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The San Francisco Fringe Festival Goes Corporate?

February 25, 2009

I don't remember much about my visit to Andorra, the postage stamp-sized, landlocked principality located in the eastern Pyrenees mountains and bordered by Spain and France. My family drove through the place one day when I was a teenager on our way to somewhere else. We stopped for about an hour. There were a lot of stores selling tax-free gold jewelry. And there was snow on the ground. About Andorra I can't recall much else.

This September, though, Bay Area theatre audiences have been told that they will get to sample a taste of Andorrean fringe theatre when the 18th annual San Francisco Fringe Festival welcomes a production entitled The Tao of Everest from La Massana, Andorra.

It's a bit of a stretch to call this production Andorrean, frankly, though mentioning the country does make good press release copy. Furthermore, it's a bit of a stretch to call The Tao of Everest fringe theatre at all.

Ian Woodall (pictured far right with Nelson Mandela and others), the person behind the production, is a British citizen, though he currently resides in Andorra. A mountaineer and motivational speaker, Woodall was the leader of the first South African Mount Everest expedition in 1996, an expedition which resulted in a great deal of controversy. U.S. journalist Jon Krakauer has been particularly critical of Woodall's personality and conduct on Everest, which resulted in the death of five team members near the summit and various other misfortunes.

A quick glance at Woodall's website suggests that his Tao is more corporate keynote address than fringe theatre material. Subtitled "The Gentle Art of Personal Inspiration and Practical Leadership", The Tao of Everest has been presented before many corporate audiences. "Excellent, entertaining, fun and meaningful. Your presentation felt like a movie," writes an Ernst & Young employee on one of the testimonials about the Tao on Woodall's website.

Hmm. I wonder how San Francisco Fringe Festival audiences will respond to Woodall's presentation? More importantly, I wonder what place a straight-up motivational speaker has in a fringe festival at all? Fringe festivals are often free-for-alls. Part of the joy of attending them is that you never know what you're going to get. But surely a line has to be drawn somewhere.


  • Hey, Chloe:

    You are correct. Mentioning Andorra was an attempt at good press release copy. Writing a headline that gets the release read is the job of the publicist. So, in the words of Dr. Frazier Crane, “guilty as charged.”

    We could have led with a mention of another potentially interesting Fringe entry like “Jesus in Montana: Adventures of a Doomsday Cult.” But we’ve written about Jesus before. And Montana. But never has the word “Andorra” slipped onto my PC screen. Just couldn’t resist.

    To a more crucial point: the Fringe entry in question. “The Tao of Everest” (whether truly Andorranean or not) will be in the 2009 San Francisco Fringe Festival because it was one of 30 shows (out of more than 150) that was drawn out of a hat (actually a large Tupperware container). True Fringe Festivals are non-juried. Lines cannot be drawn, and pre-selection is not part of the game. It’s all the luck of the draw as to who gets in.

    However, just because a show gets into a Fringe Festival does not guarantee that it will SUCCEED in that Festival. The audience decides which shows will pack ‘em in and which will be lightly attended. As the 12-day Festival builds, so does the buzz about “must-see” shows.

    At the San Francisco Fringe, audience members can post their comments on the Fringe web site at Sometimes the posts give high praise; other times, scathing commentary. Great efforts usually win; things that miss the mark are ignored. The only jury is the audience and – hats off to them for their perseverance – the professional critics. The only lines the Fringe can draw are those leading to each show’s box office.


    Gary Carr
    Publicist, SF Fringe Festival

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At February 26, 2009 at 9:10 AM  

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