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Why I Love The Fringe

September 7, 2007

Tomorrow, Saturday 8 September, I'm going to spend an entire day at The San Francisco Fringe Festival. This means hurtling around cramped venues in one of San Francisco's seamiest neighborhoods seeing 7 shows between 1pm and 11pm. I wonder if I'll have time to eat?

People have told me I must have a screw loose, but I'm really looking forward to my mad day of fringeing. Also, I've had quite a bit of practice. When I used to cover the gargantuan Edinburgh Fringe Festival for The Scotsman, the BBC and The Economist, I would see 5 or 6 shows a day every day for a month. I wouldn't even get one day off. In between performances, I'd sit in the nearest pub with my laptop cranking out reviews and firing them off to my editor just in time to rush to the next curtain. I got by on Scottish ale, potato chips, and sheer endorphins.

The best thing about fringe festivals is that you never know what you're going to get. The SF Fringe is no exception. On my lineup for Saturday, I have everything from solo shows to cabaret to fully-scripted plays. I'll be seeing productions in the back of a restaurant, in a church, in a garage as well as in a conventional black box theatre space. Some of the productions I'll experience are the work of local companies while others have journeyed from other parts of the country and beyond. It's a bit of a crap shoot. What tends to happen is that roughly one-third of the shows are terrific, one-third are tolerable, and one-third make you want to punch someone and run our of the theatre screaming. I find that being open to all three of the above scenarios is crucial to getting the most out of the fringe experience.

The second best thing about fringe festivals is that the tickets are cheap, which makes the possibility of some productions being less than optimal a bearable thought. You can see any show at this year's SF Fringe for $8 or $9. The Exit Theatre, which is producing the festival, is also offering passes. A five show pass costs $35 and a ten show pass costs $65. What a bargain.

Righto. I'm off to pack my pen, notebook, camping stove and hip-flask of whiskey. We'll see what happens.

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