N.O. Fringe Festival enters fifth year  of ‘fringey’ theater

New Orleans — The New Orleans Fringe Festival, which runs Wednesday through Sunday, promises to bring five days of theater that is “wild, weird, fresh and original’’ in keeping with the spirit of fringe festivals.

Fringe festivals had their origin in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1944 when eight groups couldn’t gain admission to an international theater festival and decided to carry on, taking their plays to the “fringes’’ of the city.

That event has grown into the largest theater festival in the world, according to Kristen Evans, one of the founders of the New Orleans Fringe Festival, which has seen explosive growth as it enters its fifth year.

When Evans and two friends decided New Orleans needed to have a theater festival in 2008, the discussion turned to doing a fringe festival.

They invited 30 groups and provided the opportunity for companies to participate by setting up their own venues. The result was 40 shows.

This year’s festival has 70 participating groups performing in more than 30 venues.

“I like to think ours is particularly fringey,’’ Evans said, a distinction she claims because of the grass-roots nature of the show, the unusual venues and the nature of the work itself.

The festival’s motto — Fearless Performers, Fearless Audiences — gives a good idea of what’s in store.

The offerings include, “Love, Liebe, Amour,’’ which features Jessica Weinstein dressed as a bride on stilts; an Indonesian shadow puppet show about Jim Crow laws in Mississippi; and “Let Me Told You,’’ by the Jessie Donnely Dance Co., which chronicles the life and music of her cousin Jimmy Donnely, a songwriter who produced songs for Fats Domino and others.

The unusual venues are also part of what makes a fringe festival.

This year, they include a Mardi Gras float den that’s still housing floats from last year’s Krewe de Vieux parade. Many of the more circus-oriented shows will be in that venue, Evans said.

But it will also be the site for “Wolves,’’ by Southern Repertory Theatre, a piece Evans describes as “dark and bloody.’’

Shows also will be mounted in Mardi Gras Zones’ bead warehouse, a renovated fire house and the Maringy Opera House, a converted church that dates to the 1800s.

Seven of the venues are managed by the festival with the rest falling under the “bring your own venue’’ category. But many are within walking distance of each other, clustered in the Bywater and the Marigny.

Fringe festival shows tend to be shorter than traditional plays, making it possible for theater-lovers to see multiple shows.

Other fringe benefits are the Fringe Free-For-All, a circus tent in Plessy Park at the corner of Press and Dauphine streets, the festival website promotes as home to “buskers, puppeteers, dramatists, improv artists’’ and other performers.

All events there are free of charge, and an open microphone event for children will be held at the tent from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Also on tap Saturday is a Fringe Festival parade, which will roll at 2 p.m. through Bywater and Marigny.

Audiences for the festival have grown along with the scope of offerings. Last year, the festival sold 11,000 tickets, Evans said, and orders that have been coming in prove that the festival is gaining a national following along with a local one.

About half are from the metro area, Evans said, and the other half come from all over the country and some from overseas.

One ticket order was from France, Evans said.

Performing groups for the festival are also from all over — the East Coast, West Coast and Gulf Coast, according to Evans as well as two international groups.

äInformation about the festival, including tickets, is available at www.nofringe.org.