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Your Guide For Making The Most Of Kansas City Fringe Fest 2021

Micah Thompson
In the musical Roar, a dancing bear runs off to the circus to pursue her dream, only to discover that the circus is run by a family of evil clowns.

For its second all-virtual year, festival attendees have the option to slowly savor the event over two weeks or binge as much as they can in the span of 24 hours.

For the second year in a row, the Kansas City Fringe Festival — which kicks off Sunday — is going completely virtual. And there are some serious positives and negatives to it, depending on what you value in your festival experience.

Executive director Cheryl Kimmi says the festival had to make the call last fall — way before widespread COVID-19 vaccinations were a reality. That being said, Kimmi says the virtual component has been so well received that festival organizers plan to continue to incorporate elements of it in the years ahead.

“People right now are kind of burned out on all the virtual, but it does fill a real need because one of the biggest complaints I have received over the years from our ‘fringe fanatics’ is that it’s impossible to see everything during Fringe,” Kimmi says.

Let’s start with the new ticketing system. For 2021, options include individual show tickets, an all access pass and a 24-hour pass. The latter allows you to watch as many shows as you can in the span of a day. There are 49 shows this year, so you probably couldn’t get through all of them — but you could get through quite a few if you’re willing to sacrifice some sleep.

For The Black Creatures' Xavier Martin and Jade Green, Fringe is a way for them to try something new in a relaxed environment. "The Black Creatures in A Mezzopiano Afternoon" features a series of piano renditions of soulful songs. Some will be recognizable, while others will be complete improvisation.

The Black Creatures
The Black Creatures decided to try something totally different for KC Fringe Fest: riffing off each other and improvising in real time.

"Making stuff up on the spot isn't something we do a lot," Martin says. "But Fringe is supposed to be on the fringe of creativity and art."

That's in part what makes Fringe so intriguing. You never really know what you're going to get. It features a variety of veteran and new performers and it's curated on a first come, first serve basis.

“Anything that folks want to put out there, we provide a safe space to post it,” Kimmi says. “Within the limits of the law.”

Kimmi hasn't pre-screened the shows. But for any first-time fringers out there, her advice is to try something that's outside your comfort zone. If comedy is your thing, maybe try screening a spoken word performance, too.

“Virtually every year, somebody calls me going, ‘Oh my God, that show was a piece of [crap],’” Kimmi says. “And inevitably someone else goes, ‘Cheryl, thank you’ about the same show.”

Nothing beats seeing a live performance in person. But a benefit of being part of a virtual audience, Kimmi says, is that if you’re really not feeling a show, you can just leave — without disrupting a live performance or making anyone feel bad.

You can also stream this year's shows from anywhere in the country. That's a huge benefit for Kevin and Allison Cloud, who are debuting a movie of their new musical, Roar, about a bear on a mission to becoming the world's first dancing and singing bear. The Clouds' family and friends plan to stream the premiere from all over the country.

"Making a movie is a totally different craft and medium, but it was really fun to experience and try something new," Kevin Cloud says. "It gives us a wider platform."

And in the end, giving artists a platform is what the KC Fringe Festival is all about.

“When artists are given their free voice, when they're allowed to share openly and freely, they have the capacity to open people's hearts and minds to see in a different way," Kimmi says.

The Kansas City Fringe Festival runs July 18 - August 1, 2021. All events are virtual. More information and tickets are online.

Whether it’s something happening right now or something that happened 100 years ago, some stories don’t fit in the short few minutes of a newscast. As a podcast producer at KCUR, I help investigate questions and local curiosities in a way that brings listeners along for adventures with plot twists and thought-provoking ideas. Sometimes there isn’t an easy answer in the end – but my hope is that we all leave with a greater understanding of the city we live in. Reach me at mackenzie@kcur.org.
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