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IndyFringe works to showcase alternative creativity

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In the 100-seat IndyFringe Basile Theater, alternative art lovers have come to see cat carnivals, extreme jugglers and Shakespearean actors.

The downtown Indianapolis showcase has hosted operas, puppeteers and street performer shout-offs. Magicians and minstrels have made their home on its cozy stage.

Anything with a creative bent, from plays to poets, is welcome, executive director Pauline Moffat said.

“Fringe acts as an incubator for creative people. We want a nice creative mix,” she said.

IndyFringe Events

IndyFringe Bastile Theater

Where: 719 E. St. Clair St., Indianapolis

What: Performance space for unique and unusual performances through IndyFringe. Shows are held year-round.

Information: indyfringe.org

AIDS Benefit Concert

What: Intimate Opera of Indianapolis presents a benefit concert of songs from the “AIDS Quilt Songbook,” as well as by gay composers Samuel Barber and Benjamin Britten. A portion of the ticket proceeds will be donated to the Damien Center in Indianapolis.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Cost: $10

“Julius Caesar”

What: A performance of Handel’s opera done in a modern adaptation by Intimate Opera of Indianapolis

When: 8 p.m. June 7, 8, 14 and 15

Cost: $20 adults; $10 students

IndyFringe Theatre Festival

When: Aug. 15-25

Where: Throughout Indianapolis

IndyFringe is doing its best to keep Indianapolis weird. The organization was founded as a festival to give performers on the edges of traditional art a place to act, sing, perform and create.

The off-kilter approach has built a following. IndyFringe is now a year-round presence in central Indiana and is reaching out to other performers to join their freaky fun.

“They’ve taken the Fringe concept into an organized concept, without getting rid of the grass-roots feeling. They’ve created a structure without getting rid of that spontaneity,” said Charles Stanton, vice president of the Arts Council of Indianapolis.

IndyFringe was founded in the early 2000s, bringing the existing Fringe culture to Indianapolis.

The Fringe movement stretches back to the 1940s. Performers who found themselves out of the mainstream started showcasing their talents on the outskirts of established art festivals in Scotland.

The appeal of an alternative to straight-up theater appealed to a wide number of people, and the idea spread to Australia, Canada and eventually the U.S.

Indianapolis joined the mix after then-Mayor Bart Peterson formed an arts campaign to help bring more young people to the city. A vital component was a thriving theater environment.

Numerous city groups and non-profit organizations met, deciding to create a Fringe festival of their own.

“There really is nothing else like it in the city. The festival serves as an avenue for both traditional and nontraditional artists to exhibit,” Stanton said. “I think of it being a grass-roots, organic entity that allows people to create in a way that doesn’t have restrictions. It’s a very open-ended concept to what arts-making was.”

Moffat was a veteran Fringe supporter from Australia. She came to Indianapolis in 2005 to help volunteer her time with the initial IndyFringe Festival. After the first festival, she was asked to work for full-time for the Fringe effort.

Nonprofit groups such as the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the Central Indiana Community Foundation provided funding. Fringe festival organizers from Minneapolis and Atlanta came to help with the organization and setup of the event.

More than 20 groups performed that first year. In the seven years since, the slate has grown to 64 acts showcasing edgy and more mundane talents.

The organization has been built on a commitment to not censoring or jurying performers to its festival, Moffat said. The first troupes to sign up are in.

That leads to diverse local and national groups doing everything from traditional and bawdy British ballads to plays about a feminist Nancy Drew.

But its uniqueness also made it difficult to attract a consistent audience, Moffat said. All of the proceeds taken from festival ticket sales are funneled back to performers.

So to ensure that the organization had enough to keep marketing and growing the festival, another source of revenue was needed.

“The festival for a lot of people is challenging. And we needed to get an income stream that would support the festival, because we give back 100 percent of the box office,” she said.

Last year, more than $105,000 was raised and returned to performing artists, Moffat said. Attendance grew 22 percent from 2011 to 2012, when 15,000 people attended.

Organizers started looking for a place to showcase year-round shows. They found a derelict house at the far end of Massachusetts Avenue, purchased it and fixed it up.

Events range from DivaFest, a collection of original work by female playwrights, to Act a Foo, an interactive improvisational troupe. Feminist poets address the modern perils of being a girl, and Young Actors Theatre hosts discussions with area teens about problems they face.

“The theater has proved to be a wonderful asset to the community, a way to generate our own income and become self-sustained,” Moffat said. “And it’s an opportunity for performers to be seen year-round.”

One of the mainstays of the theater has been Intimate Opera of Indianapolis. The alternative opera company takes the grandiose scope of traditional opera and scales it down to be more easily consumed by the general public. The group has been performing two or three shows each year at the theater, as well as taking part in IndyFringe Festival.

“IndyFringe Theater is incredibly supportive of performers and artists in a lot of ways. Everything you perform there, the money comes back to you. It’s an affordable way to have the opportunity to do what they want to do without paying a lot of money to do that,” said Stephen Linville, an executive producer of the troupe and a Franklin native.

Intimate Opera of Indianapolis is preparing to do a benefit of songs from the AIDS Quilt Songbook. The music was written in response to the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s and ’90s and will be paired with works by gay composers such as Samuel Barber and Benjamin Britten.

Proceeds will go to the Damien Center, which works to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, as well as help those who have been diagnosed with the diseases.

Without a place such as IndyFringe, Intimate Opera likely would never have the opportunity to do such a show, Linville said.

“We try to do things that are performed live and are outside the box,” he said. “For us and our art, we want to do performances that can be a benefit to our community.”

The benefit of an organization such as IndyFringe is more than just an outlet for unusual performers, Moffat said. The theater has proved to be an economic boon to the Massachusetts Avenue cultural district. As part of an Americans for the Arts survey, IndyFringe organizers asked people the amount of money they spent when they were out at the festival.

The average amount was $53 per person, above the national average of $24, according to the Arts Council of Indianapolis.

In addition, the goal of attracting people to live in the city has come to fruition. A number of national and international performers at the IndyFringe Festival have relocated to central Indiana having seen the support they get.

“The Fringe has built relationships, built bridges to other communities, broken down barriers on ethnicity. All of these young people come together and collectively make Fringe a happening in the city,” Moffat said.

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