Belly dancers scantily clad in gem-encrusted costumes performing with profane puppets, fire breathers and aerialists within view of the State House? That would be a sight.
And Natalie Brown, the founder of the local circus troupe Alternacirque, and Frame of Mind’s Mark Plessinger, an architect of First Thursdays on Main, have an idea of how it will look. They see a thirsty city in the midst of a cultural shift, a shift that is pushing Columbia’s arts scene to create a new normal.
Fringe Thursday will be an introduction to their shared vision.
The two have partnered to introduce the concept, a piece of a more ambitious plan, as part of Thursday’s Main Street events. It’s a performance that speaks to its name by bringing street performers, musicians and visual artists from the fringe of the city and making them the center of attention.
Thursday’s performers include Lyon Hill of Columbia Marionette Theatre, DJ Deft Key and Alternacirque. Bone-In Artisan BBQ on Wheels, 2 Fat 2 Fly Stuffed Chicken Wings, KC Hotdogs and Cowboy Brazilian Steakhouse will also add to Fringe’s flavor.
“The fringe festival has always been centered in performing arts, and that’s what we’re doing differently,” Plessinger said. “We’re throwing the door open for music, visual arts and street performers.”
The fringe festival began in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the ‘40s as a traditional theater festival. A few avant-garde, weirdo — Brown insists it’s a term of endearment — theater companies crashed the festival and set up street performances on the outskirts, or fringe, of the city.
Today, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a three-week affair with over 20,000 street performers.
“It’s for the people, by the people and of the people,” Plessinger said.
Brown and Plessinger hope to create the same forum for artists from different pockets of the local arts scene. Next July, they hope to launch a three-day fringe festival.
Fringe Thursday is a trial run.
“It’s all just a grand experiment,” Brown said. “Let’s do this and see what happens. We start on a small scale and build things intelligently — not overshooting or reaching bigger than what we can do.”
While the city is branching out in its artistic reach, Brown and Plessinger are hoping to define a brand.
Along with Fringe Thursday and the plans for a multi-day festival, Brown has been a leading voice campaigning to make street performance, or busking, legal in the city. In a new ordinance, the Columbia City Council said buskers “enhance the character of the city.” Fringe will be the first showcase of these performers.
“I think Columbia’s one of the less inhibited cities in South Carolina,” Brown said. “It helps that Columbia doesn’t have an established identity — yet. It can reinvent itself in anyway it wants to.”
People don’t realize what’s in the city, Brown said. There are drag queens, experimental theater, break dancing and krumping, and through Fringe plans, they will come to the forefront.
“It’s like high school; everyone stays in their own circles,” Brown said. “The hipsters know who we are. The business CEOs, not so much.”
The hope is that the fringe festival will break down these barriers and give the city’s performers a little more freedom as well. Brown and Plessinger aren’t putting restrictions on the festival because they want to see the “organically-grown, collective voice.”
They see Fringe as a 10-day event, with the possibility of international performers becoming a part of the mix. There will be music, paintings, sculptures and, at least on Thursday, an aerialist will fly above the food trucks.
That will be a sight.
Reach Gould at (803) 771-8610.