Spring Arts: The Tampa International Fringe Festival is in the works for May. Apply now.

It's the brainchild of a trio of Tampa-connected theater artists, including Jobsite's David Jenkins.

Tampa International Fringe Festival

May 11-14, Ybor City, multiple venues. Performers’ application deadline: Jan. 31. Lottery drawing: Feb. 4, New World Brewery. 727-513-TIFF(8433), [email protected], tampafringe.org.

The Tampa International Fringe Festival may have “international” in its name, but for the three people spearheading this new fest, which debuts May 11-14, it’s all about love of Tampa.  

David Jenkins, Will Glenn and Trish Parry, all USF theater alums, have deep roots in the local theater scene. Jenkins is co-founder and producing artistic director of Jobsite; Glenn and Parry cut their teeth on experiments like a serialized Hamlet in the courtyard of Centro Ybor before forging an international career with their show A Brief History of Beer (“We travel through time and space in a quantum pint machine”), which has been a hit everywhere from NYC to Australia to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  

In 2014, Jobsite booked Beer into New World Brewery for what turned out to be an “over-sold” three-night run, says Glenn. During that run, Parry and Jenkins discovered a mutual dream: creating for Tampa Bay the kind of multi-venue, multi-disciplinary performance fest exemplified by Edinburgh, the granddaddy of all Fringe fests. Jenkins’s pursuit of a Ph.D. prevented those talks from turning into action back then, but this fall (with doctorate obtained), the idea resurfaced — and, as Glenn puts it, “The more we talked about it, the more it was, ‘How is there not a Fringe festival in Tampa?’” 

“We love fringe and we love, love Tampa,” says Parry, “and we finally realized this fall that this was actually doable.” 

Formerly a romantic couple but now professional partners, Parry and Glenn have extensive experience not just performing at Fringe festivals around the world but also at helping to run them; Glenn worked for both Fringe NYC and New York’s FRIGID Fest. They also bring invaluable experience from working with such ground-breaking producers as Punchdrunk, of the immersive hit Sleep No More (for which Glenn is currently scenic production coordinator) and Under St. Mark’s (home of the long-running Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind).

As for Jenkins, he's known Glenn and Parry for close to 15 years, he estimates, maintaining contact after they left Tampa in the mid-2000s to study in England and helping bring them back to Tampa for Jobsite's presentation of Beer at New World. The success of that show, which attracted motley crowds that weren't regular theater-goers, reinforced his conviction that theater should try to move beyond traditional confines and find new audiences. Since that's exactly what Fringe events try to do, he and his board felt that presenting the first Tampa International Fringe Festival, under Parry and Glenn's management, would make perfect sense. (In this first year, the Fringe will operate under the auspices of Jobsite's 501(c)(3) non-profit tax status.)

A word about that word: “Fringe.” CL is in its fourth year presenting what we call a mini-Fringe festival, a one-night event called GASP! at the Tampa Museum of Art (returning this year on March 31). It features the eclectic mix of indie performing artists typical of Fringe, but it’s curated — which doesn’t fit the more democratic model codified in 1994 by the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals, the model that TIFF will emulate. 

Inspired by the original Fringefest in Scotland — launched in 1947 when artists shut out of the venerable Edinburgh Arts Festival decided to create their own event literally on the fringes — CAFF accredits only those festivals which meet the following criteria: 

• Selection of artists on a non-juried basis, such as by lottery, which is the route TIFF will take. 

• Artists receive 100% of ticket sales.

• Unrestrained artistic freedom (meaning Festival producers have no control over the artistic content of each performance). 

• Accessibility for all audiences and all artists.

While not members of CAFF as yet, the TIFF team aims to follow these guidelines in hopes of being admitted down the line. There are currently 32 Fringefests in the CAFF network, including 11 in the U.S.; membership gives access to informational and other resources and serves as a kind of Good Fringekeeping seal, particularly to touring artists trying to sort through the more than 70 U.S. fests calling themselves Fringe in the States. 

Like the 26-year-old Orlando Fringe Festival (a CAFF member), TIFF will pay festival expenses through sales of admission buttons (audiences pay $10 to get into the fest, then $10 for each show ticket, the latter going directly into the artist’s pockets) and through artists’ application ($25) and registration ($100) fees. In this first year, all of the venues will be located in Ybor City, including the Silver Meteor Gallery, HCC/Ybor, CL Space and New World Brewery, which will act as Fringe Central, the nexus of button sales, artist networking and late-night parties.  

New World will host the first pre-Fringe gathering on Sat., Feb. 4, and it’s a significant one: the lottery drawing. TIFF is committed to using a mix of 50 percent local, 25 percent national and 25 percent international artists in the festival, so there are actually three lotteries in all, one for each category. Glenn and Parry say they’ve already received enough applications to make the lotteries viable, but there’s still time to throw your name into the mix: The deadline for applications is Jan. 31. Apply at tampafringe.org, or contact TIFF at 727-513-TIFF (8433) or [email protected] 

What’s in it for the artists? According to the website, benefits (besides “parties every night at Fringe Central!”) include “three performances in a venue seating between 30-60 people, with lighting, PA, technician [and] 1 hour tech time.” Shows must run no longer than “60 minutes MAX,” and can either be new material or something “already in the can.” But they must be ready by May 10 “because that is TECH DAY.”

Mike Marinaccio, producer of the Orlando Fringe, welcomes the arrival of TIFF, calling it “a huge asset” to his own festival, which will take place directly after Tampa’s from May 16-29, and to “the Fringe movement worldwide.” The proximity of the two Florida festivals in both time and geography will provide more opportunities for artists to tour, he says, expanding the Fringe circuit. Touring artists can also provide helpful examples for local performers, inspiring them to take their shows on the road (or at least down I-4).

TIFF’s Will Glenn says that exposure to a wider pool of talent can be invaluable to locals. “I was nurtured here in Tampa,” he says, “but there were so many things I hadn’t seen when I got to know the international festival circuit.”

And what’s in it for Tampa? I can testify that in Philadelphia, where I was working in 1995 when that city’s Fringe launched, the festival jump-started theater and movement companies which are still thriving today, and brought fresh attention to an historic area of brick warehouses and quaint streets that is now one of the hottest neighborhoods in town. And in Orlando, the Fringe has served as a driver of cultural tourism and a glimpse into an aspect of the city that’s not all theme-parked out (though theme-park actors and directors are integral to the festival’s success).

Plus, says Marinaccio, it’s “a joyous explosion of creativity.” 

Come May 11, let the explosions begin. 

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