhard said, “while those who are not ready or able to will have online opportunities available.”

Applications to perform or exhibit at the festival were up over last year, with 69 received for 2022 compared to 65 for 2021’s online lineup.

“When artists applied to participate, they were given an option of presenting online or live,” Gerhard said. “However, having curated an online festival in the past, I did reach out to a handful of artists to encourage them to present their work both live and online to ensure a well-balanced hybrid festival experience.”

This year’s festival will have 15 different live performance venues, all located on the SOU campus. Locations were secured well in advance, and artists were assigned to specific venues based on their spatial needs and technical requirements.

“From there, we collaborate with the artists to determine their specific needs,” Gerhard said. “Fringe festivals typically have low production requirements and venue preparation is minimal. Instead, the emphasis is on content and the creative work itself.”

At their core, fringe festivals shine a spotlight on theater, dance, puppetry, music, visual arts and the spoken word, with no focus on a single discipline or genre. They’re virtually a performing and visual arts smorgasbord.

Photo By Qamuuqin Maxwell Anja DeBois is pictured at the 2016 Oregon Fringe Festival in a performative art piece. Organizers are looking forward to incorporating live performances again this year at the festival.

The emphasis is on supporting independent performers and artists while creating opportunities for diverse audiences to experience boundary-pushing theater and live performance.

The Oregon Fringe Festival also sponsors related panels and workshops for students and the community at-large.

Participating artists this year range from local to regional to international. Here is a sampling:

  • Eric Braman of Eugene, a festival honorarium recipient, will present a spoken word performance, “To Myself, To Myself, To You, To Myself.”
  • Mia Raye Smith of Queens, New York, will present an online performance, “Resilience.”
  • Alex Brehmer of Ashland will display an interactive, life-size papier-mâché installation in SOU’s Stevenson Union, which can be viewed for the duration of the festival as well as online via the festival website.
  • The team of Bruce Burris and Mareike Mirsch of Corvallis, Eileen Hinkle of Ashland, and their associates will present “Waiting for the Meteor.” The honorarium recipients’ offering features a combination of ritual crochet making and mural painting with participation of the community on-site and off-site via Zoom. The mural will be painted at Catalyst Ashland, 357 E. Main St.

Gerhard says “Waiting for the Meteor” is a multifaceted presentation.

“It is by far one of the most unique experiences I have seen,” she said. “Viewers will have an opportunity to engage, interact and participate.”

A schedule of live and online performances and exhibits can be found on the festival’s website, oregonfringefestival.org.

Gerhard says what makes a good fringe festival performance or exhibit is creative work that is boundary-breaking and unconventional, work that excites discussion and explores different perspectives.

The creative work not categorized as performance ranges from short films and paintings to photography and outdoor sculptures.

“For instance,” Gerhard said, “in the Hannon Library Digital Media Gallery, I collaborated with students Tate Stine, Marvin Walder and Kade Lineville to create a compilation of short films they had made. They can be viewed anytime during the festival on our website.”

Gerhard is excited to see live performance come back to the festival.

“While I loved the challenge of providing a fun and engaging festival entirely online, I’m really looking forward to re-incorporating live elements again,” she said.

“I’ve always enjoyed the sense of community that’s naturally fostered. In addition to seeing smiling faces and greeting viewers and artists, it’s going to be such a reward to see people engaging with creative work.”

Photo by Emmett Becker Percussionist Mitchell Carlstrom performs outside the SOU art building in the 2019 Oregon Fringe Festival. Live events will once again be part of the festival in 2022.

The Oregon Fringe Festival is produced by the Oregon Center for the Arts at SOU. In addition to Gerhard, the leadership team includes co-directors Elliott Gittlesohn and Jonathon Pardon; producers Ella Park, Rebecca Ramm, Jennifer Kay Sherman, Mary Snelgrove and Lilly Stephens; and photographer Marvin Walder.

“I’d also like to thank David Humphrey, director of the Oregon Center for the Arts, for his ongoing passion and support,” Gerhard said.

All programming at the Oregon Fringe Festival is free to the public.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.