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Eugene Needs a Fringe Festival

August 2nd, 2019 by dk

Eugene is still searching for a replacement to the Eugene Celebration, which eventually became a victim of downtown’s success. The Whiteaker Block Party resembles the Celebration’s early years, but it lacks broad appeal and wide renown. Other attempts have struggled to raise enough financial support.

I may have just the thing. Eugene could host a Fringe Festival.

I stumbled across the Rochester Fringe Festival last fall, and learned there are more than 100 Fringes around the world. I googled “how to start a fringe festival.” The second hit was on an academic site in the United Kingdom. This wasn’t surprising because the worldwide Fringe Festival movement began in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947.

The surprises came quickly after that. The document I downloaded was titled, “On The Fringe: A Practical Guide to Creating a Fringe Festival in Portland, Oregon.” It was Chelsea Bushnell’s thesis project for her Arts and Administration degree from University of Oregon. Bushnell was born and raised in Eugene. She graduated from South Eugene High School.

I tracked her down in Portland, where she has worked for various arts organizations since completing her degree in 2004. She hasn’t executed the guidebook she wrote 15 years ago, but she’d love it if someone in Eugene did. “Eugene is so Fringy!” she exclaimed to me this week.

To deepen my understanding of “fringy,” I’ve been working at the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, DC. I agree with Bushnell’s assessment. Eugene is definitely fringy.

Fringe Festivals share several defining characteristics. They are as inclusive and diverse as possible, offering every sort of stage performance imaginable. They not only run on modest budgets — they celebrate that. They commandeer leftover spaces — empty storefronts, parks, church basements, building lobbies, even random parking spaces. Performers are vetted for safety and technical requirements, but are not juried.

Taken together, Fringe promotes risk-taking by artists and audiences alike. Entry fees and ticket prices are low. Nothing is guaranteed, except the unexpected. People come together, bound only by curiosity. As it turns out, that’s often enough.

Bushnell and her mother have attended Fringes across Canada. She’s traveled to Scotland to see what has become the largest performing arts festival on the planet. “I still dream of Fringe Festivals and love building my vacations to attend them and see new cities,” she told me.

Oddly, there are no Fringes in the Pacific Northwest — nothing between San Francisco and Vancouver, British Columbia. A town like ours, renowned for its risk-taking and frugality, could join the circuit. People love visiting Fringe cities.

In my three weeks managing a stage in Washington, a choir rehearsal room was transformed into an intimate theatre for six different one-person plays. We staged 29 performances, satisfied hundreds of audience members, and forged many new friendships.

We heard one lonely frog keeping perfect metronomic time with a pianist’s musical autobiography. An actor proposed marriage to his playwright girlfriend after their final performance. And I learned that glitter may never come out of a church’s sofa cushion.

Fringy indeed.

Eugene could start a Fringe Festival. After all, one of our own wrote the book on it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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