Given Paris’ reputation as a hub of international culture, it’s surprising that there’s never been a fringe festival here along the lines of those in Edinburgh, Sydney or New York. But thanks to Dom Douglas and Reka Polonyi, the visionaries behind Paris Fringe, things have now changed. From Monday, May 23 to Sunday, May 29, the 9th arrondissement is playing host to a festival of international theater in English, featuring artists and companies from all over the world.
Traditionally, fringe festivals are a chance to shine a spotlight on smaller, emerging arts scenes, and in the case of Paris Fringe, something a little off the beaten boulevard. The organizers, in partnership with Les Feux de la Rampe theater, have gathered together a mix of dramatic plays, musicals, comedy, one-person shows, open mics and more, held across a variety of theaters, cafés, and even a local launderette. Douglas emphasized the aim of Paris Fringe is bringing people together through creative and cultural exchange.
“We want to enable companies working in other languages and abroad to perform for people who might not otherwise have the chance to see them.”
Sixteen productions were chosen to participate in this first edition (out of almost a hundred applicants) with artists from the US, UK, and France appearing alongside performers from all over Europe, and as far away as Africa and South America. This weekend, for example, you can catch Sarah Tullamore’s musical musings about the expat life in “London-Paris-Roam!”, the family-friendly improvised musical comedy “New,” or the surreal absurdist adventure “Tatterdemalion,” a mix of puppetry, physical comedy and mime from the award-winning Flabbergast Theatre.
True to the fringe spirit, many of the shows have an interactive element designed to break down the barrier between actor and audience that marks more traditional theater experiences. If the opening ceremony was anything to go by, the public for Paris Fringe is just as international as the performers and hungry for this kind of connection. The diverse program also includes discussions and workshops open to all, further encouraging creativity and collaboration. Tickets are reasonably-priced, with many of the offerings free of charge. (See the full program for details, including the level of English comprehension recommended for each show).
Although I can only imagine the bureaucratic nightmare of organizing a project of this scale in France, where the concept of fringe is still relatively new, Douglas said that once the team explained the idea behind it, the French theater community and the city of Paris were extremely supportive in bringing the festival to life. With les Feux de la Rampe on board from the get-go, the organizers decided to center activities in the 9th arrondissement, and other venues were quick to join. All in all, they were able to pull it together in a relatively short period of time, with the help of a community of passionate volunteers.
As with the Edinburgh Fringe, regrouping performances in a central section of the city allows the public to easily navigate from venue to venue and gives them the chance to soak up the fun atmosphere and eclectic spirit of the festival. It’s also a way to encourage discussion among theater-goers. After all, there’s no better recommendation than hearing a group of people raving about the show they’ve just seen over a drink or two.
Douglas, Polonyi and their team plan on making Paris Fringe an annual event, and hope to open up the festival to even more international companies and languages in the future. After all, giving the Paris audience the chance to see something unlikely and unexpected, as well as giving foreign artists the unusual chance to perform in Paris, is what the spirit of fringe is all about.
May 23-29, 2016 at various locations
For full program and bookings: www.parisfringe.org
Additional reporting by Vanessa Mallari