Is the KC Fringe Festival going mainstream?
The answer: A little bit yes and a little bit no.
But the annual 10-day summer marathon of alternative theater, dance and music performances — much of it raucous, experimental and R-rated — this year finds itself cozying up to some of our more established arts organizations.
The involvement of the Kansas City Ballet, the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Kansas City Repertory Theatre (in conjunction with the University of Missouri-Kansas City) in this year’s Fringe may be a sort of coming-of-age signal for the scrappy festival.
The 2012 edition of the Fringe kicks off Thursday with a typically diverse array of performances, including formal plays, solo performances, rock operas, modern dance, burlesque and belly dancing. As in previous years, the venues are spread across the Crossroads and into Midtown.
Two venues are new to the festival: the Lyric Opera Center, the company’s rehearsal studio and construction shop at 18th and Charlotte streets, and the Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity, the ballet company’s school and rehearsal facility west of Union Station. The festival’s opening night party will be at the Spencer Theatre, the Rep’s main stage on the UMKC campus.
Put it all together and we’re seeing what amounts to a resounding stamp of approval by the local arts establishment. “In terms of the Kansas City Ballet, I think organizations and events like the Fringe Festival are really important to the arts of any community,” said Jeff Bentley, the ballet’s executive director. “For us, that is our commitment. Early on we wanted this building — as best we can, in keeping with our mission — to be available to the community. We’re kind of dance central for the festival.”
The Bolender Center will serve as a venue for seven performance groups during the 10-day event. The Opera Center will host five — including a couple of rock operas.
Cheryl Kimmi, the festival’s director, said involvement of the big performance groups was less a strategic goal than a case of good timing. She said Evan Luskin, the Lyric Opera’s now-retired executive director, approached her two years ago about the possibility of using the new rehearsal studio as a venue.
Deborah Sandler, the opera’s new general director and CEO, said that she heartily endorsed her predecessor’s decision to offer the opera center as a venue.
“We want to position the Lyric Opera of Kansas City as part of the creative community that makes Kansas City what it is. And we’re pleased to have a venue in the festival.”
“In these kinds of festivals, there’s a blurring of lines between the art forms,” Sandler said. “I love this kind of stuff. I think it’s fabulous that KC has a fringe festival.”
In a way, the Rep has been endorsing the festival for several years. Kyle Hatley, the Rep’s associate artistic director, wrote and directed shows for the festival three years in a row. Cynthia Rider, company managing director, acted in those shows.
This year Hatley is an actor in “Tack Driver,” an original play written and directed by Jerry Genochio, the Rep’s producing director. Since the festival began eight years ago, smaller established arts groups have served as venues, including the Unicorn Theatre, the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, the Off Center Theatre at Crown Center, City Stage at Union Station and the Fishtank Performance Studio.
In the festival’s early years, the Kansas City Public Library was essentially a co-producer. The library eventually withdrew, and that was the last time the festival received the endorsement of a major nonprofit organization.
As for Kimmi, who has guided the festival with a volunteer staff since the beginning, the alignment of the established arts groups this year feels a bit like crossing a threshold.
“The majors are finally accepting us.”