Theater for People Who Don’t Like Theater

Does traditional theater bore you?  Do you not understand why people sing in musicals?  Do you feel uncomfortable sitting in a theater for 2 hours?  If you answered yes to any (or none) of those questions, fringe theater might be for you!

Fringe theater…

  • is theater that is experimental in its style or subject
  • tends to tackle topics that aren’t usually touched on in mainstream theater
  • tends to be presented in small black box theaters or, really, anywhere you can imagine!  (a windmill, an old factory, a moving bus, your own living room…)

Back of the Bus, a show at the Edinburgh Fringe that took place on a bus.

There is such a variety of work that falls under the idea of “fringe” that it’s impossible to give a specific description of all of it.

Last summer, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland, for a month at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  The Fringe is a month-long arts festival—the largest in the world—and hosts performers and artists from a vast assortment of fields, professions, and genres.  There’s something for everyone at the Fringe: comedy, drama, music, acrobatics, dance, film, visual art, immersive theater, and so much more!  While I was there, I managed to see 60 of the 3,269 shows presented and had some of the best experiences of my life.

While it’s not quite as huge as the Edinburgh festival, the Philadelphia Fringe Festival is put on each September by FringeArts, “Philly’s home for groundbreaking performing arts,” and features all different kinds of acts from Philadelphia and around the world.


Posters from just a few of the shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

For 17 days, the Fringe takes over Philadelphia as over 1,000 performances and artworks are presented in spaces all over the city and online.  Previous shows include habitus, Julius Caesar. Spared Parts, and The Sincerity Project (2016).  Tickets to shows generally range from free to $30 and they all also offer student discounts.

In addition to the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, FringeArts programs a variety of shows year-round.  Upcoming events and shows include March Scratch Night, Get Pegged Cabaret, and It’s So Learning.  You can find out more about FringeArts here.

If you’re someone who has walked away from a show thinking theater wasn’t for you, I highly suggest checking out FringeArts or the Philly Fringe Festival.  You might find that it surprises you.  You might discover an appreciation for theater.  Fringe theater is fringe theater because it isn’t mainstream.  It’s experimental and, in most cases, isn’t concerned with commercial gain and appealing to the general population.


A performer on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

A warning: because of the experimental nature of fringe shows, there is a risk involved that you won’t actually see something quality or something that you enjoy.  That risk is there with most things, but works of fringe theater tend to have smaller, specific audiences that they are targeting.  You might find things uncomfortable or offensive.  You might not understand what’s happening.  While I was in Edinburgh, I definitely saw some shows that, for many reasons, I didn’t enjoy.  However, fringe theater can also open up your eyes to a whole world of ideas and experiences and people and cultures and identities that you would otherwise never have interacted with.  I personally believe its worth seeing fringe shows for just that reason.  Even if you don’t connect with a piece of art, you might be able to take something away from it.  Maybe it’ll even inspire you. Let me know if you go and what your experience was like in the comments!

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