Fringe Theatre

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The word Fringe has been part of theatrical terminology since the late 1940s.

Dictionary definition

General definition

It has had many meanings over the years of course, and its cultural and social meanings are also quite diverse. For instance, the word is defined as follows in the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary:

An ornamental border of threads left loose or formed into tassels or twists, used to edge clothing or material; The front part of someone’s hair, cut so as to hang over the forehead; A natural border of hair or fibres in an animal or plant; the "fringe" (or often "the fringes") are the outer, marginal, or extreme part(s) of an area, group, or sphere of activity. The socio-cultural derivatives are the notion of something not part of the mainstream, or main event.

The specific social/cultural meaning of the term fringe

Based on the last mentioned interpretation, e.g. Fringe culture and art forms, (otherwise also called Alternative, Experimental or Avant-garde culture art forms) refers to an oppositional, experimental and/or non-conformist approach to art and culture.

Theatrical use of the term Fringe

In terms of theatre the concept of Fringe Theatre, (also referred to as Alternative Theatre, Experimental Theatre or Avant-garde Theatre) is thus also seen as work that deviates from, radicalizes and/or opposes the mainstream or conventional work of the time, experimenting with unconventional performance forms, and audacious and challenging subject matter and content. (See also the notion of Counterculture)

Origins of the notion and the specific term Fringe Theatre

It is generally accepted by most sources that the specific theatrical use of the term Fringe originated from the late 1960s with the activities taking place on the "fringe" of the Edinburgh Festival. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe[1] began as an alternative to the Edinburgh International Festival and takes place annually during three weeks of August. Attached as it was to what would become the largest arts festival in the world, the fringe event set in motion an international fringe movement, with "fringe" events gradually assuming the status of independent venues and/or festivals, and such with "fringe festivals" occurring each year across the globe.

Fringe Theatre in South Africa

In South Africa the term Fringe Theatre has also been closely allied to other notions, such as Alternative Theatre, Experimental Theatre, Avant-garde Theatre, etc. Though it dates from much earlier, the real impetus came with the so-called Cultural Struggle of the 1970s-1980s (when terms such as Political Theatre, People's Theatre, etc were also used to refer to such work.)

Fringe Theatre (by that name) occurs in two forms in the country:

2.1: As the name of a set of events at a festival, or an alternative festival

2.2: As the name of a theatrical company or venue.

As a festival or festival activity

Deriving from the processes described above, we find the first use of the term from the very beginning of the Grahamstown Festival in the mid 1970s. Since then there have been a number of similar "fringe" events at South African festivals, including:

The Grahamstown Fringe

The Cape Town Fringe

As the name for a theatrical company or venue

Fringe, Cape Town - the name of a company

An experimental theatre company founded in Cape Town by in 1977 by Dawie Malan, Chris Galloway, Bill Curry and others. Productions include Exit the King, Deathwatch, Die Van Aardes van Grootoor (1977-79), Info Scandals, The Haunted Host and **. They played at the Space Theatre and a number of these also played at the Market Theatre

The Fringe, Johannesburg

The Fringe is a designated venue in the Joburg Theatre Complex the Joburg Theatre.


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