St. Lou Fringe Fest Will Open the Floodgates in 2023

They're letting everybody in this year — all 65 acts

Mar 30, 2023 at 8:42 am
click to enlarge Lilian Brown and her show The Oreo Complex will be the St. Lou Fringe Fest's 2023 National Headliner. - BOB CROWE
Lilian Brown and her show The Oreo Complex will be the St. Lou Fringe Fest's 2023 National Headliner.

St.  Louis' biggest independent theater festival is going huge this August — offering admittance to every single act that applied.

That's something new for St. Lou Fringe Fest, says president and artistic director Matt Kerns. Previously, organizers used something like a lottery system for most of the acts, hand-selecting a few headliners but otherwise leaving selection to chance. This year, as Kern announced before a crowd at the event space MaTovu last Saturday, they decided to open the floodgates.

"We think more than ever all voices in the arts are needed, and that a place was needed for them to perform — and that this was it," Kerns says.

That means St. Lou Fringe Fest will offer stages to 65 acts for its 2023 festival, which is set to run over the course of just seven days in Grand Center, from August 14-20. Last year, it hosted approximately 45 acts, which was already a sprint. Even knowing that not everyone who applied will come through (Kerns estimates there's always about five percent "spoilage"), that still represents a major escalation.

On top of that, Kerns estimates that an impressive 80 percent are local. And this year, although some acts will offer an online option, every last act is currently planning an in-person performance — something Kerns welcomes.

"Theaters are seeing a paradigm across the board of people not coming back — both patrons and artists," he says. "But this is showing me, as somebody who watches the arts as a business and as an artist, we are seeing the pendulum shift. People are wanting to come back together in person."

Also announced at Saturday's kickoff event: this year's headliners. The RFT's society columnist, Chris Andoe, will make his stage debut with a one-man show as the late-night headliner. The national headliner, Lilian Brown, made a splash last year as a lottery selection and was invited to bring her one-woman show The Oreo Complex back in a more prominent spot, Kerns says. The third headliner slot will be filled by Gateway Performing Arts' production of Bare, featuring a cast of youthful performers in a "pop opera" set at a Catholic boarding school.

As for the many other acts that will be joining that trio, Kerns noted a new production that will turn Humans of St. Louis' new book into a theatre production, and more. He joked at the kickoff, "I don't know where we're going to put them, but we'll figure it out!"

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